The 10 Lines You Wait In (Before Getting to the Rides)

Years ago, Disney embarked on a super secret project to re-invent the theme park experience. It came with an abbreviated nickname straight out of Silicon Valley.

They called it NextGen. How totes adorbs of them.

NextGen promised a turnstile-free park entrance, FastPasses without pesky paper slips, and a breezy vacation experience utterly devoid of hassle.

It was a meteor straight to the heart of the Primeval Age of the Wait Time. An extinction event for lines.

Well, here we are. Ready to start our day at the Magic Kingdom.

And what is the deal with all these lines???

Line 1 – The Parking Lot Toll Plaza

If you arrive by car, you must stop and pay for the privilege to turn your car into the world’s largest EasyBake Oven.

Forget the price to park, which is either 20% of your vehicle’s Kelley Blue Book Value, or the GDP of Trinidad, whichever is greater.

I don't care if you're just going to the Contemporary. You still gotta pay.

I don’t care if you’re just going to the Contemporary. You still gotta pay.

There is no FastPass for parking. When things stack up, progress is measured in inches. And no matter which line you choose, you’re still stuck behind the guy paying in quarters, who would also like directions to SeaWorld, if it’s not too much trouble.

You can put a box on your windshield and breeze through all 4,652 miles of Central Florida toll roads, but when it comes to parking at a theme park, the best we can manage is the miserable-cast-member-in-a-sweatbox system.

Line 2 – Parking Your Car

Once you’re through the toll plaza, enjoy about 30 seconds of brisk vehicular motion before you once again grind to a halt.

This is because all cars must be parked in an orderly fashion.

We all the know the rules. Park where the waving Cast Member tells you to park. But there is always that one guy who wants to sneak his minivan into the open space at the front of the row, and has to be scolded into backing up and driving where he’s supposed to.

Either he thinks we are all too stupid to have noticed the vast array of empty spaces that are much closer to the tram, or he’s like the Great Dane who thinks somehow he will not be noticed when he sneaks onto the kitchen counter to swipe a piece of pizza.

Or maybe — just maybe — he’s a total jerk.

Line 3 – Wait for the Tram

Because the average guest has no real conception of just how far away the park is, they are always inclined to wait for the tram, even when it’s clear that another tram will not be arriving until after the congressional midterm elections.

So everyone dutifully lines up at the orange poles and waits patiently for the tram to snake its way through the entire Villain lot before it finally stops at Cruella 83 — only to find out that the wait has just begun.

The tram drivers will make the minimum fourteen “last call” announcements. And just when you think that there is “no further boarding,” you are forced to listen to a legally-mandated recorded safety spiel in two languages that gives you complex rules like “do not jump from a moving tram.”

lines_safety

At this point, the minivan guy from before will now attempt to sneak aboard the tram, halting everything and forcing them to replay the safety spiel.

Line 4 – Wait in Line to Buy Tickets

It’s possible that you took one look at the load speeds of disneyworld.com and decided that purchasing your park tickets at the main gate would be faster.

You’re not wrong, but get ready to wait again. There are more combinations of ticket packages than there are solutions to the Rubik’s cube. And you must decipher all of them.

Approximately 99% of these will involve “not going to the Magic Kingdom,” so if you can figure that out, you will have a leg up on everyone.

It still won’t help your wait time though, since the foreign family ahead of you has never heard of park hopping and their only cash is $14.63 in small change.

Line 5 – Wait for the Monorail

Your tickets are in hand! It’s now time to sample some of that Disney magic by… waiting for a monorail.

The fact that it’s a monorail does take the sting out of waiting, but you’ll quickly get back all that sting and then some when people inevitably crowd the first gate they come to, blocking the way to the cabins at either end of the train, which are only half full.

And count on at least one unscheduled “waiting for further traffic clearance” stop. No matter how slow your monorail is, the one in front of you is even slower, like an old married couple who wants to hold hands the entire trip around the beam.

Cast Members will often implore you to try the Ferry Boat instead, with claims that it takes the same amount of time. Do not believe them. The actual travel time may be the same, but the load time is approximately the duration of The Godfather Part II.

Just because the turtle won, doesn't mean it was a fast race.

Just because the turtle won, doesn’t mean it was fast.

Line 6 – The Bag Check Line

Congratulations! You have actually arrived at the Magic Kingdom! Now it’s time to line up yet again for a pointless search through your diaper bag.

