Disney Parks’ Ride Stoppages and Wait Times Grow as Ticket Prices Rise

Amie Gasabyan was riding the Indiana Jones Adventure thrill ride at Disneyland with her 9-year-old daughter Ella on a recent weekday when it lurched to a halt in a pitch-black tunnel.

Ms. Gasabyan told her daughter to stay calm and that this happens all the time. The ride started up again after about seven minutes.

Unplanned ride stoppages and wait times at

Walt Disney Co.

DIS 0.38%

’s theme parks are on the rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of statistics from three amusement-park data providers. The problems are worsening as Disney raises prices broadly at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Average monthly ride stoppages rose 58% at Disneyland from 2018 to 2022 as of late September and rose 42% at Walt Disney World over the same period, according to WDW Stats, a website that tracks the status of rides at Disney parks and logs how long interruptions last. Total ride stoppages fell at the parks in 2020 in part because both Disneyland and Walt Disney World were closed for months due to the pandemic.

In Orlando, Fla., at Walt Disney World, the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride is down an average of 118 minutes a day this year, according to data compiled by Thrill Data and Touring Plans, two other services that help visitors plan trips to theme parks. That is up from 104 minutes a day on average in 2020, the year the ride opened.

The average wait time across all rides at Hollywood Studios, a theme park at Walt Disney World that is home to some of the resort’s most popular rides, rose from 39 minutes in 2019 to 49 minutes in 2022, while the average wait time for the park’s eight most popular attractions, including Rise of the Resistance and Tower of Terror, rose from 61 minutes to 71 minutes over the same period, according to statistics compiled by Thrill Data.

Disney disputed the notion that stoppages and wait times have risen. A spokeswoman said the data used in the Journal’s analysis is incomplete and don’t match Disney’s internal metrics. “Our source data shows that Disney’s ride reliability remains strong and is consistent with prior years,” said the spokeswoman, who declined to share internal data.

Average wait times for the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World theme parks

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

Remy’s Ratatouille

Adventure

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

Remy’s

Ratatouille

Adventure

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

Remy’s

Ratatouille

Adventure

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

Remy’s

Ratatouille

Adventure

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

Remy’s

Ratatouille

Adventure

Ideally, a visitor to a theme park would experience 1.5 attractions an hour, said

Dennis Speigel,

chief executive and founder of consulting firm International Theme Park Services, so “they’re not stuck in a queue, waiting in the heat.”

In recent years, the average wait time for some of the most popular rides at Disney’s theme parks has exceeded one hour, according to Touring Plans data.

Disney’s theme parks are taking on more strategic importance within the company. Over the past year, the company has streamlined its parks and experiences division, raised prices and added new technology features that cost visitors extra and have helped drive record revenues and profits, which have helped make up for billions in losses at Disney’s streaming business.

Disruptions are more common on intricate rides such as the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland.



Photo:

Jeff Gritchen/Zuma Press

On Tuesday, the company said it would raise the minimum price for one-day single-park admissions tickets at three of its four theme parks within Walt Disney World for the first time in more than three years. Starting Dec. 8, it will cost between $124 and $189 to enter Magic Kingdom Park with a one-day ticket, depending on the day, up from $109 to $159.

Disruptions are more common on some of Disney’s more intricate attractions, including Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and the Indiana Jones ride, data show. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland has had 540 unplanned stoppages this year through mid-September, up from 490 for the whole of 2021, according to WDW Stats. Simpler rides such as Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes and Autopia stop less frequently, WDW Stats data show. Disney says that its internal statistics don’t indicate that more complex rides break down more often but declined to share that data.

Disney says most stoppages result from bad weather, maintenance needs and guest interactions with the attractions, such as dropped cellphones or guests who need assistance exiting a ride.

Unplanned stoppages by ride in 2022, top five at each park

Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure

Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

Prince Charming

Regal Carrousel

Tomorrowland Transit

Authority PeopleMover

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure

Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

Prince Charming

Regal Carrousel

Tomorrowland Transit

Authority PeopleMover

Star Wars: Rise

of the Resistance

On a recent Friday, the posted wait time for Rise of the Resistance reached seven hours, though later in the day it dropped to 105 minutes, according to Disney park apps. Disney attributed this to a “sign glitch” that incorrectly showed visitors a wait time that was double what the app should have shown.

