Anticipation is always a part of the joy of a Disney trip. From children’s dreams of meeting their favorite characters to parents carefully booking advance dining reservations 180 days in advance, planning is a part of the fun in a Disney vacation. But how much planning is too much?
That question of where the fine line between anticipation and micromanagement is becoming increasingly relevant as Disney begins to roll out a series of technology upgrades in its parks that strive to blend the at-home planning process with the in-park experience. Those new technological tools have the potential to help the Disney parks anticipate crowd levels and facilitate guest experiences, but they also have the potential to damage the spontaneous “magic” of the Disney experience and bias the park experience toward vacationers with long-term plans rather than spontaneous or regular park goers.
Take, for example, recent rumors about the tightening of enforcement in FastPass times. The FastPass system allows guests to obtain a “pass” for a specific time window that allows them to enter the ride through a separate, abbreviated queue. In theory, the system distributes a certain number of passes for each time window, ensuring that no time of entry is overcrowded and all guests with FastPasses will benefit from quick entry to the ride. That window of time has not, however, been enforced. FastPasses have been honored at any time after the initial time listed. The rumored change, requiring guests to use the pass within the listed times, is listed as part of Disney’s technology updates, an apparently minor detail that changes the tone of the rumored change and connects it with a bevy of other internet rumors.
A year ago, in Feb. 2011, Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs proposed a system that would allow guests to schedule FastPasses from home as part of their vacation planning. Response to the announcement was mixed with some guests worrying that being able to plan ride times 180 or even 60 days ahead of a vacation was limiting the joy of the park and potentially shortchanging guests who hadn’t scheduled ride times far in advance.
But Staggs’s comments weren’t limited to the FastPass system. In the Feb 2011 statement, the chairman proposed a “NextGen” technology initiative intended to blur the lines between vacation planning and vacation going. Staggs declared that Disney now sees “the guest experience as beginning from the time a potential guest sits down at a computer or picks up a phone to make a reservation.”
That integration of experience is becoming more and more a reality. Recent concept art published at StitchKingdom.com shows a new, interactive element proposed for the classic It’s a Small World attraction. The added feature would allow guests to design a virtual doll that would accompany them on the ride…but it goes further than that. Tying into Staggs’s stated goals, the attractions system would possibly allow guests to design their doll at home before coming on vacation – returning to the seamless planning to playing experience.
In recent months, Disney has rolled out a bevy of new applications for SmartPhones that seem to be preparing to not only provide real time park information but also integrate interactive elements into theme park rides. The parks have been slowly building an infrastructure to support the new use of technology. Over the past year, Walt Disney World has been experimenting with a property-wide Wi-Fi network, and recent rumors suggest that Disney will start providing charging stations to help encourage guests to use their smartphones and tablet computers in the parks.
But the question remains as to whether the ability for guests “to create a personalized itinerary that gives them the exact Disney vacation they want” is going to make the Disney park experience unbalanced for those who can not or will not be able to make reservations far in advance. Restricting FastPass times is a small change if it allows all guests faster access to rides. But if it is a precursor to advance booking of FastPass times, will the new booking from home unfairly restrict the access of guests in the park who want to use the FastPass system? What about the guests who schedule FastPasses from home and then choose not to use them in the parks? Will other people wishing to ride attractions lose the FastPass opportunity because of the advance scheduling system?
The idea of being able to schedule a vacation from front of the line character access to FastPass times to dining reservations is an appealing concept, and for some vacationers, it’s a dream come true. Some Disney fans jokingly call the planned and scheduled vacation “going commando,” and for guests who love the planning portion of their trip (and adhere to those schedules), the new use of technology could be amazing. But what about those who simply go where the magic of the parks leads them? Will their experience suffer? What about passholders and other local guests? How will Disney be able to accommodate “spur of the moment” trips with this new integration of technology and advance reservation system? Will it add to the magic or take it away?
What do you think? Do you like the idea of pre-booking FastPasses and starting ride interactivity at home before the trip? Do you think Disney can serve both commando and casual guests with this new system?