Theme Park Insider

The Most Wanted New Theme Park Attraction? Bandwidth

July 19, 2015, 10:51 PM · Despite the new parade and shows celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Disneyland Resort is missing one major new attraction that it will need to make its future as successful as its past - bandwidth.

When park president Michael Colglazier welcomed fans to the park for its 60th birthday on Friday, thousands of those fans took out their cell phones to post photos and send tweets of the historic moment. And almost all of them faced the same result -- nothing happened. Crushed under the load of tens of thousands of simultaneous requests, the cellular data networks around the Disneyland Resort failed to deliver.

Speedtest results for Disneyland
Data network speed test results at the Disneyland Resort on July 17, 2015.

It's become a running joke among Disneyland fans. When the park gets crowded, your connection gets dropped. While it's nice for old school fans to enjoy a return to the days when no one had cell phones or tablets in the park, so you couldn't do anything but read your guidemap, talk to the people around you and enjoy the park anyway, Disneyland's lack of bandwidth creates some real problems for the resort going forward.

Can you imagine the disaster if Disneyland tried to implement Walt Disney World's MyMagic+ system right now, with its current bandwidth capacity? It couldn't. With no public WiFi in the parks and a cell data network that collapses when park attendance swells past average loads, Disneyland guests simply wouldn't be able to access a "My Disney Experience"-type app to manage their Fastpass+ and restaurant reservations.

Of course, the Walt Disney World Resort had to upgrade its bandwidth capacity before rolling out MyMagic+. But even if Disneyland chooses not to bring that new vacation management system to California, it will need to upgrade data networks for its guests.

Whether you like it or not, life is lived online for a huge percentage of people these days. Texting, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter are part of the social experience of visiting Disneyland. Taking those away from visitors doesn't enhance their experience in the park, it annoys and frustrates them. We might enjoy dressing up like it's the 1950s, but few of us wish to go back to communicating that way again. (Pay phones? Are you kidding me?)

Disneyland's Twitter account

Smart themed entertainment designers will not fight social media but will embrace it and use it to create a more compelling and unique in-park experience. More than two thirds of theme park visitors surveyed by design group Thinkwell Group in 2013 said that they wanted to see better mobile integration in the parks. But designers can't create apps and experiences that reward in-park social media users if the park can't deliver the bandwidth to connect them.

How nice would it have been if Disneyland's guests on Friday didn't have to crowd around a handful of jumbo video screens the park had set up to allow them to watch the morning ceremony? What if they could have watched the event on the park's Periscope feed from wherever they were in the resort? Disneyland broadcast it, but almost no one could access the feed from inside the park... thanks to the crumbling data network. (The event was held in front of the castle, where the small, flat space of Disneyland's hub meant that only invited VIPs and a handful of local media representatives could see it in-person.)

The Orlando-area theme parks have worked to improve mobile data connectivity. Now, it's time for the Southern California parks to step up. Universal Studios Hollywood has introduced free WiFi in its park, but Disneyland's free public WiFi remains limited to its hotels. (And it falls apart on crowded days, too.) All parks need to offer a robust mix of free public Wifi and high-speed cellular data availability to meet the needs of their guests.

Yes, Disneyland fans want their Star Wars Land. Yes, we want new Marvel attractions, too. And more parking, and maybe a new hotel. But along with all of these planned and potential improvements for the Disneyland Resort, fans hope that Disney won't forget to take steps ensure a massive expansion of mobile data network capability for park guests, as well.

Replies (20)

July 19, 2015 at 11:35 PM · My family definitely shares your frustration. When we visit Disneyland, we can sometimes get a data connection to check email or look at the unofficial wait time apps, but forget about sharing a photo on Facebook or other social media. You almost have to go outside the parks to the Disney hotels to get a strong signal.

If I remember correctly, maybe five years ago Disneyland had their own in-parks smart phone app, with official wait times and other useful information. I think it was originally for Verizon customers only, and then expanded to everyone. But last year when I tried to re-install it, I found that the app no longer existed. Does anyone know--was it because of the lack of data connectivity that Disney gave up on the in-park app?

