Universal discovers the challenges of a park-wide virtual queue system
Universal Orlando's new virtual queuing system got its first large-scale, real-world test yesterday as Volcano Bay visitors pushed the park's new TapuTapu system to its limit on its first day of public operation.
TapuTapu is a wristband with a screen that Universal is using to manage virtual queues on each of the park's water slide attractions. Visitors tap their TapuTapu on stanchions outside the attraction they wish to ride, which claims the visitor's place in a virtual queue. The TapuTapu screen will alert the visitor when it's time to return and go on the ride. Each tap station has large display screens that show what the estimated wait time for the ride will be, so visitors who are paying attention can make an informed decision about which virtual queue to commit to as the decide what to ride.
That's all great in theory, put theme park operations is where theory goes to die.
Volcano Bay visitors yesterday found wait times up to six hours, with that top wait for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster. (Surely everyone read my endorsement?) And many visitors didn't understand that they could wait in only one virtual queue at a time, meaning that people who tapped into that six-hour wait were locked out of going on anything else that required TapuTapu before that time passed.
So here are the issues facing Universal as it implements a "no lines" virtual queuing system for Volcano Bay — issues that will face other parks considering such systems as well.
1. Universal doesn't have any real-world ride capacity data.
Hard opens are bad enough. A hard open with an untested virtual queuing system is the theme park equivalent of entering the Indy 500 just after getting your driver's license. Manufacturer data on their rides' theoretical capacity is nice, but from experience, let me tell you that theoretical capacities don't tell you squat about what's really going to happen in live ops. Without an accurate count of how many people a ride can handle in five-minute period, Universal doesn't have an accurate number of "taps" it can assign to each return window before moving visitors into the next. That lead to long actual queues of people waiting to get on after their return time — defeating the whole purpose of the virtual queue.
2. No one has a tested strategy for visiting the park
At Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida (or anyone major theme park), fans with experience or solid research know exactly where to go first in the park, and what to do when, in order to minimize their wait times. But with a hard open at Volcano Bay, no visitors had any real-world experience to lead them through the park. For fans conditioned to following a plan when visiting a theme park, the lack of guidance just lead to chaos.
3. Many people don't realize that they need to research which queue to commit to
The TapuTapu system tells you the estimated wait time you're committing to when you tap in. But too many people yesterday didn't realize the commitment that tapping makes. It's not that you tap into one thing then go ride another. You tap in, then hit the beach, bar, or river during your wait. That beats standing in a physical queue, but it isn't the carefree, just go ride on anything experience that many people envisioned when they heard that Volcano Bay would have "no lines."
4. The park really needs wait time boards and to include wait times on the app
Volcano Bay is not a small water park. If you take the time to walk around and look at the posted wait times on all the TapuTapu check in stations, all those virtual queues are going to blow up while you try to make up your mind. Universal needs to add real-time wait time data for Volcano Bay attractions to the park map on its official app, the way to does for its other two parks. And with many people not carrying cell phones around a water park, Universal should add real-time wait time boards next to each TapuTapu station, telling people the estimated waits at other comparable attractions so that people can decide whether to make the walk over elsewhere to tap in.
5. Universal needs to address cultural challenges with virtual queuing
The most interesting observation I heard from first-day visitors to Volcano Bay was that it was British quests who were freaking out most. Britons are the world champions of queuing, so a boarding-time allocation system that doesn't let them do that isn't going to sit well for many. Several visitors from Britain didn't understand that they actually were queuing when they used TapuTapu, but they just didn't have to stand in the actual line. To those visitors, that's kind of like saying that while you are eating fish and chips, you're just not putting anything fried into your mouth and chewing. What's the difference? queuing is such an ingrained part of the theme park experience for many visitors, so Universal is facing an immense education challenge in teaching people another way to wait to get on a ride.
That said, virtual queuing eliminates a ton of problems, including line jumping, guest discomfort, and the need to time meals and bathroom visits around queue waits. Not to mention the engineering, construction and maintenance expense of creating physical queues that are accessible to all. So I applaud Universal from taking a step in this direction.
But no worthy journey is completed in just one step. What Universal does in addressing the Day One issues with TapuTapu either will provide the rest of the industry with a map to a successful virtual queuing implementation, or cast a chill on others thinking about this important switch.
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It's going to be SO much fun to watch and see how successful this is. In theory, it's a perfect thing. Getting people to understand how to take advantage of it is going to be quite another thing.
The biggest problem I see with a system like this is that there is no standby line at all. If everyone is waiting in a "virtual line", what happens if someone in that line bails, shows up 5 minutes early or 5 minutes late? Who fills that person's spot on the ride? What about people who can walk up the stairs much faster than others and reach the top of a slide 3-5 minutes faster than slower guests? It theoretically could create a situation where there's no one standing at the slide waiting to ride, and ride ops are twiddling their thumbs waiting for the next person to get on the slide, further decreasing ride capacity.
Guests are actually allowed to queue for Krakatau and one other attraction simultaneously. They don't have to commit to not doing anything until their wait for Krakatau is over...
It's only been a day and this technology is brand new, so glitches are to be expected and those visiting now should bring their patience. That said, if Universal can't get the system working reliably within 2-3 weeks, they better have a plan B because bad word of mouth could kill what otherwise looks like a top tier waterpark.
"Not waiting in long lines" doesn't equal "not waiting in lines".
