Walt Disney World's Biggest Problem? An Attack of the Clones

December 29, 2021, 4:20 PM · What is the worst thing hurting the Walt Disney World experience right now?

Over the past couple of days, we have talked about upsells and price increases, reservation requirements, and over-reliance on using apps when in the park. [See Why Walt Disney World Is Creating Hard Feelings Right Now and Why I Don't Want to Live in a Metaverse.] But there's one more factor to consider. And it might be the worst offender of them all.

It's the cloning.

No, Disney has not developed the technology to physically duplicate you and your family while you are visiting its theme parks. (At least not yet.) But Walt Disney World does have ways to do that virtually. With mobile order and the Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane products, Disney World - and Disneyland - have created the ability for people to be multiple places at once, at least in virtual space.

You now can place an order for lunch at Pecos Bill Cafe while waiting in line at Splash Mountain. If you bought the Disney Genie+ upsell, you might also be waiting virtually for a return time at Big Thunder Mountain at the same moment, too. In Disney's version of the metaverse, you now can be in three places at once: the Splash Mountain queue, the Pecos Bill queue, and the Big Thunder queue.

That sounds great, right? You are multi-tasking in the Magic Kingdom and getting stuff done! But what happens if everyone else in the park is doing the same thing? If everyone is waiting in three queues at once virtually, instead of just one physically, Disney could need to create up to three times the capacity in the park to avoid problems such as long standby lines or everything booking for the day shortly after park open.

Disney Genie+ and its predecessor Fastpass did not create any extra capacity, however. It's well understood that as more people used Fastpass, standby wait times increased at those attractions, as a higher percentage of the rides' capacities was given over to the Fastpass return queues.

Mobile order extends the problem to "quick service" restaurants, which we often call counter service around here, because the service at them is too rarely quick. Before mobile order, you had to wait in a physical queue to place your order, which meant you were not waiting in another physical queue for a ride or show. That helped keep wait times down elsewhere in the park and made traditional meal times nice times to ride. Now with mobile order, you can place a meal order while you wait or do something else, making those other lines longer again.

I wrote yesterday that I loved mobile order when it debuted at the Disney theme parks. But relatively few people were using the service back then. When the pandemic hit and Disney pushed everyone to use mobile order at its counter service restaurants, the system could not scale. Disney limits the number of mobile orders it will accept, based on kitchen capacity. So people ended up having to place their orders hours in advance, and those who failed to do so found few or no options available. With Disney World's table service restaurants often booking far in advance, that meant scrounging lunch or dinner from food carts.

Meanwhile, those who did manage to get in their mobile orders still found long waits to pick up their food, as short-staffed kitchens struggled to keep with the flood of mobile orders.

I have heard from Disney insiders that customer satisfaction ratings for mobile order flew through the roof when that service debuted. Just as the initial users of Fastpass loved and raved about that service. But as anyone who has worked for any length of time in product development - in any industry - might have learned, sometimes products that perform great in the smaller, testing phase fall apart when scaled up into mass usage.

Any decent-sized theme park can absorb a small percentage of its visitors "cloning" themselves by using things like mobile order and virtual queues. Those become nifty little back doors that fans who have access to them absolutely love. And who wouldn't love saving time like that? But if you back door everyone, then that becomes the new front door.

Queuing is fundamental to the operation of a theme park. There is no way to avoid queuing when bringing thousands of people into an attraction with limited capacity. The only question is how to manage those queues - whether to run them physically or virtually, or to manage queuing through appointments, where visitors must follow a pre-set, scheduled itinerary. Otherwise, you need to limit capacity to such a low level that every location can serve visitors on a walk-in basis. That approach only works for venues on either end of the market, whether they are cheap, unpopular destinations or high-priced, ultra-exclusive ones.

For everyone in the middle - including Disney - it's queues. Virtual queues provide a wonderful alternative to physical queues, allowing people to avoid the drudgery and potential discomfort of shuffling through a slow-moving queue. But if you mix virtual queues with physical ones, a park can end up with capacity problems if it does not sharply limit the ways that guests can use them. Disney CEO Bob Chapek reported that 30% of Walt Disney World guests upgraded to Disney Genie+ when that service launched. That ain't sharply limiting anything.

