The Magic of the Disney Experience

It has been over ten years since I last visited Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

As a child, I always thought Disney was the master of incorporating the latest and greatest technology innovations into the park and resort experiences.  That’s part of what made it so magical.

Innocence was a big part of what made the experience magical too.  So that begged the question…

Would the “magic” of the Disney experience disappear now that I’m an adult?


Experiencing Disney as an adult and as someone who is keenly interested in what it takes to make a great experience taught me a lot:  It’s all in the details.

What is the worst part about Walt Disney World during July (peak tourist season)?

Aside from the heat…Waiting in long ride lines.

Shuffling a few inches at a time then standing still with a mob of tired, hot, sweaty parents and screaming kids for up to two hours is not fun.  Especially when the ride you’re waiting for is only a few minutes long.  Those five minutes better be extraordinary.

That’s the design challenge.  You’re not designing the experience for just the ride.  Part of the ride experience is standing in that long line where your anticipation builds and 15 or 20 minutes in you wonder:

Is this ride worth the wait?

Disney gets that waiting in line stinks.  They’ve introduced something called Fast Pass, which is basically like call ahead seating at a restaurant.  Fast Pass is great, but it isn’t available on all the rides and you can still get stuck waiting for a good while.

Design challenge:  Make standing in line as much fun as the ride itself.

  • How can you make 70 minutes feel like 30 minutes?
  • How do you make standing in line fun for a 5 year old?  A 72 year old?
  • How about for someone who is blind?
  • For people who speak different languages and have very different cultural backgrounds?
  • How can you control the crowd if you only have a single line monitor?

Disney may be one step closer to cracking this nut.

With great reluctance, I entered the Soarin’ line at Epcot.  I say I entered it with reluctance because the estimated wait time was 70 minutes.  The last line I stood in had an estimated wait time of 10 minutes.  It actually took 80 minutes.  What if the 70 minute estimate was off by the same order of magnitude?!

This line had some things going for it that the other line did not:  It was indoors and air conditioned.

As I piled into the long cooridor with my fellow park goers, I noticed five huge movie screens along the wall.  Colorful computer generated nature scenes faded in and out on the screen.  Lovely.  But seemingly pointless.

Pointless until loud music came on and people towards the front of the line began cheering.  Those of us who just joined the line turned to look at the screens.

“Let’s play a game…” the screen instructed (or something close to that).

“Build the land!”  the screen instructed and then it displayed a figure of a person throwing their hands up in the air.  When the blob threw its hands up, a computer generated bump got bigger on the screen and it looked like a mountain.

Before I knew it, everyone was jumping up and down waving their hands overhead.  The screens responded to the movement.  Each screen grew its own mountain chain!  Then we were instructed to grow the trees and the flowers!

It kept people’s attention for a several minutes before the game concluded.

There was a pause for several minutes and then the crowd was presented with a new game.  Each group had a set of “snowballs” that had to be kept from landing on the ground.  There was more jumping in the air.  Eventually, the balls bounced across the screens and each group worked feverishly to push their snowball to another screen.

Some people built up quite a sweat.

Another pause.

Another game!  This time a race!!!  Each screen had a different colored bird.  The crowd in front of each screen had to lean left and right to steer the bird.  If you weren’t careful, the bird could run in to different parts of the land.

(How our bird survived, I don’t know.  We came in second place though!)

Finally, finally, I made it onto the ride.

You know what?  I didnt’ think it was worth the 70-minute wait, but I sure had fun standing in line.

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