Can Disneyland Eliminate Standing In Line
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Theme parks such as Disneyland employ a lot of theater tricks to entertain their guests. Creative staging, lighting effects and illusions all help make a bunch of wooden cut-outs and plastic robots come to life in rides and shows. But the parks' most ambitious magic trick might be their attempt to make their lines disappear.
Disney introduced its Fastpass system in 1999, opening the era of Fast Lane, Flash Pass, Quick Queue, Express Pass, and countless other line skipping systems at competing parks across the country. But none of those schemes completely eliminated lines. They just allowed people to skip to the front of them by claiming a return time, paying a fee or buying a certain vacation package. And that left everyone else in the standby queue to face an even longer wait.
The hard fact is that the only way to eliminate a line is for no one to want to get into it. And parks definitely don't want that. They like to see their parks filled with free-spending guests. So the question becomes how to make the line appear to vanish, by finding a way to shift or hide it.
The classic Disney method of doing this was to physically conceal its lines. You know that trick - you think you're getting close to the loading platform, only to turn the corner and find another room filled with hundreds of people snaking through the queue.
But people are wise to that now. The switchback trick doesn't fool anyone anymore; especially with everyone able check wait times on various park apps. People know exactly how long a wait they're facing now.
So in Orlando, Universal has introduced a new system that eliminates physical lines altogether. Its "Virtual Line" system is basically Fastpass without a standby queue. Everyone has to get a return time to ride, making a reservation via an in-park kiosk or the official park app.
You're still waiting to ride, except that you're not waiting in a physical queue, but spending your time doing whatever else you want (or can) in the park. The park has shifted the line into unseen, virtual space.
Universal also can make a lot more return times available under Virtual Line, too, since it doesn't have to accommodate a standby line of guests taking up half the spaces on the ride in any given hour. Every space on the ride comes from the Virtual Line.
Universal is using the new system only on its new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ride, a Minion Mayhem-style romp featuring the star and cast of "The Tonight Show." But it will be using a similar system for all the rides in its upcoming Volcano Bay water park, which debuts May 25, and Universal has said that the system might expand to other, existing attractions across its parks.
Over at Walt Disney World, Disney is countering by testing "no-standby," virtual queuing systems on selected rides at its Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water park this week. And the resort also is introducing a no-wait ordering system for the restaurant in its upcoming Pandora - The World of Avatar land at Disney's Animal Kingdom, which opens the end of May.
Diners at the Satu'li Canteen will be able to pre-order their meals using Disney World's smart phone app, just like at so many other fast casual and fast food restaurants outside the theme park world. Again, this system doesn't eliminate a wait -- it only shifts it. Disney won't actually make your meal until you arrive at the restaurant and click a button to let the kitchen know you're there.
Given that a kitchen can make only so many meals at once, we'll see if Disney's app assigns people a later return time to eat during high-demand periods around the traditional lunch and dinner hours. Otherwise, diners could be facing a substantial wait at the pick-up window when they arrive.
If parks continue down this path, fans can say goodbye to the days when they had to stand in lines to wait for rides, shows and meals. But they'll be saying hello to a new era when carrying a smart phone is an essential part of visiting a park, and everything they do will have to be planned in advance.
Which way sounds better to you?