Something tells me I’m not getting a Christmas card from Universal Parks this year. Recently we have uncovered a lot regarding the future plans for the Universal Orlando Resort. Facial recognition technology, Nintendo attraction concept art, Bourne Identity taking over for Terminator 2: 3-D and on and on. Today we are going to discuss the future of Virtual Line at not only Universal Orlando theme parks, but potentially all Universal parks globally. Personally, I think creating this system all across parks that can hold 50,000 people or more can be quite disastrous. More on that later.
For now, let’s remember that anything mentioned in this article is merely speculation. Nothing becomes fact until it’s officially announced by Universal. All of these articles could be my imagination running wild… either that… or I’ve got my ear really close to the ground. Your call on what to believe. Plus, plans change and this could all get scrapped just like many projects before and many after. Capiche? Let’s dive in.
To be clear, adding more virtual queues to Universal Orlando isn’t exactly a secret. It’s been mentioned by several Universal executives and folks within Universal Creative (on the record) that the queueing system for Jimmy Fallon will be used as the model moving forward for all new attraction queues being built. Believe it or not, virtual queue was supposed to roll out when Skull Island: Reign of Kong opened in 2016 but was ultimately cut due to some issues with the app not being ready and not enough testing had been done. In short, it wasn’t ready for prime time just yet.
For those unfamiliar, let me give you a crash course in what Virtual Line is. Currently, Race Through New York is the only attraction that uses this system. Let’s say you want to ride the attraction and are using the Universal Orlando app, you simply log on, tell it how many people are in your party and select a time window. If you’re not into using apps on your smartphone, you can reserve your time window via kiosks in front of the attraction.
Once your time window arrives, you go straight into the ride, right? Not even close. Universal Orlando has worked out this color coding system where every guest is handed a colored card. While you’re waiting, you’re no longer in a traditional queue, you’re in a lounge complete with chairs, couches, interactive games and even live entertainment. How long will you get to wait in this area? My experience at Race Through New York is anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes depending on how fast rides are dispatched, technical glitches, etc. Here’s the kicker: regardless of if you have a Universal Express Pass or not, everyone waits a 20 to 45 minute time period before their butt hits the seat of a ride vehicle.
A couple of things to keep in mind. The Ragtime Gals provide live entertainment while you wait in the lounge before riding Race Through New York. For many people, this is the highlight of the entire experience (I concur!) so the wait doesn’t usually seem so bad. However, moving forward not all queues will have live entertainment. Look for more interactive elements in the Fast & Furious Supercharged lounge area, including some ways you can interact with the Universal Orlando app. However, yet again, expect to wait anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes once inside the waiting area before your butt hits the seat of your ride vehicle.
Now let’s take a look at how Virtual Line is supposedly moving forward at not only Universal Orlando theme parks, but all Universal parks globally. The idea is not only for new attractions that come on board to have a virtual queue (and more of a waiting area) but to start retrofitting existing queues with the same concept. No standing in actual lines shuffling your feet. You can relax in a lounge until it’s time to enter the queue. Not all attractions will have this, but the idea is for most major rides to offer it.
Why? Well, the idea is pretty simple. Aside from price, what’s the number one complaint at any theme park in the world? Lines. Therefore, the answer is to get rid of those traditional back-and-forth queues and allow people to relax in a waiting area. No more shuffling feet or keeping up with the person in front of you who may or may not have put deodorant on.
Now here’s the kicker. Potentially in the not-so-distant future, Virtual Line will be the only option moving forward. Currently, Race Through New York has a standby queue if you don’t want to deal with reserving a time via the app. In the future, Universal wants it to be your only option. Why? It forces you to spend more time in the park and not trapped in a traditional line. This extra time will allow you to do many things including (but not limited to): taking more pictures with characters, watching shows and of course, buying more food, drinks, and merchandise.
