With Bob Iger back as The Walt Disney Company's CEO, many Disney Parks fans are looking to him to fix all that they see as ailing in the parks.
But Disney's board did not bring back Iger to focus on the parks, which have been earning record revenue this year. On his first day back today, Iger instead has been working on the other half of Disney - the Media and Entertainment Distribution segment, where Iger showed Chairman Kareem Daniel the door and promised a reorganization.
That won't stop fans from shipping Iger and changes at the parks. In that spirit, I offer a solution from another Robert (i.e., me) for how Disney can address one of the divisive changes made under former CEO Bob Chapek's watch - the switch from free Fastpass to paid Lightning Lane.
Let's start with the name. Or rather, names. Disney has three product names now for what used to be covered by the single brand "Fastpass":
Here's my solution: Ditch Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane. In their place will be a new product, simply called "Lightning Lane."
Buying Lightning Lane will give a Disney Parks guest one-time access to each Lightning Lane queue that day. The price should vary by date and whether you are adding Lightning Lane to a One-Park or Park-Hopper ticket. (Adding Lightning Lane to a Park Hopper should cost more, since it would give you access to more Lightning Lanes.) The price of adding Lightning Lane to a One-Park ticket also could vary by the park it's being used for, if Disney felt that necessary to manage demand.
The number of Lightning Lanes sold each day should be capped at no more than the 10% of the park's attendance for the day. Here's why: Running a separate queue for Lightning Lane creates inherent operational challenges. The more people in a Lightning Lane, the longer the regular queue backs up. Blending the two queues to minimize wait times for both can be tough for inexperienced ops personnel to manage, and if the blend point stands too close to load, interrupting the smooth flow of guests onto the ride can hurt capacity, inflating waits for everyone while also raising the risk of downtime on some rides. [See Why you have to be 40 inches tall to ride Disney's Big Thunder Mountain for an explanation of "cascade stop" downtimes.]
Disney already faces operational challenges due to rising number of guests using ECVs when visiting the parks. Many modern attractions include dedicated, off-circuit load stations for guests using ECVs and wheelchairs, but on older attractions, guests who take too long to board or transfer can force ops to have to slow or stop a ride, or worse, trigger a cascade downtime when their ride vehicle cannot clear the load station in time for returning vehicles.
Only increased use of off-circuit loading for attractions can solve that problem, but until then, Disney needs to do whatever it can to minimize other guest-initiated downtimes. Minimizing the number of guests using Lightning Lane might help keep the queues flowing well.
Chapek has said that half of Disney World guests were buying Disney Genie+ on peak days, so a 10% cap would represent a sharp reduction in the number of guests using Lightning Lanes. Yes, that means Disney will need to charge a lot more to keep the distribution of Lightning Lane from becoming yet another frustrating morning lottery.
Every other park in the industry is charging far more than Disney for their line-skipping passes, and it's time to for Disney to catch up with the market. Therefore, I suggest that the price for my revamped Lightning Lane product range up to around the price of a one-day, one-park ticket (or one-day Park Hopper, if a guest is adding Lightning Lane to a Park Hopper ticket). Ultimately, Disney should price Lightning Lane to sell out consistently about an hour or two into each day - priced high enough not to sell out immediately, but low enough so that it does sell out during the day.
A premium-price Lightning Lane that serves a much smaller percentage of guests should protect Disney's per capita in-park guest spending numbers while resulting in lower standby wait times and (hopefully) fewer downtimes for all guests. Reducing the number of guests using Lightning Lane also will help the service deliver real value for the guests who end up paying for it. And using one brand name for this product should help reduce confusion and set more reasonable expectations for it among guests, which in turn should help alleviate much of the frustration that the current system is causing.
As much as I would love to return to the days before line-skipping passes, they have proven too lucrative a source of income for parks to abandon them. But minimizing the number of people using these passes is essential to preserve the quality of experience for those guests who do not buy them. Until parks start scheduling days like cruise lines, with assigned times for all experiences during the day (please, no), finding the right load balance for pricing and assigning line-skip passes will remain a leading challenge for theme park managers.
I think my Lightning Lane proposal would fix almost all of the issues with Disney's current system. What would you like to see the company do?
* * *
For more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.
And to help support Theme Park Insider while saving money on discounted theme park tickets, please follow the ticket icon links our Theme Park listings page.Tweet
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.