Let’s start with the obvious. Since the turn of the century, the Orlando theme parks have seen a considerable amount of growth. Not necessarily in the way of expansion, but with crowds. Tourists and local Floridians alike have flocked to the theme parks for magic and experiences they can’t get anywhere else. It seems the theme parks have succeeded in drawing tourists through their entrances; however, there’s a problem. Their number 1 problem has become bigger crowds, lines, and capacity, and how to deal with it. Both Disney World and Universal are working to address this problem, but it appears they are taking two different approaches. Continue reading and let’s look at how their potential solutions are miles apart.
You’ve probably been there before. It’s late afternoon during peak season at Toy Story Midway Mania where the wait time is over 60 minutes. There aren’t many options other than to step into the 60 minute line so you can experience one of the best attractions on property. Over at Universal the situation is nearly the same. I’m always left asking myself, “I wish there were more major attractions so the lines weren’t so long.” The problem is simple – Disney World and Universal have capacity issues. They can’t manage crowd levels and lines effectively while trying to maintain an adequate guest experience. In order for guests to get an above average experience with attractions, they are left with getting up very early or going during off-peak season to beat crowds, lines, and the capacity problem.
Disney World – Efficiency through Fastpass+
Disney World does a masterful job at crowd control. They work very hard at moving guests from place to place safely in order to avoid crowd congestion. They even have crowd control centers throughout the parks that can launch parades or shows to entertain people if a particular area gets saturated with guests.
In order to move crowds and give guests the best possible experience Disney has turned to technology over the years through the Fastpass system. Now, Disney World has taken this program to the next level. Their latest attempt at easing the capacity problem is through a program called MyMagic+, a more than one billion dollar initiative that started a few years ago. Part of that overall program is a technology system called Fastpass+ that allows guests to book ride reservations 60 days in advance of their trip while at home, in the parks, or even on their smartphones. Currently, only resort guests can book their FastPass+ ahead of time; offsite guests must make their reservations when they get to the parks each morning.
The idea is to get guests to commit to their attraction and ride times in advance so crowds and lines are effectively and efficiently spread out through the parks thus reducing bottlenecks and longer than usual wait times. Disney sees it as a boon in moving guests who will ultimately spend more money in and around the theme parks. Some guests say booking ride times far in advance takes away spontaneity with their family vacation. They must be at a certain place at a certain time or lose their ride reservation. Other guests love the idea of knowing their ride time is booked and the long wait for an attraction will not occur. Disney’s idea of using technology through Fastpass+ to ease the capacity problem is still in its early stages. We won’t really know its effectiveness until the system is completely rolled out to all guests.
Now, I’m not saying Disney is 100 percent sold on only using technology to ease the capacity problem. To be fair, they’ve been building and expanding throughout property. Additions like the Fantasyland Expansion, the revamp at Downtown Disney to Disney Springs, and Avatarland at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are all in play when it comes to dealing with guest capacity. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), Disney World is huge. These major projects can get lost in its size and crowd levels. Are these projects enough to keep up with capacity? Some theme park fans would say “Not even close.” Judging from the lines and crowds in their theme parks it would be hard to argue. Let’s hope Disney’s use of Fastpass+ and technology can help ease the capacity problem and provide a more positive guest experience.
Universal Orlando – Construction Rules
It’s hard to miss the construction cranes, walls, and sound of machinery as you walk through Universal Citywalk, and both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Universal has been working feverishly over the past 3 years to update its existing attraction portfolio, expand its parks and resort hotels, and update Universal Citywalk with exciting new restaurants and venues.
Simply stated, Comcast and NBC Universal are throwing their money, over 1.5 billion dollars, at construction and refurbishments to address their theme park capacity issues. The idea is adding more attractions and refurbishing existing areas so guests have more to do and experience. This means crowds and lines at other major attractions will be reduced simply because those guests will be at other queues and areas of the park.
Of course, with new attractions and more to do in general come bigger crowds. And those additional guests need a resort hotel room, right? This is where the new 1800 room Cabana Bay Beach Resort comes into play. The new resort will begin welcoming its first guests this March.
With recent introductions like the Simpson’s Springfield area, The Transformers, and updated Spiderman attraction, Universal is drawing additional guests through its turnstiles. Now add an updated Citywalk venue, and a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section (Diagon Alley) and Universal will see increased crowds for the coming years, or at least until the excitement wears off.
With new and updated attractions Universal Orlando is dealing with its capacity issues in a way that pushes crowds and guests to other lines and other parts of its parks based on attraction volume. At the end of the day when there’s more to see and experience, lines and crowds should be more manageable.
There you have it. Two different ways Disney and Universal are dealing with capacity issues at their theme parks. It’s technology versus expansion. Two ways of moving and manipulating crowds to provide a better overall guest experience.
I’m not saying that Disney isn’t expanding, it’s unfortunate, but Disney’s size does tend to overshadow expansion. You have the 7 Dwarf’s Mine Train and Disney Springs in the near future and Avatarland in the distant future, but considering Disney’s size it just doesn’t seem enough to move the needle. Disney has chosen to immediately deal with their capacity problem through technology whereas Universal is expanding and adding new attractions to help thin out their lines and crowd levels. Both theme parks are investing billions of dollars in each plan. Disney has added several components to its My Disney Experience including in park Wi-Fi, turnstile-free entry into its theme parks, mobile apps, and much more. Universal on the other hand has added The Transformers, Harry Potter, the Simpson’s Springfield area, Despicable Me and more.
Which idea do you prefer? Do you like Disney’s use of technology to help reduce wait times, or do you prefer decreasing wait times through expansion like at Universal?
In either case guests should see a better theme park experience in the years to come at both resorts. Sure, My Disney Experience and Fastpass+ have some kinks to work out, but doesn’t every major new attraction have an issue here or there? In the end let’s hope we spend less time in line and more time enjoying what’s available around us.
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Category: Disney World