The parks may be closed “until further notice,” but we are already thinking of Disney days ahead.
Once we step into the A.C. (after closure) era of Disney Parks, we suspect many things will likely be different to accommodate health and safety concerns. We certainly don’t want to miss out on any of our favorite attractions; but we expect some elements of attractions may have to change, possibly including how we queue up for those rides.
And we think there’s a pretty solid option out there for how we can ride all our favorite rides AND still keep a healthy, safe distance.
We know theme parks, by nature, are packed with crowds, shared surfaces, and therefore: GERMS. So we aren’t expecting a sterile park where everyone is exactly six feet apart at all times once Disney reopens. But, we ARE dreaming big for things (well at least one BIG thing) that Disney could do to help guests keep their distance when possible.
We’re talking VIRTUAL QUEUES, baby! And before you start having horrific flashbacks to waking up at 4 AM to not even get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, that’s not what we are proposing. So take a deep breath as we present our evidence.
Exhibit A: Attraction Lines ≠ Safe Distances
You heard it here first, folks! JK, we know your minds aren’t blown, but it’s still important! If the CDC is recommending keeping a 6-foot space around individuals now, it sure won’t hurt to consider continuing — at least temporarily — once the situation calms down.
But we imagine “filling in all the dead space” and “kindly stepping into the dead center of the room” all at once isn’t quite what the CDC has in mind for when things start to get better. And it’s not just open spaces like Haunted Mansion — anyone who has ever waited in a queue at Disney World or Disneyland can tell you there is a LOT of humanity crammed in tight in those lines!
While we may see certain parts of attractions modified temporarily (maybe bypassing pre-shows?), Disney can’t quite skip the line altogether. Or can they….?
Exhibit B: FastPasses Work…For the Most Part
As it works now, FastPass return windows work to space out the timing of guests entering the FastPass queue fairly efficiently throughout the day. The hour-long return window allows guests more flexibility for when they choose to ride, but this can also lead to fluxes of guests filing in right at the beginning or end of windows.
Ever walked up to Space Mountain and seen a LONG line out the building and across Tomorrowland and thought it was the regular queue? Nope, we’d bet it was the FastPass line backed up due to a surge in guests. No bueno.
The system is far from perfect, but what it DOES do exceptionally well is regulate guests entering the FastPass line for a ride on a given day. A specific number of FastPasses are given out per ride, per return window.
Could the same process be implemented for both the standby AND FastPass queues of rides? What if you couldn’t walk up and just get in line for a ride, rather, you’d need to have a FastPass to get in the regular line.
Since Disney knows an average of how many guests can ride an attraction in a given hour or day, they could regulate the flow of guests to maximize the number of safe riders and minimize the wait time.
This could be taken a couple steps further by potentially spacing guests out in lines (since there would be more space for fewer people in line), and if rides are chosen to be run at a lower capacity out of health concerns, the number of guests permitted to get a FastPass could account for this.
Shorter return windows could possibly make the flow of guests even more efficient.
The potential issue here is how would it work? If there were no standby lines, would guests still book their FastPasses like normal, 60 days out for resort guests or 30 days out from their trip for everyone else? Would they still be limited to just 3 initially? FastPasses are tough enough to snag as it works now, so imagine if your ONLY way to get on attractions was dictated by the current system!
But there’s still another option that we think is even more conducive to spacing out guests AND giving everyone a fair shot at getting on their sought-after rides.
Exhibit C: Virtual Queues Worked for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Remember when we were prepping for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge and Disney was tasked with having to regulate crazy crowd levels? Enter: the virtual queue system.
The boarding group system allowed guests to file into Galaxy’s Edge in the morning, but after a certain capacity was reached, the virtual queue system kicked in. Guests would grab a boarding group and tour the rest of the park until their group was called. This worked very well in the early days of Galaxy’s Edge and accomplished the main goal: crowd control.
Where things went a little wonky was when Rise of the Resistance opened. The virtual queue system was utilized again to eliminate the incredibly long lines seen in the past when popular rides first opened. But because demand was SO high, guests were getting to the park hours before opening time to try and secure a boarding group as soon as they passed through the turnstiles.
In an effort to delay the massive crowds forming in the morning, Disney switched to a system where the virtual queue opened at the scheduled park opening time (instead of when guests started scanning in), but this ultimately became a lottery for which guests would, of the thousands of guests present, receive the coveted boarding groups.