Struggles with downtime aren’t unique to Disney. At Universal Orlando Resort, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster is down for more than 105 minutes a day on average, according to Thrill Data, a long wait by most theme park standards. A Universal Parks & Resorts spokesman said that most of VelociCoaster’s stoppages are the result of heavy rain or lightning.

Stoppages are particularly vexing for visitors who have paid extra to nab a good spot in line for their favorite rides. Last December, Melissa Massardo and her husband paid a premium to stay at a Disney-owned hotel to take advantage of a perk offered to hotel guests: 30 minutes of early entrance to the park.

The couple said they rushed to the front of the line for Rise of the Resistance, their favorite ride, but it was out of service. After nearly an hour, they ditched the line, but found that other rides already had lengthy waits.

“It was just incredibly frustrating to witness the time ticking away that we had paid for, with no real communication” about when the ride would come back online, Ms. Massardo said.

Ms. Massardo’s dilemma is a common one, says Liz Bouzarth, a math professor at Furman University in South Carolina who has studied ride stoppages at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. When the popular rides stop, nearby attractions see longer lines, she said.

Rise of the Resistance lasts about 20 minutes and features dozens of lifelike, animatronic storm troopers, new footage of Star Wars movie actors, cinematic special effects and trackless carts that make the riders feel like they’re inside a galactic space battle. It took years to build and cost roughly $450 million for each version in California and Florida, according to former Disney employees who were involved with the rides’ development.

The ride is one of what’s known within the company as an intent-to-visit attraction, meaning they alone can motivate people to visit a Disney theme park, said Jim Shull, who worked from 1988 to 2020 as a Disney imagineer, a title for the company’s theme park designers.

Downtime struggles aren’t unique to Disney rides. Universal Orlando Resort’s Jurassic World VelociCoaster is down for more than 105 minutes a day on average, according to Thrill Data.



Photo:

Dewayne Bevil/Zuma Press

These rides come with trade-offs: The experience is innovative and thrilling but has so many elements that glitches are more frequent and take longer to address, Mr. Shull said.

One frequent source of breakdowns on the Star Wars ride involves a simulated explosion and an automated curtain that sometimes gets stuck as it lowers to protect riders from an advancing animatronic version of Kylo Ren, the dark warlord, said Mr. Shull.

“A hundred things could go wrong with that final scene with Kylo Ren alone,” Mr. Shull said. “Is it a power shortage? A software update? They didn’t put enough lube on the actuator? Some problems are easy, you flip a switch and it’s fixed, but others are major fixes.”

The innovation behind Rise of the Resistance makes for better storytelling and more memorable experiences, the Disney spokeswoman said. “We will continue to fine tune as our guests experience it 365 days a year,” she said.

How Data on Ride Stoppages and Wait Times Were Tallied

  • The three data providers used in this WSJ analysis, WDW Stats, Thrill Data and Touring Plans, rely on data feeds from Disney’s smartphone apps. Visitors to Disney theme parks use those apps to monitor how long they would have to wait at various times throughout the day to get on attractions at the parks. The app shows these wait times on an interactive map so that visitors can plan their days and avoid long lines.
  • WDW Stats uses an algorithm that scrapes data from the apps and records every time a ride changes status from “operating” to “interrupted,” then logs the change and notes how long it remains interrupted. WDW Stats enters this data into a database that allows it to analyze trends at the theme parks.
  • Thrill Data has a similar approach, but records only stoppages that last 10 minutes or longer. Touring Plans uses data gleaned from the apps and tracks stoppages of seven minutes or longer, but also has personnel inside Walt Disney World who provide in-person updates on ride status. Both Thrill Data and Touring Plans also scrape data from apps to track wait times for every ride at Disney’s Florida resort, while Touring Plans looks at both the “posted” wait time that Disney provides to visitors and the “actual” wait time, based on data it collects from its own app, using a stopwatch feature that allows visitors to measure how long they stand in a queue.

Write to Robbie Whelan at [email protected] and Jacob Passy at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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