Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kevin Yee's MiceAge Article - "Billion Dollar Band-Aid?"

I read Kevin Yee's latest article, "Billion Dollar Band-Aid?", on MiceAge and found it to be thought provoking. Kevin Yee, as almost every Disney nut knows, is a blogger and author who focuses on the Florida theme parks, criticizing what he sees to be declines and praising the things they do right. He's got a bunch of books out (I don't have any of them), and he is a very frequent visitor to those parks.

In this latest entry, Kevin talks about the "NextGen" project, at which Disney is throwing a billion dollars. Yes, that's "billion" with a "b". A lot of money. Yee focuses on one part of this project: the technology to allow visitors to "reserve" their shows and rides from home. In essence, you could get a FastPass reservation in a similar manner to the way you make dining reservations now.

Yee is no fan of FastPasses in general; he knows that guests like it, and he also seems to admit that it works. But the reason it works is because a lot of guests don't know how to use it, or choose not to use the feature of their tickets. As it is, the most popular rides "sell out" early in the day anyway. So if you want to ride, say, Space Mountain, and you don't get to the park early enough, you get to stand in the standby queue. This wouldn't be a bad thing, because the queue is almost a show in itself. But because of the FastPasses, the wait times get incredibly high. 90 minute waits are not uncommon, and I don't care how involved you are in the queue, if you've gotta experience it for that long, it starts to get old. I have really only ridden Space Mountain when the wait times were low, or when we have a FastPass. I watch the people in the standby line stare at me and my two little guys as we walk past up to the entrance. Most of them seem to be groups of teens, and I guess they have each other for entertainment. But some older (as in not teenagers) couples look more than a little bored with the wait.

You can read Kevin's article for the specifics of what direction he foresees these changes taking. You can decide which group you fall into, the "ultra-planner", the "mid-level planner", the "non-planner", or the "local". There's numbers in there about how FP's work now, and how they might work under variations of "Advance Fast Pass" reservation systems.

What I found interesting was where Kevin thought that, given a billion dollars and the mandate to drive attendance to the parks, perhaps the best way to do it would be to install a bunch of new attractions! He says that a billion dollars would give you 20 new 50 million dollar attractions. No, this wouldn't be enough for 20 CarsLands or 20 Everests, but it would be enough for a couple of them along with several smaller attractions of varying quality - A through D tickets, so to speak.

As one commenter pointed out, this approach assumes that the whole of the Billion (with a "b"!) dollars going to NextGen stuff is going to FastPass. In truth we don't know what the rest of the money is going for. Certainly for interactive type stuff at the parks, use of mobile devices for things, etc etc etc. But Yee might respond that no matter what, if they were to invest a billion into increasing capacity at all the parks, it would pay off by alleviating crowding, driving repeat visitors, shortening line times, and pulling people away from 'old' E-tickets to visit the newer attractions.

I for one applaud this approach. We visited Disney World in November, and when we got back, my father-in-law asked me what was there that was new to see. I thought about it. The building we stayed in at our hotel was new, and we had some fun exploring around there in the limited time available for it. We saw the Hall of Presidents for the first time, but it wasn't "new", just new to us. I had never seen the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, so that was new to me, though not to my wife and younger son. We had never eaten at the Tequila Bar in the Mexican Pavilion, nor had we eaten at the Brown Derby. So those, too, were new to us. Of all those things in the parks, only the Tequila Bar was actually new to Disney. Nothing else.

Of course, we also visited Universal's Islands of Adventure, and that was all new to us. And the Harry Potter land was new to most everyone, having only been open a few months. But that's not Disney.

We're probably not going to return to WDW or Disneyland for a couple of years. If we do, it's possible that we may not even visit the Disney parks. We never take any time to enjoy our hotel. We've not been anywhere else in Orlando, and we have a lot to experience at Universal. But if they had new attractions for us to visit, we would certainly be more inclined to spend our time at Disney.

I know that the Fantasyland expansion will add a new restaurant, a couple of brand new ride experiences (the Little Mermaid ride and the Seven Dwarves Mine Coaster) and some rethemed older rides. Is that enough? I just don't really know. Maybe it will be enough to entice us to spend a day at the Magic Kingdom. Us and about a million of our closest friends.

But I like the idea of adding new things to experience, and not all of the hotel or restaurant variety. Disney needs to give their guests something new. Not all of them are first time visitors, or even second time visitors. Some of us have been there a whole bunch, and want to experience something new and exciting. And not necessarily on our cell phones.


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