Monday, August 30, 2021

Genie Genie On The Wall, Do I Really Care At All?

I haven't set foot on Disney property since 2011. That's 10 years ago for those of you playing along at home. So I'm definitely not qualified to talk in detail about the new Disney Genie FastPass Monetizer or whatever it's called. I've never worked in the theme park industry, so I'm sure my opinions on how they should be run are thoroughly uninformed. What I'm trying to say is that you should probably stop reading now and click over to a website where more nuanced and informed discourse is happening, such as Twitter.

Way back in 2013 when dinosaurs walked the earth and Abraham Washington was President, I wrote a little piece about how I didn't like the then-new Fastpass+ system that was about to launch. I said it was overcomplicated and it ruined relaxing vacations by forcing people to over-plan. And like a lot of other folks were doing at the time, I predicted that the company would use it to create a paid FastPass system to squeeze even more money out of customers who were already paying through the nose and several other bodily orifices for a Disney vacation. From what I understand, that prediction never quite came true.

Until now.

The new Disney Genie service replaces the cumbersome app-based Fastpass+ service with what looks to be another cumbersome app-based service:

I'm sure the folks who think the PeopleMover can take them to Harry Potter Land will have no trouble figuring this out

But I'm not here to discuss the merits and drawbacks of this thing. I'm more interested in the reason people will pay for FastPasses in the first place: the desire to skip long lines. It seems to me that long attraction lines are a much bigger problem than they used to be. Oh, they were always an annoyance during the busy seasons (in the early 90s, Dave Barry once joked that the line for Space Mountain was so long there were Cro-Magnon families at the front) but there were definite off-season periods when locals or savvy travelers could enjoy the parks without a lot of waiting. That's definitely not the case anymore. Even back in 2009-2010 when I had an annual pass and went to the parks several times a month, there was obviously no "off-season". They were either Times Square-busy or Times-Square-at-New-Years-Eve busy. So, more visitors obviously means longer attraction lines. What do you do about it?

Middle-aged dorks like me would tell you that the "solution" is to build lots more high-capacity Omnimover attractions to swallow all those crowds. Except that the crowds are not made up of middle-aged dorks like me; they're made up of younger people who expect something more than a jumped-up 1964 World's Fair attraction. If you send them gliding through the history of human transportation at speed of a lawn tractor they'll be scrolling through Instagram before they get to the invention of the wheel.

Today's audiences demand super-immersive, complex "experiences" like Rise of the Resistance. The problem is, rides like that have a lower capacity than Spaceship Earth or Pirates of the Caribbean. And their greater complexity means that they're much harder to keep running 12-15 hours a day, 7 days a week. They tend to break down more easily (especially Rise of the Resistance).

This operational reality has led to a lot of self-righteous harrumphing on Twitter. "Disney attractions shouldn't have these problems!" people proclaim, as if the difficulties all stem from Disney parks management being clueless and greedy and stupid. But maybe, just maybe, it isn't that simple. Maybe it's just the best that can be done. Maybe it just isn't possible to build a super-immersive, super-thrilling, Holodeck-that's-not-really-a-Holodeck-type ride that has the capacity of an EPCOT Center Omnimover and can go for 12-15 hours a day. Not yet, anyway.

All this is to say that there probably isn't any way to "fix" the problem of insufficient attraction capacity to the degree where a paid FastPass system would seem pointless. This is how things are now. Weirdos like me might like it better if Disney World magically reverted to the way it was in 1987, but there are not enough of us to matter.

Of course, there are always other places to take your vacation.

1 comment:

  1. You're not the only weirdo who wishes WDW would magically revert to 1987, especially EPCOT Center. I appreciate your thoughts on this. As someone who got to experience the opening of Animal Kingdom and Disney MGM Studios and who remembers EPCOT Center when it was still guided by the edutainment vision, yes, things were different then.

    I think Disney created FastPass to solve a capacity problem and rake in more cash. However, the solution should have been to simply limit park capacity at some level below a comfortable maximum with a buffer so those families who saved for years to take their once-in-a-lifetime vacation wouldn't get shut out. This would have created a better experience for all guests, leading to happier guests who return to spend more. That, and staying the course with their unique vision instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator goobers who just want thrill rides.

    And I maintain that Horizons was, for its day, a super-immersive, complex "experience". Listen to what the popular YouTubers said about Rise after riding it for the first time - animatronics heavy, skillfully executed projection effects, a giant room that gave you a sense of awe, a multi-stage experience, longer than 15 minuts...then watch some old Horizons footage and check off each of these. It even has the fast ride with a screen at the end, with a vibrating seat! But Horizons has Rise beat in one way - smell.

    Disney tossed the baby with the bathwater and has been trying to find it ever since. Not even a Genie can help them find it now.


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