Security guards plucked from the finest nursing home facilities are on hand to perform full cavity searches of every pocket, slot, pouch, and crevasse to make sure you are not carrying any explosives, weapons, or — God help us — selfie sticks.

Even the TSA lets you sign up for a pre-screened option, but not at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. In the interest of safety, there will be no bypassing this line at all.

… Unless you’re wearing hammer pants with cargo pockets under your voluminous hooded sweatshirt instead of carrying bags.

In which case you’re obviously not a threat. Just go through the middle.

lines_securityguard

“I’m possibly not even awake. Now open up that zippered coin purse, lady.”

Line 7 – The Randomized Metal Detector

New in 2016! It’s another line!

Select guests will experience the magical moment of having their body scanned for dangerous materials through the wonders of modern metal detection!

As near as I can tell, this involves security guards trying to make eye contact with anyone non-threatening enough to smile back. Preferably toddlers.

Drop your keys and your cell phone in the little plastic hat, step through, and watch in amazement as the machine fails to recognize your ginormous belt buckle, much less your ankle holster.

Line 8 – Getting into the Park

This is it! Just on the other side of these glowing Mickey Mouse touchpoints lies the official start of the Magic Kingdom.

Disney’s MagicBand system has helpfully eliminated those time-consuming turnstiles with an open configuration that lets you simply stroll right on in.

So easy a person with double-jointed wrists could do it!

So easy a person with double-jointed wrists could do it!

All you have to do is simply touch your band to the Mickey and — no, no, you have to touch it right against the touchpoint! The whole band must be touching. Turn your wrist the other– wait, now it’s blue, I have to reset it.

Okay, try it now. Hold on, put your finger on the scanner. Wait! Just hold it on there like — It’s blue again, one second. Nope, still blue. Is that the same finger you used last time?

Are you sure it’s the same finger? Really truly sure? I don’t believe you. You probably used your left pinkie finger when you went to Epcot, and now you’re trying to use your right index finger like a total moron.

Please just listen to me and try a different finger!

Okay, sir, not that finger. There’s no need to be rude.

Line 9 – The iPad Survey Taker

“Hi Ma’am. Welcome to the Magic Kingdom. If I could just have a few seconds of your time to get your zip code– uh, never mind.”

I knew that ankle holster would come in handy.

Line 10 – Rent a Stroller

Little Johnny is still in the ninth grade, so there’s no way he can survive a day of hard touring at the Magic Kingdom without a stroller.

Fortunately, Disney rents them out under the train station, and all you have to do is wait in one more line, shell out eleven-hundred more dollars, and a day of blissful fantasy is yours!

Fortunately, getting the stroller is a breeze because everyone else with you in this tenth line of the day is extremely happy about how everything is going so far.

So write your name proudly with that sharpie, Mom! Wedge yourself into that stroller, Johnny! Tough out that full bladder from the hotel breakfast juice bar, Dad!

It’s time to ride some rides!

… What do you mean my FastPass expired ten minutes ago?

Photo courtesy of HarshLight

Photo courtesy of HarshLight

 

 

The World’s First Traffic Jam

In the classic EPCOT Center attraction, the World of Motion, they based an entire show scene around the idea of the World’s First Traffic Jam, complete with animatronic chickens.

But Disney World’s First (and Worst) Traffic Jam happens every night at the Magic Kingdom. I don’t spend a lot of time musing about the future here (too many old haunts to visit), but I do find it interesting that Disney has finally turned its eye towards the colossal log jam that develops seemingly every single night at the Magic Kingdom. It’s like they’ve suddenly come awake to the problem, after 40 years.

As a local, I will tell you that Magic Kingdom is by far the most involved park to visit — and you know why. The parking lot is a mile away from the park itself. Going to the Magic Kingdom requires an investment in time just to get through the gate. And if you want to go home after the fireworks (i.e. when everyone else wants to go home), it requires even greater stamina.

It’s well known that Walt want the park situated as far from the everyday as possible. The monorail and the ferryboats represent a decompression chamber. As you sail over the Seven Seas Lagoon or glide in through the Contemporary atrium, the real world melts away, replaced by a fantasy land of make believe. It’s all well and good until the kids are tired, your feet are shot, and sixty thousand strong are streaming towards the monorail station.