Disney employs some of the best industrial engineers in the business. They know that there is no free lunch. So when Disney pushes mass adoption of products like mobile order and Disney Genie+, it's because top managers have accepted the trade-offs.

Ironically, Disney's fear of public backlash might be making the guest experience at Walt Disney World worse. Disney Genie+ could make just as much money for the company and have less of a detrimental effect on park operations if Disney charged more than three times as much for it - the current price at Walt Disney World is $15 a day - and fewer than 10% of park guests used it. That would put Disney Genie+ closer to the going rate for similar line-skipping products at other theme parks and allow standby wait time for other guests to fall.

Elsewhere, Disney could achieve some of the labor savings and communication efficiency of mobile ordering by replacing that system with kiosk ordering at its counter service restaurants. Or it could revamp mobile ordering as an upcharge service or deluxe hotel guest benefit to limit the number of people using it to a manageable level.

I am not endorsing any of these ideas, but mean simply to point out that Disney has options - including options that might lead to better in-park operations, even if that means higher upcharge costs for guests. Disney should not allow fear of public backlash against those price increases to keep it from making changes that would improve the guest experience inside the parks for all.

After all, as I wrote about in my first piece this week, the Internet is now designed to provoke controversy and broadcast complaints. Backlash is inevitable, no matter what Walt Disney World and Disneyland end up doing. So forget about trying to avoid that. You can't.

Disney's challenge - as always - is to improve its guests' experience while preserving a return on investment for the company. What is happening at Walt Disney World and Disneyland now is giving the company plenty of information with which it can refine better products and operations going forward.

And they'd better. Because if fans don't like what Disney is doing to earn their money, those fans have plenty of other options for travel and entertainment.

* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that, along with our approach to covering theme parks, please sign up for our free, three-times-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.

Replies (26)

December 29, 2021 at 5:33 PM

Could the mobile ordering problem be solved by not allowing people to preorder at all? You order when you're ready and go in and get it.

December 29, 2021 at 5:35 PM

Robert, you have clearly thought a lot about this but I'm having trouble agreeing with your cloning theory because, within the parks, Disney is only providing me one physical service at any time. When I make a reservation for a ride or meal (or to get my hair quaffed at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique) in the future I am not joining a queue until my reservation time is reached. Help me here...

December 29, 2021 at 7:01 PM

@Flieslikeand arrow: Robert wrote:

“After all, as I wrote about in my first piece this week, the Internet is now designed to provoke controversy and broadcast complaints.“

So I think Robert purposely states opinions that are wildly wrong to drive traffic at his website. He complains about mobile ordering making lines longer at rides because those people are no longer standing in line at a counter service restaurant, but then later states, “ Meanwhile, those who did manage to get in their mobile orders still found long waits to pick up their food”. So whether guests order at a counter or on the app, they still are waiting in line for food, and either way shortens lines at rides around traditional eating times.

Here is another flawed opinion: “ Disney could achieve some of the labor savings and communication efficiency of mobile ordering by replacing that system with kiosk ordering at its counter service restaurants.” This would be an awful idea. How many of us have stood behind someone at a kiosk who took FOREVER because they didn’t know where the hamburger menu was, nor how to customize the condiments? Now compound that with the rush felt at a Disney counter service restaurant at lunchtime. With the mobile app, we do not have to wait for others to figure out how to use the system.

In many of his recent postings, Robert suggests the way guests and Disney could solve the problem is for Disney to raise prices of a service and guests throw more money at it. In this article alone, he suggests the tripling of the price of Genie+ to bring it more along lines of other parks to reduce the number of guests that use it. He is likely correct that it would reduce the number of guests using it, but assuming tripling the price would result in 1/3 of the number of guests using is unlikely true as I doubt there is a linear relationship between the two. He also suggests a 10% surcharge to be added to those who use mobile ordering. The latter suggestion simply would not work. If I’m buying my family a $60 counter service meal, I’m going to be okay with shelling out an extra $6 to theoretically skip the ordering line, and I’m sure others will be, too. Then they brings us right back around to the mobile ordering problem. Robert would probably suggest raising the surcharge to 25%, or 50%, his usual solution of throwing money at the problem to solve it.

