Vote of the Week: Should theme parks make certain attractions available by reservation only?

July 25, 2014, 9:02 AM · When you're spending big money for a day at a theme park — nearly $100 for a single day at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, for example — do you really want to spend a third of your day, or more, waiting in line for a single attraction?

What if that attraction was the one thing your child most wanted to do on your annual vacation?

Princess Fairytale Hall at the Magic Kingdom
"Are you SURE you really want to wait to see Anna and Elsa, honey?"

Still, we're willing to bet that most people would want to find a way out of waiting in that queue. That's why so many parks have created ride reservation or queue skipping systems. Whether they are free (such as Disney's Fastpass+), an add-on benefit to a hotel reservation (such as Universal Express Unlimited) or a straight upcharge (such as SeaWorld's QuickQueue), these systems allow a way out of those hours-long queues. And by doing that, they offer an extra inducement to entice would-be visitors to book a vacation with the resorts that offer them. Come here and use our system, they say, and you can have it all — all the attractions you want, without all those long lines.

But not everyone uses the line-skipping systems. And with many systems, notably Disney's Fastpass+, one's use of the system is limited, and there might be only a limited number of reservations available for a specific attraction at any given time. That leaves plenty of people outside the system, forced to wait in what is now an even longer standby line, as some of the attraction's hourly capacity has been given over to line-skippers.

Two factors determine the length of the wait for a theme park attraction: popularity and capacity. That is, the number of people who want to experience the attraction and the number of people per hour that the attraction can accommodate. Capacity is why it's not accurate to say that one ride is more popular than another simply because it has a longer average wait time. Capacity often explains the differences between attraction wait times, such as why the wait is so often longer for Splash Mountain than Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates can put through hundreds more people per hour than Splash, especially in Anaheim, accounting for the typically shorter wait for Pirates, even though Pirates usually handles more people per day.

So when you see really brutal wait times for theme park attractions, a low hourly capacity usually is to blame. We reported earlier this week that one source has said that the Magic Kingdom's Anna and Elsa meet and greet — by far the longest standby wait time in the park at up to six hours — might have an hourly capacity as low as 89 guests per hour. That's an order of magnitude less than for other attractions considered slow loading by Disney's standards.

Disney has offered its Fastpass+ reservation system for the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet, but that's not spared the thousands of other Frozen fans who couldn't get those advance reservations the day-killing wait in the standby queue. In an effort to help those guests continue to get more value from their day in the park, this week Disney started a second reservation system for Anna and Elsa, distributing return time tickets in the morning to guests on a first-come, first-served basis. But this meant that there would no longer be a true walk-up or stand-by queue to meet the Frozen stars. If you want to see Anna and Elsa, you would need a reservation — either through Fastpass+ or the new return-time system. Show up at the park too late to get a return time? You're out of luck — no matter how long you'd be willing to wait.

So that raises the question: Should there be situations where theme parks make certain attractions availably only by reservation? Parks long have required reservations for hotel rooms and certain table-service restaurants. Indeed, many visitors have booked tables at the parks' character meals as a way to secure a reservation to meet certain characters, long before systems like Fastpass+ made the regular in-park meet-and-greets available by reservation.

In an ideal world, theme parks would create higher-capacity attractions, so that all wait times could be kept to a reasonable level. (Your definition of "reasonable," of course, might vary.) But, let's face it, we don't live in an ideal world. And it doesn't make financial sense for parks to build individual attraction capacity to handle all of their Fourth of July and Christmas crowds when attendance levels sit much lower for the other 49 weeks of the year. (It's cheaper for parks to throw on some extra parades and shows to handle those holiday excess crowds, instead.)

It's Vote of the Week time. Please select the answer that best matches your opinion on this issue.

If Disney or another theme park company made certain attractions available on a reservation-only system, how might that change the way you plan and go on your theme park vacations? Let's talk about that in the comments.

Replies (22)

July 25, 2014 at 9:27 AM · Great question and yes I think that low capacity attractions (be it a ride or meet and greet or whatever) should be reserved for the highest paying Disney customers. By now Disney knows due to the magic band who are their "whales" and they should be treated better then the rest of their guests because they are better people and for Disney they are better of spending money than standing in line.

Sure that's sarcasm. I'll tell you Disney is run by idiots. How can you build a high quality ride like 7DMT with this low capacity. Disney knows how many guests are coming and how popular FantasyLand is. You must be a complete idiot to approve a low capacity ride if you don't want to create a problem. The same goes for the princesses. Where Universal expanded Olivanders from 1 to 4 rooms this could even more easily be done by dressing up more girls as the hit princesses of the moment to meet demand. But clearly Disney doesn't care or isn't creative enough.

