Waiting in Line
Have you ever been in line for a Disney attraction only to hear over the loud speaker that attraction has stopped running, come back later? Or worst yet you were in an attraction when that happened? Well "downtime" is on the minds of everyone at the parks and Imagineering. Even an uptime of 99% could translate to 10 minutes of downtime a day (did I do that math right?). You get the picture. If you have been to the park a lot you will begin to realize that some attractions seem to never be "down" while others seem to be "down" every time you are at the park. It is probably not down EVERY time, it just seems that way.
The Disney terminology for an attraction out of service is 101 (pronounced one-oh-one). After opening Big Thunder WDW in 1980, I would hear over the maintenance radio, "Big Thunder is one oh one". I always hated that one. But then you hear later Big Thunder is one oh two (102) which means it is running again. Well as time went on more codes were added, for example, for an attraction being up and running but at reduced capacity. There are many reports discussing attraction availability sent to the appropriate staff. Just after a new attraction opens, specific managers and engineers at Imagineering who worked on the project get these daily reports to see if any downtime could be avoided by any changes to the new attraction system. This usually goes on for a few months.
What causes most downtimes?
I don't have all that mountain of data to analyze to give you the proper answer. If I did it would be a long complicated answer because there is no silver bullet, no one answer. There are people whose job it is just to analyze this data and make changes to the design, operation, or maintenance of these attractions. In my previous jobs I worked on industrial systems that the public never saw. They never saw systems stopping for a period of time and then being restarted. You would never know that a package sat an extra 30 minutes on a conveyor at USPS or Amazon before reaching your home ontime.
I'll interject here that when you think of downtime we all think of rides and not shows. Rarely does a theater attraction stop running.
My personal thought is that guests create many downtimes. Almost all not their fault. Almost all rollercoasters, for example, must load and unload guests at a specific rate. If guests take too long getting in or out of a vehicle for any reason, vehicles backup and the ride shuts down. Unfortunately restart of these type of rides can take 30 or so minutes. Hey, those Ride Imagineers can do a better job making rides that are not sensitive to us humans! Right! Well, yes, that is on the minds of every Ride Imagineer.
In contrast, a dark ride, think Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, it takes 30 seconds, if anytime to restart the ride. Also think about guest standing up in a vehicle in the middle of a ride. They may be asked to sit down, but if they don't in time, the ride stops. Jungle Cruise goes years without a downtime. They are individual boats with no central system and an operator in every boat. If one boat stops working in the middle of the ride, the boat behind it is designed to come along and push the stopped boat into the station. No downtime.
I am going out on a limb here and saying I think the next reason is these complicated systems, the system thinks there is something wrong when there is nothing wrong. Think of the computer as a person who hits the stop button because they think they saw something. It could be a momentary splash of water on a sensor saying a phantom boat has appeared out of nowhere. Hey, those Ride Imagineers can do a better job making rides that are not sensitive to.. Yes, they are working on this as well. When this happen someone must determine this is the case which takes some time and then the ride can be restarted.
Of course like any mechanical or electrical or electronic system, parts do fail and need to be repaired. There is so much preventive maintenance that this is near the bottom of the list of reasons.
So none of the above is really an accurate assessment, it is just a discussion to give you an idea of the types of challenges faced by Ride Imagineers designing a new ride system.
Reliability vs. Creative Ideas
So the expected downtime of each type of ride is different. So when Imagineers have an idea for a new attraction, they discuss this with other Imagineers (engineers) and parks operation and maintenance personnel to see what is the most reliable way to give the guest the desired experience. As time has gone on and many others are building themed parks, and the public has become more sophisticated, it is harder to open a new attraction with an old ride system and just a new story overlay.
Without discussing particulars, when I left WDI, we had been working on a great creative attraction idea and we had designed three different ride systems to give the guest this wonderful experience. None of those ideas were practical enough for both cost and reliability to be built. So it was (and is) back to the drawing board to come up with yet a better idea!
So I wrote this just to say reliability is very important to every Imagineer and it can sometimes be challenging to create a fun, new, creative ride experience while figuring out ways to make it the most reliable so the most number of guests can enjoy the intended experience.
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