Maybe it was just too early, or before the caffeine kicked in, but the first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the title of this new patent application by Disney, “Omnitable Ride System”, was that it was for a new circular dining restaurant concept, which isn’t actually a bad idea really, but then I saw the first image, and my mind instantly said, “Carousel of Progress”.
I hesitate to even say this, because usually the mere mention of WDI replacing a classic/original attraction such as CoP brings out the “Disney Purists”, who don’t want to see anything that Walt had his hands on to change, especially this one. But, let’s face it, Disney hasn’t exactly done much to this attraction in the last, I don’t know, 20 or so years. Suffice to say, I don’t think they really know what to do with it, and due to the “purists” and how they’ve reacted in the past, are probably afraid to do ANYTHING to it.
Regardless, I present the patent application filed September 6, 2011, but has just surfaced March 7, 2013. (I don’t quite understand why the difference, filing and approval period, perhaps?).
A circular omnimover or omnitable ride system. The ride system includes a stationary, centrally-located platform for loading and unloading passengers. A turntable assembly is provided that includes a turntable with an upper surface substantially coplanar with an upper surface of the platform. The turntable has a centrally-located hole or passageway defined by an inner sidewall to receiving the non-rotating platform. Passenger vehicles are mounted along an outer edge of the turntable via translation mechanisms. A drive mechanism rotates the turntable about a central axis at a constant rate. The vehicles are moved through a station space and a show space during one or two full rotations of the turntable. The passenger vehicles are loaded and unloaded in the station space via the platform and then dispatched by the translation mechanism into the show space, which may involve increasing the vehicle’s radius and changing its vertical position relative to the turntable.
Similar to the Omnimover attractions with vehicles attached to a chain traveling at a constant speed, the main difference here is the fact that this rotates around a circular table in a much smaller space (theoretically) than most of the existing attractions using this ride mechanism.
In the station, the vehicles are positioned to face forward along the ride path (e.g., the vehicle body is orthogonal to the sidewall) to facilitate loading/unloading. As the vehicles pass through an opening in the wall or a “dispatch point,” the vehicles may be rotated to face show elements provided on or near to inner surface of the outer wall or enclosure structure or provided elsewhere in the show space. Then, as the turntable is further rotated, the vehicles may be rotated again such as to face forward again as shown with arrow for vehicle. Next, the vehicles may be rotated from facing forward to face inward toward platform toward show elements provided on the upper surface of rotating turntable (or hanging down from above so as to not move with the turntable). Of course, many other rotation patterns may be used to provide a desired ride profile with ride system, and, as the vehicles return to the station, the vehicles are typically rotated back to face forward and are locked in place to ensure no further movement while in the station for safe and easy unloading and loading. The turntable continues to be rotated about the center rotation axis even as vehicles enter and leave the station.
The application has several variations on the ride vehicles and their orientation, loading/unloading options and even a few different variations where the vehicles have horizontal and vertical movement.
So, is this a potential future for WDW’s Carousel of Progress, or could it be for an entirely new attraction? And, whether you’re a “purist” or not, you must admit, these are some neat looking concepts. Now, the only question is, story. What kind of story would best be suited for this ride? Hopefully they already have something in mind and it’s on its way to the parks.
Much has been said about Disney’s NextGen project by myself and many others in the Disney community, but the recent public inquiry by Congressman Ed Markey regarding their intended use of the RFID enabled Magicband has brought quite a bit of interest Disney’s way, and not all of it is flattering. In fact, much of it seems to border on fear and perhaps even paranoia over Disney’s use of this new tech. It seems that many have an irrational fear regarding the new MagicBand suggesting that Disney is going to use this somehow to “spy” on guests in a George Orwell, 1984, Big Brother style.
Disney’s Notorious MagicBand
It is true that with this new technology there is a huge potential for them to collect a lot of personal data on guests and while I have no proof to show to the contrary, I just can’t fathom that this new system will be THAT comprehensive or devious in its use. As best I’ve been able to surmise, the system will have the ability to loosely track guests movements thru the parks, at the front gates when they enter, in gift shops and restaurants when they make purchases, at the queues of rides where they’ve chosen to use a Fastpass+, as well when they get photos with a Photopass+.
