Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hobson's Choice and the Dilemma of Toy Story Midway Mania.

 
I recently read that a guest was in Disney Hollywood Studios selling fastpasses to Toy Story Midway Mania? Sounds strange to sell something that’s free, right? Well, not if you know anything about this attraction whose lines have vexed park goers since it’s opening nearly three years ago.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but nothing produces greater stress in me at Disney World than rope drop at DHS, for it is there that I am faced with what can only be described, despite appearances to the contrary, as no choice at all: The need to run toward Toy Story Midway Mania and grab a fastpass or wait forever in the standby line. Following the horde, inching ahead of parents with strollers, I grab my child's hand and squeeze through the crowd. I realize, of course, that this isn’t very good manners, but I need that fastpass and so I reason that it's okay just this once. Despite my efforts, there's a good hundred or so people ahead of me by the time I get to the fastpass distribution area and most of them are getting fastpasses for large groups. By the time I get mine, my return time is 11:30.

The usual strategy with headliner attractions doesn't work here. You can't jump in the standby line first thing in the morning, ride the attraction, and then grab a fastpass on your way out, thereby assuring yourself a second visit. This is because TSMM fastpasses run out by late morning or at best, the return time is very late in the day, ensuring you'll spend the entire day in DHS, missing dining reservations and headliner attractions in other parks. So, if you want to ride twice, you make your choice: Ride first and gamble that there will be fastpasses left or wait for a fastpass, the value of it being something akin to gold at that moment, and then wait forever in the standby line for a second chance. If you do choose to ride twice in the morning, by the time you get out every other attraction in the park will have longer waits. And since the line just gets longer as they day wears on, waiting until the afternoon doesn't do you any good either.

Of course, that's the real problem.  By devoting so much of your park time to one, admittedly enjoyable, attraction, you end up forgoing shorter lines elsewhere in the park. Clearly, because the majority of guests are running toward TSMM at rope drop, there are smaller crowds on Tower of Terror and Rock and Rollercoaster, attractions that are arguably just as good. This means you can easily ride these attractions several times before the lines get longer. The downside is that you've set yourself up for a 60-85 minute wait on TSMM later in the day, even during slower times of the year.



Disney has attempted to make the wait for TSMM more attractive by having what I suppose could be called an interactive queue, the idea being that you are shrunk down to the size of a toy in Andy's room, surrounded by larger, familiar objects from the movies. The problem is that while staring at large replicas of games like "Operation" or a full-size Lincoln Log house is fun for a few minutes, especially for nostalgic grown-ups, there's little else to do:  You can't touch anything like you can in the new Winnie the Pooh queue, nor are there any games along the way to distract you from the long line, so the whole idea behind an interactive queue is really lost.  The lines are clearly marked by red bars, to discourage exploring the toys, which has the benefit of effectively keeping all but the most rambunctious kids in check while, unfortunately, at the same time giving them something to climb. After some waiting, you find yourself inexplicably thrown into a carnival scene where Mr. Potatohead acts as a barker.

There's some interaction with the crowd, but not on the level of say, Crush from Turtle Talk. It's less spontaneous and seems canned. You then turn a corner and, for those who are visiting for the first time, get the shock of seeing an even longer line, this one with stairs. After waiting in a dark, uninteresting little hallway, you get your first glance of the ride.

The ultimate question is, of course, is it worth it? Truthfully, it’s one of my favorite attractions:  It's fast-paced, bright, and remarkably entertaining, even if it does only last a few minutes. For parents with young children or those who are visiting for the first time, it’s absolutely worth arranging your DHS day so that you can enjoy it, preferably twice, even if it does make for some stress. I’m not going to speculate what Disney could have done to make this ride less of a bottleneck, but the fact that they didn’t while at the same time creating such an extraordinary experience is still surprising to me.