The pandemic allowed Disney an opportunity to make changes that were likely in the works already: mass mobile ordering, park reservations, Genie and Genie+, etc. With the infrastructure already in place, it is highly unlikely that Disney will roll back its services to what they were pre-pandemic (even if Chapek is forced out, #FireBobChapek).We just have to hope Disney leadership doesn’t read Theme Park Insider and apply the Robert Niles Money-Solves-Everything solution.

December 29, 2021 at 7:30 PM

My biggest issue with all these services is the overuse of your phone. Instead of enjoying the parks as is youre always on your phone seeing what the wait times are, trying to order or attempting to get a LL reservation. People rarely just enjoy the parks anymore and have to rely on their device to even have an efficient day at Disney. Part of me misses the period before Genie+ when Disney reopened. Those times were someone of the best as crowds were limited and lines were short as can be

December 29, 2021 at 10:09 PM


Even though you're only receiving one physical service at a time, you might be taking a place in multiple queues at the same time.

Suppose you're riding an attraction at a given moment but you have a Genie+ reservation for another attraction and a mobile food order. In that case, you're being "virtually" cloned twice because even though you're physically on one attraction, your mobile order and Genie+ reservation is going to be fulfilled before some people who are physically present in the standby queue for either services. It's as though an invisible virtual version of yourself is standing in line for the food and the second attraction. And even though you're not joining the physical queue until your reservation time is reached, imagine the system as though Disney were holding your spot in the line for the next experience. In theory, Disney had to delay at least one standby person's ride/food order in order to make room for the place that they were holding in line for you.

December 29, 2021 at 11:40 PM

Agree with you, JK.

Twobit, get some manners. You can disagree with Robert's ideas without impugning his integrity, claiming (without any factual basis) that he is posting knowingly "wrong" opinions "to drive traffic at his website." You're effectively calling him a liar, which makes you a boor. Do better.

December 29, 2021 at 11:43 PM

I have been reading Robert series of articles. While i do agree with him in Many aspects ( social media being an outlet for anger and frustation of die hard fans for any real or percived loss of perks is something real) i cannot see Disney as a víctim of nothing here. Most of the problems related here by Robert and Many others are by large and far caused by Disney itself. Because they are putting the money before the guest. I love Disney IPS and the parks and the rides and shows. I truly do. Yes they have some of the most talented people in the industry in every aspect of the park experience, but they don't give the orders, the accounting deparment does, with their stats and porcentages and trending reports. They want You to belive You are having a Unique and customized day at the park, but You are just doing a paint-by-numbers rutine. I AM surprised that the managment are leaving behind all those fans that were giving Disney the Best publicity system ever, Word of mouth. No tv ad or internet campaing can really Match that. And now it's starting to going in the inverse, a snowball effect of anger.
Yes it's a business, and with an amazing product to boot.
But does really costumers satisfacton matters for them? It does not look ( or feels ) like that.

December 30, 2021 at 6:24 AM

A major difference between Genie+/Lightning Lane and the other upcharge “skip the line” programs (Quick Queue, Fast Lane, Time Saver, etc) is that with Disney’s version you don’t just get in a shorter line when you are standing in front of the ride. You have to go back when they tell you that you can, which could be at a terribly inconvenient time.

You can’t effectively plan your day with Disney’s new program, so to raise the price of it would require a lot of changes. Actually the changes would be fairly simple…do what many of your competitors are and allow the guest the freedom of using the service when it works for them. Those competitors also have the option of re-rides with many of their programs, while Disney does not. So I really don’t think Disney is giving any type of bargain here.

