Attendance at Disneyworld has grown by 14% since 2008, which has given rise to an entire ecosystem of official and third party ways to combat the crowds and plan the most efficient visit. Last year, when I started planning our trip, I knew we had to get “FastPass” reservations for rides like the brand-new Avatar Flight of Passage at the earliest possible opportunity, which in our case was 60 days before we arrived, otherwise we’d face waits of two to four(!) hours in line.
I was prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared to have to reserve tables for sit-down restaurants over a month in advance, or discovering that we needed to order our fast food choices and snacks in advance if we didn’t want to endure long queues. But I did it, and in the end – on our first visit – we were able to hit up practically every single ride and show in Disneyworld in just a few days, waiting no longer than 30 minutes in line, with most waits being just 5-10 minutes.
Achieving this required the relentless, single-minded use of the My Disney Experience app, which handles all FastPass reservations, booking and ordering at sit-down and ‘quick service’ restaurants in advance, and displays live wait times for almost all attractions. It also required flexibility and opportunism – if a desirable ride’s wait time was unexpectedly short, we’d change our plans and rebook FastPasses. It got to the point where I was looking up the length of shows and attractions to figure out if we could fit them in and make it to the next ride in time, in a more complex version of the Travelling Salesman problem.
You don’t need to do any of this, of course. But you’d be literally wasting your time and money if you didn’t – and when tickets to Disneyland cost well over $200 per day for a couple, avoiding spending a quarter or third of your time in lines isn’t just for obsessives.
And so you’ll see plenty of people fiddling with the My Disney Experience app at the park. Yet as far as I could tell, most people weren’t – and very few were using the app to the degree that we were. That helped us, but I felt bad for those who, for whatever reason, endured gruelling waits while we zoomed by in the FastPass line.
I believe there’s a better way. Not just to get more people enrolled in the app and booking rides and food in advance; not just to save obsessives like myself from checking the app all the time; but to make Disneyworld more money.
Hollywood Studios lived up to its reputation as “the half day park”. The problem is that the theming of “hey, we’re in Hollywood” just isn’t as interesting or as resonant as it used to be, certainly not compared to other parks or even Epcot. Which is I guess why they’re adding on Toy Story and Star Wars-themed lands.
Star Tours was good fun, as usual. We saw what must have been a fairly new video, since it had The Last Jedi footage and we landed in Galaxy’s Edge, the upcoming Star Wars land. This will be a fantastic introduction to Galaxy’s Edge but it doesn’t make much sense to guests right now, particularly the intro, which leaves you wondering why ‘Star Tours’ starts out on an enemy ship to begin with.
Some of Muppetvision 3D’s jokes are still good (“We’re doing a tribute to all the nations in the world, but mostly America”), but overall it needs updating. Since The Muppets are apparently getting rebooted, maybe this will happen sooner rather than later.
I never watched The Twilight Zone, so whenever I ride The Tower of Terror it always reminds me of Futurama’s loving parody, The Scary Door. Sadly, some of the kids we rode with declared it ‘boring’, presumably in comparison to the Guardians of the Galaxy version in Disneyland.
Star Wars Launch Bay is a bizarrely office-like structure full of movie models and character encounters. A stopgap solution until Galaxy’s Edge is built.
Walt Disney Presents is worth a wander through.
We caught the Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away stage show, a weird medley of dramatic scenes from all nine(!) Star Wars movies plus live actors. I was mostly impressed by the screen that remained bright even in full noon sunlight.
Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular was entertaining.
Toy Story Mania, a shooting gallery game with 3D glasses and moving cars, was a blast and felt more fun than it conceptually should have been. I don’t know if it’s the action of pulling a string to fire a gun, or the atmosphere, or the 3D, or the moving cars, or everything put together, but it felt good. Not sure it justifies two hour wait times, but I guess there’s not much else to do in Hollywood Studios.
Lunch at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Great theming and our attendant wasn’t as bothersome as we’d feared.
Perhaps due to the new Avatar ‘Pandora’ land, I had the idea that Animal Kingdom was basically an animal-themed park without real animals. Of course in reality it’s more like a zoo and safari park, which is pretty neat. Like many other parts of Disneyworld, the African and Asian sections suffer from silly stereotypes that need to be updated.
The free intra-resort bus service has pretty good thus far. In some cases it’s been faster than an Uber, since the buses can usually get closer to the actual entrance of the park. But on average, I think the buses are about 10-15 min slower than Uber, which is not bad given the savings. My main wish is that more stops would have ETA boards; some places do, most don’t.
Blizzard Beach was a lot of fun! Sure, the competition isn’t strong, but this has to be the best watermark I’ve been to. There’s a great range of slides, everything is clean and well-signposted, and all the staff were friendly. We’d read that on park opening you should run to the tallest slide, Summit Plummet, to avoid queues, but the entire park was very quiet. The longest we waited was about 15 minutes, and most slides had barely anyone at all in front.
FYI, while I like near-vertical drops, Summit Plummet wasn’t worth a second ride, whereas Toboggan Racers and the Purple rides were.
Epcot shouldn’t work as a theme park, and yet it does. It’s educational, but not as educational as a museum. It’s fun, but not as fun as the other parks. It’s got miniature versions of other countries… and yeah, those are pretty unique. I don’t say this to knock Epcot – I’m just amazed that Disney keeps it running. I guess the scale helps soak up a lot of visitors, and a lot of the capital expenditures have already been made.
