Niles: I’d rather wait in line than use Disney’s virtual queue

Innovation has driven some amazing new experiences over the past generation at Disneyland and leading theme parks around the world. From ride systems to Audio Animatronics to projection show effects, innovation in technology has helped to create experiences that feel more immersive and engaging than ever before.

But in business and operations, I am much less enamored of what innovation has brought theme park fans. Please, can we just go back to old-fashioned waiting in line?

Disney has announced that the Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will use a virtual queue when the Splash Mountain replacement opens at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom next month. Visitors who don’t win a space in Disney’s virtual queue can try to get on the new ride by buying the Disney Genie Plus upgrade and then trying to book a return time in Disney’s Lightning Lane queue.

Virtual queues are great if you are one of the lucky people who land a place in them. But the way that Disney has implemented virtual queues too often turns them into a game of random chance, like a lottery. At Walt Disney World, guests can try to enter the queue via the resort’s official app at 7 a.m. — before the park opens. There’s no cost in money or time to enter, so everyone who can respond to an alarm for that hour tries, overwhelming the virtual queue with more guests than possibly can get on the ride that day.

That’s not fair to the most devoted fans who would be willing to wait in an hourslong physical queue for the opportunity to ride a much-anticipated new attraction. If someone is willing to give up six hours of their day in the park for one ride, why should they miss out because some other fans who don’t care as much got lucky in a virtual queue assignment?

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Good, old-fashioned physical queues remain the most fair and efficient way to assign spaces on high-demand attractions. You really want to ride? Show up early and wait your turn.

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Having worked in park operations, I can guarantee that no ops team wants to have manage a six-hour-plus queue. But the better innovations to avoid that are designing rides for high hourly capacities, extensive testing so that rides can run at that full capacity from day one and plenty of annual passholder preview days to reduce demand from the people most likely to spend their whole day waiting on one ride.

If parks must get revenue from upsells like Genie Plus, then they ought to price them high enough that only a tiny fraction of park guests buy in, making them a minimal detriment to standby queue wait times. (The higher price can balance the lower sales volume.) But Disney sells Genie Plus at the industry’s lowest price point. That floods the Lightning Lanes, making the plan a lesser deal for those who buy and increasing wait times for those who don’t.

Parks should change over time. They must. But innovative changes should improve the quality of the guest experience — not diminish it.

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