I know, it makes no sense for the majority of an entire major theme park to be required to get virtual queue passes and not have a standby line option. I mean, what kind of park wouldn’t even have standby queues and force everyone to virtually wait in line for most attractions? Oh, wait…
Volcano Bay was actually built on this exact premise and continues to be the testing ground for all Universal parks moving forward. I know what you’re thinking: a water park’s capacity isn’t anywhere near the kind of traffic you can find in Universal’s major theme parks. And you’re right. It also makes it the perfect testing ground to work out the bugs with the system and slowly get the public on board with Virtual Line being your only option for all the major attractions.
Which, if you haven’t heard, hasn’t exactly gone so smoothly so far. Volcano Bay has definitely been working on ironing out the issues with TapuTapu, but until water park crowds return to capacity levels again next spring, it’s really hard to grasp just how well this system will be viewed long term. However, the idea is the same. The difference being that TapuTapu is waterproof and you don’t get to choose your return time.
As a matter of fact, and keep this between you and me, 2017’s Halloween Horror Nights was supposed to test a version of TapuTapu for the event. That’s right, you’d have to reserve a time to enter a smaller queue rather than waiting in those extremely long lines that Halloween Horror Nights can be famous for. As luck would have it, since parkwide virtual queueing hasn’t exactly been a smashing success at Volcano Bay, the idea was supposedly scrapped to use it for Halloween Horror Nights in 2017. Could it happen in 2018? The jury is still out.
It is also fair to mention that with any new kind of queuing system (FastPass Plus, Universal Express, TapuTapu, Quick Queue, etc), there will always be a learning curve. People always freak out when major changes happen in their favorite theme parks. Disney fans went berzerk when MagicBands rolled out over five years ago, now nearly no one bats an eyelash. These things take time. However, forcing everyone into virtual queues is a different beast entirely.
Personally, I think adding Virtual Line to the majority of the attractions inside any Universal park is a huge misstep for two reasons. First, it’s about displacement. Where do you put 10,000 to 30,000 people who are currently waiting inside Universal queues? No doubt, there is data that backs up the fact that if guests are waiting for their return time window, per cap spending goes up. You’re bound to find adults who want beer, kids who want candy and parents who want t-shirts that they may not have normally bought if they didn’t have all this extra time on their hands.
Certainly, you can add more characters, shows, and parades to help justify having nearly double the amount of people meandering through the park. Not only is that an expensive proposition to nearly double your entertainment budget, it’s an unrealistic one long term. On the plus side, this will help fill empty seats in shows that otherwise go unoccupied. By the way, if you’ve never seen the Horror Makeup Show at Universal Studios Florida, you haven’t lived. Best show in any theme park in Orlando. And it’s rare to see the show fill to capacity and adding virtual queue would certainly help put butts in those seats.
However, the biggest issue with forcing Virtual Line on nearly every attraction without offering a standby option is the perception of value. If each attraction takes nearly 45 minutes to experience from the time of arrival to waiting in a lounge, to a pre-show, then load-in queue and then the attraction itself. That’s going to cut down on the number of attractions the average family can complete in a day. The perception of value for the ticket price will go far down if that number drops significantly.
No doubt, Universal executives are getting feedback on the virtual queuing for Race Through New York and I’m sure those scores are mostly positive. Why? It’s the Cadillac version of this concept. Live entertainment and the lounge has many things for people to do. But those scores are based on this being the only time they will experience Virtual Line while visiting Universal Studios Florida. You multiply that time spent in each future Virtual Line, lounge, and attraction and the perception will undoubtedly change.
Maybe I’m overreacting or perhaps this was all pulled from my imagination. No matter how you slice it, I just want to stay on the Universal Parks Christmas card list this holiday season. Seeing Tom Williams in a Santa hat is always a hoot and a half.
What are your thoughts on adding Virtual Line to nearly all Universal rides? Let me know on social media by using the hashtag “#IReadTheEntireArticle” because nothing is worse than talking with someone who formed an opinion from just reading a headline.
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