Earlier this year, Universal Orlando Resort opened its first water park, Volcano Bay. And as you might already know, this park was built from the ground up to utilize a virtual queue system that gets rid of lines altogether, instead having guests reserve a time to return to slides they want to experience. However, Volcano Bay’s first few days haven’t exactly gone well, and it is clear that Universal needs to tweak this system over the summer to make sure that guests have amble opportunities to experience this park’s various attractions without having to deal with multi-hour waits and “ride full” notices in the middle of the day.
However, even though Universal has had a little bit of trouble with this system out of the gate, the park is continuing to bet big on virtual queue technology. Not only does the current Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon attraction utilize this technology, but Universal announced a few days ago that the new The Fast and the Furious: Supercharged attraction, which is expected to open next year, will also use a virtual queue, with no standby option available.
Though comparisons to Walt Disney World’s FastPass+ system are inevitable (after all, Universal’s in-park system allows guests to reserve times to ride attractions with their phone similar to My Disney Experience), there are some key differences and issues that Universal will need to address in the years ahead as they expand and continue to develop this new virtual line system
Where to put guests?
One big issue that guests ran into at Volcano Bay during its opening days was a lack of things to do. While Volcano Bay does have a beach, lazy river, and kiddie areas for guests to enjoy while they are waiting to experience an attraction, if Universal is serious about expanding this virtual-only queue system, there may be an issue with what to do with guests who are not in line.
While Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure both have great dining spots and a smattering of live entertainment, this simply isn’t enough for the majority of guests who won’t be waiting in line, and may end up just wandering the parks listlessly while waiting for virtual queue return times.
The capacity issue
One of the reasons why many have speculated that the opening of Volcano Bay had so many bumps was because Universal over-estimated the actual capacity of Volcano Bay. Now of course, actual capacity is different than legal capacity, as the later refers to the amount of people legally allowed to be inside a public space at once, and the former refers to the number of guests that the attractions inside the park can support.
When you get rid of lines, the entire park capacity may be diminished as a result, as there’s no option for guests to wait in line, which means that once a virtual queue fills up, that’s it for the ride for the day (as Volcano Bay guests have found out, with slides filling up in the early afternoon). Of course, the natural correction for this is to reduce the amount of guests in the park, but with Universal’s attendance on the rise, it seems unlikely that they’d want to cap their park capacity any time soon. And that’s not the only issue…
What about Express Passes?
Universal Express lets you do what you want, when you want
One of Universal Orlando Resort’s most popular add-ons is the Express Pass, which allows guests to pay a flat fee and skip the line at most attractions. And while this option works well as a sort of paid FastPass inside Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, Universal quickly found out after Volcano Bay’s opening day, that introducing Express Passes at a park with no lines actually creates a line as Express Pass guests can jump guests who have reserved a ride time, which can gum up the works considerably, pushing guests past their reservation time and creating a ripple effect.
Fortunately Universal realized this issue early and has suspended sales of Express Passes for Volcano Bay for now. However, a larger problem can’t be ignored: If Universal is indeed looking to expand virtual queues inside its theme parks, what will become of Express Passes in the long term? While it might be easy to say Universal could get rid of the entire Express Pass system as virtual queues ramp up inside its theme parks, this upcharge has to be a decent moneymaker for parent company Comcast, and is also a big incentive for guests to stay on property (moderate and deluxe guests get free Express Passes as part of their stay). Getting rid of the Express Pass system might solve some of the logistical issues with virtual queues, but it would create a whole new host of problems as well, which would be tough for Universal to deal with.
Universal Orlando Resort definitely gets points for ambition when it comes to trying to design a water park like Volcano Bay without lines. And while Universal is likely going to be working out the kinks in this system over the next year or two, based on the fact that they already have one queue-less attraction at Universal Studios Florida and are working on constructing another, it looks like Universal is looking at trying to retro-fit its existing parks with this type of system as well, which could present a number of challenges for the resort over the next several years.
Do you think virtual queues are the way of the future? Or are stand-by lines a necessity, even in the most modern theme park? Let us know what you think below!
-From Theme Park Tourist, June 15, 2017, by Amanda Kondolojy
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