Keystrokes at Disney World – Hammer and Nails at Universal

| January 19, 2014 | 15 Replies

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.

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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+

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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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.

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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

  • Randy

    I agree that universal is expanding but if you look at their before list of experiences. It was a whole bunch of walking and waiting in line even in non peak season. They need this Harry potter to keep getting visitors (have you been in the Terminator attraction lately?). Disney on the other hand is expanding but more importantly taking the attractions they already have and making it less obvious you are waiting thru their interactive ques, seamless storytelling, and overall atmosphere that takes you to a whole new world. Universal, no matter what they add, is still a theme park. It is not magical. Fun but not magical. Disney will let Universal think they are shining but knowing Disney it is nothing as to what they have up their sleeves

  • Denise Rambo

    I haven’t been able to ride “Toy Story Midway Mania” in my last 4 or 5 trips to WDW because the lines are always longer than I’m willing to wait. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been able to ride since they did away with the Single Rider Line (BIG mistake – in my opinion). I also HATE HATE HATE the new FastPass+ system. My friends and I were at WDW the week after Thanksgiving and had MagicBands for the first time. The FastPass+ system is NOT conducive to Park Hopping. You have to book all of your Fast Passes at one park and they’re spread so far out over the day that you pretty much CAN’T Hop – or, at least, you can’t get any Fast Passes at any other park that day. I’d like to know whose brilliant idea this was? It IS nice to be able to PRE-book Fast Passes but that’s about it. And, NO, we weren’t able to ride “Toy Story” because the system wouldn’t ALLOW us to book Fast Passes for that attraction.

    • Ann

      We are going in late March. Am not looking forward to Magicbands. Have had problems already. As far as park hopping it is a waste of money for the most part. Too hard to figure how to get from park to park plus figure time wasted getting back and forth. Bus system needs updating.

  • Drbearsec

    I think this is a little simple in the analysis. They had different problems to solve…
    Universal’s capacity problems are more due to a lack of top flight attractions, outside of Harry Potter. They needed to replace components and get the guests to new parts of the park with other compelling aspects.
    Disney has these aspects. They needed to increase the flow of guests in a more predictable away.

    In other words, think of both as engines. Disney’s engine is built and the mechanic is trying to make it more efficient Universal is still building their engine and testing it to make it better. It’s a maturity model that both companies are operating in at very different phases.

    What Disney is facing now, Universal will need to tackle in the future

    • Jonathan

      That’s always how I saw MyMagic+, it was inevitable either way and better now than later so Disney already has that set aside

  • Carole

    Disney should have taken the money for MDE and build new attractions with it…they have been spending a lot of money on hotels, but now that they have all those guests, not enough infrastructure to keep them busy. So they roll out FP+ to on-site guests, and off-site take a chance at the crumbs when they get to the park. They need more big headline attractions at each park – a couple good rides at the Avatar attractions, Carsland at HS and you could build a whole new area based on Star Wars/Marvel characters with awesome rides. Let the imagineers take control for awhile instead of the bean counters. I am a stock holder, but I would rather have a smaller dividend and better entertainment.

    • Maxi-Geek

      except they cant use the marvel characters because universal have the rights now..

  • Rob

    I know Disney is doing away with paper fastpasses, but will there still be paper child swap tickets? Or are they electronically putting those on tickets too… or have they come up with another method for implementing them?

  • TemporalGrid

    Be careful what you call an expansion at Disney. Don’t forget they tore down other things to put in the new Fantasyland components. Downtown Disney is not part of a park, so the Disney Springs additions shouldn’t be considered in the same vein.

    What the new owners of Universal have been doing has been impressive, and my experience with My Magic Plus was anything but magical, and that was before it was stressed by the volume it’s under now. You guys can talk about Disney’s abstract advantages like atmosphere and magic all you want but it becomes greatly diminished when you’re put on a schedule, herded about the park for yield management, and have your nose stuck in your smartphone coping with a bad app, lousy WiFi and a poor web site all day.

  • carlbarry

    I was at MK on December 11, 2013. It was not a crowded day, relatively speaking. I was able to visit 22 attractions. However, there was a BIG problem for the parade, electrical parade, and fireworks: Nowhere to stand! CMs were admonishing people whose feet were partly over white lines, people were arguing with other people due to crowding, and people were arguing with CMs as to where exactly they were supposed to stand, when there was NO room within the lined off areas.

  • kjblack

    My first experience as a passholder with magic+ fast pass was not hopeful for an improvement. I wanted one fast pass for Kilimanjaro Safari and had to take two other fast passes I didn’t want and ultimately didn’t use thereby possibly blocking someone who wanted to ride the other two. I waited in line 10-15 minutes to schedule my fast pass. When I arrived at Kilimanjaro the fast pass line was huge and the NF thing you tap wasn’t even being used.

  • Paul Saint

    As with everything, whether it’s Disney or Universal, when a new attraction/system is introduced, there are ALWAYS glitches. Guests at both parks get impatient and frustrated when some aspect does not work in their favor. Because of so much money being invested for this type of vacation, every person wants to get his/her money’s worth. Now, granted, I haven’t been to Universal in quite a while, but that’s some issues I’ve had with the U-parks in the past. I can safely say I have ALWAYS preferred Disney, but I’ve also had issues with some aspects on their end, as well. The one constant is that these parks are NOT going anywhere. Change is going to be a part of the theme parks in this area, as well as throughout the country. All of these situations will work themselves out and fans of both park areas will continue to go and enjoy them. To each, his/her own!

  • Beth

    You stated that Fastpass+ arrangements can be made 6 months in advance of the trip. Is it really 6 months or 60 days?

  • Disneymaster

    FastPass+ SUCKS. Disney FAIL. This comes from someone who USED to go to Disney 3x a year. I have spent as much as $14,000 on reservations and rooms for one trip, but no more. Coming to Disney area this week, but staying off property…$762 for a 3BR/2Bath condo at Windsor Hills as opposed to $350/night at Wilderness Lodge for a Holiday Inn side room.

  • Maxi-Geek

    see what i see are a problem for each of them.

    disney are using f+ to move people about, keep crowds down at attractions and such, and while that will work to begin with, eventually more people will arrive and then you will be back to more people than space.

    universal are going the other way, building more rides and shows, and again while a new ride, ala transformers, means everyone will go there, once people are done with it they will want to go elsewhere and the crowds will also move.

    so in 3,5 or maybe 10 years, Disney will start adding lots more rides and Universal will start doing more for the crowd management.

    One thing to remember, people go Avatar land and thats it, but Animal kingdom is getting a new nighttime water show, and more.. that will help with crowds, instead of people flocking to three parks, all 4 will have nighttime entertainment.. that will help.