Saturday, July 15, 2017

Why there will always be long lines at Walt Disney World, and why you should be happy about it.


Exactly a week ago today, I was about to experience the new "Avatar Flight of Passage" attraction in Disney's Animal Kingdom where you ride atop a Banshee flying over Pandora.  This is one of the most highly anticipated attractions ever to open at Walt Disney World.  As such, the "stand-by" lines topped close to 4 hours even on a hot and relatively slow Summer afternoon.  I did some reading online and there are opinions that the standby queue was designed to accommodate up to a 6 hour wait line.   Fortunately for us, we had a Fastpass. 

The ride itself was AMAZING to say the least.  For me, there is no better attraction in all of Walt Disney World.  Essentially, the ride is a 3D flight simulation.  If you have seen Soarin', think of that as the screen you are looking at, and if you have ridden Star Tours, think of that as the perspective of what you see.  Now this is where the major differences come in.  For Avatar Flight of Passage, there is not a bad seat in the attraction.  Each "show" holds 16 people and lasts 4.5 minutes.  The ride vehicle resembles a motorcycle and each rider straddles the ride vehicle, then you embark on an amazing 4.5 minute 3D flight over Pandora.  I was actually pleasantly surprised how long the ride lasted.

But do the math, even without knowing how many "bays" they have, 16 people, 4.5 minute ride, time to clear the ride area and get new guests in and get setup, there's not a lot of "capacity" for this attraction.  Hence the queue to be designed to be up to 6 hours.

So why be happy about this?  From the beginning, Disney has established 4 standards that guide everything they do, and this is also ingrained in every Cast Member.  Those standards are:

  • Safety
  • Courtesy
  • Show
  • Capacity (Now known as efficiency)
They are also prioritized in that order.  So think about that for a second.  Safety is at the top and Efficiency is at the bottom.  You ever wonder by Haunted Mansion or Spaceship Earth stops so much.  There is a good chance that there is a guest that needs a little more time time entering or exiting the ride vehicle.  Hence, safety over show.

As a major theme park operator, safety has to be the number 1 priority, especially when it comes to thrill rides.  How quickly would people stop going to the parks if they did not fell safe.  Do you go to parking lot carnival rides?  But, adding in all those safety protocols do add a little time for each and every one of them and they add up.  Think about entering or exiting any of the Friendship boats or one of the resort launches or ferry across the Seven Seas Lagoon.  The skipper has to dock, tie up the boat, make sure everyone is clear, before they remove the rope allowing guests to enter and exit.  That's not how it worked when we were in the Caribbean, but it was a lot quicker.

Notice that Courtesy is next on the list.  Have you ever been anxiously waiting in a FastPass line and the guests in front of you decide to strike up a conversation with the cast member and the cast member gladly indulges that guest even though the FastPass line starts to get backed up?  If you need assistance from a cast member, do you want to feel rushed?  Well, that because Courtesy comes before Efficiency.

Next we have show.  I've often wondered why the Peter Pan ride is always a minimum of a 90 minute standby wait time.  Can't they just speed up the ride a little?  Same for all the continuous movement attractions or even Flight of Passage for that matter.  Would you enjoy spending 4-6 hours in line for a 90 second ride?  When you ride Flight of passage, the length of the experience is obvious when you are on it.  I can distinctly remember thinking to myself, wow, this is a lot longer than Star Tours.  So sure, Disney could speed up It's a Small World, or other attractions, but that would diminish the experience.  Now where they can, Disney has added extra capacity like adding another Soarin' and Toy Story building to accommodate more people, but the ride experience (show) is exactly the way the Imagineers designed it.

Finally we come to capacity/efficiency.  The standards and priority of those standards have withstood the test of time.  Disney knows that if you provide an experience where people feel safe, are treated with a 1st class courtesy, and give people a great show, they will continue to come back year after year even if the lines get a little long.  So the next time you are in a long line at Disney, maybe this knowledge will make the wait a little more bearable, or who knows, maybe even happy!

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