So, the big question everybody seems to be asking, is why? What does Disney want to do with this? How are they planning to recoup the $1.5+ billion (rumored to be 2 now) investment they have made? The answer most seem to gravitate toward is that Disney intends to secretly sell guests personal information to third parties, but I just can’t accept that. Perhaps I’ve drank too much of Mickey’s Magical Koolaid, but this just sounds like a really bad idea for a company as smart and savvy as Disney. Am I giving them too much credit?
I’ve thought about this for a while, and tried to figure out what they could possibly do with the known data points, but first, let’s take a look at what those might be, then we’ll try and figure out how they might use the data.
The list below are the known RFID scanner points that are being installed around WDW property and the potential data elements that might be collected from the guest:
- Hotel room door (Enter/exit times, location, time in room)
- Park entrance gates (Enter, exit times, location)
- FastPass+ Ride Queues – (Scheduled time, arrival time, possible ride time, estimated exit time, location)
- Gift Shops/Stores – (Individual Purchases, location, estimated time in store)
- Photopass+ – (Time, Location)
- Restaurants – (Entry time, Order time, Location)
There may be others, but these are the ones I’ve read about so far. I could foresee readers added at bus stops in the future to help with bus scheduling.
So, here’s a few ideas of what I think can be done with this data.
Hotel room –
- notify hotel management – this could be used for emergency notifications in case of fire or bad weather, it would give management a more detailed view of how many guests are at the hotel and where
- deliver baggage/packages – If they know you’ve checked back in to your room, they can deliver your stuff
- activating or waking up the environmental (heat & A/C) systems energy saving mode.
Park Entrance/Park Ops
- Transportation management – Identify which resort guests come from, or if from parking lot, allows for better management at end of day with more precise resources (boats/capatains, buses/drivers)
Also, if there is a rainstorm or other event that causes a mass exodus prior to closing, they could know and automatically queue transportation.
- Plan vs Actual – If guests take advantage of the advanced features such as FP+ ride reservations and Dining reservations, the systems could automatically adjust if guests change their minds or for some reason don’t go to their pre-planned destination. For example, if a family reserved FP+s for Space Mountain, 10am, but they still had not left their room at Animal Kingdom Lodge by 9:45, the system would automatically release the reservation they had for someone else to use. The same would work for dining.
- Dining reservations – It would be assumed that if a guest is in the park for which they have a dining reservation, they would likely be using the reservation at the time they scheduled. However, if for some reason, they left the park, the reservation might automatically cancel or be released for someone else to use. The system could also verify the cancellation with the guest before cancelling.
FP+ Ride Queues
- Exact number of riders in queue / on-ride
- Exact wait times (no more red lanyards)
- FP+ Usage
- Purchases – Sure, they could profile you, based on what you buy. Your preferences, colors, sizes? Although, I have to wonder how well this would work for us since we buy not just for ourselves but friends and family too.
- Spending habits – How much you spend on various types of merchandise, clothing, toys, jewelry, etc.
- Resort level spending
- Food preferences
- Amount of food you eat – portion sizes? frequency?
- Time you spend in park
- Time you spend in room
- Touring habits – early riser and arrival at opening, sleep in with later arrival, park closer, mid-day breaker, etc
- Attraction preferences and types
- Hotel Preferences, room preference, bed preference, pillow, towels, etc
- Time of year preference to visit (this could be via a questionaire, or an accumulation of data over multiple visits), serves the purpose of tailoring a custom promotion/advertisement for you and your family
When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
In my limited and somewhat rose-colored thinking, I’ve come up with but a few ideas here, but I’m sure they have many more ways they will choose to use this data. However, based on everything I’ve been able to find concerning NextGen, points to Disney simply trying to find new ways to improve the guest experience in hopes of influencing them to spend more money, with the thought being a happy guest will spend more money, and choose to come back sooner. Yes, it seems they will achieve this via data mining and using the new technology to provide them with more detailed feedback, but it’s more about streamlining the experience as far as I can tell. Mind you, there may be more involved that they’re not spelling out, but the following is just some of what I’ve found in patent applications.
Patent – 7720718 – Management of the flow of persons in relation to centers of crowd concentration
-A goal of this invention is to improve the desired functionality needed to derive increased guest satisfaction, additional revenue opportunities and resort differentiation.
Patent (application) – 20120271834 – Managing experience state to personalize destination visits
A method for managing distribution of entitlements, such as personalized or enhanced experiences at a destination such a theme park.
