TouringPlans.com Reaction To NextGen Project Announcement

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In a recent investor conference, Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs discussed various technological systems presently being developed by the Walt Disney Company for use in its Parks & Resorts Division. Rumblings concerning this project have existed for over a year in various Disney online communities, with the common parlance referring to this as Disney’s NextGen project (although Staggs himself did not specifically use the term). Staggs indicated that Disney is creating a way for guests to bypass long lines by reserving times for attractions and character interactions, seats for shows, and advance dining reservations, booking many of these experiences before leaving home.  Following Staggs’ conference call, Thomas Smith announced on the Disney Parks Blog that the Mickey Mouse Meet & Greet set to open this Spring in the Main Street Exposition Hall at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World will incorporate some of the technology Staggs discussed.

In addition to these changes directly concerning wait time management, Disney indicated that the technology would be utilized to create more personalized guest experiences, including personalizing rides and character greetings for individual guests. What form, exactly, this project will take is unclear, as Staggs was vague on specifics. However, if longstanding speculation is accurate, the project will be heavily reliant upon RFID wristbands, and will serve the double purpose of improving the guest experience and Disney’s bottom line as it more accurately tracks guest spending habits. Staggs himself stated that the main goal of the initiative is to allow guests to personalize their entire trip to Walt Disney World.

The announcement of this project is no shock to us here at TouringPlans.com. We have seen these changes in technology relating to wait times and queue experiences firsthand over the last several years. From Disney’s FASTPASS and more interactivity in queues, such as Soarin’ and Space Mountain, to our own evolution from printout touring plans to the Lines mobile wait time app for smart phones.  Simply put, utilizing technology has become critical to minimizing the amount of time you wait in line while at Disney.

As Disney guests have made clear in the feedback we have received from them, no one is particularly keen on waiting in long lines. We’re excited to follow this substantial and resort-wide undertaking to see how and when Disney brings the NextGen project to fruition. If recent projects to make lines more entertaining and the purported “queueless queues” coming with the Dumbo attraction in the Fantasyland expansion are any indication, Disney is fast-tracking efforts to make its lines more entertaining while also reducing wait times. It appears Disney is beginning to prioritize what we here at TouringPlans.com have been doing for years: helping Disney guests minimize the amount of time they wait in line. While there will always be wait times and crowds at the Disney theme parks will always be a problem, we view long wait times as a common enemy, and applaud any effort Disney makes to reduce these waits.

What are your thoughts on the announcements? Are you excited at the prospect of ride reservations, skeptical about the idea, or do you have a wait-and-see outlook?

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Posted on February 22, 2011

22 Responses to “TouringPlans.com Reaction To NextGen Project Announcement”

  • I wonder if Disney has calculated what will happen when thousands of visitors are not tied up in lines, but instead flooding shops and restaurants. I agree that standing in lines is something to avoid, but how can the park (even with an expanded Fantasyland) provide enough other things to do and places to be for guests? I don’t want to wait an hour for a Dole Whip because there’s no queue for Splash Mountain.

    • @Erica – I believe that is the point of this “added benefit” for Disney Parks. Disney management wants you to be in the shops and restaurants more of the time so you dip into your wallet more often for impulse buys. I also agree with you, I do not think the shops and restaurants are prepared for the larger crowds. I’m curious to see the changes in crowd flow during peak vacation times with Toontown closed. It was not an area I visited as an adult, but it did draw families with little ones out of the areas I was interested in.

  • I really dislike this new FP system (or whatever you want to call it). I have never had an issue getting on any ride I wanted, hitting up all the E-tickets early and using FPs appropriatly. I don’t see this as necessary at all. The only people it will benefit are the Type-Bs who show up at Epcot at 11:30am and complain the wait for Soarin’ is over an hour. Get there earlier! Also, how will this affect locals? What if your ADR goes longer then expected and you miss your wait time for a ride?

  • I think this is very clever of Disney. The guests are happy as they are not waiting in line ups. It also gives guests more time to shop and eat, which is what Disney wants you to do: spend your money in their parks.

  • The fastpass for Mickey announced on the Disney blog today seems to be pretty much in line for the current fastpass system…no revolutionary technology there. Although they are touting it as a never-before type of fastpass, in truth it is something they use for meet ‘n greets at Star Wars Weekends at DHS already.

    What really interests me is whether the access to these new, pre-reserved fastpass experiences will be equally accessible to all Disney guests, or whether resort guests will have an advantage. I read the text on Staggs speech the other day, and it hints at something new and yet to be seen. It also alludes to adding value/perks to a Disney Vacation, which could be defined as a resort guest staying on property. I am curious to see how this will all turn out, and whether non-resort guests will have equal access to it as well.

    One of the best things about the current fastpass system, in my opinion, is that anyone can use it… and for the most part with equal access. I would regret seeing that change. I am also with Erica when she writes that she would rather not wait an hour for a Dole Whip to avoid a queue for Splash Mountain. I am sure that whatever the new system turns out to entail, it will serve to increase park profits. And while I recognize that Disney is indeed a business that is responsible for turning a profit for its shareholders, (full disclosure – of which my family is) I hope that it doesn’t get too greedy in pursuing those ends.

  • The two areas I see this really impacting. First, Type A commando planners who plan out ever second of every day and can’t stand any deviation from their plan. These folks will be happy. Second, the Type B folks who like to show up with out a plan and just wing it. These folks will be unhappy because all of the Type A folks will have filled up the slots and caused THEM to wait. I can see it happening similarly to when the Fast Pass came out. The folks waiting in line getting highly agitated that there line is being jumped and forced to with wile a hundred or so fastpass users get in front of them.

  • by matt from long island on February 22, 2011, at 4:36 pm EDT

    I think this will make things worse for me. I am an avid fastpass user and it helps me get my kids on the headliners multiple times per day. Now, however, the pre-reserved fastpasses may mean that I get shut out of multiple fast passes (one FP per rider per day??). Also, my smaller kids and wife did not like some rides so me and the older boys would use their fastpasses to ride SM back to back. So, to the people who really knew how to use fastpasses, this may be a big bummer….

  • I’m really disappointed in this announcement. If Disney wants the lines to be shorter, they should build and open more rides. It’s fairly simple, especially in parks like the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios that have limited attractions. If you give guests more options, they will disburse across the park and avoid the bottlenecks that give them fits. This system will cause more criss-crossing of the park than the Fastpass system and lead to stressful planning for families. It’s a waste of money on Disney’s part, especially when there are so many rides and parks areas that need TLC.

    • by matt from long island on February 23, 2011, at 3:55 pm EDT

      Your are absolutely right Dan! Leave it to marketing to try little tricks to make people think they are getting better service. In the absence of any details, it is impossible to see if this will be any benefit at all.

    • I think that might be reducing the project to its most basic terms: more interactive queues and other wait time technology. However, if you’ve been following it closely, that seems more like a by-product of the real investment, which is tracking and maximizing spending via RFID. So essentially, Disney is spending this money as it perceives there will be a significant ROI in consumer spending. The queues and other “guest benefits” are what’s marketed, but that’s not Disney’s driving force behind this project.

      I know the likely retort to this is that increased spending in the parks has ROI, too, but my bet is that the return is not the same (otherwise more investment would be made to the parks). Walt Disney World is not Disneyland. Until Disney Vacation Club members start behaving like AP holders at DLR, WDW won’t have the same incentive to substantially improve the parks. Most guests to WDW are once every two years visitors (at most), and they aren’t complaining about most aspects of the parks. People in online forums are a small but vocal minority. Capacity is bad in some of the parks during some seasons, but it’s not terrible most of the time, so I don’t think much expansion is justified (except in the Magic Kingdom–which is occurring–and perhaps a little in the Studios).

      Add to that the fact that spending one billion on attractions doesn’t just cost one billion, it costs that billion plus the long term costs of operating those attractions. That’s significantly more than RFID, which does have residual costs, albeit ones that aren’t as high.

      I understand the temptation to say “I’d rather have rides,” and while I wholeheartedly agree, that doesn’t change the fact that our sentiments and desires often don’t align with the most pragmatic business-decisions for Disney.

  • While I applaude Disney for trying to do something about long wait times, I am concerned. For instance, having to make all of my dining reservations well before I leave my house has taken much of the spontenaity out of my vacation. I am afraid that having to make advanced ride reservations will put further restraints on us. In the past we have always planned our days as we rise in the morning, taking into consideration the weather, how rested we are, and what we happen to be “in the mood” for that day. I prefer my vacations that way. Now, you may say, if I travel at off-peak times I can be as spontaneous as I’d like and not worry. But, I am a school teacher, so unfortunately I must go when the rest of the world goes! I will wait and see what this turns out to be like!

  • I’m a planner… but this is simply too much planning. It’s enough to worry about making the hotel reservation and the ADRs.

  • Here was my email/response from Mr. Stagg’s office: (my email is at the bottom)

    Dear Ms. Dahle,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful and constructive note. I appreciate having your thoughts.

    The potential concerns you raise are absolutely on our minds as well.

    Our goal is to make sure that any changes we make benefit everyone who visits our properties. We will likely have special opportunities for guests who are staying in our resorts (like our Early Magic Hours’ which we have today). At the same time, it is very important to us that the experience of one set of guests does not diminish the enjoyment of other guests. We’re going to work hard on that issue and it will remain a priority. As I frequently say to our cast, we create great experiences for millions of people every year, but each is an individual experience and we can’t lose sight of that fact!

    I hope we have the opportunity to welcome you back again soon.

    Best wishes,

    Tom Staggs

    On Feb 23, 2011, at 10:43 AM, “Megan wrote:

    Dear Mr. Staggs –

    I was pleased to read about your future plans for Disney Parks. Like millions, my family and I love our vacations at Disney World and can hardly wait to return. The changes outlined in your speech had me searching for cheap flights for May already, even though we weren’t planning on a visit until 2012 and most of the changes won’t be in place.

    I’m interested in changes you have in mind for revamping the FASTPASS and line problems facing Disney. I sure you’ve heard complaints and praises from both sides, but there are a few things I would like you to consider as you move forward in this endeavor.

    The FASTPASS system as it stands is a real jewel. Not that it shouldn’t be retooled or expanded, but the visitors who really know how to take advantage of it enjoy it for many reasons. The first being is the system is equitable; everyone has an equal shot at getting FASTPASSes. It doesn’t discriminate based on the type of ticket you hold, what you are willing to pay, or anything else. It treats all guests equally. You mentioned that the loyalty of your guests is important. Please don’t alienate us by categorizing guests, degrading the equitability, or otherwise destroying the “come one, come all” atmosphere you have created.

    Associated with the equitability concern is how this new program would impact those who do not stay on Disney properties. I understand that you want guests to fill up the Disney resorts before choosing to stay off-campus. However, there are many reasons people don’t choose the properties, and should not be punished for their decision.

    Learn what NOT to do from your competition. Universal Studio’s line-jumping practices are repulsive. Nothing makes a visitor feel more second-class than not dumping an extra $90/person and watch as the “elite” get to move ahead of the line, solely because they were able to afford it. You might say our guest satisfaction there was severely diminished directly because of it. Please avoid anything similar to this model.

    Secondly, the tickets are not tied to individuals, making the visit more tailored. For example, when our entourage heads through the Magic Kingdom, my oldest and I want to hit up Space Mountain. My husband is more than happy to head over to Pooh with our youngest. We can grab four of each of the tickets and go on the rides we prefer. We can even trade FASTPASSes with other families. Everyone is happy. Constricting guests to one Fastpass each per ride assumes every attraction is for everyone, and you know that isn’t true. Let us enjoy the parts of the park we want, multiple times if we choose.

    FASTPASS works. We rarely stand in line for more than 30 minutes for any attraction, regardless of crowd levels (with the exception of Toy Story Mania – but that’s another issue). We always leave wanting more. FASTPASS has a lot to do with this.

    The “culture of excellence” you cited in your investor conference speech is indeed impossible to replicate, but not impossible to destroy. Making each guest feel special is what Disney excels at. Don’t lose sight of that.

    Sincerely,

    Megan D

    • by matt from long island on February 23, 2011, at 3:59 pm EDT

      Awesome Megan. My thoughts exactly. DON’T MESS WITH MY FASTPASS!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I have the same concerns, Megan. I love the current fastpass system, and am proud of the way my family utilizes the system to make our visits great. I am a proud touring plan and lines user, and a major trip planner. (Big time type A) I do, however, love the flexibility of being able to step away from the plan, or alter the plan as circumstances allow. The thought of making advance reservations for Big Thunder Mountain 90 or 180 days out from my visit gives me the heebie jeebies! There go all of the impromptu magic moments of my visit. I have a young child, and I have to say that even though he is a trooper…knowing whether he will be in the mood for Tower of Terror at a specific window of time on any given day…well, sheesh! Sometimes he’s feeling brave, and sometimes not so much. And for the families that can’t figure out how to use the current fastpasses…yikes!

  • Great comments, and an interesting letter from Megan. I have no idea whether fast passes will be tiered (onsite v offsite, for example, or paid v free) but I *think* I recall an old copy of the UG saying WDW had gotten a patent for doing so.

    I did want to speak to Megan’s comment that “Universal Studio’s line-jumping practices are repulsive.” We are a family who loves Universal. We will only stay onsite there. We always stay at USO at the tail end of our Orlando trips as a way to “come down” from the incredible stress of ADRs and FPs and touring plans that Disney’s system necessitates. At Universal, we just show up and our room key gets us into restaurants and onto rides. We can sleep in — something we would NEVER do at WDW — and really relax, coming home rested and refreshed.

    You may find the idea “repulsive”, and I respect that, but I see it as no different in kind from the perks an onsite WDW guest already gets (EMH, delivery, free parking, etc.). I believe that WDW has in mind the many families like ours who feel just the opposite as you do.

  • Although I do understand some of the concerns expressed about the potential effects on this system to the egalitarian nature of the Disney theme parks, I wouldn’t be so quick to rush to conclusions. I think a lot of what has been said thus far is marketing-speak, and probably will not be implemented in the flowery terms used by Staggs.

    My bet is that this works as a modified FastPass system that can be utilized with a mobile phone before leaving home (that day–probably not months in advance). Once at the resort, RFID bracelets will likely allow more interactivity with some attractions and characters, but won’t substantially affect the experience.

    Again, these are just guesses. However, I think the primary impetus behind this project is maximizing guest spending. With regard to everything else (lines, etc.), I would caution those who are worried to take more of a wait-and-see approach. I highly doubt it will be as bad (or as good, for that matter) as many are forecasting.

  • Most of the people who come here, read the blog, buy the book, etc. go to the parks once every two years, sometimes more. But, we only represent a small fraction of the guests who visit the parks. I’ve read somewhere that the average visitor only comes once every 6 years, and even among those there are still a large percentage of guests who are first-timers.

    The problem that Disney faces is that many of these visitors who only come once or infrequently, don’t always leave feeling like it was a pleasurable experience or one that they want repeat any time soon. Most leave feeling tired and exhausted and that they wasted their time standing in long lines to see a few shows and ride a few rides that their kids wanted to do. Of course, many of these visitors went into the trip with little or no planning whatsoever, because they just didn’t realize how big and complex a WDW is.

    I’m just speculating here, but I see these steps (Next Gen) as Disney trying to change some of the aforementioned feelings. If they offer guests the ability to get on their favorite rides and avoid the long lines, maybe it will help change some of those feelings and more will leave feeling like they had a great time. If so, then maybe these guests will be more inclined to book a return vacation before they leave or soon after they get home. If nothing else, I think Disney is hoping they can reduce the average return visitor time from 6 years down to 3 or less. If they can then they’ve just doubled their revenue.

    • Alas, I think this is true. I go to WDW/DL around 5 times a year (many short trips). I see so many people there dazed and confused. When I talk to people who hated it, they usually went during a major holiday, summer, or another uber-busy time. And they didn’t even look at a park map until they got there!

      It’s a shame these people have to ruin the experience for the rest of us. Then again, we are all just walking dollars to Disney, which I understand. They need to do a better job of attracting people during the low seasons without punishing people who go during busier times.

      • Yeah, it makes me wonder if this will really help? I mean, Fastpass has been around now for over 10 years I think, and they have advertised it like crazy, but I still hear people in the parks who don’t understand it or how to get one.
        People just don’t understand that WDW is HUGE and there is so much to do, and that if you have never been there, you really need to prepare for it. I think most people approach WDW just like it’s another theme park, like Six Flags, only with Mickey Mouse.

  • by David Broussard on March 9, 2011, at 3:47 pm EDT

    Is this a form of fast pass where you basically just print out/book a fast pass ticket and you show up during that time frame? If so i have mixed views. It’s a good thing because people can get them super early, however what about the people that didn’t know about this option? Also, you have to think, during super busy seasons, if the opposite takes place, and many people find out about it, then popular rides would be booked for that entire day. So it’s a good thing and a possible bad thing. I totally understand that disney wants people to experience disney better, but I like the fast passes. Ive been to disney probably 15 times and if you get to each park right when it opens and ride the biggest rides first, you have the rest of your day to your leisure. And if a person doesn’t understand fast passes, theres a person there waiting to assist you in getting fast passes.