Also, I don’t think the pricing is currently as far off as most think. If you utilized the Lightning Lanes for every single ride that has one on a given day, it would cost you $45 per guest ($15 for Genie+ and $30 for the two Individual LL passes that aren’t included with Genie+). I’ve paid far less than $45 for Quick Queue several times, and it’s right around what I paid for Fast Lane at Cedar Point & Canadas Wonderland as well as Time Saver at Dollywood. I’ve never paid for Universal Express before, but never felt the need to, and have not yet walked away at the end of the day without doing everything that I wanted…

December 30, 2021 at 7:13 AM

With Disney's new scheme, you can't properly organize your day, so raising the price would need a lot of adjustments. Slope 2 is a very good game for busy people, it will help everyone relax to focus on effective goals.

December 30, 2021 at 9:35 AM

"Cloning" as Robert puts it was occurring long before Disney and other parks began developing queue avoidance systems and pre-orders. Guests have been waiting in multiple lines for years through splitting families - dad goes to stand in line for food while mom and the kids are shopping or using the restroom. You still see this today with families taking a divide and conquer approach to queuing only to merge back together into a single unit when they reach the end of the line (particularly at food lines where families spread across multiple cashiers to see which one is faster).

In the end, the systems employed by theme parks to allow guests to be waiting in 2 lines at the same time do not change the fact that people can only physically be in 1 place at a time. Also, almost all of these systems favor those who are willing to work to create the biggest advantage. For every guest who optimizes the use of these systems, there are 3 or more guests that have no clue how to use them, and simply stand in lines all day, and a majority of those guests are perfectly happy doing that.

Frankly, I think all counter service restaurants should shift to mobile order so restaurants can better manage their output and to reallocate resources (quick service cashiers are a HUGE waste of labor). I also wonder what would happen if a major theme park went to ALL virtual queuing, like Volcano Bay. Guests would not be able to stand in multiple lines at the same time, but parks would be able to better manage guest flow and distribution around the park while keeping guests out of physical queues for long periods of time.

December 30, 2021 at 10:10 AM

I stand by my disagreement. I would only be "cloned" if I am in a virtual queue for a service as soon as possible, not when it is a reservation for a future time. Take an example not connected to theme parks. I have an appointment with my dentist next week. I am not "cloned" because there is no queue awaiting dental service until that appointment time. Next week, at my appointment time, I will join a queue.

December 30, 2021 at 10:28 AM

@TheColonel: I have seen far too many of your posts. You are in no position to preach about manners.

I stand by my entire statement.

December 30, 2021 at 11:12 AM

I am enjoying non-Disney parks more and more. My family and friends have given up on Disney. Going to Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens is so nice in comparison. IF you walk by a ride and you want to ride it, just go ride it. I can ride almost every single ride at Universal Studios in an afternoon with no hassle. same with Islands and the SeaWorld parks. I can eat in any restaurant. Mobile ordering isn't used that much so it can be a real timesaver. Also, the other parks all have way more thrill rides than the Disney parks. More fun for adults. I remember when you could be totally relaxed and ride what you wanted at Disney but not anymore. Bye, Disney, you've lost me as a ustomer.

December 30, 2021 at 11:31 AM

I know I'll get some hate on here but I just finished one day at California and Disneyland and used the genie plus and paid for the lightening pass and pretty much got on all the rides! I can't remember the last time I had a stress free day at the park. Yes I had to pay about $300 plus extra but I've accomplished so much more in a shorter amount of time. My longest wait was 20 mins.

So count me as a fan of this new system. However, I felt so many people were not aware of this feature and it's only going to be a matter of time before this thing takes off. Hey I get it, a family of 5 it's an extra $100 a day, not including the lighting rides. Im also afraid as this takes off, it won't be $20 per person the next time I come.

I did hear some complaints about it and how it's not fair. I hear it all the time from die hard family members who are season pass holders. If your entire life is about Disney and that's all you care about and you go every 2 to 4 times a year, yeah I get why you maybe upset at these changes. But, name me a time when something didn't go up? Everything goes up at one point and we all adjust and make the necessary changes.