-For example, the operator may change arbitration rules based on data mining that may indicate that entitlements have not been distributed as desired (e.g., experiences were being provided in a too concentrated manner to a small fraction of visitors, experiences were not being delivered to preferred customers as often as desired, and due to other business rules/goals). In other cases, the I/O devices may be used to alert operators of the management system when a visitor is about to leave a facility without receiving one or more experiences (which they may have purchased the entitlement to), and the operator may the take proactive steps to try to provide the visitor with the experience or to take later steps to make up for the missed opportunity (send the visitor a free pass or gift).
Patent application – 20130018661 – Guest experience management system and method
An exemplary computer implemented method comprises receiving information from a guest, determining a guest strategy based on the information received from the guest, and generating a schedule for the guest visit based on the guest strategy.
-One disadvantage at many theme parks and amusement parks is the long lines that guests face to enter the park, at the attractions within the park, and when purchasing food at mealtimes. Long wait times for attractions in particular detract from the guests experience, not just from the time spent standing in lines, but also by causing the guest to rush from attraction to attraction to maximize the number of popular attractions, without taking time to notice or enjoy the other offerings of the theme park such as music, live entertainment, restaurants, shops, etc.
-Additionally, guests that rarely frequent the park are typically unfamiliar with the layout of the park as well as with the peak times for more popular rides. This can further decrease those guests enjoyment, as they may take circuitous routes in order to try and visit as many attractions as possible, and may cause them to experience even longer lines by failing to visit the most popular attractions at off-peak hours.
-Different methods have been used to try and minimize wait times in theme parks and amusement parks, including limiting ticket sales on a given day to prevent overcrowding and allowing guests to purchase more expensive express tickets that allow the guest to use shorter express lines for popular attractions. These methods are limited and more prevent overcrowding in the theme park itself, but do not guarantee guests that they will have shorter wait times.
-Similarly, other methods to try and minimize wait times in theme parks include allowing guests to appear at the attraction and reserve a specific time in the future when the guest can return to the attraction and enter through an express line. This method is also limited in that it does not allow guests planning their trips to know ahead of time what attractions they will be able to visit on a given day, and what is the best route through the theme park for those desired attractions. Moreover, such systems will typically not allow the guest to make multiple appointments (manifested as flexible return windows)s at the same time. Thus, if the only available appointment times for a popular attraction are late in the day, the guest must either make the appointment and forego the opportunity to make appointments at other attractions, or risk missing the popular attraction entirely.
-Accordingly, there is a need for a method and system that better manages the guest experience and the wait times at theme parts, amusement parks and resorts.
I should add that this last one includes a whole lot more detail about providing customized experiences, not just more FP+s, but interactive elements and special effects made available for specific guests based on what “experience level” they purchased. (This could point to a new ticket pricing structure.)
I could cite more examples, but I think this should suffice (for now).
Experience Type – pre-planned package arrangements?
In Disney’s recent DisneyTime sweepstakes they held (early 2013), they were asking guests to pick from a variety of “experiences” they would like to win. These or something similar could be used in the future to help guests in tailoring their visit with pre-planned activities or events that would be automatically selected for them should they choose to go this route. Listed below are the choices Disney offered:
Character Cuddles and Happy Happenings. Includes:
- One (1) Disney’sMagical Celebration “in room” décor, as chosen by Sponsor, in winner’s Walt Disney World® Resort hotel room [winner’s room only];
- One (1) Disney Character Dining experience for four (4) persons, and
VIP viewing for one (1) Disney Theme Park parade or show for four (4) persons.
- Parade and/or show selection and date of experience is at the discretion of Disney. Based on availability. Restrictions apply.
New Discoveries and Magic Makeovers. Includes:
- One (1) Disney’sMagical Celebration “in room” décor, as chosen by Sponsor, in winner’s Walt Disney World® Resort
hotel room [winner’s room only];
- Up to two (2) Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique Princess Package makeovers (Guests ages 3 to 12 can choose from 3 hair styles—Fairytale Princess, Disney Diva and Pop Princess) or up to two (2) Pirates League experiences;
- Disney’s Family Magic Tour for up to four (4) people, and
- One (1) Disney Character Dining experience for four (4) persons.
