Many attractions won’t have the budget to look at new rides or experiences this year. 

A low cost upgrade or ‘refresh’ might take the form of new bespoke content and hardware for queue line and pre-show areas to update and lengthen existing experiences.

What’s certain for the foreseeable future, is that wait times are going to be extended as capacities are scaled back, and cleaning requirements are scaled up. What was previously a ten-minute queue, could become a thirty-minute wait… opening the door to opportunities that make the most of a captive audience, and giving new life to old installations.

Some of the world’s greatest parks meticulously plan for the queueing area with engaging storytelling and seamless technology design that leads up to the physical ‘ride’. For any theme park, the ride is actually the climax of the experience… the end game! Often, the queue-line and wait zones are forgotten.

At a basic level, investment in audio and lighting are likely going to be a requirement as traffic light systems enable audiences to self-govern their queue space and ensure correct social distancing.

A small ‘pre show’ just prior to the loading area can also help to space out guests prior to boarding a ride vehicle – as seen at Alton Towers’ Wicker Man

While guests are waiting though, how do you keep them entertained? How do you make sure they aren’t aimlessly checking email or the latest TikTok trend?

Embracing mobile phone technology with the use of custom apps and augmented reality (AR), can actually heighten the sense of experience engagement. Japan’s new Supernintendo World has featured this as part of their Mario Kart experience. While Disney has also started to use mobile phone AR as part of park-based scavenger hunts – putting markers on attractions to keep visitors engaged and ‘within the themed world’. 

Operationally, it also allows parks to monitor and manage visit placement and deliver advertising and incentives, as well as offering an engaging queue-line experience alternative. 

From a creative and storytelling perspective, content houses relish the opportunity to extend the story beyond the ride itself. It offers so much more real-estate to deliver the message, and to introduce smaller details that are often what pull an experience together.

Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train does this incredibly well. While waiting, guests are invited to engage with ‘diamonds’ around a table. If everyone engages at the same time… a projection of Snow White appears.

Similarly, the Mystic Timbers roller coaster at Cedar Fair’s Kings Island in Mason, Ohio takes guests into a small dark ‘shed’ once the ride comes to an end – joining up with the queue experience that featured monitors and audio with bespoke content. They turned a 2-minute roller coaster journey into an end-to-end experience.

This ride also has a great queue-line experience. After guests have walked past a crashed truck with flickering lights still running, they see CCTV screens inside a guards shed which runs clips of other guests ‘breaking in’ to the ride. As the experience goes on, audio feeds from walkie talkies to progress the story – leading to the big thrill moment of the ride.

Small moments of interactivity, whether physical or digital, really count. Disney’s Indiana Jones ride invites guests to pull on a rope that says ‘don’t pull’ and extends down a hole. Obviously guests are compelled to pull the rope, which triggers audio of a man falling away down the hole. Also at Disney, the Winnie the Pooh queue-line has large portrait monitors covered in digital ‘honey’ which clears to reveal characters from the story as guests wave their hands in front of the displays.

Engaging audiences is more important than ever, and giving careful consideration to every detail is what will set one experience apart from another.

The beauty of the pre-show, queue area is that it is entirely scalable to your budget. If budgets are tight, audio-only experiences can make all the difference. If there’s budget available, then this can be scaled up to a full CGI production with all the required hardware designed and integrated. Pre-show ‘event’s can also be triggered locally, rather than on a fixed loop, so that guests can still experience every event even when there isn’t a queue.

While rethinking the design and layout of an attraction to accommodate extended wait times is not a bad thing, often the best interactive immersive queues are the ones that use subtle technology choices and compelling content to transform a boring, passive queue into an unforgettable experience.