Walt Disney World did not become one of the world's top tourist attractions by making a lot of mistakes. So when Disney does something that hurts the guest experience, that stands out.
Let's talk about one of them.
Last week at Walt Disney World's spring press event, after the Toy Story BBQ preview, I got to spend the rest of the day Park Hopping between three parks. Even though Disneyland is my "home" park, I used to work at Walt Disney World and visited multiple times a year before the lockdown, so I know that the process of moving between parks in Florida is a bit more of a hassle than it is in Anaheim.
But it's still more of a hassle than it should be.
In California, a wide plaza separates Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. A short walk is the only way between the two parks. Disneyland's security perimeter contains both parks and the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district, so no one has to go through security a second time when walking over to the second park at Disneyland.
It's a similar story at Universal Orlando, the other major multi-park resort in the United States. It's a longer walk between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, but both parks and Universal CityWalk stand within the resort's security perimeter, so there's no need to go through security multiple times when moving between the parks.
That's not the case at the Walt Disney World Resort. And that's where Disney World offers a less convenient guest experience than at Disneyland and Universal Orlando. Granted, Walt Disney World's theme parks stand much further from each other than the parks at Disneyland and Universal Orlando. The only two WDW theme parks a guest may walk between are Epcot (via the International Gateway entrance) and Disney's Hollywood Studios, and that's a long one of a little over a mile. (But I have done it many times, and it's lovely.)
Guests have two choices when Park Hopping at Walt Disney World: drive your car or use Disney Transportation. If guests choose to drive their car, there should be no question that they should have to go through another security screening when entering their next park. The only way to avoid that would be to create a security perimeter around the entire property and to search all cars entering that.
No way I am going to argue for that.
But what about those who use Disney Transportation to travel between the parks? That's where I think Disney could do better by keeping those guests within a secured zone, rather than placing security checks at locations that require people to exit a secured zone to use Disney's transportation between the parks.
Walt Disney World keeps its monorails within a secured zone. Why not extend that to include the Disney Skyliner, watercraft running to and from the parks, and select bus route, as well?
Going through security multiple times per day might be less of a hassle if Walt Disney World offered better security checkpoints. But for many guests, Disney World's security checks are worst in class.
Walt Disney World relies on a two-tier security check. Everyone walks through an electronically monitored checkpoint. Then Disney directs guests who fail that check into a secondary screening line.
The trouble is the number of guests selected for secondary screening (a lot) and the number of security officers that Disney provides to conduct those checks (not nearly enough). You will fail Disney's initial screening unless you carry all permitted items that might trigger its electronic system in one hand at arm's length, at the correct angle in front of you, while walking through that checkpoint.
Disney provides no signs explaining this. There are no instructional videos as you approach a checkpoint. At best, a security cast member will yell some form of those instructions at people waiting in line. But yelling is a horribly ineffective way to introduce new information to someone.
If you happen to be have anything magnetic (my glasses case always gets me), some electronic devices, or even some types of metal on you - in a pocket or a pack - your first several times through Walt Disney World security may leave you frustrated, waiting 10 minutes or more in an extra line, until you figure out exactly which items you need to remove from your pockets and bags and exactly how to carry them to get through the checkpoint so that you will not be diverted.
It doesn't matter if the majority of Disney guests do go through the initial check successfully, so long as any member of their party gets diverted and has to wait for the secondary check. Then the rest of that party then ends up waiting at the security exit for their friend or family member to be cleared.
Every time I go through WDW security, I see security cast members urging people to stop waiting around the exit and to proceed to the park entry. But no one is going to leave others in their party hanging on the wrong side of the security exit - especially when they all are new to, and unfamiliar with, the resort, as so many Walt Disney World guests are.
Give me Universal's system, instead, where everyone uses the same easily understood, airport-style scanners, and almost no one has to let security paw through their bag, as happens to a significant percentage of guests at Disney. There's none of the choreography that Disney's system requires, either. Just shove everything in your bag or dump it on a tray, and go.
Universal's system also is more fair, in that everyone who arrives at the same time spends pretty much the same amount of time going through security, with very few people diverted to a secondary check, and even that is done on the spot without much of an extra wait.
Even if Disney does not change its security check system, it would help save its guests time and potential frustration by minimizing the number of times that Park Hopping guests must go through security during their day. To do that, Walt Disney World would need to reposition its security checkpoints at each park and add checkpoints at some hotels.
That's gonna require some money, but it's not an unreasonable goal, especially given all the work that Disney has put into changing its park entrances in recent years. Just draw a new line for each park's security perimeter that puts Skyliner stations, watercraft docks, and certain bus drop points within the secure zone and leaves the parking lot, parking tram station, and other buses outside of it.
That would require hotels on the Skyliner to host security checkpoints, as the monorail hotels now do. The nine hotels that provide watercraft access to the parks also would need to install security checks at their docks. Ideally, I would like to see security cover the entire WDW bus system, but just putting the buses that run between the parks inside the secure zone would be a welcomed start.
Of course, should one of those buses break down, its passengers would fall outside the secure zone and a replacement bus would need to drop them at a station outside the zone at their destination for a new security check. But that would be rare.
