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What's the perfect way to wait for a theme park parade?

August 24, 2016, 4:38 PM · The summer blockouts are over for all Disneyland annual passholders and crowd levels appear to be rising in the parks this week. With the Diamond Celebration ending Sept. 5, expect the parks to stay busy as local fans head back to see Disneyland Forever for the last time and to see Paint the Night again before it goes on an as-yet-ill-defined hiatus.

With so many people looking to see Disneyland's nighttime parade over the next two weeks, now's the time to pour fuel onto a flame war and bring up the topic of... parade etiquette. Nothing seems to spark conflict between theme park visitors as much as claiming spots to watch a parade. Fans who stake out a space well in advance get upset when others show up at the last minute. But trying to hold space for 10 people for hours with one person and a shopping bag is just asking for pushback from another group that sees that empty space and has all its people there. And everyone gets mad at the family that send its kids at the last second to stand in front of the waiting crowd.

So what's the right way to wait for a parade?

Let's work this one backward. Let's try to envision what a perfect parade crowd would look like, then work backward to figure out how we all can get there. Of course, we should start by noting that the people most likely to screw this up by misbehaving are those types of people because they never listen to or participate in conversations such as this. They just selfishly push ahead, doing whatever they feel like to get the best position for themselves.

So whatever we decide, it really ought to include some sort of defense against clueless, selfish people like that.

In my experience, the best parade crowds are the guests at Tokyo Disneyland. People there sit for the parades, allowing more visitors to see because the view isn't blocked by a few tall people up front. When I visited, I also saw Tokyo Disney cast members instructing people not to start claiming spaces until a designated time before the show — unlike the free-for-all in Anaheim when people start claiming spaces in the morning for highly anticipated parades.

Let's start there, then. The perfect parade crowd will sit. At least in the front. Behind them, shorter children can stand, with grown-ups standing behind them. And really tall grown-ups will defer to the crowd and claim space in the back. They can do that without being played a fool, since they know that no one taller in front of them will stand to block their view. No one, repeat, no one, places a child on his or her shoulders to see, either. And if you want to take pictures, stand in the back. Keep that camera (or phone, or, heaven forbid, tablet) no higher than your head.

Okay, that's the z dimension. Now let's talk about the x and the y. How much space do you really need around you?

The goal here is to allow the maximum number of people to enjoy a clear view of the parade. So that means everyone gets the ground space they need to sit or stand — and not a square inch more. Yeah, it's gonna be tight. But no one should have to shove a neighbor for space, either. There won't be room for your children to dance around while they watch the parade. Want to enjoy a picnic? Keep the food on your lap or in your hands.

To keep the parade crowd from obstructing other guests trying to walk through the park, park employees should prohibit people from claiming spaces until one to two hours before the parade, depending upon the crowd level in the park. Yeah, that's going to lead to an Oklahoma-style land rush, but that has one positive side effect. It will end up requiring groups to have all their members there to claim their spaces when the time comes. One person and shopping bag aren't going to be able to hold 10 feet of sidewalk space in that. Nor should they. The people who actually are willing to wait should be the ones rewarded with the most desirable places to see the parade.

Yeah, a parent might have to take a child to the restroom. The rest of the family likely can hold their claimed space for a few minutes while that happens. But no more sending all but one or two people to go ride rides instead of waiting for the show. With the wait time capped at two hours, though, on the busiest days, that shouldn't become an issue.

And when the parade is over, everyone needs to get up and be ready to go. This is the big reason why so many parks discourage sitting — the fear that seated visitors won't be able to get up in time to avoid being trampled in the rush after the parade. My solution? Run the parade at a slow walking pace, then have the final float be sloped upward, so that the floor at the back of the float rises above standing height. Send operations employees to walk alongside the float, gesturing with their arms for people to get up as the float goes by. With the back of the float elevated, no one loses their view as the people around them stand up. In fact, in order to see the back of the float, you have to get up!

If there's still no way to see the parade, even after all this... well, you missed it. Either try again for the next parade, or come earlier on another day. Not everyone gets to see everything in a park. That's just one of the realities of this business.

How do we get to this ideal situation? Well, the easiest way is to get the parks to agree to it. Cast or team members would have to have a well-defined set of parade space-saving rules to communicate with guests. Parks would need to promote their rules on their website, in blog posts, on guidemaps, and with handouts for park visitors in the first weeks after implementation.

As fans, we're stuck in a Prisoner's Dilemma situation here. There's no way for us to collectively enforce a designated waiting time, or making people sit in front, or keeping families together rather than sending children to cut in front. We can try to act responsibly as individuals and individual families, but given the enormous incentive people have to act selfishly in this situation, thinking of and acting for the greater good here only gets us shuffled to the back of the crowd, without a view. To be a perfect parade crowd, we need help from the parks that host us.

What do you think? How would you like to see the parks and their guests handle parades?