I'm not a die hard Disney fan but I do enjoy going every 3 to 4 years and for once having the ability to pay to skip long lines made my trip enjoyable. But I am a theme park fan and encourage all to give other parks a try. There's rumors of Knott's getting a Gigi coaster. That would be amazing!! Universal been a blast as well as Busch garden and Dollywood. Each park offers something unique that Disney doesn't provide.

December 30, 2021 at 11:58 AM

@twobits : "I stand by my entire statement."

We know, because you were not taught manners and lack self-reflection. Perhaps for 2022 you can examine yourself and ask where everything went wrong.

December 30, 2021 at 12:04 PM

@FliesLikeAnArrow - From your perspective, there is no "cloning" since you can be only in one place at a time, but from a system viewpoint and from the viewpoint of other patrons you are occupying multiple locations. Think about it like this: let's say that you're in the queue for Peter Pan's Flight, and when you get off, you go to join a friend who is already in line and approaching the front of the queue for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. When you join your friend in the queue, you then increase the wait time for the patrons already in the queue behind you. That's the "cloning" effect of a FastPass or Genie+ or ILL. The delay in the system delivery times caused by your occupation of positions in multiple virtual queues is really what we're talking about.

To clarify another point - this "cloning" effect would not occur if there were no "standby" queues. All users of the system would exhibit identical behaviors, and no advantage would be gained by using the virtual queues other than the ability to completely plan out your day because with the loss of "standby" queues all rides would have to be reserved in advance.

And this is where I see Disney eventually heading - an early morning period where "standby" queues are available - a primetime period where only Genie+ and ILL queues are available - and finally an end of the day period where "standby queues are available again. And that's if they choose to keep the current pricing structure. The other solution as Robert has stated is to significantly increase prices across the board and reduce the number of patrons so Disney can provide an acceptable level of service

December 30, 2021 at 12:18 PM

@TwoBits - I've been around here for over 20 years and I can only recall one time when Robert appeared to deliberately post an article that was inflammatory and that had to do with his dislike of Fox News. Other than that, Robert appears to try to avoid the irrational "hot button" issues. Look at how he closed the comments on the COVID-19 articles when things got too crazy. If he were trying to drive traffic to the site, do you think he would have shut down that easy path to high click counts?

You've been here for over 5 years. Can you recall a time when it appeared that Robert misrepresented an issue just to create a controversy and drive traffic to the site?

December 30, 2021 at 5:51 PM

Please go back to the discussion of rides, attractions and shows etc - this constant drivel on Disney iS mind numbing ! Too difficult or too expensive, then don’t go! I’ve already decided that! Plenty of other theme parks or outdoor adventures etc to spend your time on rather than worrying about how you’ll ever get on Peter Pan again ??

December 30, 2021 at 8:25 PM

@FliesLikeAnArrow In your example, yes, you're correct that you're not being "cloned" because you're only taking one spot--- a single spot in the virtual queue for your appointment time. However, taking the example of the dentist, suppose you made an appointment and also go walk-in to the clinic. You could wait in "stand by" while keeping your appointment and, in this case, you would be "cloned" by waiting in one standby queue and one virtual queue for the same service. In that case, you would be "cloned" as taking up two spots in two different queues for one service that has limited capacity. Like @Tim Hillman said, the cloning effect would not occur if there were no standby queues for any service. In both the example of the Dentist and the example of Disney parks there's both a virtual queue and a standby queue. There's also a limited capacity for each example (service time in the Dentist's case, and a limited number of available experiences in one day at Disney Parks).

December 31, 2021 at 12:18 AM

The problem with " clones " is one of supply and demand. Yes it would be beatiful to have most of your day at the park well planned and only do virtual lines we're You basically scan at the ride gates and walk in...but in the real world there just too Many people in the park. All Going for a límited offering of rides and food venues at the same time. For this to work You Will need: a) a truly gigant of a park with scores of rides, shows and service venues.or b ) a very restricted number of guests.or C) allow a number of guests at a time, make them leave and have other guests come. Not that easy. But i think a combo of this is possible in certain ways. Invest in adding new rides, control the influx of guests into the parks ( already this is happening) and make guest go into the park in " waves " according by priority tiers ( ticket level, prices of accomodations in the resort, etc.)

