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Teaching Tip: Queuing Up at Disney on Thanksgiving

November 26, 2010

Having lived in the Orlando area for over 2 decades, everyone assumes my family and I are regular visitors to the Magic Kingdom and the 5 other  Disney World properties here. After all, Disney World is a powerhouse,with over 62,000 local employees (called “cast members”)  and 48 million visitors last year. So when they find I have yet to take my 13 year old son to the Magic Kingdom, I appear to be some sort of ogre. (To my defense, my kids have been to Universal, Sea World, Wet n’ Wild, Blizzard Beach, Animal Kingdom, and on and on). To overcome this pressure, we all went to Disney today, Thanksgiving, 2010.

Here is what we learned. Thanksgiving is one of the  busiest days of the year. And Disney has a clear plan for dealing with this capacity situation (Supp.7): All free passes are cancelled, all cast members are called in, extra parades are scheduled, more refreshment booths are opened, and hours are extended…the Park didn’t close till 1am!

But the queues–oh the queues! Where else would a rational family of 4 pay $340 in entrance fees, $12 to park, and $50 for water and ice cream, only to wait in a series of 45 minute lines for 5 or 6 rides and shows…and then walk away happy as can be?

Here is the secret to the psychology of queuing theory…something Disney’s flock of Ph.D.s in OR and IE have mastered: (1) Keep your customers informed of how long each queue will take,with signs posted frequently…and overestimate, don’t underestimate. (2) Entertain them while they wait, with videos, music, and cartoon characters. (3) Keep the lines moving so progress seems to be taking place. And (4), make people walk long distances between the most popular features, with plenty of interesting activities en route.

I hope this leads to some useful class discussions about how how queues can be managed. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Quain permalink
    November 26, 2010 4:29 pm

    I have a long association with Disney. I visited the park a few months after it opened
    while a college student, lived in Orlando for ten years and, unlike some people, took my children there regularly, and even did some sales training for the hotels there. Disney does what almost no other company I know does – they have a plan to get every last cent of your money. All businesses should have this plan, because it is the secret to great success.

    For example, Barry talks about standing in line. He is right, and the wait is very long. Yes, Disney does keep you busy and involved while in line. But, the real brilliance is what happens after you finish the ride. They send you into a heavily themed gift shop for that ride. You spent so long in line that your natural inclination is to spend time in the gift shop to extend the experience. And, what do you do while you are there? You spend money of course! You get more fun, they get your money.

    Everyone is happy, especially the mouse!

  2. Chuck Munson permalink
    January 7, 2011 11:47 pm

    Barry, did you have any experience with “Fast Pass?” When I last visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I used Fast Pass a couple of times, and it worked great. Once I started into the line, I literally didn’t stop walking until I got on the ride. However, as an OM person, I entered the park excited about the prospect of “optimizing” my experience by getting a Fast Pass for all of the rides and never standing in line all day. To my dismay (and I don’t know if they have changed policies since or not), I was only allowed to have one Fast Pass reservation at a time (and even then, some are “reserved-out” for the rest of the day by early afternoon).

    So if the policy still holds about only allowing one Fast Pass reservation per customer at a time, do you (or anyone else) know why that is? Are they worried that customers will overestimate their ability to get to rides on time? But couldn’t the program be written to account for that? Disney could still insert plenty of “safety time” for customers to shop in the stores in between rides as Bill Quain so elequently describes.


  1. OM in the News: Disney and the Art of Queueing « Jay and Barry's OM Blog

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