Soarin’, at Epcot is one of mine and my wife’s favorite attractions. However, with wait times for this popular attraction frequently reaching 2+ hours, it’s one those attractions that is best enjoyed with a Fastpass.
Recently, a couple of ideas came to me about how the wait times might could be decreased and throughput maximized. These ideas focus around two different, but similar strategies the first utilized by a few roller coasters, the second borrowing an idea from Carousel of Progress.
Like many attractions, Soarin’ seems to struggle with loading/unloading of passengers in a consistent and timely manner. Some of this can be attributed to the usual issues related to guests and the many things they bring with them as well as seat belts and just getting everything set. On occasion, it might be operator or mechanical/ride-related, but this is usually rare. Regardless, this would seem to be an area for potential improvement. So, the question came to me, how would you optimize loading/unloading in a more efficient manner?
Both ideas involved creating more than one load/unload area for the carriages (seats), but how to do this. My first thought involved building a (huge) pivoting arm that would move the carriages from a load position/room to the projection room. There would be two load rooms, one to the left of the projection room, the other to the right, where guests would stage and load or unload. Carriage A on the left side would load while carriage B is positioned in front of the screen. When the film finishes, the carriage would move back to load position B and carriage A would move into the theater, when finished, it would reverse and then repeat.
The only problem with a strictly left-right movement compared to the up-down of the current mechanism would be the sensation of ascending to “fly” and then the descent on finale’. Another issue might be if the arms are connected and the carriages move together, how would an emergency evacuation work? If there were an emergency, both carriages would need to return to the load position quickly and independently. I still think this could be done with a set of pivot arms, but it might be best to go another route.
The need for independently movable carriages, led me to think maybe an overhead roller-coaster type track would be a better solution. There would still be two load rooms left and right of the screen, but they would be self-powered(?) and move into and out of the projection room on their own. The rail would ascend to the screen, appropriately timed with the start of the film, then descend upon finale’.
Alternatively, and in order to better accommodate the three rows, the lift rail could be vertical or at a steep angle in front of the screen and the rows would just be lifted and rotated into position, similar to the way 4th dimension roller coasters work, where there is a separate rail that controls the position of the seats.
Taking this just a step or two further, another option for what might actually be a smaller footprint than the existing designs in California and Florida, would be something similar to Carousel of Progress where the carriages would rotate from load/unload to the projection room, then lift into position. A quad system with 2 screens and 2 load/unload rooms that would rotate left-right or turn every time.
In general, either of these ideas would speed up throughput and ride capacity greatly since one carriage would always be in front of screen while the other was unloading and re-loading. But, the question comes to mind, how long is this really, and what is the time between? The film itself is reportedly 4 minutes, 17 seconds long, and the estimated unload/load time is between 3 & 5 minutes. This equates to each screen cycling every 9-1/2 minutes, or 6.3 times per hour. Having two load positions would shorten the time between the film showing significantly and, in theory, allow for slightly double the amount of riders per hour per screen.
Obviously, neither of these solutions could be applied at Epcot nor any other existing installation without some major reconstruction, but they could be utilized for future installations of the same or similar attraction.
Side-note: Right about the time I finished writing this up, I read a couple of allegedly confirmed rumors from two different sources that said Disney is planning to build a third theater for Epcot’s Soarin’ to help alleviate some of the long wait times.
An interesting bit of news that came out of Disney in the last week regarding two new “Ultimate” tours. The first, aimed at families with young kids, called “The Ultimate Day for Young Families – a VIP Tour Experience”. The second, designed to appeal to “thrill seekers” called, “The Ultimate Day of Thrills – a VIP Tour Experience”. Read more about it here:
The really interesting part of this for me is, these new tours offer an experience very similar to an idea I had in 2009, when rumors of something that was being developed, called “Disney’s Night Kingdom”. My idea was very similar in that it would give guests access to all 4 parks, but exclusive and after the normal hours. This new experience/tour they’re offering takes place during regular hours, and is limited to specific attractions at just 3 of the parks, oddly leaving Epcot out of the fun. I’m not suggesting that Disney stole my idea, but I do find it interesting that they’re offering something like this. Now, if I can just come up with the $299 they’re asking for this, I’ll be glad to give it a go.
