(11/30/2011 – Click here for the latest news on computer-optimized touring plans.)
In the fall of 1998 I was a computer science grad student putting the finishing touches on my first journal publication, describing what would become the Unofficial Guide‘s touring plan software. My advisors, Albert Esterline and Gerry Dozier, suggested a concluding paragraph explaining a future use of the technology. I wrote:
“The authors envision an integrated system where theme park customers would select the rides they wished to visit from a list on a rented hand-held device such as the Palm Pilot. Computers installed at each ride would send estimates of that ride’s current wait time to a central computer. The central computer would broadcast these wait times to receivers attached to the hand-held devices, which would dynamically recalculate and redisplay the remainder of the touring plan based on the most recent wait times at each ride. Global positioning could be used to keep track of where the customer is located in the park so the time to walk to the next ride could be included in the calculations.”
It’s too bad Palm didn’t make it, because today TouringPlans.com is announcing the public beta release of computer-optimized touring plans for Walt Disney World on our website and Lines mobile application. Tell us which attractions you want to see, and we’ll give you step-by-step instructions for how to visit them with minimal waits in line: a touring plan optimized just for your vacation!
Your plan can include rides, meals, breaks, parades, fireworks and more – everything from live shows at Epcot to seeing the daily Flag Retreat on Main Street, U.S.A. We also include entertainment for special events such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
When you’re in the park, follow your touring plan on your smartphone with Lines. Just tap the new “Optimize” button in Lines to update your plan based on what’s actually happening in the park that day. If other Lines users have reported a huge tour group is queued up at Dumbo, Lines will figure out what to do next instead.
Our touring plan software will make you happier with your Disney vacation in two ways:
1) It increases the number of attractions you can experience
2) It reduces the time you spend standing in lines
On average, guests using our touring plans see almost 40% more attractions than those not using a plan. To put that in perspective, a recent New York Times article said that after making extensive improvements to its crowd management system, Disney was able to increase by 1 (from 9 to 10) the number of attractions the average guest sees in a day. Using our touring plans most guests can easily see around 14 or 15 attractions.
Hundreds of thousands of families have used our Disney touring plans since 1986. On a busy day in the Magic Kingdom, our software can help your family save up to four hours of standing in line. For example, if you start your day at the Magic Kingdom when it opens, your average wait per ride should be somewhere between 4 and 12 minutes.
The new optimization feature works with Disney’s current FASTPASS ride reservation system and will recommend when to get FASTPASS tickets to minimize your wait in line. Plus, you can adjust settings for your walking speed and your preference for walking versus waiting in line.
By making the touring plans available to as wide an audience as possible, we hope to fine-tune how the software runs and learn more about how people actually use touring plans in the park. Use this form to provide feedback on the software, the user interfaces, and anything else you’d like to suggest.
We’re very proud to offer on-demand optimization of touring plans, and we hope this new feature makes touring the parks even more fun. Again, this is beta software – use this form to report strange or unexpected behavior.
Thanks very much for your support of TouringPlans.com.
Len Testa and the TouringPlans.com Team
P.S.: We’ve tested the touring plans extensively at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. We plan to announce the availability of customizable computer-optimized Disneyland touring plans by the end of the year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What happens if everyone starts using the plans?
A. We’re updating Lines’ wait time models so they self-adjust based on the number of people using the touring plans and the attractions they’ve selected. That is, Lines knows how many people the touring plans are sending to different attractions later in the day, and at what times we expect them to arrive. Lines adjusts the expected wait times at those attractions accordingly.
Also, our touring plan software uses Amazon’s Elastic Cloud infrastructure for scalability. Based on our load tests we’re confident that we can scale to at least 40,000 families – essentially everyone in Walt Disney World on an average day – without difficulty.
Q. How do I include shows and live performances when Disney has not yet announced their schedules?
A. We usually have Disney’s live performance schedules about a week in advance. We suggest re-optimizing your plan a few days before your visit, to ensure the park hours and performance times are up to date.
Q. Can you give me advice on my specific touring plan?
A. We can’t. More than a hundred thousand people use TouringPlans.com every year, and there are about ten of us. Because of that, we aren’t able to answer every question personally. If you have feedback about, please use our online form here.
Q. What future enhancements are planned?
A. We will add Disneyland in California soon. GPS is another feature in which we’re interested. We also built in features to integrate with Disney’s next-generation XPASS system when Disney launches that in 2012. Mobile device support for platforms other than iPhone and Android are also on our list.
Besides those, we’d like to hear your feedback for enhancements and improvements. Also, if you happen to work at Thorpe Park in Surrey, England: We love your park, and we’d really like to talk.
Q. How long will the beta last, and when will you start charging for it?
A. This is brand new software, so it’s difficult to say how long the beta will last. A few months at least, maybe longer. Again, our primary goals are to get the software tested and to have it used by as many families as possible.
Q. How do I start using the new optimized touring plans feature?
A. You can create a new plan from scratch or optimize your existing personalized plans. TouringPlans.com subscribers can optimize our premium touring plans to fully customize them for daily crowd conditions.
Visit http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/touring-plans and choose or create your plan.
Q. How often should I tell Lines to optimize my touring plan?
A. Once every couple of steps should be sufficient for most situations. When you’re leaving an attraction, be sure to mark it as “done” in Lines before optimizing the plan again.
Q. How long does it take to optimize my touring plan?
A. It takes less than a minute. Many plans will be optimized in less than 30 seconds.
Q. What can I do to make this feature even better?
A. Thanks for asking! You can improve our data models by using the wait timer in Lines to measure your actual attraction wait times. This will help your fellow users today and in the future with the most up to date information. You can enter FASTPASS return windows in Lines. AND you can use Lines to tell us and everyone else when an attraction is down.
Q. How much data is sent and received by my mobile phone when I optimize a touring plan?
A. Lines is fast and cheap to run because it’s primarily text-based. Each action on Lines uses around 10 KB of data on your mobile phone plan. If you’ve got a 2 GB limit per month, that works out to around 200,000 clicks per month!