Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance's virtual queue to capacity in the early morning hours today. Granted, an attraction's daily throughput remains a function of its capacity as well as demand, and Rise has been suffering frequent downtimes during its operation. But Disney's virtual queue system has spared its guests from the ordeal of having to wait in a physical queue for hours upon hours as they await their turn on the ride.For the third day in a row since it opened, fans filled
The situation this week at Disney's Hollywood Studios contrasts starkly with that at Universal's Islands of Adventure this summer, when fans waited in a physical queue up to 10 hours to ride Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, another world-class new attraction with initial uptime problems.
What's the best way for theme parks to handle demand for their attractions, especially ones with uptime consistency issues? Over the past generation, theme parks have reformed their approached toward queuing, introducing alternatives designed to minimize the time that at least some guests must spend waiting in line.
Once upon a time, Disney and other parks limited demand by charging a separate price for each attraction. Most parks just put a price on each ride, but Disney hid that cost with its A through E ticket coupon system. Yet when Six Flags introduced a "one price" admission system with its opening of Six Flags Over Texas, waiting in physical queues became the industry standard. But as parks looked for ways to accommodate people who complained about long wait times, they got creative in designing solutions.
Disney's Fastpass system operates as a ride reservation system, assigning people return times to board an attraction. Maintaining such systems demands exacting data and modeling to estimate accurately how many people an attraction will be able to board in any given hour, so that you do not over-commit the attraction with too many return times at once. That's why Disney sometimes opens new attraction without Fastpass, because it needs to collect real-world operational data before it can build its mathematical model to assign return times for a new ride or show.
Universal Express and Cedar Fair's FastLane function instead as line-skipping passes, where guests can bypass the regular physical queue and proceed directly to load without waiting for an assigned return time. Again, there's a challenge here, as if you distribute too many of these passes, a long queue of passholders can build up at load, defeating the passes' purpose and also making the "regular" queue intolerably long.
In both ride reservation and line-skipping plans, parks must account for balancing the number of guests using a traditional queue versus those using the alternative queuing scheme. Get too greedy selling the line-skipping passes, and people who don't buy them might never return to your park if they get too frustrated with long waits in standby queues. With reservation systems, a park could simplify things by eliminating the standby queue, allocating all of an attraction's capacity through reservations. But that would require training visitors to plan everything during their day in advance - something that many vacationers might resist.
A virtual queue provides a third alternative that avoids some of the logistical challenges with reservation and line-skipping systems. It functions just like a single physical queue except that places in the line are kept by some system rather than physically standing there. At Disney, fans are alerted by the My Disney Experience app when their "boarding group" is called, allowing them to enter the attraction. Unlike Fastpass, there's no assigned return time, only a broad estimate of "morning," "afternoon," or "evening," eliminating the need for a precise estimate of hourly capacity to model more specific return times.
That makes a virtual queue a great system for new attractions with inconsistent operations, such as Rise and Hagrid's. People need nourishment and relief. Standing in a 10-hour queue is just physically impossible for many people, and it's certainly uncomfortable even with the park providing waiting guests with food and beverage vendors and bathroom breaks. With a virtual queue, people can enjoy their day in the park, riding other rides, eating, drinking, and shopping, all while keeping their place in line in the virtual queue.
It's curious that Universal Orlando announced that Hagrid's would use a virtual queue after its first day of operation... but the resort never implemented the system. That's ironic in that Universal has been an industry leader in the development of virtual queuing, having used virtual queues for its Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious attractions as well as opening Volcano Bay as a park using nothing but virtual queues.
Virtual queues do have some downsides for a park. Say what you will about the hassle of waiting in them, but physical queues are people eaters. They take people off the "streets" at theme parks, easing demand for other attractions, restaurants, and shops, making those locations more accessible to others. Drop physical queues and you've actually reduced the overall guest capacity for a theme park, forcing the park to develop more attractions, restaurants and shops to hold those people who would have been waiting in lines. That can be a high price to pay to buy the additional guest satisfaction that virtual queues can deliver.
And writing here as a former attractions operator, the most important element of a queuing system to the ops team is that it delivers a consistent flow of guests to the loading point. Holding dispatch to wait for stragglers is the most useless excuse for compromising an attraction's capacity. This is why you often hear spiels to "keep up with the party in front of you" and to "fill in all available space" when you are awaiting a theme park ride or show. Operators want to send ride vehicles and start shows as soon as those vehicles and show are ready... and not have to hold them to wait for the guests.
That makes some physical queue necessary for any theme park attraction where demand exceed capacity. You just can't allow people to stroll up to load at their convenience, without any line of people, if you want to run an attraction at its full capacity. Operators need time to screen for restrictions and explain safety procedures, too. A physical queue provides that.
This is why there's always at least a short wait with Fastpass and Universal Express tickets. And preshow guest collection areas with virtual queues, too. Given the need for at least some physical queue to ensure smooth operation, there's no real point in offering these queuing alternatives on attractions that do not consistently have traditional waits of at least 30 minutes or less.
But that does not describe Rise of the Resistance or Hagrid's. Or Flight of Passage, Slinky Dog Dash, Radiator Springs Racers, or any other attraction that continues to demand hours-long standby waits long after their openings, for that matter. With admission prices in excess of $100 a day for some visitors, world-class theme parks need to be providing a world-class customer experience. That means using virtual queues instead of physical ones for attractions where demand exceeds capacity to the point where people would have to wait for multiple hours in a physical queue.
So bravo to Walt Disney World for offering a virtual queue on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Now let's see virtual queues on more attractions. If you're spending anywhere near $100 a day to visit a theme park, you simply never should have to stand multiple hours in a line for a single experience.Tweet
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