Now, I don’t want to sound like That Guy who screams that he was ripped off by a big corporation, but after going back and reading my thoughts, maybe they did at least use some of my ideas, here’s a few excerpts…
Supposedly, Disney has been looking at new ways to generate more revenue, and reach the more affluent clientele who have a lot more disposable income and think nothing of dropping $10-50K for a lavish, and exclusive vacation. Obviously, the new Four Seasons and Waldorf Astoria hotels will help address some of this by giving these more affluent guests luxury accommodations. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, March 28th, written by Scott Powers, there may be another level of accommodations the affluent will be able to stay in if the plan to allow private homes on-property moves forward.
Rumours have been floating around that Disney wanted to create something on a similar caliber that would give guests with deeper pockets looking for an exclusive experience on Disney Property.
So then, the question comes up, with these more affluent guests coming to Walt Disney World, what then can Disney offer them that would meet their expectations and draw some of the cash out of their deeper pockets to give them the kind of experience they would expect and cherish?
So, how can Disney offer this kind of exclusive VIP experience to the affluent 1 percent visiting without upsetting the other 99 percent?
Why not offer something akin to an all access, to ALL PARKS hard ticket event? Let’s call it “The Ultra Keys to the Kingdom tour” or maybe, “Disney’s Night Kingdom”. Call it whatever, but make every park, or most every park open to only those guests willing to pay the extra bucks, allowing them to ride the most popular rides, and throwing in a few extras here and there like their own personal guide to take them wherever they wanted to go, and within limits, ride whatever they want, as many times as they want.
Coincidence? The link to my full concept from 2009 is below.
The 2013 attendance estimates were recently released by TEA/AECOM at: http://www.teaconnect.org/pdf/TEAAECOM2013.pdf
Below are the top 12 U.S. Parks:
|1||Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL||+6.0%||18,588,000|
|2||Disneyland, Anaheim, CA||+1.5%||16,202,000|
|3||EPCOT, Lake Buena Vista, FL||+1.5%||11,229,000|
|4||Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL||+2.0%||10,198,000|
|5||Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Lake Buena Vista, FL||+2.0%||10,110,000|
|6||Disney’s California Adventure, Anaheim, CA||+9.5%||8,514,000|
|7||Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL||+2.0%||8,141,000|
|8||Universal Studios Orlando, Orlando, FL||+14.0%||7,062,000|
|9||Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, CA||+4.0%||6,148,000|
|10||Seaworld Florida, Orlando, FL||-5.0%||5,090,000|
|11||Seaworld California, San Diego, CA||-3.0%||4,311,000|
|12||Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, FL||-6.0%||4,087,000|
Disney parks topped out the top 6 this year, with California Adventure edging Universal’s Islands of Adventures, followed by the other two Universal parks in Florida and California respectively. Overall, Universal and Disney both had a good year, with the most significant gains at parks where new attractions have opened in the last year. Meanwhile, it was a rough year for Seaworld and Busch parks, with attendance slipping for all of the bottom 3 in the list.
Taking a deeper look at the last 4 years since the downturn in 2009, Universal Orlando has averaged an attendance growth rate over 10%, while Disney parks in the same market and time frame have managed just 1.35% average growth. In this 4 year period, Disney has grown just over 2.6 million in attendance, while Universal has almost doubled that with over 5 million. Mind you, Universal isn’t even close to unseating the WDW parks in the top 5, but they are making some significant gains in attendance with the attractions they’ve added in the last few years, leaving no doubt that they are serious about those parks. And, they should be, the Orlando market has grown steadily over the last 4 years at an average of 2.5%.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 30,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
My oldest son, W.K. Adams has started work on his third book, this one will be online at his blog and completely free. Please stop by, take a look and add your comments. And, if you get a chance, check out his first two books on Amazon.
MagicBands are finally rolling out in full at Walt Disney World. After a long testing process that started back in spring of this year, it looks like WDW and their guests will be getting these as an early Christmas present! If you’re not familiar with these, be sure to check out Disney’s page for the scoop. Basically, these are the result of the not-so secret project that Disney has been working on for the last few years under the broad project name “Next Generation Experience”. They’re RFID enabled bands designed to fit on your wrist and contain your park tickets, fastpass reservations, photopass id, and purchasing capabilities.
