Immediate Park Changes Disney Should Make
The Walt Disney Company is at crossroads. The standard operating procedures that have remained in place for decades now are no longer practical.
Disney must utilize this opportunity to modernize several of its standard procedures. Here are several park changes Disney should make for the future.
Adding Virtual Queues
Let’s start with a direction where Disney was already heading. When Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened, park officials surprised guests with a new ride queue system.
At the start of the park day, guests sign up for a boarding group. Presuming that they’re successful – like FastPasses, boarding groups sell out – the guests learn a general arrival time for the attraction.
When Disney started this process, analysts wondered whether the practice might become more prevalent. Those conversations occurred before the Coronavirus pandemic.
Right now, park officials must weigh the convenience of guests against social responsibility. A vital component of these discussions is the attraction queue.
For generations, guests have accepted waiting in line as a part of the process for riding something like Space Mountain. However, Universal Studios developed a system at its water park, Volcano Bay, that negates waiting in line on some rides.
Rise of the Resistance Boarding Groups represent an improved version of that premise. To avoid guests standing in close proximity, Disney should switch to virtual queues for its attractions.
Otherwise, current social distancing guidelines create serious problems. The six-feet-apart lines for popular attractions like Seven Dwarfs Mine Queue would stretch past the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Waiting lines could stack up, causing park guests to clog the paths across Magic Kingdom. The same logic applies to all Disney parks. So, virtual queues seem like an imperative for now and the future.
New Entrance Procedures
Here’s a challenging proposition for Disney. The company works hard to prevent unauthorized guests from entering the parks.
The current system at Walt Disney World involves the use of Magic Bands to prove identities. Then, guests must use fingerprint identification to show that they’re who they say they are.
In a post-Coronavirus world, no sane person wants to touch the same surface as thousands of strangers. Disney needs to drop that aspect of park admission. It’s that simple.
I understand the concerns about unauthorized admission. However, these worries are trivial compared to the genuine threat of COVID-19.
Park officials should follow the lead of products like Apple Pay that allow for contactless payment. That change can’t happen overnight, though. Until then, Disney should drop the fingerprint scanner part of park admission.
In addition to the obvious health benefit, it’ll mean much faster park entry. After all, how many times have you gotten stuck behind someone who needs six attempts and a supervisor to get the scanner to work?
The system was never foolproof anyway. Disney should ditch it and start working on the next thing. To a larger point…
Start Genie ASAP
At the 2019 D-23 Expo, Disney proudly proclaimed that a groundbreaking new service would arrive in late 2020.
Imagineers intend for Disney Genie to function as a virtual assistant for park guests. Disney promises that it will provide customizable itineraries for first-time guests and frequent park visitors alike.
The real plan for Disney Genie involves layers of control. Park officials want to distribute traffic evenly. By pushing itineraries onto guests, they could achieve this goal.
Imagine that you’re at Cinderella Castle and plotting your next move. Suddenly, your phone vibrates and signals that the lines are shorter than usual at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain.
You’re heading straight to Frontierland, right?
Okay, now combine this thought process with the line queue discussion. Disney Genie provides an elegant solution to the problem. Imagineers are already working on a product that could negate the accepted form of waiting in line.
Unlike most other park changes, Disney could progress with this one right now. After all, their tech team is working from home. A project like this fits the bill since it’s software more than hardware.
Don’t be surprised if Disney Genie is ready to go well ahead of schedule. The company’s executives should have a mandate in place about prioritizing it.
Eliminate or Modify Buffets
I just ran the numbers in my head, and I think I’ve eaten seven Disney buffet-style meals over the past six months. They’re usually character meals, too, and I adore that sort of communal atmosphere.
Initially, restauranteurs believed that they could take precautions about buffet hygiene. Later, opinions had changed so rapidly that Las Vegas shut down its signature buffets. Casinos there are still plotting the next step.
Meanwhile, tourist meccas with smaller budgets have remained open as they try to persuade customers to keep visiting. It’s…not working well.
Disney will face similar concerns when it re-opens, and I only see one way forward right now. Serving stations need to go, at least for now.
Even though it sucks for everyone, customers can’t serve themselves at places like Chef Mickey’s and Hollywood & Vine. Cast members need to do it.
Otherwise, guests will huddle in crowded areas and possibly risk/cause airborne infection. Disney can’t allow that for obvious reasons.
So, the only other choice I see – and I’m open to suggestions on this one – is to alter the serving practice. When you want food, you’ll have to ask a cast member to go get it for you.
Disney employees are more trustworthy about maintaining hygienic practices than customers. Speaking of which…
Updated Cast Member Training
This is a hot-button issue right now. Disney will furlough tens of thousands of people this week. When they come back, at least some of them will feel resentful about their treatment. Bruised feelings are an unavoidable outcome.
Still, everyone must get past that and demonstrate the professionalism we’ve come to expect from Disney workers. I say this because cast members will share new job duties when the parks re-open.
Disney has always been the gold standard in park cleanliness. It was a mandate from Uncle Walt, who came up with the idea of Disneyland because family parks at the time were so nasty.
However, there was the previous form of clean and the post-Coronavirus pandemic kind. The latter could mean life and death. It’s a part of our entire society until some future Nobel Prize winner discovers a cure.
When the parks re-open, cast members must emphasize sanitary practices above all else, even the happiness of a child.
That sounds harsh, but we all understand why it’s true. Life has changed and won’t go back to normal anytime soon.
Since 1955, Disney has trained cast members to provide magical moments to guests. During a pandemic, other issues are more pressing.
Lower Prices and Limit Admission
Disney has published some of its rates for the end of 2020. It’s fair to say that these listings have proven divisive and a bit tone-deaf.
The American economy just experienced a shock to the system, as millions of people suddenly found themselves unemployed. Others have had to accept pay reductions.
That’s half the problem. The other side involves social distancing. That premise isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, we could still be doing it during the 50th-anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World.
Bob Iger, Bob Chapek, and their trusted staff face a tough choice here. The temptation is to maximize revenue as much as possible. After all, the company has hemorrhaged money recently.
However, the harder call is the appropriate one. Disney must acknowledge changes to the economy and halt price increases for a while.
I’d even suggest price rollbacks on some products and services. Bottled water shouldn’t cost $3.50 right now. The optics are terrible.
Disney could trumpet the lowering of prices as a nod to believing in America and wanting to help. At the same time, Disney should claim something that’s going to happen anyway.
Theme park attendance will decline this year. It’s unavoidable. Some experts believe that the industry might take two full years to recover from this.
In the interim, Disney should state that it’s going to limit admission to avoid potential overcrowding issues like the ones that became social media headlines in mid-March.
By taking this approach, the theme parks can act like they’re empty by choice, which will help the perception. This way, Disney is doing the right thing. Otherwise, they’ll take the PR hit that attendance is way down. It’s a strategic ploy.