Whenever a discussion of the future of Walt Disney World and Disneyland occurs, people provide pie in the sky suggestions involving technology that has yet to be invented. I am not going to be so ambitious in my discussion. In fact, everything I mention today is already on the cusp of being available right now. What follows is not a debate about how we will enjoy amusement parks in 2060. Instead, I am evaluating five things I expect all of us to be doing in 2016.
After all, the future is never quite as far away as we think...
1. ALL rides can be planned months prior to a park visit
Obviously, the new FastPass+ system is a strong step in this direction. As I recounted in a previous column, the current setup has several flaws. At the moment, a Walt Disney World park visitor can only acquire three FastPasses in advance and they must be for the same location. Even consumers who own annual passes or Park Hopper tickets are arbitrarily limited in this regard. No one has the ability to select more rides or split them among the various parks. This solution is less than optimal.
In December of 2010, the New York Times famously published in article in which they quoted Disney research. The data indicated that the average visitor experiences nine rides a day. Disney was so bothered by this information that many of their modifications over the past five years have been intended to increase that number. FastPass+ is believed to have boosted the average into double digits. The problem is that as currently constructed, the system allows a user to choose only 30% of their daily rides in advance. While better than nothing, it is not good enough.
My belief is that Disney will use the data being collated in their parks right now to optimize the system by 2016. At that point, visitors should have the ability to select all of their rides ahead of time. The current restraints within the system such as the tiering system for the most popular rides and the inability to create reservations at the various parks will be lifted. The end result will be that visitors will be empowered to build an entire Disney ride itinerary prior to leaving their homes.
2. EVERY course of a meal may be planned months prior to a park visit
Those of you who are familiar with the current Be Our Guest FastPass+ beta lunch experience realize this concept is not far from reality already. Let me explain the process for those of you who are not. Walt Disney World suggests advanced dinner reservations for their most popular restaurants. Be Our Guest, one of the newest restaurants in the Magic Kingdom, is also arguably the most difficult in terms of acquiring dinner reservations.
This information explains why I was so surprised to receive an email beta invite to have lunch at Be Our Guest. I was provided the opportunity to select the time I wanted to eat from a set of luncheon windows, and I picked 1:15 – 1:45. What followed next was the surprising aspect of the process. My party and I were asked to select our entire meal straight down to the beverage and dessert. Twenty days before my Disney arrival, I knew exactly what I would be having for lunch on my sixth day.
In terms of enhancing my Disney experience, it was a great idea executed poorly. When we arrived for our reservation, Disney had no record of it; furthermore, our attempt to acquire our reservation number failed because their system was stuck in an infinite loop. A Disney employee confided that this happens more often than not right now, indicating that the idea is still a long way from being perfected. Once it is, however, a person will have the ability to choose their dinner in December when they make a reservation in June.
That is a spectacular addition in that it will give visitors one less thing to worry about when they get to the parks. Plus, Disney will have the ability to turn over tables faster since they can have the food prepared almost as quickly as guests sit down. In the process, more customers may be served, reducing the need for the rest of us who improvise rather than the plan to acquire the advance dinner reservations in question. In this regard, early menu selection aids both kinds of amusement park guests, planners and improvisers.
3. Transportation details will be readily available via an app
This topic is a touchy one for most Walt Disney World visitors. Unlike Disneyland and the international theme parks, on-site transportation for resort guests is a nightmare due to the expansive nature of the four parks in Orlando, Florida. No matter which park is a visitor’s home base, traveling to and from the other locations as well as Downtown Disney is at best an adventure. At worst, it is an exercise in hopelessness. I say this from recent experience as we were rewarded for our attempt to visit Wilderness Lodge last month by an hour long wait for a ferry. Had we but known that this were a possibility, we would have taken the less romantic but more pragmatic bus. Therein lays the problem with Walt Disney World transportation. Everyone is flying blind when it comes to the arrival time of the next vehicle.
The solution is an easy one that I am shocked Disney has yet to implement. Disney drivers are in constant contact not just with one another but also with park employees. Their internal GPS system is a robust one providing ample data about arrival and return times. For no reason whatsoever, Disney currently chooses not to share this information with their customers. This is an illogical decision in that any moment a customer spends waiting in line for a bus is one that cannot be used spending money at Disney.
What should have happened by now and almost certainly will happen in the near future is that Disney adds one key feature to their MyDisneyExperience app. The Transportation tab will indicate exactly when the next bus/ferry will arrive, thereby enabling guests to plan the perfect moment to exit the park/hotel. In the process, guests can maximize their enjoyment of the Disney ecosystem while the company itself is rewarded with more emptying of the wallets of its customers. In addition, the aggravation level for Walt Disney World travel is reduced, increasing the satisfaction level of the guests in question. It’s a win/win proposition for all involved.