July 25, 2014 at 9:38 AM · Couple thoughts - ya know, I am a planner, I make lists, itineraries, stuff like that so having to make reservations would probably enhance my experience by not having to wait in as long of lines. And it wouldn't bother me to need to have the structure.

But I have family, friends, and see people post on various boards who could never do that. A lot of people want to just go on vacation and not have to plan, just want to go with the flow. That's not me. But for the sake of those people, I do think there should always be an option to wait in line if that's how they flow.

Another thought, as the previous commenter suggested, is that there is absolutely no reason Disney couldn't have multiple people in character for those popular meet n greets and have multiple rooms to push more people through. The young kids who are the ones who care about seeing them will never figure that out. The adults will 'get it' and appreciate the shorter lines. But I doubt Disney would ever do that.

July 25, 2014 at 11:35 AM · Plan A would be for parks to provide a wide enough provision of attractions to meet demand, and 60 minute's standby wait should be tops.

Of course plan B is a little more worrying!
What if parks just keep raising prices until demand levels out to a reasonable level? Tie that strategy into an 'airline pricing model' and the problem of line waits goes away!

Nice for the parks but dreadful for guests who can't pay the premium.

July 25, 2014 at 10:49 AM · One thing I hate is a false standby line. I've been in lines that don't move. I eventually give up because there's no way of knowing if I will arrive. This paper Fastpass is an improvement. Everyone that gets one should be proud. Some are saying a standby line should still be available as if that gives them a fighting chance and the attraction is part of the admission price. Maybe people should stop knocking Fastpasses in general and learn to use Fastpass+. Forget the spontaneity nonsense.

I do think they can partially fix the Anna and Elsa meet and greet line problem with a simple fix. Replace Jasmine with Elsa at the Cinderella Royal Table and Akershus. Instantly double up the girls who want to see her at the character meals.

July 25, 2014 at 11:29 AM · @OT - I don't think Disney doesn't care about guests when they design attractions, but part of their problem is that it takes a long time for them to build and open attractions. In the case of Frozen, the idea of an Anna and Elsa meet and greet kinda appeared out of the blue. When Disney recognized there was a strong interest, they moved the meet and greet to the Magic Kingdom and added it to the Fastpass+ system. Now with popularity soaring, they have added the paper Fastpasses to eliminate people waiting in a standby line for hours that have zero chance of meeting the characters. I'm sure if it were feasible, they would have 10 rooms loaded with Anna and Elsa look alikes, but that just doesn't make sense. There are other princesses that guests want to meet as well, so they're not about to tear up the relatively new Fairytale Hall just to add a few extra rooms for Anna and Elsa, who might be waning in popularity by the time Disney were to finish the work, replaced by some new movie character in the fall. Look how long it took Disney to recognize the advantage of using discrete rooms to meet Mickey Mouse. Not until the expansion of Fantasyland did the meet and greet area come close to meeting the demand of guests wanting to meet the characters.

You want to point to Universal as the model, but fail to note that lines for Olivander's were 2+ hours for the 5-minute show when WWoHP first opened in 2010, and that capacity issue was not solved until a month ago (4 years). Disney may not have announced plans to increase the presence and accessibility of Frozen characters in the park, but if you're going to measure Disney against Universal, they have another 3+ years to put something in place to address the popularity of the characters.

@Anon - I do think adding Anna and Elsa to the character meals would be a great way to quell demand. Heck, it would save me a lot of grief on my trip in October with an ADR already booked for Akershus. However, I think there's something to be said for keeping the characters relatively exclusive (look how popular the villains are during the MNSSHP and the Villains takeover party), and the princess character meals hardly need a reason to be more popular. A slow roll of the characters in the parks prevents over saturation, and I don't think Disney wants to make people hate Frozen before they have even had a chance to take a stab at making a bonafide theme park attraction around the property.

The people that want to meet Anna and Elsa will find a way to do it, and if it's that important to them, they will make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen. I'd certainly like to give my son the chance to meet them (I think he'd rather meet Olaf and Sven though), and will try to grab a Fastpass+ for them when I am able, and try to get a paper reservation if they're still doing it in October. However, if we strike out, there's plenty of other things that we can do, and if the characters are as endearing and long-lasting as everyone seems to think they are, they'll be there the next time we go.

July 25, 2014 at 11:45 AM · I am a throw caution to the wind, play it by ear vacationer with no agenda who likes to to do spur of the moment things. My wife claims she is organized and likes to follow schedules, but secretly enjoys my unplanned craziness.

This being said, reservations are not my thing, unless it is for a restaurant only. The Disney FP+ system is deeply flawed. I doubt that when you return at the scheduled time, you are anywhere less than another 45 minute wait.