December 31, 2021 at 4:45 AM

@TimHillman: Yes, I can: many of his articles starting in March, 2020. Look, I get it. Since the pandemic started, the type of news he was reporting prior to the pandemic is fewer. Not as many new rides are being constructed, and not as many new parks are being built. He has to write about something to drive traffic to his website, and much like larger news organizations, he either has to cater to a specific audience that agrees with him, or write on topics that will generate discussion or outright arguments.

I miss the days on this site when the most heated argument was whether Universal or Disney was better and not the increasing number of political posts on how the federal and state governments has managed (or mismanaged) the pandemic. Other theme park reporting sites have avoided talking about it, but I continue to come here because they focus exclusively on Disney and Universal and this site will report on other parks (when that news is available).

December 31, 2021 at 8:19 AM

............for the sake of the Industry, I wish we could clone Robert!

December 31, 2021 at 9:47 AM

@TwoBits - The whole country seems to have gone crazy over the last two years with this pandemic stuff, so I look at what much of what Robert wrote over the past two years as the best path through a minefield. I certainly didn't agree with him on many issues, but I never thought he was trying to be inflammatory.

In the early days of this site, it was kind of like the wild west around here, and we had more than our share of slobberknockers. We even had a few flame wars between the Magic Mountain and Cedar Point crowds, but since Robert started writing full time for the site and providing most of the content, things have settled down quite a bit.

.....and with that said, I really miss the Discussion Board. TH Creative needs a place to shill for the Disney PR department, and the rest of us need a place where we can act like two bands of chimpanzees that ran into each other at the watering hole.

December 31, 2021 at 12:16 PM

@twobits Hahah, wow, let me get this straight. Robert writes about subjects that are germane to the theme park industry (like the global pandemic that shut down the parks for over a year), subjects that are of interest to the people who read this site, but because you'd rather not hear about them he's somehow operating in bad faith? Get real.

You "miss the days on this site when the most heated argument was whether Universal or Disney was better"? Guess what--so does everyone else! But unfortunately the world is on fire, the US has more than 500,000 new cases of a potentially deadly disease today, so we have bigger, more pressing things to talk about than which amusement park is superior. I come to this site over other sites because Robert addresses those bigger issues, and isn't stuck just telling us about the new holiday popcorn bucket.

In any event, how does disagreeing with the subject matter of a post give you the right to impugn the author who wrote it? If we were in a room together and you slandered Robert's integrity like that, we'd all tell you to shut up or leave. It's just bad form and bad manners.

You want posts about the good old days? I want an America that isn't clogged with proudly obnoxious people like you.

December 31, 2021 at 6:37 PM

TheColonel wrote:
“Twobit[sic], get some manners.”…

…then later wrote…
“ I want an America that isn't clogged with proudly obnoxious people like you.”

Colonel, what you say and what you do are clearly two different things.

Colonel also wrote:
“ …how does disagreeing with the subject matter of a post give you the right to impugn the author who wrote it? If we were in a room together and you slandered Robert's integrity like that…”

…after writing (directed at me)…
“ you were not taught manners and lack self-reflection.

Colonel, that right there is also a slanderous statement, and by your own admission, one who disagrees with another does not have the right to slander.

By the above evidence, there is a factual word for you: Hypocrite.

I hope this post fits with your perceived level of decorum. Actually, that is the one non-factual statement in this post because your opinion in this matter is unimportant to me. Having said that, I do anxiously await your response so as to provide more evidence of your hypocrisy.

January 1, 2022 at 12:51 PM

If everyone skips the line, no one skips the line. With all previous forms of fast pass, some learned to use the system much more effectively than others, so it was useful for those of us who knew how to "game" the system. If this new system is impervious to that -- hopefully that's not the case -- then everyone is in the same boat, and that means long lines for everyone.

P.S.: It does look like a lot more people use LL at WDW than at DLR.
BTW, it's laughable for local AP holders to talk about an "unfair" system when they've had an unfair advantage over tourists ever since cheap APs were introduced.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive