New Queue, New Disney?

There is a lot of talk going on about Disney’s queues right now. Kevin Yee writes about the new Winnie The Pooh queue. FoxxFur has her original article “The Third Queue” which she follows up on in her yearly recap post. All three of those are great reading.

I feel a bit of a personal investment in the story of queues at Disney theme parks. My grandfather, Vic Greene, was involved in the refinements that turned typical switch back queues into something entertaining. My mother remembers Vic sitting around the kitchen table with some co-workers going over plans for the Matterhorn queue. They had to work out how two tracks would load efficiently, and put in some little touches like the gentle slope upward. So when you first enter the switch backs there is an optical illusion that makes the end of the queue look closer than it really is and making you feel better about the wait time. Before Roger Rabbit and Indiana Jones Adventure, that was pretty much the standard for Disney queues (although repeating-shows like Tiki Room, Alien Encounter, and Mickey Mouse Revue had their own differences).

Next-Gen concepts are based in part on the idea that gaming will become pervasive in our lives. The video to see is this one by a former CMU ETC (a program that has produced a number of imagineers) professor. I think we have to be careful to separate Next-Gen queues from the Next-Gen project that Disney is secretively working on. There is some overlap, largely having to do with how fast passes are distributed and how queue-length is determined and communicated, but the next-gen queues we’re seeing now can exist without the next-gen theme park technology that’s being developed. We need new terminology, I think.

Since Indiana Jones Adventure, Imagineers have been working on making waiting in line less like waiting and more like fun. The 2007 upgrades to the queue for Soarin’ in EPCOT was one of their first attempts what we’re now calling ‘Next-Gen’ queues. Giant interactive screens give stand-by guests something to do while waiting seemingly interminably. Space Mountain at Walt Disney World is another one of these game-queues and you can probably squeeze the new Winnie-the-Pooh queue into it as well (although here it is only the kids playing while the parents wait).

Another variety of next-gen queue is the holding-pen style. So far we’ve only had one demo of this style of queue with the promise of more to come. At Rock-n-roller Coaster they tested this concept by handing guests in the standby queue a card with a phrase or number on it. Guests then waiting in an open tent that was filled with games and other entertainment. When the phrase or number on the card was flashed on a big screen, guests were then allowed into the coaster building with only a short wait to get on the ride. This is less desirable than Fastpass for Disney as the guests are still in a pen and not able to go and spend money on food and drink. But it delivers magnitudes of improvement to the experience of waiting for an attraction. The first attraction expected to get this version of queue permanently will be the new double-ring Dumbo currently thought to be opening in the summer of 2012.

Before that The Haunted Mansion will open with its new interactive queue. Some testing was done earlier by offering a kind of treasure hunt game for select members of the queue, but I haven’t really heard how the new system will work. I agree with FoxxFur that the Haunted Mansion is a good candidate for an expanded queue. Can’t wait to try it out myself. Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain are next in line to get versions of these interactive queues. Presumably, all eligible attractions will eventually receive upgraded queues of one sort or another. Disney appears to be counting on these sorts of improvements to guest experience over wholesale new attractions to keep guest return rates high.

I am very much looking forward to the promised Next-Gen experience as it begins to pervade the whole theme park experience. Centralized distribution of fastpass or even better, fast pass you get on your smart phone would shake things up. There is something called a ‘Level-three’ queue, not sure what that is. Whatever happens, I’ll be keeping an eye on ‘Next-Gen’ where ever it pops up.

9 thoughts on “New Queue, New Disney?”

  1. When you say a fast pass you get on your smart phone as possible for the future… Are you keeping in mind that while a lot of people do have “smart” phones, there are at least the same percentage of people that do not have “smart” phones? Would there be a limit to how many fast passes are on phone nd still have a lot the “old fashioned” way?

  2. Even with the longest line I’ve never waited for more than 10 minutes to get into the Haunted Mansion (and that was at Halloween). I don’t see why the queue at the Haunted Mansion needs anything. There is so much detail to take in and look at that adding busy games for the sake of it threatens to spoil a fully immersive experience.

  3. I really don’t love the idea of changing the HM queue, but I’m willing to keep an open mind about it (as if I have any other choice). I will say that I’ve waited much longer than 10 minutes to get in! I tried out the Winnie the Pooh queue a couple of weeks ago and I loved it! I’m sure parents will be grateful as well.

  4. I experienced a version of that Next-Gen queue at Rock’n where you were only “penned” in to that entire courtyard, and you were handed your ticket at the entrance to the courtyard itself. That allowed guests to still access the bathroom, merch shop, and the outdoor vending stand, in addition to the things you mentioned (DJ, games, etc.) elsewhere in the courtyard.

    Anyway… I think that version of the next-gen queue is something a little closer to what Disney’s looking for — because, from a business standpoint, it allows the guests to still spend money while waiting “in line” for the ride, but guests would be happier because there’s more to see and do while waiting.

  5. Hi John. Thanks for the links and the commentary. :)

    Although Disney has been talking a bit about digital delivery of Fastpasses to phones, I don’t expect them to really do this, not least of which because a surprisingly large number of people do not bring their phones into the theme parks. The point of NextGen is to integrate all of these different items and ideas which are floating rather nebulously through the system – dining reservations, fastpasses, charge ability, photopass etc – and have everything neatly lined up and integrated onto one piece of media, a RCID chip, the Disney Ticket. The Disney ticket of the future may look quite different than we are used to, and will likely take the form of a wristband, which is what all the prototype next-gen RCID chips I’ve seen have been attached to. So I wouldn’t wory about cell phones or smart phones, Disney’s going to have all this on something they’ve already sold you and thus know you have.

    The RCID chip will allow them to do some unusual things, like take pictures of you while you’re on rides without your knowledge (not kidding, the cameras are already in Haunted Mansion) and run a “slideshow” of you and your family in the Magic Kingdom doing spontaneous things on your Next-Gen, touch screen TV when you get back to your resort, which is also where you’ll make all your Fastpass reservations, etc. The “Big Brother” aspects of all this will of course be the *real* marketing problem for Disney.

    John, are you sure that Soarin and Space Mountain were Next-Gen? I ask because my understanding is that those efforts were pretty much cooked up by the refurbishment teams themselves and were not designed nor financed by the new arm of WDI East which is spearheading “Next-Gen” or whatever they’re calling themselves. As far as I know this new queue at Pooh is the first thing the public has seen of this new sub-company and their 1.5 bil budget (so no, Pooh didn’t come out of the Fantasyland budget either). I think it’s worthy drawing a distinction because although the effect is similar, the scale of the effort is obviously a massive difference.

    anyway that’s what I know. :)

    1. You’re right about wrist mounted RFID chips. But I don’t think Disney is planning for everyone to get them. They’ll probably be part of a resort package or available for an extra charge to day guests. Changing the name from Fastpass to whatever will allow them to break the ‘contract’ spoken by executives that Fastpass will always be free to all guests. NGE won’t be fastpass, so they can charge for it. Or at least charge for more than just the basic level that might get you one or two fastpass equivalents a day.

      I’ve seen how that photo on the ride thing works. They can even edit together videos of your day. Think personalized ride videos with footage of yourself on the ride edited with canned POV footage (I have something like that from Manta).

      Yes, the real payoff on NGE for Disney will be the incredible marketing data they get. I’d love to see some sort of social network integration so they can even target your vacation habits with personalized informational and marketing messages on fan sites where you’re registered with your Disney-NGE key. I’d sign up The Disney Blog.

      I didn’t say that Soarin and Space Mountain were Next-Gen, just that they were pre-cursors to the idea. I’m sure the lessons learned at Space have been put into practice at Mansion and Pooh. The research they did on the Pooh queue was interesting. They set up a watch and play queue for the pooh character meet & greet in the old poo play area with a taped area for parents to stand in while cast members played games (like ring toss) with kids to make the waits go faster.

      Btw, the $1.5 billion budget has been increased again.

      Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog. Glad to have you around.

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