Wild Fun and Amazement. Includes:
- Ticket upgrade to include the Water Park Fun & More Option;
- Wild Africa Trek for up to four (4) people. Must be at least 8 years old and at least 48” inches tall, and
- Fantasmic! Dining Package for four (4) persons.
Big Thrills Beyond the Theme Parks. Includes:
- Ticket upgrade to include the Water Park Fun & More Option;
- One (1) Disney Shopping Spree with a maximum value of five hundred dollars (US$500), and
- Choice of recreational experiences such as, but not limited to, boat rentals, kayaking, bass fishing, spa, miniature golf with a total a value up to five hundred dollars (US$500).
Grownup Fun and Romance. Includes:
- Ticket upgrade to include the Water Park Fun & More Option,
- Signature Dining experience for up to four (4) people,
Choice of spa experiences or one round of golf for up to four (4) people with a total value of eight hundred dollars (US$800), and
- A night at Downtown Disney Area, featuring unique shopping and dining, as well as exciting nighttime entertainment, for four (4) people with a total value of four hundred dollars(US$400);
One final thought: It’s remotely possible Disney could have a second or third phase planned for this that is even more encompassing. A couple of years ago (Aug, 2010), Disney tried out a queueless waiting system http://bit.ly/XyRDGS at Rock N’ Rollercoaster and from what I hear, they’ve implemented a form of this on the new Dumbo queue. Consider, if all of the attractions are linked to FP+, Disney could conceivably set up all queues in this way where guests could pre-schedule their entire park visit ahead of time. Or, a computer would do it for you based on a pre-selected experience type. Then you would simply show up at the park and mill about shopping, eating, playing interactive games or just sight-seeing until you get notified of your ride time. Whether that’s part of the ultimate plan, will have to just wait and see.
One more final, final thought: With ticket prices inching closer to the $100 mark, many have questioned whether a day at the park(s) is really going to be worth that much. Will visitors be willing to pay THAT much for a ticket? Rumors have been floating around that all of the big players are looking into alternative ticketing strategies that would ease the impact of raising tickets to this price. Speculation on my part (again), but with the MagicBand technology, Disney could implement a tiered ticketing system, offering the guest varying levels of “experience” types, similar to those above. This would be a similar model as the airlines, hotels and rental car companies, where if you pay more, you get more. For example, they might have a Premium Experience level that has 4 FastPass+ options, a Table Service credit, and free drink refills, then maybe a Standard Experience level that would include 3 FastPass+ options, a Counter Service credit and a free drink refills, then they would have a Basic Experience with just 2 FastPass+ options and nothing else. These might be priced at $125, $105 and $95 respectively, just as an example.
Also, if you’re interested in knowing more about what Data companies are collecting, be sure to check out the following link: Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You
DizFanatic – Michael DiMare – http://dizfanatic.com/diztech012.aspx
If you’ve been around the Disney fan community within the last 2 years, you’ve likely heard about Disney’s NextGen project. If not, just Google it. In short, it’s a big project they’ve come up with to try and take the parks into the Next Generation, some of which involves the use of RFID technology. A particular implementation of this seems to be moving toward the use of a bracelet worn by guests while at WDW. Wirelessgoodness.com, reported last month such a device that has been submitted to the FCC for approval.
Now, I’m neither pro nor con on the bracelets and other new technologies that Disney is testing, including a more advanced version of FastPass which will allow guests to pre-select passes before they even get to WDW, called FastPass+. From everything I’ve seen and what’s been rumored, I think it all sounds pretty neat and should hopefully make for a better park experience. However, a funny/quirky thought occurred to me today about how much the new technology might emulate the peep (guest) control and information that was available in Chris Sawyer’s popular Roller Coaster Tycoon games. Several years ago when the first version of this game came out, and the second, I played for hours on end trying to build and manage the perfect parks and attractions. If you’re familiar with the game, then you should remember there were multiple aspects which you could monitor guests on.
Roller Coaster Tycoon Guest Levels:
- Overall Happiness
Other Guest Information:
- Time in the Park
- Preferred ride intensity
- Rides they’ve ridden
- Money spent/available
- Recent thoughts
- Carrying – purchases
Below is a screenshot from the game showing the overall guest thoughts, an aerial shot of a guest, the levels, rides they’ve been on, money spent/available, recent thoughts, and then what they’re carrying.