I have heard of people waiting well over an hour in FP lines... it makes no sense to call it a "perk". I call it a time vampire.

July 25, 2014 at 11:57 AM · Absolutely not! Fast Pass at best. Everyone pays big money for these attractions and no one should be shut out of them because they are not aware or do not know how to handle the web site.
July 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM · Hi there!
I completely agree with a reservation system for the popular attraction but those reservation should be only for guest that have already booked a vacation, season pass holders, etc, kind of what Fastpass+ is doing right now. And for those that are "walk in's" attendees a standby by queue.
I consider myself a regular attendee for WDW and last year i booked a reservation about three months in advance, we booked for early september to take advantage of the Dinning plan promotion. We got the Dinning plan with One table service and it was impossible to find great restaurant available specially "Be our Guest" since they are 180 days out. This year we are planing a trip for the same dates and meeting some family and i was able to book a dinning reservation for 10 people way before even make the official reservation. I believe a 60 day reservation for booked guest just like Fastpass+ is currently using for ride reservations, should be great solution to eliminate those long waits plus for families that are not as fortunate enough to visit WDW plenty of time, for them could be a one in a life time experience and you don't want to spend it waiting on line for one attraction.

July 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM · @NB - You seem very cynical of Fastpass+. I have yet to personally use the Fastpass+ system, but I never waited more than 15 minutes for an attraction under the old Fastpass system. I am not aware of any significant waits for attractions using Fastpass+ other than occasional issues with breakdowns and those attractions that require you to show up early (parades, fireworks, and shows). Most reports seem to indicate that Fastpass+ works very much like the old system in terms of wait times. Perhaps you could provide some specific anecdotal evidence of extended waits.

Fastpass+ doesn't keep you from being spontaneous, but it does give you the chance to guarantee yourself an opportunity to experience some of the most popular attractions without having to wait in a huge standby line. Is the system perfect, no, but it's free, and helps guests ensure that they can experience a least a few of their favorite attractions without having to wait in a huge line.

You can be as spontaneous as you want, but you're going to wait in line, just like everyone else. If you don't like the lines, you can use the Fastpass+ system, or try visiting during less popular times of the year. If you look at it your way, the entire theme park industry is a "time vampire".

July 25, 2014 at 12:56 PM · I was reading that the Anna & Elsa Fastpass + is the toughest ticket since Disney only issues 9 per hour. Standby, which is now a somewhat reserved standby, gets the remainder. If true, those fastpasses would be devoured the moment they become available. Like other posters have said, having more than one Elsa & Anna Meet & Greet makes the most sense. The character lines in the tents by Dumbo are pretty short, easy enough to convert those over. Sounds like an artificially long line that could easily be rectified.
July 25, 2014 at 1:14 PM · No kid should ever have to wait an unreasonably long time (45 min?) to meet a costumed fictional character. That is just ridiculous! There has got to be a balance between keeping it exclusive and special versus not torturing your paying guests. They could easily have several sets of A&E located in different areas of any given park, just not so close that they can see each other. I mean, we're only trying to fool very young children here, right? And meet 'n greets have got to be one of the cheapest forms of attraction there is. I doubt any of those "actors" are making a ton of money. Having just one set and forcing guests to make reservations and/or wait for hours just to get a photo and a fake autograph is corporate greed at its worst. I'm a Disney shareholder and I am disgusted!
July 25, 2014 at 1:55 PM · Theme parks should do the right thing and expand capacity for their most popular attractions. This is just another case of monopoly at its worst: keep the supply artificially scarce in order to justify inflated ticket prices and slow service. It's beyond the parks' control? Yeah, right.
July 25, 2014 at 2:17 PM · Hi there,
Just thought I would add a little insight into how fast pass + worked for us recently. We spent a fortnight in orlando this July, including the 4th July weekend. I was very sceptical about the new system as I had the old one fine tuned to work to our advantage! I could not have been more impressed. We had our 3 advance reservations made before we arrived then as soon as we had used these we simply got fast pass after fastpass from the kiosks. We spent one day in each of the 4 main disney parks and experienced almost every single attraction in each. Our longest wait was 12 minutes, which was the 7 dwarves mine train straight after opening with no fastpass used. When you scan your ticket or magic band at the entry point of the fastpass queue, it then times how long you are waiting until you board the attraction. If you are quick you can see the screen to the second scanner and see your recorded wait times. None of my times were ever more than 3 minutes! Hope this info helps!
July 25, 2014 at 2:59 PM · If you spend any time on here, you would know I have been cynical of Disney since our fourth visit. Parks packed to dangerous capacity, endless seas of strollers and ungodly waits for everything, even during Extra Magic Hours.