Replies (13)

August 24, 2016 at 5:06 PM · My niece (22), was in DL last month. She took her dad who hadn't been there before. She found a spot near Small World 2 hours ahead. A woman showed up 5 minutes before (the announcement had already been made at the 15 min mark) and pushed her 2 children in front of my niece, who, by the way, is barely 5 feet! Told her to stop being a rude adult and let her kids in front of her. They were taller! My niece told her to stop teaching her kids that they don't have to wait for anything and they were more important! The woman got very angry and told her that the park was for children and NOT for people who won't grow up. Hmmmm....I think attitudes need to change because this is not an isolated incident. I no longer make plans to watch a parade because of people like this. I attempt to watch the last one of the day and hope I get lucky. I just won't let someone else ruin my visit. It isn't worth it. Oh...and by the way, the crowd around my niece clapped because this woman had tried the same thing down the way!
August 24, 2016 at 5:34 PM · We had an experience with someone weasling their way in during the Star wars parade during Star Wars Weekend. We staked out a spot a good hour ahead of time (in the June heat) and 5 minutes before it started someone came and was standing in front of my 8 year old.

Luckily enough people grumbled at her and she left without too much fuss

August 24, 2016 at 5:57 PM · Great set of suggestions, which the parks will probably ignore.

That's not much of a Prisoner's Dilemma, as we are duty bound to act ethically and do the right thing even if others do not. As Karen states above, we can publicly call out the people who act selfishly and boorishly. The people around you are more than likely to support you when you do so as they are probably thinking the same thing but don't want to "cause a scene" by saying something. The boorish are counting on our silence so say something!

My personal pet peeve are the parents who put their kids on their shoulders. It's just so rude to do this and block the people behind you. If your kid can't see then you do what I did when my kids were young: you hold them in your arms so their head is at the same height as your own head. It will give you a bit of a workout, not unduly obstruct the people behind you and your kid still gets to see the show.

Another reason the parks should not allow kids on a parent's shoulders is the liability issue. If the kid falls off and gets injured then the parent could sue the people in the vicinity for jostling and causing the fall, and the park for not having adequate measures to protect the child. So even if the parks do not care about guest sightlines, they should at least care about getting sued and ban/enforce kids on the shoulders.

August 24, 2016 at 7:05 PM · Robert, great article. Perhaps you could help me with a family debate. My parents are planning to take my nieces and their parents to Disnye and have not gone in 18 years. As such my dad is doing lots of research (of course I told him to check out your site). I suggested as the girls will be 4 1/2 and 1 1/2 and are only doing a day in MK they should use a Fast Pass on the parade. I have done it without kids and I love showing up at last minute to the area and getting a good spot. He is thinking to use them on just rides or meeting the princesses but I pointed out some rides have slower times (trip is in Feb) and the parades are always packed and it is hard to wait for young ones. Do you think having more people using their Fast Pass on parades would help (or not as there is only certain availability)?
August 24, 2016 at 7:42 PM · Disneyland has the added problem of narrow walkways and limited parade viewing depth. They ought to slightly increase the parade route by going around the castle hub. They need to cut the trees back. Remove the planters. There's way too many planters, lawns areas, railings and tall trees. I sat a few times at Plaza Pavilion. The trees blocked the view. I knew that it would, but the family can't wait 2 hrs or even 1 hr in advance. The Plaza Inn side is also very bad with the lawn area taking up space behind the railing. Viewing fireworks is equally horrendous. The trees make viewing difficult especially at the castle next to the Matterhorn. You would think the castle area is prime viewing spot, but not in some areas. Give us more space!!!
August 24, 2016 at 9:15 PM · If I were running a theme park, here's what I would do to solve this...

1. A designated portion of the viewing area (probably about 1/3-1/2) is available by reservation only. This can either take the form of package deals or showpasses similar to what World of Color uses. For those who absolutely must see the parade, this is a good option.

2. All remaining viewing is available first come, first served, beginning 60-90 minutes before showtime. If anyone is found to be camping out before that time, they will be redirected to a proper place for relaxation and told to return when the performance begins seating.

3. Once seating begins, the parade route is filled in blocks in the direction of the performance. At any given time, only 2-3 blocks are open to guests. As one fills, cast members open the next block along the route. The show schedule will indicate the parade blocks, approximate times when each block is seated, and approximate times that the parade will arrive at each block (therefore putting an end to the "What time is the 3:00 parade?" question).

4. Within each block, guests in the first few rows will be required to sit. Everyone behind that may either sit or stand. With the exception of the back row, all guests will be asked to remove any headpieces and not raise anything above eye level (including cameras and small children).

5. Blocks will be filled to capacity and then closed to new visitors. If an entire party is not present at the time a block is closed, that party will not be able to sit together. In the event that a guest needs to leave for any reason, they may obtain a pass from a cast member that will allow a maximum of two guests to leave and re-enter the area.