I used the tap reservation system when they were testing it out at Wet n' Wild, so it's disappointing to see that they're having massive issues like this. Kind of makes me wonder what they learned from that experience. I've read some speculation on other sites saying that due to the virtual queuing that Volcano Bay should have a substantially lower attendance cap than other water parks. Why wouldn't they just build a bigger park from day one? Given all these issues and the already announced expansion, I'm planning on just waiting it out until they iron out the kinks and build the expansion.
They need to have a way to exit the line and ride something else if you change your mind, just like you could do if standing in a real line.
One of the interesting things about TapuTapu is that it gives us another example to show people the differences between virtual queues, ride reservations, and front-of-line passes.
AJ, some TapuTapu stations did display a "ride immediately" message when their slide was a walk on, during the media day. No need to tap. But people do need to know which rides in the park are walk-on without having to hike all over the place.
I know it has just opened and we are a long ways off probably but do the slides look as if they could handle longer lines in case Taptapu were to go down or possibly go away in the future? I'm wondering if they should have lowered the ticket cost and then make Taputapu an add on.
I am British and visited the park yesterday with my family.
Since everyone in the park is now waiting in line for a ride, the lines will be longer than a typical water park. While I think waiting in a virtual queue is better than waiting in a physical queue, it will be hard for Universal to explain the longer wait times to the masses.
The wait times at Twitter are ridiculous. 2 hour minimum for each slide. This means everyone is trying hard to get at least one ride in. Maybe bring back wait lines for most slides except for the aqua coaster.
The fact that you can't leave one of the virtual queues is ridiculous. What happens when people just leave the park that are in a virtual queue? Does the wait time still stay the same because the system doesn't know those people physically left?
By all accounts the system is not working (evidenced by Twitter posts of a seemingly empty park with 3 hour waits for each slide). Perhaps a complete overhaul is needed.
Like all Universal Parks, they do offer that add on known as Express Pass for Volcano Bay, is that working as it is suppose to for this park?
>>>1. Move reservations from slide entrances to centralized kiosks (this is what I thought they'd do when the system was announced). Instead of requiring guests to run around the park to reserve rides, have 3-4 kiosks from which guests can reserve any attraction. This would allow guests to see all wait times easily and reserve one they're willing to wait for rather than joining a queue just because they're at that attraction.
They misjudged a lot, even finishing time to complete the park.
Chad, to my knowledge Volcano Bay doesn't use kiosks. Instead, they require you to go to every ride and reserve your time at the ride entrance. My expectation was that their system would mirror the Q-Band system (the waterpark equivalent to Q-Bots) Six Flags uses in their waterparks. In that system, you wear a wristband that you can scan at any of the terminals located around the park (typically by the bottom of each slide and in other high traffic areas). Once you scan your band, the screen displays a list of available rides and their wait times, then you pick the one you want to reserve and your wristband begins to count down. Once it hits zero, you go to the ride, scan in, and generally board within 5 minutes or so.
I was there on friday and it was ridiculous to say the least. You were between 120-400min for a ride. And as mentioned on some comments once you add yourself to the virtual queue you can't join another, or if you want to join another ride if the time is less then you can but it will remove you from your previous ride you had checked in for. Also you have to treck around the park to each ride to find out their wait time!! And sometimes the tapu tapu was going up in wait time I had a ride go from 190min down to 130 then back up to 170min. And when it's time to go to the ride you still have a 20/30min queue. The tapu tapu is good in theory but does not work. They also hit capacity on Saturday and couldn't allow anymore people in aftwr 12pm.
I think it's worth considering that if Universal had built physical queues for its attractions,
Universal has no customer service. o this does not surprise me. Maybe someday they will get it but not with my money. I will stick with Disney, Legoland, Sea World and the other non-Universal Parks in Florida. If more people would stop the twitter complaining and just stop going maybe things would improved. Which is what I have done. It is too bad that Universal doesn't get it because they have some great themed attractions I would like to visit but am unable due to their policies toward handicapped and people with certain medical devices that they require to have for their life. This just adds another to the list of things wrong with Universal Florida. The policies at Florida do not match California as I understand it. All I can see with this is for Universal to soak everyone for a limited experience. To top it off people are dumb enough to go and then complain about it after they had been warned.
I'd like to know what idiot thought it was a good idea to implement a new technology on a holiday weekend.
New parks that hard open are always plagued with problems ... all the way back to the original Disney parks. The pressure to meet an opening deadline with the amount of money riding on the line has to be insane.
I attended Volcano Bay on Monday, which was another at capacity day. I went in with an open mind, knowing that the park just opened, and is using brand new technology that is likely to have some bugs. I figured if I got to see the park, float around the lazy river, have a couple drinks and some food, and maybe hit up a slide or two I would be happy. Realistic expectations for a grand opening of anything.
Great report! Thank you for taking the time to share all that detail.
it was my pleasure to write the comment above, it even inspired me to register. I figure if you go with the right expectations in mind, you will not have any disappointment.
@ 18.104.22.168 - Your comment very much seems to be a non sequitor. I don't see any evidence in this about them having "zero customer service". Things are busy on opening day, thats not bad customer service. Trying to elimate the physical queue for a virtual queue where you can go do something else to me is evidence of them trying to imrpove customer service in the theme park industry - and not pushing it as an upcharge is a welcome change of pace.
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