Update: 11/18/13 - The Orlando Sentinel has reported that the project is behind schedule and being delayed for several months to resolve some of the issues found in testing. Not a lot of detail was provided on how the delay will effect guests. More information and the full article can be found here.
My family and I experienced the “magic” of using these recently, on our 19th trip to WDW in October. We arrived on Thursday, October 17th and checked in at POP century without any issues or real delay. Oddly, when we checked in, they also gave us the Key to the World cards, and told us they were to be used just in case the MagicBands failed. Fortunately, we didn’t need them, as the trip went without issue the entire time we were there. We were able to enter our rooms, make purchases, pay for meals, enter the parks and use them for fastpass reservations we had made online before arrival as well as photopass pictures. Overall, the experience of using the MagicBands was pleasant and uneventful, which made for a great vacation, but I can’t say they added anything spectacular to the trip.
Anecdotally, I found myself frequently looking at my band to see what time it was, in spite of the fact that I haven’t worn a watch in almost 7 years. It’s kind of ironic too, considering that I decided to stop wearing watches on a previous vacation to WDW and feeling like I was somewhat slave to the time and just wanted to enjoy myself and NOT worry about the time.
Now that I have my general review and comments out of the way, I would like to point out some observations, and suggestions of how I think Disney could improve MagicBands.
We didn’t have any specific issues with making purchases using the bands, but something peculiar we found was in the authentication requirements. When making a purchase for less than $50, they require the guest to enter a PIN that was previously set, which makes sense. However, I found the over $50 requirement a little puzzling. As before, a PIN is required, but there is also a requirement to sign for the purchase. I understand the potential security risk here, and I think it’s a good idea to have a second step, but I think the signature requirement just feels a bit out-dated if not maybe pointless. Perhaps they’ve implemented it this way to verify authenticity if a purchase is questioned or maybe fraudulently made. Or, maybe it’s a hold over from the old way. Regardless, it just seems a bit more cumbersome especially in comparison to the way it used to work with the Key to the World (KTTW) cards or a credit card (one step), and I think there might be a better way.
Purchasing Improvement Suggestion: Instead of requiring a signature on purchases over $50, use a different PIN, or ask for the guest’s room number to be entered for verification.
Usage Tip: The scanner (pictured above) is actually removable. It sits on a magnetic stand and can be picked up by either the CM or the guest to be positioned better with the MB which might help reduce the awkward wrist twist that’s usually needed.
During our short trip, we witnessed on several occasions, long lines at the entrance of the FastPass return queue. Several times these lines extended out into the normal flow of traffic in the area, creating a bit of congestion. The backups occurred on most all of what would be considered “E-ticket” or popular attractions like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road, etc. For the most part, the lines all moved pretty steadily, not fast, but at least steady. I attribute this issue mostly, but not entirely, to the newness of the Magicbands and guests adjusting to using them. I have no way to confirm, but, it also seems like may be a lot more people utilizing FP than before which could be adding to the longer lines.
I noticed that there are some scanners that you have to press the flat part of the band (with Mickey on it), directly up against the scanner, but others are a little different, and you just have to pass the band right in front, either that, or some may just be faster than others. Of course, this could also be a network communications issue where the network or servers were busy and it took longer.
On a related note, we had a CM at the FP entry point of the queue at Kilimanjaro Safaris, tell us that only one member of our group needed to swipe our band for entry. No other FP queue CMs did this during our time.
Here’s a general list of things that seem to slow people down at FastPass return, some observed on my own, others were comments from a discussion thread on WDWMagic:
- Incorrect placement of the band on the receiver (Mickey Head). This could be adults who can’t seem to get it to align properly, or kids who can’t reach the receiver and need assistance.
- Slow response from receiver/system. Sometimes after reading your band the light will circle on the receiver (white) two or three times before turning green, indicating you’re FP time is within the window and you’re clear to proceed.
- Un-informed/trained guests who don’t understand how to use them. Some guests seem to think that just because they have a band, it means they automatically get to use the Fastpass entrance to the ride.