July 20, 2015 at 5:37 AM · No, Spaceman, it was because the app didn't make any money so it got pulled. Third parties do it better anyway.
July 20, 2015 at 7:43 AM · If you have to use your social media device in the park the theme park experience is already ruined. People should enjoy the parks and take some time out of their busy day of telling people what they're doing to stop telling people what they're doing and actually enjoy doing it.
July 20, 2015 at 10:14 AM · In Disney's (or any other major theme park's) defense, their purpose is to give you a great experience. The carriers should be the ones stepping up their game. Go to any major sports venue or concert and you get the same result.

We do take a lot of pictures / videos with our devices, but we tend to wait until we are back at the hotel to do through them and post to social media etc... at the parks, it is all about getting our ride on.

July 20, 2015 at 11:05 AM · Beyond posting to Facebook or Twitter, a real benefit to having access to a strong WIFI network is being able to connect with members of your party or other friends who are also in the park.
Remember back in the late 80s and early 90s how almost every family was carrying a two way radio, like the MOTOROLA FAMILY TALKABOUT®. These gave parents a safe way to let older kids split off from the family and explore the park on their own while letting Mom and Dad keep in touch in the even something came up.
The use of WIFI signal in a park serves the same purpose, but at Disneyland resort, the signal is weak or impossible in many places. Besides, if I want to check CNN.com or Facebook while I'm at a park, who's business is it but my own?

July 20, 2015 at 12:23 PM · The same problem goes for Universal Orlando. Whenever I try to send a text to one of my party members who had got separated, it sometimes takes at least 5 minutes for the text to go through. And trying to go online is next to impossible. Although I think everyone should do what NB's family apparently does and wait until the day is over before going on social media.
July 20, 2015 at 12:51 PM · I really don't understand why the cell providers haven't boosted bandwidth in the area. Is Disney deliberately holding them back, or are they simply not interested? Stadiums and arenas have seen huge investments in increased bandwidth which is usually both investment by the venues themselves (usually in the form of WiFi) and investment from the communication companies. It's very surprising that neither Disney nor the telcoms have stepped up to increase service in an obviously underserved area.

Some sports teams lagged in this effort, and got huge complaints for not providing better service during events. Many owners took the stance that their fans should be paying attention to the game, but instead those people decided to not show up at all. It's unlikely Disney would have the same result by ignoring this problem, but I'm sure there are some out there that need to stay connected and are turned off by the broadband experience at Disneyland.

July 20, 2015 at 2:08 PM · I'm with NB on this one. I usually don't even use my phone until I'm back at the hotel. Seriously people are too obsessed with social media. I always laugh when I see people glued to their phones at the theme parks, completely missing the experience that's around them.

If you want to split up your party it's simple, pick a time and a place to meet up later. Your phone is not a necessity.

July 20, 2015 at 3:02 PM · It goes without saying that many stadiums, arenas, amphitheaters, and public attractions all suffer from this same problem.

Take for example, last night I was at the WWE: Battleground PPV. I wanted to post that I was there and having a great time. The lack of wifi and cellular connection is a problem. I couldn't conenct to post nor check out what others were saying. Which IMO is a disservice to the WWE whom prides itself on its Social Media presence and interactions.

In the last few years St. Louis has made headway during certain high-profile events by having temporary Cell Towers set up to handle the extra load, but adding a few here or there does not necessarily improve the overall experience.

Add to it events that happen near where people live and your problems grow exponentially as we as a society have moved towards a more cellular lifestyle. Which causes issues in the event of an emergency. You simply can not get a connection to dial 911. That is a huge problem.

Cell towers are increasingly easy to disguise in communities either as a tree or behind a roof, etc. In today's world there is no reason a company can not partner with cell carriers to make this not a problem.