Oddly and most likely unintentionally (because intentionally would be too devious, right?), the way TSMM is set up has one positive side-effect: It forces you to stay in Hollywood Studios longer than you normally might and causes you see some attractions and shows you might pass by. I think this is especially beneficial in a park like DHS, which has so many low-profile treasures that are easily dismissed in favor of bright, blaring E-ticket experiences. In that respect, it’s a success, excessive wait times or not.

8 comments:

Mitzi Matata said...

Great article! We recently visited DHS during the second week of December. It was freezing cold and the parks were pretty empty one particular night - except for DHS. Probably had something to do with the Osborne Lights. We had read that one could get a ride on TSM without a huge wait at the end of the night when the park was closing. As long as you're in line when DHS closes then you will be allowed to ride. We had dinner reservations that lasted longer than expected in Epcot but managed to get to DHS about 10 mins. before closing time. We quickly made our way back to TSM while the majority of people were exiting the park. However, when we arrived, the line was OUT the DOOR and had an estimated wait time of 180 minutes! I couldn't believe that the article I'd read could be SO wrong! Needless to say, we didn't stand in that huge line but opted for the deserted Narnia 'attraction' instead. (Seriously, I doubt Narnia would get any goers if it weren't next to TSM.)
So, although TSM is wonderful, I am not willing to wait in those lines! My life is ticking away and simply worth too much to waste it for even the best of the best WDW attractions. Happy New Year!

JLarock4 said...

On New Year's eve, we got to DHS at 10:30am and the Fast Passes were gone for the day. The wait time throughout the day as we checked back was 3 hours! Fortunately, on our last trip about 12 months prior (in late September) we were able to ride three times in one day that trip so my girls were willing to forgo the wait (good thing - I wouldn't have done it anyway). We have the Wii game at home and love playing it but I can sympathize with those that are there for the first time. Hopefully, Disney will come up with an innovative way of relieving this problem.

WDWDisneyDiva said...

this is a really really great post! You've hit the nail on the head. Until they add more to DHS its going to continue to be drama. Need to hurry up on the Monsters Incorporated ride :)

SJ D'Avria said...

Here are 5 other mistakes we avoided this weekend at the Magic Kingdom: http://sdavria.blogspot.com/2011/01/disney-mistakes-avoided.html

Anonymous said...

It is hard to believe that someone would be so low as to sell Fast Passes. I gave away Fast Passes to Space Mountain the last time we visited WDW and the people were very appreciative. I find Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in Magic Kingdom just as good if not better than TSMM.
Your article was good.
John

Blondie said...

Last April, we spent one day at DHS while we were staying at Pop for the space shuttle launch. Prior to that (including a July trip the previous year), I had never seen the crowd running for TSMM fastpasses like they did that day! It was an hour before I even got my fastpasses and of course, the standby wait was intolerable by then.

In October, we had our GAD fastpasses. We rode TSMM four times that day (3 with GAD, 1 with regular FP). We used our other GAD passes at MK and EPCOT but they were wasted because the parks were not crowded (and we were, as usual, employing our strategies for not waiting in lines anyway).

For us, the rush and the wait are worth it because we love TSMM! I am anxious to see what the wait times will be like once the new Star Tours opens. It will definitely have people making a choice about where to get that first fastpass!

Julia Stewart said...

last year was our first year to ride TSMM... and we did it with our Give a Day Fast Passes. We arrived at DHS around 9:30 or 10 and grabbed regular FP and they were for like 3:50 in the afternoon... so we used our GAD FP until then and came back.....

I have NO idea what we will do in the future! LOL

Anonymous said...

An hour long wait for a two minute amusement park ride after buying a $100 ticket just to enter that park? Utterly insane. Our first trip will be our last trip if that's the MO of Disney. If lines are that bad they need to lower the cap on park attendees. We're going in the slow season (October). Hopefully the crowd and line tails are just urban legend. If its that bad I'm taking the kid back to the hotel (AKL) for a pool party. I just can't fathom how crowds if this order of magnitude could allow for anything but misery.