6. Ten minutes before showtime, any unfilled blocks will be opened to visitors. At five minutes before the parade reaches a block, it will be closed off to prevent people trying to squeeze in while the performance is in progress.

7. At the tail end of the parade, cast members will walk along the rear of the final float instructing guests to stand and prepare to move. The rope will be 10-15 seconds behind this float in order to give everyone time to get to their feet.

It would definitely take some time to get guests used to this system, but once everyone got in the groove it would likely solve many of the problems currently present at parades.

August 24, 2016 at 9:26 PM · Disneyland's solution to overcrowding for the Paint the Night parade? Take it out! It's only going to be worse when Star Wars Land opens. You think the crowding on Main Street during and after the parade is bad now?
August 25, 2016 at 2:04 AM · I don't get Disney. They have to cope at least twice a day with the same problem for how long now? People getting angry, upset, cranky and trying to get this thing done in a safe way.
If height was created in the form of balconies (developing upper levels on buildings), have stadium seating raised out of the ground etc, it would do so much for the guests and the cast members.
August 25, 2016 at 11:06 AM · Not to ruin a good thing, but I've seen Paint the Night at least half a dozen times from the Main Street Train Station and I'm always amazed at how under utilized it is. Yes, there is a reserved area in the center for VIP groups, but the left and right sides are available, and usually I've been able to sit on a bench. Just don't tell everybody!
August 25, 2016 at 1:10 PM · Whenever we have been at the parades at DL (the Xmas one is my favorite) we have always tried to be considerate of the children around us even to the point of have someone else's child sitting on my lap or leaning on my shoulders so they can see the parade. Sometimes though the CMs can make the wait for the parade pretty miserable.
Many years ago my family (4 in total) went to DL to see the MSEP during its 1st final run. We planned ahead by asking at Town Hall when we could get a place on Main Street and we followed the directions we were given - about 60 minutes before the start and to remain seated on the curb until the 15 minute announcement was made for the parade. My husband and Brother-in-law went to get food as soon as we had our place picked out and they returned in about 15 minutes with burgers, fries and drinks. Right after they returned a CM patrolling the street came by and told us to "Stand up, you can't be sitting and eating here" we explained that we were following the directions from the folks at the Town Hall. She repeated her instructions for us to stand up which we did and when she was out of sight we all sat down and proceed to eat our meal. Another CM strolled by said hello and moved on; not saying anything about us sitting and eating on the curb. Well, as you might guess, the "Stand up" CM came by repeating her demand to stand up - after we did she moved on and we sat down again; other CM strolled by saying hello or asking if we were enjoying our curbside meal. By the 4th time the "Stand up" CM came by we all refused to stand up and told her to get her supervisor to talk to us since she was not happy with our behavior. The supervisor never came by and she finally quit telling us to stand up. When the 15 minute announcement for the parade was made we all stood up and waited patiently for the parade. The "Stand up" CM made another pass down the street and upon seeing us standing said something to the effect of "Finally you are following directions" I replied that "No we just finished our meal and we followed the instructions from the Town Hall folks who were much nicer then you have been to us" She left in a huff and we did not see her again the rest of the evening.
Rob McCullough is right about the "secret viewing" spot, we have used it before and not just for Paint the Night. Its a good place to watch some of the fireworks too.
August 25, 2016 at 2:22 PM · Maybe they best way would be by having people wait in line first, then cast members would direct groups to their spots. Treat the parade like any attraction, having people wait in line, then right before the parade starts people would be directed to their spot. This would prevent people from just going wherever they like at the last second, and people waiting on Main Street for hours. The line would open one hour before the parade starts, and people would start moving 15 minutes before. People that come in the last 5 minutes or after the maximum number of people that can comfortable fit the viewing area are out of luck. A limited number of fast passes would be offered, and anyone with a Fastpass could sit together, but people without fast passes would be offered. Main Street would be closed off 30 minutes before the parade, and people already in Main Street would have to leave in the the next 15 minutes. This would be fine at The Magic Kingdom and elsewhere, but may harder to implement at the original Disneyland due to the shops not having a back entrance.
August 26, 2016 at 8:48 AM · I don't stop for for parades much but when I do I stake out my spot a couple of hours beforehand on the curb. It is usually just two or three of us. One of us will go to get food and we hold their spot. I can't imagine trying to hold ten spots. Trying to hold one spot is hard enough but I must say if say someone is sitting there folks move on. Once the parade is going on I look for little kids that are stuck in the back and invite to join us.
August 27, 2016 at 1:36 PM · Nice thoughts. You're right - Tokyo is a great example of civilized guest behavior. It's worth noting that in Tokyo, guests stake out their spot with a large beach towel or blanket, and everyone seems to respect that. Many folks had special Disney beach towels for the purpose, and I think the park even sells them. Seems to work out fine for everyone. Of course, Tokyo has gigantic walkways, so there's lots of room for the crowds and their towels. But it seems like a good model for other parks to follow.

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