- Guests not wearing their bands on their wrist, or who don’t have them readily accessible for scanning.
- Family or group whose times don’t all align with each other, but they try to all enter together.
- Wrong times, or times that maybe shifted from what they were originally?
None of these issues are show-stoppers really, they just slow things down unnecessarily. Some of them are easily corrected by additional training and education for both CMs and guests, and some of these are just the newness of the bands and will ease over time. However, there are still a couple of areas here where I think they could improve.
One other comment I heard was that the paper Fastpass, while wasteful and problematic in itself sometimes, seemed like it was faster for both the guests and Cast members. A CM could quickly look at a bunch of FPs and see their times were all together or at least close enough and let them go in. But, with the electronic version, there is no visual, until each person swipes their bands, which takes a few seconds more. And, since the times are now being checked by a computer, it’s likely a bit more strict with early or late arrivers, although, this should be easily adjusted. Again, some of this is just the newness, and most of these issues will be worked out, but I have to wonder too if this might be a case where the old way could have a slight advantage.
Improvement Ideas for MagicBand and Fastpass efficiency:
1) As you can see in the picture above, the scanner/reader is at the the top of a 4 foot tall (estimated) pole that is usually themed to the area or attraction. Enhance the readers and expand the scanning zone. Instead of having a small scanning circle that is set at a fixed height, change the readers and use a vertical scanning sensor that runs from 18″ to the top of the pole. So, no matter the guest’s height or how/where the guest holds their band, the sensor should be able to read it. Obviously, these should also be added at the front gates of the parks as well.
2) Replace the Mickey/circle head with a screen or digital display that would show the guest’s names, party size and FP return time in a way that is visible to both them and the CM. Optionally, add an audio cue, either a voice or different sound that would identify the situation.
I think these changes, would greatly improve the situation as well as make it easier for both the CMs and guests in understanding and hopefully resolving some of the aforementioned problems that can happen.
I’ve heard there are kiosks around the parks where guests can swipe their bands and make or change FP times, but either I wasn’t looking for them, or they’re MIA in the parks. Regardless, it seems there should be more of these scattered around and perhaps more visible.
Just look at my pictures above. I’m not necessarily saying one is better than the other, but… one of them might be easier for some people, like me.
General Improvement Suggestion: One thing that seemed pretty obvious in all of our usage of the bands, whether at purchasing, gate entrances, Fastpass or room entry was the very strict requirement of having to physically touch the Mickey head on the band to receiver. I don’t know if it’s possible using the system they have, but the radio signals could be turned up in power to allow for quicker/easier scanning. I don’t know if it’s possible using the system they have implemented, but the radio signals could be turned up in power to allow for quicker/easier scanning. We use a system like this where I work, and it’s proximity based which doesn’t require physically touching. The reader and device can detect each others’ signal just by passing within close proximity, which is usually about an inch. If this were possible, it would make the system a bit more user-friendly and possibly even quicker.
If I can offer an honest critical review, I would say that overall, the MagicBand “experience” seems almost negligible. For the average guest staying on-property, the added benefit would seem almost insignificant, except for the added ability to pre-select or reserve fastpass times, which for some is huge. Admittedly this is a nice feature that is easy to use and comes in handy at times, but for me at least, it’s not a game changer. Aside from this new “feature”, I don’t really see a huge value for the guest, and it’s certainly not enough when comparing WDW to their competition.
I fully understand this is version 1, and there are going to be problems and adjustments that need to be made. By writing this, I’m hoping that someone at Disney will see it and consider some of my suggestions for improvement when the time comes. Perhaps you’ve used it and had your own ideas on how they can improve, if so, please add them.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival has gotten out of hand. Too big and too popular for it’s own good, maybe? Kind of like the final days of Pleasure Island before Disney shut all the clubs down. I’m not advocating that Disney goes the same route as they did with PI for F&W, but I do think the time has come for them address the situation and what it has grown into.
