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Universal Orlando Resort’s “Virtual Lines” could be the wake-up call the theme park industry needs

in Entertainment, Park Secrets, Technology, Theme Parks, Universal Orlando, Volcano Bay

Universal Orlando Resort hit the internet with all the fury of a lava-slide yesterday, releasing a ton of massive new details about their new waterpark, Volcano Bay. While the promise of magnetic technology and quality attractions were certainly eye-opening, one bit of information really stood out for me: “Virtual lines”.

Using what they call a TapuTapu Wearable, guests will be able to eliminate long lines in favor of focusing on having a grand ‘ole time. Basically, we will all be able to virtually wait in line while enjoying other areas of the park, and the device will alert you when it’s time to ride so you can head back to the attraction (like holding a buzzer at a restaurant). With some notable and significant differences, this sort of technology should seem relatively familiar to MagicBand users at Walt Disney World. Users will also have the ability to utilize the device to interact with various environmental objects for a little bit of extra fun. Wow. That’s a lot at once, right? If you think about it, guests are being asked to completely rewrite the way they enjoy their day at a theme park.

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But why is this significant? What makes the idea of not waiting in lines not only wildly appealing, but possibly necessary in the evolution of the theme park industry as we know it? The truth is, only time will tell how this story ends. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it for a little bit:

The convenience, obviously

I’ve had some pretty great times waiting in lines to get on a ride. Who doesn’t love being in a small group of people when one of your friends whips out their phone and suggests a game of Heads Up? But the truth is, you don’t go to theme parks to wait in long lines: you go to experience the attractions in all their glory, and then swiftly move onto the next one. So if you want the most out of your day, the concept of Virtual Lines seems like a no-brainer. Just look at how Disney has enhanced their guest experience with the FastPass+ option — now imagine that as a free service for all guests, unlimited access for the entirety of your time at the park. Kind of sounds like a bright future, huh?

More love for street entertainment

It may seem like a bit of a stretch on paper, but the truth is with less people waiting in lines, more attention can be paid to the various environmental and sidestreet entertainment that every single theme park provides in spades. As a result of people spending less time waiting in lines, they may find themselves actually utilizing that time to take in the ambience of the world around them. And if more attention is being paid to street shows, that could virtually usher in a new era of additional talent and new ideas. Those new ideas could mean more jobs for performers, which is fantastic.

Granted, to expect theme parks to completely wipe out all of the queues (many, extremely creative) they’ve so lovingly built to house hundreds and hundreds of people would be absurd. So instead…

Why not a mix of both?

What if guests had the opportunity to choose whether they’d prefer to wait in the queue or schedule their times accordingly? Universal’s Volcano Bay has the advantage of being a new park that can implement fresh technology from the get-go, but they can’t just wipe out Michael Aiello’s amazing Skull Island: Reign of Kong queue at Islands of Adventure in favor of literally no lines whatsoever. It’s just not practical.

So the solution would be to simply offer guests the Virtual Line service along with the option to experience queues if you so choose. But either way, guests would have the ability to schedule their time on the rides as needed. While they are waiting for their scheduled time for one ride, they can wait in the line for another. Attendees of Walt Disney World have been doing this for years now with great success.

Here’s the promotional video, showcasing the TapuTapu Wearable used to interact with the environment:

No matter how you slice it, Virtual Lines are a bold move and adventurous step forward for Universal Orlando Resort. With the emphasis on convenience and the overall guest experience, a welcome side effect of the announcement of this technology is an unexpected feeling of comfort and respect. They want us to experience it all, and without the eye-rolling tedium of spending up to an hour in the hot sun waiting for an attraction you had already paid good money to experience.

From a public relations standpoint, it’s a winner. From a technological standpoint, well, I guess we’ll have to wait and find out!

6 Comments

  1. Stephen Douglas

    If no-one is standing in line and everyone has the tapu tapu wearable on..(because they are free) .and their time hits…and everyone rushes to the ride….doesn’t that in fact…create…a line?? I will have to watch how this all works out..especially when this relatively small water park (drove by it this week many times) is at capacity in the peak of summer.

    1. Jeremy Guthrie

      There will likely be some sort of algorithm which will only set off the wristbands of people when the ride can handle them without much of a line. (i.e Like Fastpass) This will obviously have to be somewhat complex as it will have to take into consideration that people will respond at different rates or not at all. I feel the bigger problem will be where all those people who are now roaming around the parks be at. The lines keep areas from getting too crowded but now those people will be wandering and waiting for their band to go off. Street entertainment, as mentioned above, would be great but you need the space for the people and performers to pull that off.

  2. Abraham Gordillo

    As from my point of view, this “buzzer” is being seen as something new and revolutionary, while Disney has done it before with the same technology at the Royal Meeting in The World of Disney at Disney Springs in Florida, where you literally get a restaurant buzzer that buzzes once your turn has come, cutting the line from hours to a maximum of 5 minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how universal will handle it, because the electronic queue comes back to the FastPass + service, and to keep the line short, it has a limited number of tickets per day. In this case, we are talking about a water park, which naturally has less guest flow that a main theme park, but anyway let see if the so called system manages to keep a real flow without leaving guests out of the experience for the sake of shorter wait times.

  3. Johnny

    ‘Offer guests to get to experience queues if they want to’. Yeah, that’s what I say to my wife when we consider booking a holiday in Florida. Hey hunny, fancy blowing our salaries on flying to the happiest place on earth and spending half our day sat in line in the baking sun?

    Get with the times, people are paying thousands to visit these resorts and stay on vacation in Florida, the only people that ‘enjoy’ queuing are theme park bloggers with too much time on their hands.

    Virtual queues are a great idea.

    1. Ayame

      I disagree. To me, a well designed queue enhances the ride tremendously and becomes part of the experience, a great example being Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye. I do hate when lines are nothing but standing under the sun, and I’m excited for the idea of a virtual line, but there’s no need to eliminate the queue when it’s done right.

  4. Adam

    They do this at Dreamworld in Australia. You use your phone to “check in” to a line, and them you can come back after the estimated duration of the line at the time you checked in and walk to the head of the queue. So if the estimated wait is 30 minutes – you check in and can walk to the head of the queue in 30 minutes. If you pay a premium you get to cut that time in half or skip it altogether. You can use it as often as you want – but only one ride at a time. You’re right – you get to check out parts of the park that you’d normally just skip. And you get to do fun stuff like grab an ice cream and sit down or meet a character. We thought it was great!

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