Ah . . . the magic of Disney . . . a place of star dust and flying elephants and where dreams really do come true. If you’re three. Now, if you’re fifty-three and driving there from Portland and then standing in line there, the magic of Disney is in the queues.
As Walt himself might say, let’s journey back in time . . . to July 17, 1955 . . . opening day for Disneyland. And we see the harbinger of lines to come, but Disney would learn from this bleak ride-to-shining-ride line. Back in the day, people in line knew they were in a long line. Nowadays, the Imagineers at Disney have gotten quite cagey about queues. And they had to since every day, nearly 40,ooo people enter the enchanted land, hoping for endurable memories. That’s Forty-thousand. On the Oregon scale of things, that’s like Albany (our 13th largest city) filling and emptying itself every day.
All I could do was dream of the moment when I might bypass all the poor saps in a line, and be cartoon-ushered in from a special mouse-ear shaped door and brought to the front of the line. And behold, it was done unto me. And thousands of others through the Fast Pass system, first begun in 1999, for the high profile rides like Indiana Jones or the Matterhorn. The Fast Pass takes a percentage of people out of the queue, and essentially schedules them for later in the day; those who choose to wait the old-fashioned way do so in what’s now called the “Stand-by Line.” Fast Pass patrons know they have a reserved time-window through which they may pass to, say, Splash Mountain, and – in the meantime – they can go stand in some other line.
But queuing paths are now so cleverly conceived that it’s really hard to tell where you are in line. Think you’re jumping way ahead of people with a Fast Pass, as we did with Indiana Jones – our dreams were really about to come true! – but we still ended up in a line that snaked and curved and shunted and cut back through ancient ruins and scene sets and false creep-crawly spiders from the movie. After a while, I started to think that the line itself was the ride.
In a way, it is what they had to do. Even with Fast Pass – moving the wait time to some other part of the day – there would still be lines. And we know this about congestion: if a line seems short, word gets out; other people will get in line. The legendary lines that encircled the Matterhorn at its opening have not really diminished in 41 years; even when Disney doubled the capacity by building Splash Mountain or found ways to instantaneously add queue capacity, people keep coming to the ride (not quite four minutes in length). In systems language, every queue has its constraints. But I’ll leave that for another day.
For the Joy family, the shortest wait time of any ride was the brief wait for the shuttle ride out of the park. It was a dream come true.