Best Disney Theme Park Innovations of the Year
The Walt Disney Company wasn’t about to let Coronavirus stop the company from evolving!
Throughout 2020, the pandemic attempted to stymie Disney at every turn, but cast members remained undeterred.
In the face of impossible circumstances, the company got better.
Here are the best Disney theme park innovations of 2020.
Cast Member Virtual Chat
Many of Disney’s technological advances this past year occurred due to necessity.
Park officials implemented a lot of tech that they could have done all along. They just hadn’t deemed it necessary yet.
Some of the changes seemed inevitable, while others came from inspiration caused by perseverance.
For example, Disney had always emphasized face-to-face interactions between cast members and customers.
This strategy made perfect sense since Disney spends so much time training its workers in providing optimal customer service.
In fact, Disney’s known for pleasing its guests, which explains why it scores so high in customer satisfaction surveys.
Well, the pandemic turned personal interactions into problematic exchanges, as they increased the risk of Coronavirus transmission.
So, on the fly, Disney added cast member virtual chat to My Disney Experience.
Now, you can lean on a cast member’s expertise whenever you have a question about your Disney visit.
It’s like having a personal concierge service on your phone!
Disney made another change out of necessity, and it’s worked brilliantly.
To limit attendance during the pandemic, Disney introduced Park Passes.
For the time being, guests must book a Park Pass to gain admission into a Disney theme park.
This situation is far from ideal for those of us spoiled by Park Hopping over the years.
Still, Disney needed to do something to control the flow of traffic. The Park Pass system has worked flawlessly since an admittedly rough opening day.
While the innovation is probably temporary, it was a remarkable emergency pivot that has proved highly effective.
Oh, and Park Hopping will be back by the time you read this! Disney restores this amenity on New Year’s Day, 2021!
Park Temperature Checks
Walt Disney felt passionate about the beauty of his parks. He wouldn’t let anything break the illusion he created with each themed land.
As such, all Disney parks come with immaculate grounds and zealous cleaning practices.
However, the fear of COVID-19 admission caused a rare change in priorities.
Disney added temporary tents at the front of all its theme parks and even its entertainment districts.
These facilities exist to ensure that anyone with a high fever cannot enter a highly trafficked area.
Unsurprisingly, Disney streamlined the process for maximum efficiency. A cast member takes the temperature of several guests per minute.
Nobody could have anticipated that Disney would need temperature checks starting in July, but that’s where we are.
Park officials rolled with the punches and made us all feel safer.
Some of the innovations we’re discussing stem from Coronavirus concerns, but this one’s more of an offshoot of those potential problems.
Disney’s upper management felt strongly that park visitors should wear facemasks at all times.
During the earliest days of Walt Disney World’s reopening, management allowed guests to remove face coverings to eat and drink while walking.
After a few early signs of abuse, Disney stopped that practice. Guests may only take off their masks while stationary or seated for a meal.
However, the parks built in an exception, a very smart idea to keep guests happy.
Each park has added two or three Relaxation Stations, socially distanced seating areas where guests may safely remove their masks.
When you’re hot and sweaty, and your mask is wet, a Relaxation Station will feel like an oasis in the desert.
Disney deserves a great deal of credit for shutting down some popular revenue-generating establishments like Akershus.
For the time being, Disney has switched them into temporary Relaxation Stations to keep guests safe and happy.
Ride Safety Measures
Of course, the rides themselves could cause safety issues if Disney hadn’t proactively protected guests.
Even before the park closures in March, management added portable hand sanitizer and handwashing stations throughout the parks.
While Walt Disney World remained shut down, cast members introduced new and innovative tactics to reduce the chance of infection.
You know the list well by now, as Disney added signs and markings to show guests where to stand.
However, I’m more impressed by the ways that park officials adapted after the parks reopened.
Some spots showed signs of vulnerability. Rather than saying “we did what we could,” cast members collated a list of these weaknesses.
Then, Disney added more stringent safety measures for rides and line queues.