July 20, 2015 at 4:52 PM · They should have wifi to alleviate cellular and vice versa.
July 20, 2015 at 6:39 PM · "pick a time and a place to meet up later."

Sorry, it doesn't work this way. This is so 20th century. We're at 21st century. No one meets later to a agreed time and place. People are constantly moving around in the park. Or they might have left the park to return later. You catch up to your friends. If they are in line, you get in line too. If they are in crowd, you find them by talking or texting them.

Fortunately, if you miss them, you can regroup and try a different time. Otherwise, its tough luck and you'll miss them. Missed them at 1pm at the castle because you're stuck at Splash Mountain, tell them you'll see them at Haunted Mansion in 15 minutes.

July 20, 2015 at 7:46 PM · If your family has iPhones, just install the free Find My Friends app (it's an official Apple created app) and you can see where everyone is at on a map at any time.
July 20, 2015 at 9:22 PM · Well to be fair, the Chicago stadiums do not do well with cell service either.

Then again, WDW has pretty much made it mandatory with the app!

July 20, 2015 at 9:36 PM · "Sorry, it doesn't work this way. This is so 20th century. We're at 21st century"

So something magically turned people into morons between December 31, 2000 and January 1 2001?
Just because a new technology is available now doesn't mean you have to or even should use it.

Case in point, food in the 20th century thanks to the rise of fast food convenience, becomes so much faster and cheaper then ever before, but it also equals an America that is one of the most obese countries on earth with a low life expectancy compared to other 1st world countries

So yes it does "work this way" for people who want to enjoy their theme park experience without being on their phone all day. And "getting in line" with your friends is called cutting or line hopping and not allowed in most theme parks, not to mention extremely discourteous.

July 21, 2015 at 12:24 AM · The long awaited Indiana Jones ride better come to Orlando.
July 21, 2015 at 3:42 AM · "Besides, if I want to check CNN.com or Facebook while I'm at a park, who's business is it but my own?"

It's not...except when you expect to do those things using "free" Wi-Fi.

July 21, 2015 at 2:19 PM · Nothing wrong with being a luddite, but if 90% of the public is using smartphones and you're not, you're disadvantaged. Disney theme parks moves along with the technology. Their theme parks are at the height of new entertainment with the latest in technological advances. Disney encourages the use of smartphones.

Certainly, you can avoid using the smartphone and you'll have a fine day without them. But if you need to call people, go on specific ride, visit restaurants, a smartphone is handy to do these tasks. I still have the habit of wanting to use my desktop computer to look up information. I can't exactly run back home to peruse information when I'm on the move. I'll just look things up with my mobile phone.

Calling Disney's customer service isn't my first instinct, but if you have no smartphone, you must use the courtesy phones at some locations in the parks. This is so out-of-date.

July 21, 2015 at 10:41 AM · If I had to choose between having Fastpass+ or low bandwidth at Disneyland, I would choose low bandwidth. Every... single... time....
July 21, 2015 at 11:22 AM · @Anon Mouse nailed it. The issue here is not that technology is preventing people from being in the moment with the experiences in the park, but rather that technology as it stands can make a great experience better when it works, or degrade an experience if it doesn't work.

Being able to check wait times and post photos of friends/family/sights is helping us get more out of the things we do. Not being able to have the experience with your device that you expect can make things much harder. I would love to be able to book a reservation in Disneyland from California Adventure on the fly if I have plans change, rather than have to leave the park to do so.

Being a luddite for yourself is one thing, but criticizing how others decide to get the most out of their experience is a whole other thing.

July 21, 2015 at 12:42 PM · Some people have a narrow view of why people use their smartphones at the parks. I need it to check my own contracting business email and for my full time job in IT. I don't have the luxury of having a backup that fills my IT role when I'm on vacation. I have to be reachable and I have to have access to corporate emails and if needed, remotely connect to servers if there are issues. I don't love having to do this while on vacation but I love that technology allows me to do these things if needed. I'm not on Facebook, I don't even have an account. But I need access to keep the job that is allowing me to pay for these vacations.

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