My family and I (wife + 3 older teenagers) visited the Epcot Food & Wine festival, October 21st. In general, we prefer to visit WDW during times of the year when the Flower & Garden or the Food & Wine festivals because of the lower crowd levels, lower temps (sometimes), and the atmosphere that those two events offer for the events, not to mention the food! Plus, Epcot is one of our favorite Disney parks, so those events are just an added bonus. However, this year, our experience was far from enjoyable. Everything started out okay, as we arrived at the park around noon, and proceeded to the Canada pavilion where we had lunch reservations. Our meal at LeCellier was a bit pricey for lunch, but still enjoyable. After lunch, we took a break and walked over to the Beach Club where we relaxed for a while, enjoyed some ice cream at Beaches and Cream, and then made our way back to Epcot around mid-afternoon.
Upon our return, we headed toward France where we caught the balancing chair act of the "waiters", which is always entertaining. The crowds were pretty thick in the area, so we headed on around World Showcase, smelling the variety of foods, and really wanting to sample some, but were turned off due to the long lines at all the stands. And, if the long lines weren’t enough, some of the guests "on tour" were already getting pretty sloshed. While most kept to themselves and their group, some were confrontational and bordering unruly, at least in the sense of a normally family-friendly Disney park.
Now, neither my wife nor I drink too much these days, but we have in the past, even at Epcot enjoyed a Grand Marnier or other mixed drink, and normally others’ drinking doesn’t bother us. However, the masses at World Showcase on this day were too much! As we ventured further around, it just seemed that we kept running in to more and more people who were loud and unruly. After giving it a try in a couple of pavilions, we soon tired of the craziness and made out way thru the crowd back over to Future World, where it was somewhat quieter and less crowded.
While my wife and I were not really offended by the crowd, we did find it somewhat un-Disney like and out of character from what we’ve come to expect from past Disney trips. Mind you, not everyone there was inebriated, obnoxious or acting unruly, but as is the case for most things, it was a select few who just ruined it for our family. There seemed to be several large groups there who were on a quest or competition if you will to drink everything there and see who could survive and still walk out the park. We’ve made a mental note that for future visits during this event, we will avoid going on the weekend, however, it might be a good idea to at least inform guests who might be unaware of the crowds and their potential unruliness and the climate surrounding this event, especially on weekends.
I would like to add that after thinking about it for a week, we’ve come up with an idea that might offer a good solution for Disney that would allow F&W to continue. I would imagine that that the crowds that F&W draws is pleasing to Disney and their bottom line, especially in what would normally be a slower time of year for the park. And, I would hate to see them cancel the event, because we’ve really enjoyed it in the past. I just think there might be a better way to do it that would be enjoyable for all.
So, our suggestion (it was my wife’s actually) would be to only offer the wine and alcohol during the evening hours, maybe from 4 or 6pm onward. Or, better yet, during F&W, offer a special ticketed event for adults over 21 at World Showcase maybe one night of the week, then on both Friday and Saturday nights. I realize this would be somewhat unfair to families trying to come to the park as it wouldn’t allow them to tour and see Illuminations, but it might help to relieve the situation some. In the daytime, the stands could open around 11 or noon, and only offer food, and then maybe at 4pm, they could start serving wine and beer. That’s my suggestion, I would love to hear yours. Again, I don’t want to see them kill off F&W, and I’m not really against people drinking and having a fun time. I just don’t think the large groups of drinkers touring World Showcase mixes well with families who are there with kids also trying to have a good time, but without the alcohol.
So, our suggestion (it was my wife’s actually) would be to only offer the wine and alcohol during the evening hours, maybe from 4 or 6pm onward. Or, better yet, during F&W, offer a special ticketed event for adults over 21 at World Showcase maybe one night of the week, then on both Friday and Saturday nights. I realize this would be somewhat unfair to families trying to come to the park as it wouldn’t allow them to tour and see Illuminations, but it might help to relieve the situation some. In the daytime, the stands could open around 11 or noon, and only offer food, and then maybe at 4pm, they could start serving wine and beer.
That’s my suggestion, I would love to hear yours. Again, I don’t want to see them kill off F&W, and I’m not really against people drinking and having a fun time. I just don’t think the large groups of drinkers touring World Showcase mixes well with families who are there with kids also trying to have a good time, but without the alcohol.