It seems like in the span of a few months, they have embarked on major efforts to fix this.

First we have the Main Street Back Alley coming to life over behind the Plaza Restaurant. They’ve always used this backstage area as an alternate route through Main Street during heavy crowds, but now they have plans to theme it, which I am all for. It’s interesting to think of Main Street gaining another corridor, and it should be fun to see what they come up with. Anyone who has ever been stuck on Main Street during Wishes will welcome this new path.

Not only that, but the entire Hub is being expanded — hence the recent draining of the moat. I’ve heard grumblings about the loss of green spaces, but I really think Disney has absolutely no choice in this. Either cancel the fireworks, or create a bigger viewing area. Pick your poison. All it’s going to take is for some nutjob to shout “bomb!” during the nightly performance, and there will be a mass panic with lots of injuries due to the body-to-body crowds. And on peak nights (Fourth of July, New Years), you literally cannot move. It’s horrible.

Those efforts help with traffic inside the Magic Kingdom, but they’re doing things outside as well. When I arrived at the TTC earlier this week, Wishes was just about to kick off — meaning the Monorail system was about to get put under heavy load. They actually routed those of us coming into the park onto the Resort Line. It was frustrating for me, because now I had to wait for it to stop at Poly and Grand Floridian on my way in, but I’m sure the reason was to allow faster turnaround of the Express Monorail.

And finally, there is a new Ferryboat dock under construction, both at MK and at the TTC.

The new dock, still under construction at Magic Kingdom. The ferry in the distance is docking at the original dock.

The new dock, still under construction at Magic Kingdom. The ferry in the distance is docking at the original dock.

Ferries are really their best way to add capacity. You can’t add another monorail track without a lot of expense, but you could conceivably add more ferries without much more cost than just the boat itself.

It did get me to thinking about other ways in which to solve some of their problems. I don’t have much of an answer for the monorail/ferry overload. For years I’ve wished for a bridge and sidewalk over that small canal at the end of the Walkway Around the World (the one which houses the Electrical Water Pageant during the day). This would allow me to walk to the Grand Floridian, and from there continue on to the Polynesian and the TTC. It’s a ridiculously long walk, I know, but on the bad nights I wish I had the option. I hate waiting in interminable lines.

For the Fireworks problem, I’d like to see them expand the show a bit. They’ve made the Castle the centerpoint for years, but why can’t they have multiple unique viewing spots? Some fireworks that are centered around Space Mountain or Big Thunder or the Riverboat? That would disperse crowds throughout the performance, freeing up some of the logjam on Main Street. When I was at Disneyland a couple years ago, the Christmas fireworks had fake snow, with several snow points at different spots in the park. We ended up at Small World, and it was much more relaxing and the fireworks were just as good.

Anybody else have some ideas for how to improve the bottlenecks? Maybe we need a third transportation mechanism at the Seven Seas Lagoon. Ziplines over the water? An underwater tunnel? End-of-the-day Monorail FastPass? Maybe we can crowdsource a solution to make life easier. With all the changes happening to Magic Kingdom these days, a better exit strategy would be among the most welcome.

 

The Transportation Codex

In many ways, Walt Disney World is a labyrinth. People used to get lost at Animal Kingdom, did you know that? When it first opened, visitors literally couldn’t find the exit and Disney went through and added a whole bunch of signs and stuff, a few months after opening. Apparently the intentional layout — designed to invite exploration — proved too much for the average family from Iowa. You can still find skeletons of lost souls if you know where to look. People who simply curled up behind a lemonade cart and gave up the ghost. It’s tragic, really.

But aside from just finding your way around, the labyrinth metaphor extends even to those of us who know the parks backwards and forwards. As our understanding deepens, our eyes are opened to new wonders we never knew existed. It’s a giant tootsie pop, and the more we lick, the closer we come to some gooey David Bowie center.

It takes a long time to peel back these layers of the onion, and even though I’m mixing metaphors, I advise you not to mix tootsie pops and onions in real life, because it is not pleasant. But mixing David Bowie with anything is always okay. Anyway, layers… Sometimes the most trivial items can take hold of a man’s fascination and drive him deeper and deeper into new levels of obsession.