As we’ve seen, boarding groups are not a perfect system either. With a ride this popular, there are far more people looking to ride than can go through the attraction in a day, so the virtual queue does its job at regulating the number of guests allowed into the line at a time. But guests arriving later in the day or unaware of the current system may never get a chance to ride.
But the idea of the virtual queue is still solid: rather than wait in a long line, guests can reserve a spot in line and come back later when they can be accommodated.
So if the idea of pre-booking your FastPasses is a functional one, and the ability to reserve a spot in line and maximize the capacity of a ride through virtual queue works well, is there a happy medium? We think so.
Exhibit D: A Synergy Between FastPasses and Virtual Queues
Pre-snagging your FastPasses is pretty great. The virtual queue’s crowd control is pretty great. But neither is perfect. So could the combination of the two be the answer to our stay-away-from-others-and-don’t-spead-germs woes for when the parks first reopen? You could take the crowd control of a virtual queue and add the functionality of FastPasses!
Those who remember the old paper Fastpass system (that’s still in place at Disneyland) likely have some OPINIONS. Many seemed to prefer this more open method of snagging Fastpasses. It was same day, first come, first served, but you were limited to just one at a time, or one every 2 hours, whichever came first.
Many remember and loved this system, as it seemed to result in many families riding MANY more rides via Fastpass than the current system, and it left the day open and not so pre-planned. This is more the Fastpass system we’re thinking of in this application.
Imagine a Disney World with NO standby lines. You’d never walk up to Big Thunder Mountain and go “Ugh, a 90 minute wait!” and skip it. You also wouldn’t be glued to a computer 60 or 30 days out frantically trying to get FastPasses. What if you did it all through virtual queues but NOT the “cram in the park right at open” system from Rise of the Resistance?
On the day you were visiting a park, you could open My Disney Experience once inside the park and join virtual queues for attractions one at a time, similar to how Disneyland’s MaxPass system now works but with the added functionality of boarding groups. Old Fastpass rules could apply — use the first one, grab another one. Rinse and repeat. When it’s time to get in line, your phone could alert you to make your way to the ride within a return window, just like the current boarding group system. As you wait, you could check what boarding groups are currently loading to gauge how long you have.
Yes, this would be a MASSIVE change, but that may be just what we need right now to ease into the parks’ reopening.
Exhibit E: There Would Still Be Kinks to Iron Out
In a perfect world, a virtual queue would be just like a friend holding your place in line, letting you enjoy the park while you wait, then hopping back in line when it’s your turn to ride. We know, we know — it’s not that simple. With any new major operations overhaul, there would be some challenges for Disney to work through.
Wouldn’t all the virtual queue slots for mega-popular rides like Slinky Dog Dash or Rise of the Resistance get scooped up in an instant? Possibly. But if you’re familiar with the paper/Disneyland Fastpass system, the machines dispense tickets continually until they’re gone for the day. If a return window was all distributed, it would move on to the next chunk of time, then the next, and so on. So if you REALLY wanted to ride that ride, you could…but you might be waiting for a while.
If you happen to recall Disneyland when Radiator Springs Racers first opened or Disney World when Toy Story Mania debuted in Hollywood Studios, paper Fastpasses for the DAY would be distributed in less than an hour initially.
But if you chose to get that sought after Fastpass first thing in the morning and the return time you got wasn’t until 9 PM, you’d have to wait 2 hours until you could grab another Fastpass. Same rules could apply here. Popular rides would likely be gone sooner in the day, but those people who chose to get them would still have to wait 2 hours for their window to try and get in another virtual queue, balancing things out a bit more.
If rides run at a lower capacity than prior to the closures, there is a potential for guests to be stuck waiting a fair bit in the parks for their boarding groups, meaning guests may not ride as much as they could before the closures. BUT, if this is a viable alternative to rides either being closed altogether or guests’ health at risk waiting in line, it may be worth it.
There are still hurdles to overcome, but we think modified virtual queues could be a start! They could accomplish the crowd control that Disney will desperately need in light of the recent events but with the added ease of booking a FastPass.
The name of the game is safety and we’re already bracing for how the parks could be much different when they reopen. There is no perfect solution because, as we mentioned in Exhibit A, the parks are not designed to keep people apart. We trust that Disney will do its best to keep their guests and Cast Members safe once the parks reopen and we would welcome virtual queues with open arms, er, phones!
What do YOU think? What changes do you hope to see once the parks reopen? Let us know in the comments below!