Sunday, August 27, 2006

They Stood at the Foot of the Mount

Disneyland is truly magical. Nibbling away at it for 50 years, Mickey has really perfected the process of managing enormous crowds, and crafting an incredible backdrop to enhance the user experience. Scenic facades obstruct every view of industrial Anaheim so that the eye cannot see past the Magic Kingdom. Even the staff's costumes and the waste baskets' decorations are interesting and contextual for their locations. Furry critters entertain you at the breakfast table, and their nightly parade--watch it as many times as you can from different points along Main Street--is followed by fireworks that will ruin your July 4th.

My family and my sister's weren't the only ones there for a last hurrah of summer, so Line Management was top of mind. The FAST-PASSes (reservations for the rides) worked great in the California Adventure Park, the newer part of Disneyland that has (i) better rides than the original Magic Kingdom park (and a great stage performance of Alladin), (ii) a direct entrance from the Grand Californian Hotel, and (iii) much shorter lines.

But FAST-PASSes don't work well in the Magic Kingdom park--the reservation times would stretch out 6 or 7 hours, and each ticket can have only one outstanding reservation. So even though the kids really wanted to ride Splash Mountain, none of us were up for the 90 minute line. Who has time for this?

Fortunately, our kids were creative, scientific, and motivated. They "scanned the ports," discovering an unmarked Singles Line with a 2 minute wait. They also observed that the passenger logs careening through the mountain have only single seats anyway. So we rode the attraction three times in a span of 25 minutes.

As we left, we saw the same poor souls in line, with little progress to show. My son asked me why they don't do what we did. So as we walked along the line we shared our observations, repeating, "TWO-MINUTE WAIT IN THE SINGLES LINE! TWO-MINUTE WAIT IN THE SINGLES LINE!... "

I guess I didn't expect all of them to move, but I was surprised to see NONE of them budge. They heard our words, they looked, and they just stood there. Having already invested 30, 45, or 60 minutes in their folly, cognitive dissonance clouded their faculties. They didn't even dispatch a family scout to investigate our claim. They just stood their ground, silently and creepily resigned to their fate.

As we approached the beginning of the line, finally one man perked up at our news. Animated, he turned to his group to re-consider their strategy. I couldn't hear the content of the consultation, but a few seconds later he visibly slumped, quietly and literally falling back into line. Oh well.

Skepticism is hard when it demands the concession of long-held notions. The more time and energy invested in a belief, the more challenging it is to shake it. I have seen entrepreneurs bang their heads against the wall 5 years after the market ruled against them. And we have all seen how hard it is to acknowledge even overwhelming evidence that vacates age-old mythologies.

I'm so glad my kids are smarter than that. Thanks to their critical thinking, we all enjoyed a couple extra doses of Disney magic.

Blogged with Flock


  1. I am often amazed to see our willingness NOT to abandon our preset expectations, and our preset behaviors. Once we get on a queue (or listen to a song, etc.), it's hard to move to another choice. You can see the same thing at oddly designed airports. San Jose has two security lines that go the same place, but the signs are confusing. So one line is always long, and the other usually empty. Oakland has the same behavior. And it's really hard to get people to move from one line to the other.

    Apaprently, the calculus works something like "i am already committed to this line, and risk unknown losses if I move to that line, so I'll stay here, even though I have some information of unknown quality suggesting there is a big upside over there."

    Seems like some version of Kahneman and Tversky's "losses loom larger than gains" heuristic (see,

    It's also a little creepy that our blog postings from the same day are, coincidentally, on closely related topics.

  2. Anonymous2:33 PM

    I know what you mean. My wife and I were in Italy in one of the more touristy towns. There were 5 big things that you could see and as it happened we started off at the least popular one. When buying our tickets we found out that we could get a group ticket for all 5 sights - and as a result skip all ticket lineups. We walked right up to the most popular sight (a big Cathedral) and past a huge, minimum 1 hour lineup - ticket sales had been halted as too many tickets had been sold already. As we walked out, I made a point of talking to my wife VERY LOUDLY about what we had done. People in the line clearly heard us and had even seen us walking in and out of the cathedral. No takers. Undetered I started talking to the line in general, talking about what we had done. Again, no takers. Finally, I walked up to one family and explained in 30 seconds what I had done - they immediately followed our advice. The people on either side of them did nothing.

  3. Anonymous12:08 PM

    If you ever get the chance to tour the underground operations at Disney World (dunno how Disney Land operates) jump on it.
    The logistical and organizaional efficiencies are astounding. far more entertaining than any ride the park could offer. And I was 10.