Lessons from Disneyland

Today, I was going to take the kids down to the Water Adventure Park in Geelong, but after realising the forecast for there was 20 C and a spot of rain, we opted for Fun Fields in Whittlesea instead. After promising the kids a theme park, It seemed to be the better “yucky day” option.

It was a big day for the kids, and a slightly grumpy day for the adults as we tried to smile when the demands became unreasonable and the queues became longer and longer and longer. So on the way home, I found myself daydreaming about Theme Parks, and how I felt about them when I was a child.

When I was young my parents always promised me that if they ever won Lotto, two things would happen. Thing 1 was that they would buy my older brother and myself a whole chicken each. The pinnacle of gluttony! Thing 2 was that they would take us to Disneyland. And Disneyland, unlike the chicken, was more than a quick pleasure fix, it was the representation to me of the pinnacle of all things pleasurable to a kid.

Sadly though they never won more than about $40 in Lotto, so the trip never happened. However the concept sat in the back of my mind for decades, as something I must do. So when arranging a trip to visit my brother in San Francisco in late 1999, my wife and I were there for New Years, we decided to drop into Disneyland.

I must say I had a fabulous time, but for completely different reasons than I expected. I learnt a number of fascinating business lessons about managing queues from the leader in the theme park field.

1. Queues that are constantly moving don’t get grumpy.

But here’s the interesting thing, you can artificially make the distance queuing people need to move through longer, by using moveable barriers. Creating a zig zag line out of a straight line means that your queue of people needs to spend more time moving to go the same distance as the crow flies. By dynamic use of barriers, you can make your queue happier.

2. Queues that are being entertained, don’t get grumpy.

As you are well aware, If all you are doing is waiting, time slows down and you get irritable quickly. The Disney solution was to start the ride experience, lot earlier than you would expect. For each ride, there was always a back story to read on the walls, or even a video. There was also regularity moving parts, such as a bridge you had to cross, or a cave that you could see collapsing. It was of course a multimedia experience with automated music, sound effects, voice-overs, steam etc.

3. Queues that can’t see the end point, focus on the entertainment.

I wondered why we could never see the end point of the queue, until it was revealed to us as a couple of metres away, but after a bit of pondering I realised that it made sense. If I could see the end point, I would focus on it and become agitated about how slow the queue was. If I couldn’t see the end point, I enjoyed the trip by focussing on the entertainment on the way.

4. Staff where always part of the experience.

There was not a pimply faced 15 year old wearing an ill fitting uniform combined with a bored/sour attitude to be seen. All ride staff where part of the ride experience. They wore ride appropriate uniforms, and acted out set pieces. They entertained and made the whole ride experience a pleasure.

The consequence of this queue management was that we didn’t even notice until afterwards that in one case we spent an hour & 15 minutes queuing for a 5 minute ride. I would happily recommend Disneyland to anyone.

Unfortunately I’d have to say that although there was a lot of rides at Funfields, there wasn’t a single ride experience that you wanted to tell your friends about.