- Time in the Park
- Preferred ride intensity (favorites?)
- Rides ridden
- Money spent/available (optional, if using for purchases)
While some in the fan community have argued that much of this information is personal/private and they don’t want Disney “peeking” into their life while in the parks, I don’t necessarily see the harm. I understand it may be seen as invasive, but I really don’t see how they could use this information in any foul manner. At the worst, they will use it to figure out a way to get me to spend more money. But, at the best, I see them looking at the data to find a way to make the parks more enjoyable. Of course, in the end their efforts/intent would probably be an attempt to get me to spend more money.
Walt Disney Imagineering recently inserted two new “features” into Walt Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction to “plus” this almost 40 year-old attraction a wee-bit more. This isn’t the first time WDI has “plussed” the attraction. With the popularity of the movie franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean and the sequels, Disney has played on this popularity by adding Captain Jack Sparrow (in multiple places), Captain Barbosa, and even the gruesome and creepy Davy Jones. Although, around the time of the fourth movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, came along, Jones was replaced by the fearsome Blackbeard in a mist-like fog image and voice projected at the beginning of the ride.
Avast! Thar’ be SPOILERS ahead!
Adding another movie tie-in to the fourth installment of this movie series featuring Jack Sparrow and friends, the latest addition includes the mermaids from the fourth film. If you saw the movie, you might remember, these aren’t exactly the same friendly kind of mermaids we’ve come to know and love from Disney’s, The Little Mermaid. No, these are soul-snatching, evil demon-fish, intent on dragging as many men to a watery grave as Davy Jones himself. Side-note: Any chance these mer-chants of death are under his employ, or curse?
The Disney parks blog hinted that this change was coming a few weeks ago, but didn’t go into any real detail and I’ve been watching and anticipating the changes ever since. The additions include a new projection of a mermaid swimming in the water, followed by a skeleton of a mermaid in a wrecked boat on the beach. Along with these new visual additions, they added the eerie music and song, My Jolly Sailor Bold also from the movie.
Update 11/01/12: Disney announced on their blog this new arrival.
I won’t spoil the magic here, by posting any pictures or video of the additions, as this is still pretty new. But, if you’re the curious type like me, you can Google it yourself and find what’s been added. I’ve seen some of the pictures and a low quality/low light video of the features and overall, I think they’re impressive and make for a good addition to the attraction.
I’m not criticizing this new addition, in fact I quite like it and think it adds to the creepy air of mystery in the caves. However, something struck me as out of place while reading about the changes, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps there’s room for further “plussing” and perhaps even a better tie-in with the most recent movie. In the beginning of the ride as you enter the caves, Blackbeard appears in the fog screen warning you of the journey you’re embarking upon. Since all of the other additions of Jack and Barbosa to the attraction, and now with the addition of the mermaids, I think it might be more fitting to replace Blackbeard (of the mist) with Jeffrey Rush’s, Captain Barbosa giving a shortened version of his speech from the fourth movie. In it he warns,
Aye. Mermaids. Sea ghouls, devilfish…dreadful in hunger for flesh of man. Mermaid waters, that be our path. Cling to your soul as mermaids be given to take the rest, to the bone. Gentlemen. I should not ask any more of a man than what that man can deliver, but I do ask this: are we not King’s men? On the King’s mission? I did not note any fear in the eyes of the Spanish as they passed us by. ARE WE NOT KING’S MEN? Hands aloft, and bear away! Stave on ahead to Whitecap Bay!
Obviously it would have to be shortened as the above is too lengthy in the time you have passing thru here. But, I think it would make for a better tie-in and help serve as a little pre-warning for guests. Nothing against Ian McShane and his foreboding warning as Blackbeard and Davy Jones’ creepy octopus tentacle face, but Barbosa with his scratchy voiced snarl and pirate lingo is near-perfect! Besides that, I think Barbosa is one of the more popular and memorable characters from the films. It just seems like it would make more sense.
The omnimover system has been around for many years and has been a reliable and efficient mode of transporting guests thru many a Dinsey attraction while telling a story. Roger Brogie and Bert Brundage developed the ride system for Disney and patented it in 1968.