Not a big fan... from experience.

July 27, 2014 at 12:17 PM · It's been mentioned already, and perhaps Disney has a good reason not to, but I don't understand why there are not more "Anna and Elsa" signing sessions throughout the 4 parks right now while they are quite popular and lines are dreadfully long? It seems to be a simple solution, have them appear in each of the parks to meet and greet and this will at least cut down on some of the wait times. There is plenty of time for them to make the rounds at the Princess breakfast in the Norway Pavilion as well.
July 25, 2014 at 4:46 PM · This isn't 100 percent related to the poll, but is it feasible for Disney to set up multiple rooms with multiple actresses playing the same character for these meet and greets? There has to be a way to keep the There Is Only One Elsa And Anna alive while also increasing the capacity, right?

I can't be the first one to think of this idea, so what's Disney's reason for not doing it?

July 25, 2014 at 6:36 PM · As a visitor from the Uk, I once waited in line for four hours for a meet and greet with Rapunzel, and was more than happy to do so. The holiday was a one off and my daughter was desperate to see her. From overseas its not always possible to plan ahead that rigidly. Personally if i was to spend thousands of pounds for a holiday and park tickets, only to find we had no chance at all of visiting some of the most popular attractions i would be extremely angry. If people are happy to take their chances in a standbye line, I feel they should be afforded the opportunity to do so, as we have paid the entrance fee the same as everyone else.
July 25, 2014 at 6:47 PM · I think the determining factor would be "is this a dining experience" ? I would call Anna and Elsa a "dining experience" with no food.

I think doing it with Fastpass+ only at least gives guest an honest assessment of whether they truly will get to see the princesses. They can then prepare their families for a reality.

I would never wait four hours for anything at a theme park. That is just insane, especially to see characters.

As to the people who say "everybody pays", I pay my money too, but thats not going to get me in Cinderella's Royal Table, Be our Guest, Jedi Academy, or American Idol to name a few.

July 25, 2014 at 10:14 PM · I don't 100% fault Disney for the waits to meet Anna and Elsa -- there's zero precedent for 4-hour waits to meet characters. I was working at Disneyland when Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye opened, and while it had 4½-hour waits on opening day, by the second week it was down to 2½ hours as the initial demand died down. I think they figured that demand would similarly die down for the meet & greet.

But now that it can be seen that demand is remaining steady, they are trying to fix it. I personally don't think that the paper return times and shutting out everyone who doesn't get either those or a FastPass+ reservations is the right way to go. Not everyone who visits Walt Disney World researches first, nor should it be a requirement to do so. And to tell a family, whose child wants to meet Anna and Elsa just as badly as the child of a family who got FastPass+ reservations, that they are out of luck, no standby line, "sorry you should have been keeping up with the situation online now you're out of luck" is a very un-Disney solution.

I think the best reasonable solutions have already been put forward in this comment thread: the "Mickey Mouse" solution used at Mickey's House in Disneyland's Toontown, and adding Anna and Elsa to a character dining experience would greatly reduce the demand in Fantasyland. Sure, the waits will still hover around 2 hours for a while, but it's better than turning people away or advertising multiple meet & greets that prompt questions from the kids about how they're in multiple places at once.

July 26, 2014 at 1:37 PM · I actually did an Anna & Elsa FP+ 2 months ago for later in the day. The interactions between A&E and the children is quite personal. Both chat with the child, sign their autograph books and have about 6 photos taken with both Disney photopass cameras and personal cameras. The whole M&G last about a minute per person in the group. The A&E actresses have to always stay in character and greet everyone personally.

Based on what I saw, they average 9 FP+ "slots" per hour for about 4 people per slot, not 9 people per hour. There are not deliberately rushed but the A&E CMs try to run smoothly and efficiently. However, there are about 15 to 20 guests in the room watching the previous guests do their M&G and this gives them a little more face time.

I'm fairly sure there are multiple rooms operating because you are led in through a series of short, walled, left and right turns and other rooms can be present. Magic Kingdom averages 50,000 guests per day and A&E can meet at most 100-150 guests per hour.

July 26, 2014 at 2:54 PM · A perfect example of this is Disney's Captain Jack Experience at the studios park. There should also be a stand by queue, I don't care if it gets crowded.
July 27, 2014 at 2:56 PM · I also did the Jack Sparrow Experience at DHS with the return time ticket. It was a great change and helps the guests manage their day better. This attraction has some entertainment value but I always avoided it because I knew it wasn't worth more than 15 minutes standing in line for. Now, each show is full and no wait time.

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