Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened to the public yesterday, giving Disneyland its largest and most expensive land ever, its first public bar, and the world's first themed land devoted exclusively to Star Wars.
But Disney's new Star Wars land might be even more significant for what it did not deliver — long lines to get in.
"Project Stardust" worked. Disney's plan to manage crowds in the park through physical and program changes helped prevent the hours-long queues that had become a tradition with major attraction debuts. With advance reservations required to visit the land between now and June 23 (and no standby queue), people who did not have a reservation to visit Galaxy's Edge on its opening day pretty much did not bother to show up at Disneyland yesterday. The result was smooth entry into the land for those with reservations... and a rare sunny day of low crowds throughout the rest of the park.
Yes, getting into Oga's Cantina or Savi's lightsaber workshop required patience, as long queues developed for those two low-capacity locations within the land. But with no Fastpass at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, average wait times for the land's new ride stayed under an hour for most of the day.
It's not that people did not want to see Galaxy's Edge. All those advance reservations for four-hour slots between May 31 and June 23 got claimed within an hour and 45 minutes after Disney made them available on May 2. But strict ID requirements killed any aftermarket for the reservations and Disney's PR blitz helped ensure that few — if any — people showed up without a reservation and with the hope of getting in.
When Universal Orlando opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in June 2010, the queue of waiting fans extended for nearly a full lap around Islands of Adventure, out the front gate and through much of CityWalk. Fans reported waiting more than eight hours just to get into the land. Aerial photos of the queue went viral online and Potter's opening day became industry legend.
Potter was very much on Disney's mind as the company's leadership began planning what would become Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Executives initially wanted their Star Wars land to draw an even bigger crowd, in a longer line, to erase any thoughts that Disney was not the popular leader in the theme park industry.
But as that gut reaction needed to transform into an actual plan for the land's opening, Disneyland officials realized that what happened in Orlando could not — and must not — happen in Anaheim. There simply was not enough free space at the Disneyland Resort, nor on surrounding streets and freeways, to hold a Potter-like crowd. Whatever PR boost that Disney might claim by drawing a longer line of fans for Star Wars would be lost to the outrage from fans and the surrounding community over the gridlock that line would cause.
So Disneyland officials, smartly, chose a different path. And by doing so, they might have changed the course of theme park history.
Disneyland did three things to minimize or eliminate waits to get into Galaxy's Edge. First, it pushed back the opening of the land's largest attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which has led some fans to postpone visiting until the land is complete. That took some of the pressure off opening day. Then it implemented its reservation-only policy for the land's first three and a half weeks, the period during which fans with the resort's lowest-priced Southern California Select annual pass could visit the park before summer blockouts took effect. Fans also were limited to a four-hour visit, with Disney also retaining an option to restrict guests to one ride on the Falcon during their visit.
Finally, once the land opens to all ticket holders on June 24, Disney has developed a virtual queue to again limit the number of people physically waiting to get into the land, should it reach capacity. Throw in a series of refurbishments and walkway redesigns throughout the park, and Disneyland managed its Galaxy's Edge opening with ease. No long lines. No gridlock. And no significant number of complaints.
Make no mistake. Disney wanted to beat Universal and Potter with its Star Wars land. But instead of winning simply by attracting a longer line of fans, Disney chose instead to go for victory by playing a new type of game.
Did anyone really enjoy waiting in the hot Florida sun for eight hours to get into The Wizarding World? Or six hours to get into Disney's own Pandora - The World of Avatar, either? Puh-leeze. People might enjoy bragging about having worn that hair shirt as a sign of their devotion, but no one enjoys the actual time in those mega-queues.
After Galaxy's Edge, perhaps the standard for a successful theme park attraction opening will change. No longer might we have this industry-wide belt-measuring contest to see who attracted the longest wait time. (Which, frankly, creates an incentive to run a new ride at less than top capacity.) Disney has shown that you can open a world-class, highly-anticipated new land with no big queues at all. Disney has shown that theme park fans will accept new attractions on a reservation-only basis. And that opening new attractions that way can reduce and even eliminate adverse effects on other park operations as well as community relations.
Is this the new model for highly anticipated theme park openings? Maybe. We will see if anyone follows Disney's lead. (Including Disney, as it has a new Marvel-themed land opening at Disney California Adventure next year.)
But for now, Disney has made its claim that eight-hour queues are not the sign of a theme park's success. If anything, after Galaxy's Edge, those huge queues look more like a sign of an operational failure.Tweet
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