People around the world are currently in lockdown, due to Coronavirus, which comes with many challenges. Entertaining the whole family, teaching nan how to Facetime and for any primary school parents, working out what on earth phonics are. Faced with little prospect of current restrictions ending anytime soon, the dream of a future Disney trip offers a ray of hope in these dark times. But how will that trip to the Happiest Place on Earth look in the future?
Disney parks are full of wonderous attractions but each one of these comes with a design flaw never mentioned in the glossy adverts, the queue. Unfortunately, the better the attraction the more people who flock to it. Rarely do the aspirational TV spots show wait times of over 2 hours, which for many rides are not uncommon.
Disneyland Paris trips are full of queues. Seasoned veterans often look and smile at the Newbies who run ahead to make it to a ride, who in their minds are going to get there before anyone else. It is always fun to see their initial excitement wane when you stroll up behind them and the realisation of what an hour Standby times means in terms of number of people waiting to ride. Walt knew that popularity could be a flaw in the magic of his parks, so decided to go further than any other theme park, offering total immersion from the moment you enter the attraction.
Many of these queues are glorious feats of Imagineering. From the giant sail overlooking the ride entrance, with flames burning from the torches in the background, Pirates of the Caribbean sets the scene before you even get into the queue. The outside queue is quickly forgettable and thankfully rarely full but leads to an internal queue system which is one of the best in any Disney park. Whether it is the grim lighting or the burst of sea air that hits you, once you step inside your senses are overloaded with discovery.
Every detail here is to advance the story, the weathered stones gives a sense of history supported by the array of cobwebs dressing the ceilings. Openings in the walls let you peer into the depths below, hoping for a glimpse of the ride that awaits. As you snake along the path, you are rewarded with a beautiful scene of palm trees overlooking the boats. It is easy at this point to focus on the vast number of people ready to set sail and miss out on the wonderful detail of the scene. As the queue splits into 2 paths, I am often guilty of spending more time deciding which side to pick than looking at the wonder of the ride setting. One thing I am sure of is that the queue has built up my excitement and Disney has my forgiveness for making me wait so long to ride. The sign of a good queue system is that you forget how long you have queued when you approach the loading area of the ride with excitement.
Disneyland Park is full of inventive ways to distract you from your watch as you long for the next thrill. It is a real joy journeying with any Star Wars fan through a queue system which brings out the kid in me. Although many familiar with the films will glee at seeing C3P0 and R2D2, its the subtle details of the final scene that truly delights me. I enjoy watching the shadows pass by, the lazy robot who doesn’t want to scan the luggage and I can’t help but wave when I see the heat detection camera. This attention to detail is what sets apart Disney and ensures people come back over and over again.
Walt Disney Studios is often touted as the poor cousin of the Main park in Paris. You can read countless stories about why people feel this is an inferior park and even Disney have admitted this through their ambitious expansion plans which will bring Frozen, Marvel and Star Wars in the coming years. For me, you can truly tell the difference from the queue systems in this park. The external queues on every ride lack any of the imagination and joy that makes Disney attractions so unique.
Crush’s Coaster has an external queue consisting of metal barriers in a dark and dreary area beside the ride building. The token gestures of adding a few palm trees and adding sand does not catch my imagination. With some of the longest wait times in the park, I find it difficult to motivate myself to enter this queue and so Crush remains a ride I only go on when someone in my party is new to the Parks.
Tower of Terror suffers from the same fate. If you can survive a lifeless metal barrier system on the outside you are treated to one of the most immersive interiors of any Disney attraction. The contrast here is truly startling and a far cry from its Florida brother, which has a winding path dressed with an eerie mist to set the scene and scare off many before they even start to queue.
The Studios park has the unfortunate honour of hosting what I believe to be the worst queue system across the whole resort. The holding pen of doom which has to be survived to enter my most favourite show ever, Micky and the Magician. My love of this show is the only reason I ever brave this queue system. As I am herded into this tight space, surrounded by guests, I brace myself to be pushed and shoved when the doors are finally opened, after what feels like an eternity of waiting.
The sheer force of the mob scares me and I have witnessed numerous trips, falls and injuries that I simply cannot understand why this has not been changed. I recall an over zealous dad, kid on shoulders, pushing ahead into the small doorway but in doing so smacked the head of his kid on the top of the door frame. Unbelievably, he carried on and secured his seats in the second row of the theatre. I watched as he berated his son for crying, clearly appalled that the 5 year old did not appreciate the greatness of these seats. By simply installing a winding queuing system, the same as it is on all other attractions, this danger can be minimised and would surely stop the groaning as people push past you.
If Social Distancing due to Covid-19 becomes the new norm then it will eliminate this type of queue ever happening again. In the short term it will have a dramatic effect on how Disney operates in the immediate future. Anyone who has queued in Disneyland will know that people like to stand rather close to you and often do not stick to personal space boundaries, this is something that would need to be changed in peoples minds as well. Is it possible to create separation in each of these queue systems? The answer would seem very obvious, mark out zones for each party and you move zone to zone. However, this would dramatically reduce the capacity of each queue. This in turn would seem to set limits to the number of guests being able to even enter a queue for a ride. The knock on effect would mean a reduction in Park Capacity and an impact on the finances of the park.
So you limit park capacity to ensure queue lines can cope and no where is overcrowded. Then you need to think about your Annual Pass holders. Disney can monitor the attendance of Hotel guests and ticket holders. However, the unannounced annual pass holder could scupper these plans. Would the concept of a reduced park capacity lead to people queuing up early at park opening simply to ensure entry? This means another queue system will be needed to simply enter the parks. Operationally these are big issues Disney will need to consider, not only to keep people safe but to make people feel confident about once again venturing to a theme park.
So could it be that queues and the safe management of crowds could now become one of the most important aspects of any theme park? Disney usually does a really good job at crowd management. Every day they manage to move masses of people around their parks, into their shops and ride queue systems, organise parade and show crowds and generally keep people safe. When the parks reopen, it may be a very different Disney experience to the one we have all become accustomed to.