On the surface, you have all the reasons people want to visit the parks. Top notch thrill rides, family time, autographs from sweaty college kids. Gradually you begin to understand more about the Disney approach to theming and storytelling. You dig deeper, buy your first Hidden Mickey book. You start collecting insider knowledge, and before you know it, you’re part of a weird fan community on the internet.

But it never stops. There’s always another layer, just beneath the one you’re currently standing on. And sometimes it’s hiding in plain sight.

Do not be fooled by those unofficial transportation collector cards! Accept only the real thing!

I recently obtained the above card during a trip to the Magic Kingdom. I have visited the Magic Kingdom in all the decades of its existence, and not once have I ever been offered an Official Walt Disney World Transportation Collector Card. I never even knew they existed. It wasn’t until I finally had a kid that an attendant approached us and secretly offered us two of these priceless relics for free!

My 2-year-old promptly obliterated one of them, but I salvaged the second one, and was prepared to pass it off as nothing more than those silly little “Magical Moments” they like to give to kids. Now that I have a son, I’m more aware of these things than ever. Mickey stickers are handed out like gateway drugs on every corner. He got some lame Autopia driver’s license, a monorail pilot’s license, a whole bunch of crap from Innoventions, and even a “Compensatory Star Tours FastPass for your Entire Family When You Finally Grow A Few More Inches.”

These things are harmless really. A chance to distract kids with bright pictures while waiting for mundane things like riding the monorail or failing the height stick. They’re cheap bits of fluff, hold attention for approximately 58.4 seconds, and then are quickly disposed of. I can imagine the moms and dads of America finding this stuff wadded into the crevasses of their suitcase the next time they pull out the luggage for a family trip. It probably garners a brief, nostalgic memory of their Disney trip eight months ago, and then gets promptly tossed in the garbage.

I took the card, marveled at Disney’s assumption that anyone (even a 2-year-old who can’t read) would think a Transportation Collector Card was even going to cause a blip in the attention radar, and turned it over to read the back.

Fun facts about both monorails AND crickets! And a hidden mickey, for you hidden mickey freaks! Did you find it?

There is absolutely nothing of interest here to fans. Even if you didn’t know the maximum speed of a Walt Disney World monorail, did you really care? And who doesn’t know who Jiminy Cricket is?

I admit the Pinocchio Village Haus Hidden Mickey fact is okay, but you wouldn’t rush straight there to hunt for it. The card is a bit of garbage, just as we thought.

Except for that little line: “17 of 25.”

I stopped and re-read it. This isn’t just a bit of monorail fluff. This is one of an entire series. A series of collectible cards built around the Walt Disney World transportation system! Somebody sat down and painstakingly designed the entire set. Distributed it to various modes of transportation around property. Dared me to collect all 25!

Our brains are trained to ignore this stuff. Through experience and societal evolution, we have built-in filters that send this kind of manufactured puffery right past our logic circuits and into the garbage disposal. But if you give logic a chance, it can sometimes blow your mind.

Think about it. Can you even name 25 different modes of Walt Disney World transportation? Monorail, bus, tram, ferry, boat… seriously, I’m running out now. I guess you could start splitting the boats out into different styles. The smaller launches that service Poly and Grand Floridian. The Friendships at the Epcot resort. Maybe Magical Express gets its own card.

Yet some evil genius not only came up with 25 modes of transportation, he planted collectible cards at each one of them all over the property. A game about the most boring aspect of a Walt Disney World vacation. Unadvertised. Available only to cute toddlers. When the attendants don’t have anything better to do. An audience that has no concept of just how logically confounding these items are that they hold in their grubby little hands. It’s downright diabolical.

Now that I know these other 24 cards exist, there’s a part of me that’s obsessed with finding them. What if there are modes of transportation that I never knew existed! What if this is like Scientology, where only the Level Five fans get to use the Blizzard Beach pack mules, or the Downtown Disney transporter room? Are there Freemasons hang-gliding off the Contemporary rooftop as we speak?

It’s like stumbling onto an entire DaVinci code treasure hunt, buried in the unassuming transportation infrastructure of a massive resort complex.

The quest is on, ladies and gentlemen. And in this short of a race, there’s no prize for finishing second. I will solve this puzzle through the sheer power of my own magnificent brain. Forget those complete sets of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom spell cards. Those things can be had for mere hundreds on eBay. But a complete set of Walt Disney World Transportation collector cards? You can’t put a value on that.