Some of the attractions currently using the Omnimover ride system include:
Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster, (New) The Little Mermaid, Spaceship Earth (Epcot), The Seas with Nemo & Friends (Epcot)
While the original system has been tweaked and modified a few times and used in other attractions, it remains for the most part a somewhat slow moving and sometimes low or no-thrill type of ride vehicle. My idea involves mixing the original design idea with a multi-dimensional roller coaster to create a more thrilling and fast moving attraction.
First, the ride vehicle would be on a track very similar to what it currently has, but it would have sections of the track where it ran free, without any kind of pulley or drive mechanism, thus allowing it to go faster.
Second, the vehicle would tilt forward and backward via a cam style system along the top of the track base. The vehicle itself would have a wheel that would be attached to a separate track that could be used to tilt the vehicle forward, backward and perhaps even slightly angled from side to side.
The third element of the new ride would be steep hills, or even portions of track that would take the riders upside down. I’m not a design engineer, but here is my best description of the attraction and vehicle.
Each vehicle would be attached to the track using a reverse C-shaped track going from the bottom of the vehicle and extending up to the top. Picture an omnimover doom-buggy type vehicle/shell similar to those used on Haunted Mansion or The Seas with Nemo & Friends. The attachment would essentially be a track/mechanism that would control the pitch forward or backward using a wheel attached to a separate track than the main which would be used for holding onto the vehicle. The first track would hold and propel the vehicle along a defined course. The second track would run along the inside and depending on the angle in relation to the guide track, it would tilt the vehicle forward or backward. See the illustration below for a demonstration of how it might be used.
In the above illustration, there is a vehicle moving thru a course that goes from a flat, horizontal path then moves to an incline followed by a loop under the original path then finally back to the front into a horizontal, flat pathway. While traveling thru the course, the vehicle could be tilted using the angling track so the rider’s back would be in a lying down position perpendicular to the rail. While moving down the incline the vehicle would run free from any drive mechanism allowing it to build momentum to carry it quickly thru the loop, providing a thrill for the ride. I would love to see this concept carried out in a new version of the Haunted Mansion, or perhaps the long-rumored Monsters, Inc attraction.
The 2011 TEA/AECOM Theme Index – Global Attractions Attendance Report was released this week. Overall it was a good year worldwide, and North American parks grew 2.9% in attendance. Of the top 10 North American parks listed, all but 1 had increases in attendance, with only Epcot at Walt Disney World staying the same as last year.
Disney parks in the U.S. fared so-so, with about a 1/2 million more visitors combined increase of just less than 1% growth in Florida and California. Universal Studios parks, however, racked up almost 2 million more visitors or 11.5% over last year, which combined with last year’s growth totals more than 4 million more visitors or 26% growth.
The exact numbers for the top 10 U.S. theme parks are:
|1||Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL||17,142,000||+1.0%|
|2||Disneyland, Anaheim, CA||16,140,000||+1.0%|
|3||EPCOT, Lake Buena Vista, FL||10,825,000||0.0%|
|4||Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL||9,783,000||+1.0%|
|5||Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Lake Buena Vista, FL||9,699,000||+1.0%|
|6||Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL||7,674,000||+29.0%|
|7||Disney’s California Adventure, Anaheim, CA||6,341,000||+1.0%|
|8||Universal Studios Orlando, Orlando, FL||6,044,000||+2.0%|
|9||Seaworld Florida, Orlando, FL||5,202,000||+2.0%|
|10||Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, CA||5,141,000||+2.0%|
For the water parks category, Disney held onto their lead in the U.S. and worldwide once again with more than 2 million visitors at Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World. Second place worldwide went to Chimelong water park in Guangzhou, China.
You can see the full report by clicking the link above.
For a bit more historical detail, be sure to check out a couple of spreadsheets I’ve been maintaining for a while that show more breakdowns for the U.S. parks.
The first is a view of the top 12 U.S. theme parks and their historical attendance estimates: U.S. Theme Park Attendance Estimates
The second is a specific breakdown of Walt Disney World historical attendance estimates.
Over the last few years, the story-line for the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been tweaked a number of times. News and Rumors are now circulating that the attraction will be tweaked even further and tamed down to just an animal spotting safari ride. Supposedly, the poacher story is going to disappear altogether. The “camp” that is found at the end of the ride, is already being removed and will be replaced with a live Zebra exhibit in the near future.