When you enter some lines today, you’ll notice plexiglass barriers between the rows. These exist to prevent droplets from crossing rows.
You may sweat or get something on you while at the park. These barriers ensure that you don’t pass these substances along to others.
Recently, Disney has taken a similar approach with rides. It has added barriers between the rows on attractions like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Frozen Ever After.
In doing so, Disney maximizes guest safety on its most popular rides.
None of this even existed in February, but it’s status quo at the parks today!
Table Service Check-In
This innovation circles back to Disney’s need to reduce personal interactions.
Historically, you’d walk to the hosting station and tell the cast member that you’ve arrived for your Table Service meal.
Neither you nor the Disney employee wants to have that conversation during the pandemic. It adds needless risk to both your lives.
So, Disney added Table Service Check-In to My Disney Experience.
The tech works just like it sounds. You pull up your phone and load your Advanced Dining Reservation.
You tap the button to indicate that you’ve arrived, and voila! You’re now in the waiting queue, ready to be seated at your table.
Best of all, you don’t need your entire party to stand near the host table to prove that you’re all there. So, the new system is superior to the prior one.
Table Service To Go
This service ties back to Table Service Check-In, although it takes the concept to the next level.
In 2017, Disney introduced Mobile Ordering at its Table Service restaurants.
Since then, I have joined the chorus of people clamoring for the same option at Table Service establishments.
Some of us eat at Disney resorts a lot, and we love the thought of grabbing Kona Café or Grand Floridian Café food to take back to the room.
Disney resorts offered in-room dining previously, but it usually combined the menus of several eateries.
With Table Service To Go, I can effectively create a Mobile Order for a Table Service restaurant, the holy grail of Disney dining.
Since Disney had three years to add this but hadn’t yet, I strongly suspect this innovation occurred due to the pandemic.
Thankfully, I believe that it’s here to stay.
This technology is another one that’s just what it sounds like.
Before 2020, Disney had maintained strict protocols for its Table Service restaurants.
Once something sold out, would-be diners possessed no means of booking a table.
The pandemic has altered the dynamic of park guests, though. Some of them book reservations but then decide not to eat there.
This dynamic cost Disney money, and it prevented you from dining at your favorite establishments.
So, restaurant managers complained about the poor business practice, and Disney’s IT department invented a solution.
It’s the modern equivalent to walking up to a host/hostess and slipping them twenty bucks.
A previously booked restaurant will find some availability for you to dine there. Now, you may need to wait an hour or two. So, you should plan ahead.
Thankfully, My Disney Experience displays the estimated waiting time. You’ll know whether the wait will fit with your itinerary.
From Disney’s perspective, the Walk-Up Waitlist maximizes efficiency and revenue while increasing customer satisfaction. What could be better?
Walkthrough Security Detectors
Back during the dark days when Walt Disney World was closed, I mentioned the need for parks to overhaul their security systems.
For years now, Disney security guards employed a somewhat archaic system for baggage check, one that involved rifling through people’s stuff.
Once COVID-19 concerns forced Disney to limit interactions, the company modernized its security system.
Disney has added walkthrough security detectors akin to ones you’ll find at many airports.
You no longer need to do anything special as you approach the security area. Now, you just keep walking through the metal detector.
The high-tech scanner system will reveal anyone who has attempted to carry illicit weapons into the parks. It’s actually a much more foolproof system.
Even better, contactless scanners reduce aggravation for park-goers. You just keep walking!
Disney initially introduced the system at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and has since added it at other parks plus Disney Springs.
So, the future is now for Disney security methodology.
Not coincidentally, we’re seeing more isolated incidents where guests get caught trying to bring weapons into the parks.
This is happening because the new system is working perfectly, safeguarding guests while reducing the aggravation of park admission.
In the face of impossible circumstances this year, Disney somehow made its parks better and more modern.
The company deserves a ton of credit for such proactive innovations.
Feature Image: David Roark, photographer