There have been some interesting developments recently at Universal Orlando that may revolutionize the entire theme park industry. A new feature that recently popped up on the official Universal Orlando app may be an indicator of how the park may handle queues for attractions for their entire property. Before we tackle that, let’s look at what has been quietly brewing over the past year.
In June 2016, Wet n’ Wild quietly tested a virtual queueing system for slides in the park. The idea was simple. You were given a band with an RFID chip inside (similar to how Disney’s MagicBands work) and approached the entrance of an attraction.
If the posted wait time was 15 minutes and you arrive at 4:00 p.m., you’d come back at 4:15 p.m. and experience little-to-no wait. What differs from this and Disney’s FastPass system is there are no other options to queue up for those attractions. This virtual queue line was the only way to go on the slide.
Meanwhile, you’ve got options on how you can spend your time. You can take a dip in the lazy river, pop in the wave pool or, as Universal hopes, visit a snack bar or peruse the merchandise shop.
Non-coincidentally, on Thursday, November 3, 2016, Universal Orlando announced that their new water park, Volcano Bay, would feature virtual queues. A new system known as TapuTapu will give guests a wearable wristband that will let them wait in a virtual queue anywhere in the park. When it is time for them to go down a slide, the wristband will alert them to head to that attraction. In addition, this TapuTapu system will also allow patrons to interact with the park at various touch points triggering water jets and special effects.
What is most interesting about TapuTapu is the system is not only free, but also not an option. The major difference between this and Disney’s FastPass system is this wristband will be your only option to ride certain attractions, not simply an option to bypass the lines. This new system IS the line and the entire park is being designed with less queue space as a result.
Over Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, the official Universal Orlando app added (and quickly removed) a feature allowing guests to get a return time ticket for Shrek 4-D at Universal Studios Florida. Guests were asked to use the app to select how many people were in their party and the app would give them a time to return based on the current wait for the attraction.
Now the particulars are still being worked out, but no doubt this queueless attraction idea is slowly creeping its way into Universal Orlando theme parks in addition to Volcano Bay waterpark. I’ve actually had sources tell me for many years that Universal has been eyeing a system that could rival Disney’s FastPass and it’s entirely possible that Universal Orlando could feature the world’s first truly queueless theme parks.
Imagine if everyone in the park had to use the Universal Orlando app to basically place themselves in a queue for a ride. Guests couldn’t virtually enter another queue until the one they are currently in has been scanned into the system, releasing the app to allow them to be placed into another queue after they’ve finished the last attraction.
No doubt, you’ve got lots of questions and I’ll give you answers as best as I can based on what I know. First of all, how do you prevent a group of four people all reserving (for instance) The E.T. Adventure for four people all on their smart phones at the same time (four reservations) allowing them to ride the attraction four times in a row with only one virtual wait in the virtual queue?
The only way to prevent that is to tie each ticket into the Universal Orlando app. You can manage tickets from one account or each individual can reserve their own virtual wait times. This would prevent multiple people reserving too many spots in the virtual queue, which can be done in the current testing phase.
What does this mean for the future of themed queues? Assuming the queueless park is coming, you won’t be actually waiting in an actual line. Meaning all those details and pre-shows and safety videos need to be reconfigured to this new system. While many queues in the park would need to be modified, future attractions would be built with less queue space. This adds valuable real estate back to the park to be used for other things.
Most importantly, when you’re looking at a theme park without queues for the rides… where does everybody go? In short, more entertainment offerings. The only experiences that wouldn’t be on this new system are shows that can be filled by walk up guests. This would allow underutilized theaters to fill more seats per show, thus allowing park guests to spend more of their day getting value for their ticket and not waiting in lines.
What could throw a monkey wrench in all of this? Universal Express. There is no way Universal Orlando would get rid of this money making machine. It is a primary reason people stay at certain on-property resorts and makes a ton of money for the company for very little overhead when guests buy it in the park. Unless Universal Express changes how they operate, this could be a huge problem. There is no way to control when guests enter a particular queue as their is no timed entry associated with the system.
Where things get really tricky is Halloween Horror Nights. Anyone reading this right now knows exactly what I’m talking about. You can’t visit Halloween Horror Nights without an Express Pass and not spend over half your night in queues. Imagine visiting the event where there are no queues, the app tells you when to visit the house of your choice. Meanwhile, you can spend more time in scare zones or watching Bill and Ted.
Now could I be wrong about all of this? Sure. However, I can tell you without question that this is what Universal Orlando is shooting for. I’ve been chasing this story for years and the information listed above is from multiple sources and I assure you, it will come to fruition slowly in some form over the next several years. There is clearly a lot of testing to do and the Shrek 4-D experiment we’ve recently seen is just the start. Plenty of issues left to be talked including, how do that many people in a park disperse when there are no queues. We will no doubt see lots of testing over the coming months/years.
Plus I did mention that your tickets would tie into this new system. That also means the entire ticketing operation would have to change. Creating an app based ticketing system could also change the game for how Universal parks operate and we will cover that in a future article here at TPU. Your thoughts?
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Images Copyright: Universal Orlando