I’m not opposed to them adding more animals, but I do have mixed feelings on removing the mildly entertaining story of the poachers and interacting with Warden Wilson and Ms. Jobson, even if it did border on being cheesy and preachy sometimes. I also enjoyed the bouncy, fun ride and dash of excitement that it added to an otherwise sometimes lackluster tour through the Savannah. While the story line was a little bit silly, I think it added a necessary element to the attraction, particularly on those hot afternoons when the animals are all hiding in the tree line or resting somewhere out of site in the shade.
A couple of thoughts came to me about how they could vary the ride and keep it exciting, fun and entertaining and perhaps even retain the informational/educational aspects of poaching without being too preachy. One of my complaints and I’ve heard it from others as well is that the ride doesn’t allow you enough time for taking good pictures. I understand a need for a story, but I think sometimes, there are guests who really could care less and just want to see the animals and not necessarily be entertained.
To solve this issue, I propose two tracks/versions of the attraction, selectable by the guest before they get on the trucks. As is, the queue already splits in two at the load area. They could easily make one load area designated for the Safari only, where there would be no story, just a driver/guide who would point out the different animals, their characteristics and other random facts while on the ride. Perhaps, to make it a little more interesting, they could add some random quips or corny, but tasteful jokes, but that would be purely up to the driver and maybe the crew. To make it fun for the younger kids, they could also appoint someone the “assistant guide”, and give him a pair of Safari Binoculars to keep and help with spotting animals. They could also give him a button, pin or sticker to indicate they were an assistant guide.
In order to keep the ride somewhat entertaining, the other load area could be for a story-oriented ride thru maybe aimed at a younger audience. Since the attraction is currently focused around finding the elephant, Little Red, I thought, why not keep it elephant focused, but add characters from a Disney movie who were specifically tasked with finding someone. My favorite Disney animated movie, is The Jungle Book. In this movie, a herd of elephants led by a braggadocios former military elephant name Colonel Hathi, is recruited by the panther, Bagheera to help find the lost man cub, Mowgli, who has run off into the jungle and is in danger of being killed by the lion, Shere Khan. At first Colonel Hathi is opposed to such a task, but is soon convinced to help when his son, Hathi Jr, pleads with him and his wife, Winifred, demands they help find the man cub.
The load area would be changed to include pictures of the Colonel, his wife and his son, in the background they could maybe play a music loop of the March from the movie. Before the truck pulls up or as it pulls up, Colonel Hathi yells out: “COMPANYYY! ATTENTION! Very Good! Welcome to the Dawn Patrol. Today we’re marching thru the Savannah on a mission to… “ when the Colonel is interrupted by his son, Hathi Jr. “Hey Pop, Hey Pop! There’s a lost elephant wandering around the Savannah.” As in the movie, Hathi is reluctant to change his plans, but Jr and maybe even Winifred convince him and says his name is Little Red and he’ll get hurt it he’s not found. The truck would then pull up, and the voice of the Colonel is now coming from the truck as he yells “HALLLT!!!”. Throughout the ride, the Colonel and Jr are talking back and forth to you and each other as you search for Little Red. Along the way the driver is also conversing and telling you a little about the animals you are passing by, and where the animals are, interspersing comments about Little Red, and asking if anybody sees him. As before, the story would be loosely wound around the exhibits and the driver. They could add in music from The Jungle Book or other Disney music, perhaps even the same music they currently “tune in” on the radio, as many people seem to enjoy it.
The beauty in this proposal is the (seeming) ease of which it could be implemented. I hesitate to say it would be easy, because I’m not an expert on the mechanics of the current ride system, but I assume it’s based on a series of location based triggers for an onboard audio playback device of the specific story elements. If it is as simplistic as I assume, then it would just involve recording some new audio tracks, loading them on the trucks and moving or re-programming the triggers for the specific locations. Then, they would need to do some work in the queue and re-train the cast members. I’m sure it’s more complicated than what I’ve just pointed out, but compared to an overhaul of Test Track, or fixing the Yeti (sorry, couldn’t resist), this would be much simpler. In the end, they would be able to offer guests two completely different rides on the same attraction.
I think something like this is just scratching the surface with what could be done here and maybe even many other attractions. With new technologies, specifically some of the rumored Next Gen RFID technologies, they could really take this to a whole new level, and even have personalized ride experiences using the onboard systems or the guests’ personal smart phone. I’ll leave those ideas for a future post though.