Disney does an amazing job of helping to keep the vast majority of its guests safe during their visits. But there's always room to improve the guest experience, and changing its security procedures to expand its theme park and transportation secure zone is one way that Walt Disney World could do that.
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But that’s the thing. You have you have visited Disney a lot to learn its system. The vast majority of WDW visitors haven’t. For new visitors - which is the bulk of the Orlando market - a Universal-style system is better, because it’s more familiar.
First, I think it would incredibly expensive for Disney to bump their security perimeter out to include guests traveling on Disney Transportation. Universal can get away with it, because of the relatively compact size of the Orlando resort, and even with that, guests riding buses still have to be screened at the entrance to Volcano Bay or City Walk. From a security standpoint, Universal only has to manage fewer than 10 checkpoints for then entire resort, which includes the resort boat piers, walking paths, and main entrance to City Walk. If Disney were to execute a similar system, it would need to be at least 10 times as large, particularly if it included the buses, which are the primary form of inter-park/inter-resort travel at WDW. I could only imagine how labor intensive it would be to operate security checkpoints at resort bus stops from 6 AM until 10PM every single day of the week.
When it comes to the type of screening performed, Disney has definitely made some improvements from what used to be almost a 100% pat-down with security officers riffling through every single bag like it was ticking. The new procedures at least weans some of the unnecessary hand-checking down a bit. I certainly think there are some things Disney could do to reduce the number of manual secondary checks, but I doubt there's any amount of signage or preparation that would make a significant reduction in secondary screening without compromising the effectiveness of the process. After all, we're talking about "Security Theater", and the checkpoints are as much about making people think about what they're brining into the parks and gradually learning on their own what should and should not accompany them inside as it is about intercepting bad actors willfully trying to evade the rules. It is a learning curve that guests just have to go through, and no manner of preparation can really increase the efficiency of the process. As far as using airport-style x-ray machines, I've always thought the ones Universal uses must have been bought at a consignment store, because they're pretty antiquated compared to modern equipment used at airports, courtrooms, and even secure buildings. I wouldn't be surprised if Universal security got their units on the cheap, but they meet their needs. However, Disney would need so many devices to cover WDW that it would necessitate them place a new order for more modern (and expensive) equipment that likely exceed the security needs of the resort. Plus, I strongly believe the "soft touch" of Disney Security officers that perform the manual bag checks is a far more personal experience that is in line with Disney's values.
I used to loathe the idea of going through security checkpoints at the parks. But with the prevalence of mass shootings and the reality of a post-911 world, I happily accept their necessity.
But I do agree with Robert that the process used to enter the WDW parks is cumbersome and confusing for many guests. I’ve been asked to go through a secondary search station on multiple occasions with no bags and was told that it was completely random for some guests so that they could keep tweaking the system for the most efficient operations. And that’s not even taking into account the multiple choke points on entryway paths that weren’t originally designed and built to accommodate security stations.
Like I said, the need for security checkpoints is an absolute must. I’m more than happy to comply. But I feel that WDW has done it for a long enough time at this point that there could and should be a more streamlined way to keep it running effectively
Universal Orlando having security checkpoints the second you enter Citywalk is what I hope is also implemented for the Hollywood park. With the prevalence of mass shootings, it scares me to think that one can happen at Hollywood’s Citywalk because there’s no security checkpoint until you’re entering the park.
I agree with Russell. There are just too many different potential security stations to post checkpoints. Better to leave it for park entrance.
Simultaneously, I also think more of Disney's "public access" areas, such as the Skyliner, could use beefed up security. It's an open secret that the Pulse Nightclub shooter initially targeted Disney Springs (read Bob Iger's memoire for additional detail), and yet Disney didn't put up any sort of security checkpoints at Disney Springs until around the time of the pandemic--well after the security threat.
I'm not sure how you strike the right balance between the above, but putting checkpoints on the Skyliner entrance could be a good first step.
I just came from Disneyland where had to do security checkpoint for entrance to Downtown Disney and the entrance to California Adventure from California hotel. They were pretty fast, just checking main bags and metal detector (I believe other checkpoints for bus stations) and worked well. But that's aided by smaller size as the logistics making it work at WDW can be more complex.
It's what you get used too. I resort and park hop all the time, and the WDW security is a breeze all of the time. SeaWorld too, but Universal is still in the dark ages when it comes to security.... still having us empty our pockets, walk thru a scanner, then collect everything again ??
I read everything as "there exist paranoia". It's why those security perimeters exist. It's not because of real threats. For sure, this is embedded in the way the whole country or state looks in it (national paranoia..) but there is no causal relationship (anymore) with reality.
However, this paranoia fed security in itself adds to a constant feeling of threat, one that does not exist, a fake state of mind.
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Sorry Robert, but I'm going to have to disagree with you regarding the Disney vs Universal approach to security. As someone who always travels light at parks, I'd much rather breeze through the body scanners than have to use the airport-styled ones Universal has where I have to empty my pockets.
I will concur that Disney needs to do a better job at communicating how this is supposed to work. The monitors Universal use do a great job of explaining things. Just a simple sign out front would do wonders...