Designing the Economically Perfect Theme Park
Want to get on more rides the next time you visit a theme park?
It used to be that the best way to do that was to arrive early, with ticket in hand. That way, you could get into the park right when it opened and do many of the most popular rides before long queues formed. But with Walt Disney World now offering advance ride reservation times, and many parks now offering early-admission plans, just showing up at park open won't always help get you on top rides with little-or-no wait anymore.
Whether fans like it or not, more and more about visiting theme parks is becoming "pay to play." It's not just the ticket at the front gate. Now, it's whether or not to buy a front-of-line pass, whether to buy a dining package that includes reserved show seating, or whether to pay extra to get into the park before opening or to stay after close — all to help you get on more rides, with less wait, during your stay.
Rather than shaking our fists at the wind and demanding that parks quit trying to make all this extra money, let's instead just go with it and try to imagine where all these changes will lead. What happens when theme parks assign a price to everything?
People with business degrees might argue that slapping a price on everything would make parks more efficient. After all, paying for something tests how much you really want it. And it's not like you are getting on all those rides and into all those shows without paying something more than for your admission ticket right now, anyway. It's just that you are paying extra with your time — the time you wait in line — rather than your money.
Imagine a theme park where you could pay with money instead of time to get into any attraction you want. Everything would be offered on a reserved return-time basis. And those return times would be up for bid. Want to meet Anna and Elsa at 2 in the afternoon on the day of your visit? Instead of logging into My Disney Experience 30 days before your visit and hoping that spot is available, you would log in and place a bid on that return time, at your convenience.
You could place bids on all the rides, shows, and character meets you wished to experience during your trip, then set a maximum bid you'd be willing to pay for each one. If you were flexible on time, you'd tell the system that. You could set a maximum budget for all your bids, too, so that you don't price yourself out of your own vacation.
The amounts of the bids tell the system how much you really want to do each of these things in the park. But if you really, really must do something on your trip, you could declare it a "must do." If the price of a "must do" rose to near your maximum bid for that attraction, the system would withdraw your bids on less-popular attractions in order to avoid going over your budget while keeping you in the bidding for the must-do ride or show. The risk is that, if your overall budget wasn't large enough, you could end up with your "must do"... and not much else to do in the park that day.
But if the price of your highest bids went beyond what you were willing to pay, the system would reassign that bid money to other, less-popular attractions, potentially allowing you to see more stuff on your visit... just not the really good stuff.
You could tell the system at what time you wanted to enter the park, what time you want leave, how many people would be in your party, if anyone is skipping certain attractions, whether you are doing child swaps, and if you want to keep time clear for resting or shopping during the day.
The auctions would close the day before the day of your visit, so that you would know the night before what your day's itinerary would be. With your winning bids scheduling your day, you could walk from attraction to attraction with no wait to experience them. If you didn't end up with a full day's worth of activities, the system could schedule you to arrive late (sleep in — yay!) or call it a night early. No matter what, your day would be planned completely in advance.
Want to stretch your budget? Parks could throw a bone to those who couldn't afford to bid on a full day's worth of attractions by allowing visitors to "bid" with time, too. Standby lines would be the easiest way to do this, but if a park wanted to ensure that everyone's day was planned in advance, it could create a system where people would bid in advance with time instead of money.
Just submit a bid of how much time you'd be willing to wait for an attraction. The people who bid with the longest waits get the assignments. If you "won," you'd be required to show up at the attraction entrance to begin waiting your time before riding. If you didn't show up on time, you would lose your ride time. Obviously, the trade-off here is the same that it is now. The longer you wait for any single attraction, the less time you have to do anything else in the park that day.
You could bid with a mix of money and time, if you wished. Parks would need to hire math geeks to write the algorithms that would balance visitors' money and time bids, to make the tradeoffs that would allow guests to see as much as what they wished to see, given their budgets and the amount of time available in the day.
If not enough people bid for all the available return times on some attractions, the system could assign those return times to people who didn't have a full day and were already scheduled to be in or near that land at the moment, as a no-wait "freebie."
Missing the spontaneity of an old-fashioned day in the parks? The park could end the day with a one-hour "free ride" period, after the fireworks, in which you could go on any and all attractions you wished during that hour, with traditional queues for rides where demand exceeded capacity. (Just for fun, I will call this rule-free hour at the end of the day "The Purge.")
Now, to be even more cynical, admission to The Purge itself could be an extra charge... available for bid, with money or time waited.
What would you think about planning a day to visit this theme park? Would you find this a joy — to have everything planned in advance, with no worry, stress, or guesswork in trying to figure out what to do next? Or would you find it stressful — even embarrassing — to have to spend time in those waiting areas, declaring to everyone with your presence that you could not afford to pay to skip that wait?
Would you enjoy visiting a park that would know exactly the return on investment for every attraction it created, allowing it to spend money precisely on the rides and shows that it knew for certain that its visitors most valued experiencing? Or would you fear that such a system would reduce themed entertainment to "Buzzfeed — The Park?"
Would you love the efficiency of everyone getting to do the stuff for which they most were willing to invest time or money, instead of being in a park where those who knew how to game the system got more at the expense of those who didn't?
Or... would you mourn that a day in a theme park would be further reduced to a platform for sales — where immersion and discovery didn't matter, because every experience has to be planned and transacted in advance?
Here's a quick history lesson: Disney's theme parks used have an explicit "pay to play" system to try to ensure that people paid more to go on the most popular attractions. Granted, neither Disney nor anyone else had the computer power in 1955 to program a system that supported real-time auctions for assigning return times throughout the day. So Disneyland used something much simpler — A through E tickets. The A tickets were the cheapest, and got you on the simplest, least popular rides and shows. The Es cost the most and got you into the biggest, latest and best rides in the park. Almost every ride requires one of these tickets, and if you ran out of tickets, you had to buy more to ride more.
But by the early 1980s, Disneyland and Disney World abandoned the ticket system, in favor of unlimited-admission "Passports." Why? Because people valued the ease and convenience of paying one price for the day, instead of the hassle of managing all those individual tickets. (For what it's worth, Six Flags actually was the first major park chain to implement one-price-gets-all tickets.)
Eventually, people willingly paid more for an unlimited day at a Disney theme park than they ever paid under the old ticket system. Visitors recognized that the whole was worth more than the sum of its parts. Once people started seeing "Disney" as a destination unto itself — and not simply a collection of rides such as Pirates, Mansion, and Space Mountain — the company moved to a new level of success and prosperity.
So as we try to look ahead to anticipate the future of the theme park industry, let's recognize that we might find it... in its past. Sure, parks might be rushing to price every component of their experience today. But, at some point, leaders in the industry might recognize — as Six Flags' Angus Wynne, and later, Disney executives, did — that what people often value most is... the joy of simplicity.
People in business know getting someone to buy upfront at the highest prices possible is better than incremental pricing since getting someone to upgrade is a harder sell. Disney can continue the inclusive pricing for tickets and dining. Yet they can segment their audience for those who can and will pay for more services. The issue is whether if Disney makes their audiences feel shortchanged if they didn't do the upgrade. From what I'm seeing, it is more likely that people won't see the upgrade advantage after being burned a few times. They might make people feel special after a few events. Eventually, they lose their prestige. Disney is a lowest common denominator theme park operator. They aren't a 5 star operation.
it's funny, when reading the recent articles about late night perks and early morning perks, I got to thinking, why don't we just revert back to the Coupon Books. And then boom, Robert comes full circle and nails it!
Or you could just say, "It's not worth my time and effort, or increasing amount of financial cost, to attend a park that forces me to do these things to get the full experience.
A bidding system? EVERYTHING reserved in advance? NO...just no. Please don't give them such grotesque ideas. Sounds like the perfect formula to turn me off theme parks forever.
The fact is Disney is doing it and their guests are forking over hundreds of dollars extra to meet characters or get better seats for shows etc that are put bhind a paywall. Disney created that demand by not adding much rides the past 15 years.
Sounds like a really relaxing way to spend a vacation, now if they also provide time slots for bathroom breaks....sign me up.
So... why not build a second Magic Kingdom?
Disney's brand is being destroyed by bean counters who understand numbers better than they understand people. This is what happens when the federal government assigns a perpetual monopoly to big business.
Sorry, but you lost me when you started your overly long explanation about bidding - don't dare to give them the idea. Fastpass + has already taken the fun out of going to the parks, adding bidding would be a death knell.
I'm against the whole idea of booking fast passes so far in advance as it is these days. I loved the system where you got your fast pass on the day you were there and you came back at the time it gave you. That worked and it didn't need fixed.
Nooooooooo! Talk about killing the magic. Heck it!
If you raise prices and more people than ever show up...raise prices further.
I think Robert's hypothetical scenario is the extreme end in the direction destination parks (particularly Disney) are slowly creeping. However, I highly doubt it will become a reality. In the past couple years, I have seen more reports from people who were not satisfied with their WDW experience than I ever remember seeing before, and I really think the idea of upcharges and advance reservations has gone about as far as it can go before there is significant pushback.
It seems to me there is an under current here. Ok turn on the way back machine Mr. Peabody. Who remembers why some rides are called E ticket rides. I do and I remember my first trip to Disneyland we bought the unlimited ( not sure if that's what it was called) but I was able to ride all the rides as many times as I wanted where as my cousins had only so many E tickets. Thus once you used you tickets it made for less lines. So where am I going here? It seems to me about crowd control while still making money. Kind of return to the old coupon book type things.
Let's get really profitable. Buy an island and build the next Park there. To attend, buy 2 nights and a day on DCL and get the theme park from arrival to 1AM. It's offshore and nobody's driviving so sell all the alcohol you can and focus it on young adults. Sleep it off and Par-Tay.
This is an interesting idea that I thought was worth putting out there. However, I don't think it would turn out very well. Just like everyone else, I also don't want to start paying extra money just to get on my favorite rides, but there's another problem that I can see with this plan, and that's stingy people lying/exaggerating about their true financial state just to use the time-bidding thing just to save money, which'd then lead to many others following their example, which'd then lead to the whole system getting screwed up and prompt Disney to then come up with some sort of solution that meets the same warm recieption of FP+.
I wouldn't like to fight with money about when I can get to which ridem and everything is already planned when I arrive, which gives me 0 flexibility. My favourite theme park, Europapark in Germany (which won the Golden Ticket award for the best theme park twice), still has only simple entrance ticket. You pay once, and there are only different prices for children, elderly people and handicapped people, as well as group prices and so on. But they all get the same, free entrance to all rides and shows. They don't even have a fastpass system with special queues. But what they have is an app that allows you to check the current waiting time on any ride. That allows people to plan their next action on their visit, and it helps to distribute people between the rides. If the big rollercoasters have long queues, people will go to smaller rides and might return to the big ones once the queues got shorter. The longest queue time I've ever seen there was 55 minutes, which is pretty long, but still acceptable to many people. I prefer it like that, because there is nothing simpler and more comfortable than that.
I find myself agreeing with many posters in this thread.
I've seen this model before - its called the Stock Market - where those that benefit the most are the ones with the most to start with. Pay to Play is a path to limit the availability of entertainment and in the long run (talking years here) to see higher cost burdens placed on those that can still afford to come. And when we did have coupon books the pricing wasn't outrageous. Yes and E was more than an A - but not $10 more which is what I would expect an E to be today in Disney's eyes.
This article makes me mad because I can see it becoming truth. I love WDW but I can't see when I will be back. The prices are hard to justify when you are getting less.
Please don't give the bean counters any more bright ideas as to how to jack up the prices. I have seen the average stay here go from 7 days to 3 or 4 days due to the price hikes as a LOT of families simply can't afford the "magic" any more or they are fed up with the lines and the whole fast pass fiasco. Even the employees at WDW seem more unhappy than the ones at Disneyland and DCA. These days I am seeing people decide to do other parks like Universal, Sea World and even Fun Spot which is not a bad option for people who don't want to pay a fortune for rides.
To the poster above who mentioned Europa Park.
Stay at a Universal resort one night, and you get two days of Express Pass. And the Royal Pacific destroys the Value resorts at WDW. As far as cheap plastic souvenirs you won't use again, check out my daughter's closet full of Mickey ears. It's all subjective
Bidding? Why on Earth would I want to spend my time doing that? How special does a place have to be that in order to experience it you have to invest god knows how much time checking your phone or tablet in the hope you'll be able to afford to ride a beloved attraction without waiting 2 hours in line? Will restrooms cost more to use after mealtimes? And how long before some enterprising individual with the motivation hacks the system and screws up everybody's day? Some vacation. Of course, if future generations don't know any different / better, they might think this is the way it HAS to be, and acquiesce to it. You want play, you gotta pay...until you won't anymore.
Ditto on how horrible a bidding system would be...talk about taking all the fun out of the park. I've always been a huge Disneyland fan and thought the idea of a Passport and getting rid of coupon books was one of the greatest things the company ever did. But if Walt is in a grave somewhere, I'm sure he's turning furiously in it now...Disney parks have become far too expensive and unaffordable for the average family. And yet, incredibly, the parks seem to be more crowded than ever, no matter when you go. It's very sad but the price has now reached the point where I may no longer go unless I know a "Cast Member" who can sign me in. I don't have a solution but I hope a "magical" inspiration will come to somebody and Disney will return to the Glory Days.
Universal has it right. Stay on property and get an express pass. If not staying on property, pay an up charge and get an express pass. Disney's magic band program is a joke. It cost a fortune to implement. It takes away spontaneity, it's inefficient, and it increases standby times for rides that would otherwise have short waits. Will Disney start up charging to reserve more rides...YEP. And as a result guest walk around like robots, tied to a predetermined schedule that was planned months before without any ability to really understand important variables like weather, crowds, mood, hunger, fatigue, etc, ect. Just let us pay to get into the park. If we don't want to wait in long lines let us pay more. Otherwise it's not a vacation. Its a scheduled, stressful day.
I was last at WDW in Jul 2014, though we are flying to Orlando tomorrow for another trip. This time we will also spend 2 days at US in Orlando. Charging for an express pass makes it no fun. We'll see how it works out this time but we were at USJ in Osaka in December and it was a terrible experience. It was expensive enough to get in for 2 days and to be told we have to basically double our costs in order to ride more than about 2 rides a day is ridiculous. Lines for standby were over 4 hours for popular rides and 2+ hours for less popular rides. My family has NO desire to go to USJ again and it was a hard sell to get them interested in trying US in Orlando. I'll take FP+ any day, though the old FP system also worked fine our two previous trips to WDW and to DL/CA in 2012.
Is anybody feeling more relaxed? This is about vacation you know.......
There are scads of fantastic locations, just in So. Cal alone that offer great ways to celebrate Disney for free. Walt's Barn comes to mind...it's free. And destinations and places to visit that are economical, educational and, entertaining. It's really easy to get stuck on 1313 Harbor Blvd. but that is only one address. Isn't it time time to build a Web site offering great alternatives? Disney's own D23 Club offers visits to the Disney Studio that are quite lovely. It's time to realize DISNEYLAND is way too small and needs to be supplemented in people's entertainment diet with other intellectually nutritional destinations and activities. The Gene Autry Musem is so much better than a walk through Frontierland that is hardly more than a shell of its once great self. Or Knott's too. The great carousel in Griffith Park is still there and the train and so is Travel Town and it's Live Steamers. Again touching Walt in a unique way. The Walt Disney Family Museum is amazing and worth the effort to see. My point is, there are great addresses and things to broaden and add to our lives. 1313 is only one address. Time to look around, kids.
Poor Disney! Leave Disney alone. We keep beating on their bruised and bleeding skulls like a bunch of kids that didn't get the souvenir they want. Walter Williams, the economist, says "the most effective sound to make is the snapping shut of your pocket book." Well? If its too expensive look to some other venue or activity. There is, in any given city fantastic places to take yourself and your kids. How many of you readers have been to the LaBrea Tar Pits lately or the main library in downtown LA? Chinatown or Olvera Street? How about the Natural History Museum? Have you ever taken a tour of a major factory ? Almost anywhere in Los Angeles there is a free music recital somewhere on any given weekend. Disney is in a pickle. Disneyland is just too small for the crowds they entertain. And there isn't that much live entertainment there anymore either. We are paying more for less. Wanna have an effect...a lasting effect they REALLY can hear? Snap those wallets shut nice and tight. Your vote WILL BE HEARD LOUD AND CLEAR.
I love this idea.
Planning a vacation is already a chore: how many cities? fly or drive? which motel? which activities? Theme parks? hiking? national parks? restaurants? etc., etc. WHY would anyone want to spend even more time at home scheduling ride times. Not only that, the whole idea is confusing. I'm still trying to figure out the latest FP process. The old one was fine. And it was fair. No one had to pay anything extra. And everyone got to use the FP on 6 or so attractions during the day. Sure, you feel a little smug, even guilty, walking in the FP queue for Splash Mtn., but it balances out when those folks pass ME going to Pirates.
DISNEYLAND, the first "theme" amusement park in the world. When you went to Frontierland everything was themed to the "flavor" of the Old West. They had shootouts, stores that sold moccasins and the like. You could even get a newspaper printed announcing your visit that day. Today that's all gone. All merchandise is identical or nearly similar everywhere in the Park and nearly so in the entire resort. There is no need to enter DISNEYLAND or DCA to buy a specialty item. It's all in the World of Disney store just outside the gates of the happiest place on earth or so they would have you believe. Even the uniforms or costumes are homogenized. Down on Disney? Heavens no. I think we all write here because we're frustrated knowing how much better DL could be. Perhaps the bigger problem is Walts' dead. You couldn't fire him either. There is no one with absolute final say on any issue within Disney as once was. That's right, guys. There is no Disney!
I don't know why folks are knocking so much on Disney (especially in favor of Universal). DLR tickets are expensive, and the cost increases have been a bit unwarranted in the past 5 years or so, but they're still far and away the highest quality theme park.
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