Most of our dream worlds are dystopias. One reason for this is that we feel technology is only producing commercial possibilities while neglecting or distorting the other essential parts of us. It’s not being very library-like. People have an easier time imagining how technology’s influence can go wrong. Our imaginations have a negative flair, and it’s always been this way.
I don’t quite agree with everything he says (the Center for Humane Technology’s survey methodology is worthless) but otherwise the essay is thoughtful and quietly optimistic.
Kids are gonna have cybersex, and parents won’t like that
General-purpose VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are so expensive and fragile that we haven’t yet had to worry about how it’ll affect kids. VR is still like the PalmPilot PDA in 1997, an expensive curiosity for just a million enthusiasts. It has plenty of promise, but it’s not something that decent people have a productive use for.
But just as the PalmPilot evolved into the iPhone and Android and inhabited billions of pockets around the world, so will bulky, pricy VR headsets inevitably evolve into lightweight and cheap glasses or goggles owned by more or less everyone — including kids.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how parents will supervise their children and teenagers in VR. Much depends on how the VR ecosystem pans out: will it become a walled garden like the iTunes App Store, with porn and hate apps completely banned, or will most headsets run a more open operating system where you can install any app you like?
Either way, we’re likely to see new kinds of surveillance tools that allow parents to monitor and manage the VR apps their children use. These tools may also be able to see which kinds of environments they traverse and even identify the types of behaviour they engage in. After all, you don’t need to use a porn app to have cybersex, you can do it pretty much anywhere you like. I expect kids will have AI chaperones to make sure they don’t get up to any funny business in supposedly safe areas.
This will be predictably infuriating for kids, who will easily discover all sorts of workarounds given their unlimited time and infinite desires. They’ll probably set up multiple VR accounts, or use their own AIs to pretend to be them, or jailbreak their VR hardware so they can run ‘unapproved’ software.
I find all of this fascinating. It’s hard enough for parents to know what their kids are doing on their smartphones and tablets as it is, and while many parents claim to look at their kids text messages and apps, and know their email and social media passwords, I wonder quite how well that works when it’s easy for kids to multiple phones and email accounts. Even Disney’s Circle monitor is powerless in the face of cellular data access [Update: apparently they can control cellular data, see comments]
But with VR, you can’t just peer over your kids’ shoulder; it’s completely closed off. Yes, there will be easy ways to view your kid’s point of view in VR (which is disturbing in itself), but you can’t do that all the time; and believe me, your kid will be in VR all the time. So I really do think that parents will be relying on AI agents to monitor their children and notify them when something unusual is happening.
Thankfully for parents, we have a few years until VR gets cheap and good enough to become truly widespread. Maybe even five years. And then all bets are off.
If you want a vision of the future, imagine your arm holding up your iPhone — forever
It has been truly delightful to see all the imaginative augmented reality prototypes made by developers playing around with Apple’s new ARKit framework. It’s only been available for a couple of months, but developers have already gone to town with all sorts of fun ideas:
Amid the excitement, it’s easy to forget that we’ve been here before, many, many times. Back in 2015, Apple acquired Metaio, a German company that provided an SDK (software development kit) that allowed other developers to easily make augmented reality experiences. Two years on, ARKit is no doubt far more powerful and far easier to use than Metaio’s SDK, but the principle is the same.
And so are many of the applications. We’ve seen 3D objects superimposed on the real world on iOS device before, powered by Metaio:
And we’ve seen people plopping down inexpensive furniture into their homes before:
I don’t mean to rain on ARKit’s parade. The ease of use, lack of licensing fees, and sheer power means that we’ll be seeing a greater variety of ideas than we ever did in Metaio’s time, and so it’s entirely possible that someone will figure out an idea that makes phone-based augmented reality really take off. This ARKit-powered measuring tape prototype is actually very neat and useful:
But I don’t think this time is different.
All of these videos you see are incredibly misleading — not because they’re faked (they aren’t), but because they make it seem as if your field of view will be filled with the digital reality.
We usually don’t have to worry about this for videos taken by smartphones because in those cases, it’s actually true: when you watch a video on Snapchat or Instagram, you’re seeing what you’d really see if you were there. But when you watch an augmented reality video, you’re definitely not: instead, you have to imagine you’re holding up a phone at arm’s length, and seeing the video on that phone.
Looking at the world through a 5″ window is never going to be comfortable for longer than a minute. I’m sure there will be specific, short experiences like the measuring tape app that do well, along with some tourism and instructional apps, but I very much doubt we’ll see experiences even as long as 5 minutes, let alone 15 minutes.
As for games, so many of the prototypes are basically placing 3D objects on top of real world 2D planes, like your coffee table:
Forget about accessibility or comfort. I fail to see how this is more fun than a non-AR game that isn’t tied to a flat plane. It would be more innovative for AR games to involve manipulating of objects in the real world to influence the digital world, but that’s decidedly tricky when you’re holding up a phone or tablet.
Before you say “Pokémon Go”, let’s be clear — literally the first thing any decent player does in that game is turn off the augmented reality layer (where the monsters are superimposed on top of the real world camera view) because it eats up your battery and makes the game harder to play.
I don’t buy it. And I don’t think Apple does, either. Unlike Google’s shameful boosting of the dreadful Google Glass, Apple has thus far been comparatively quiet about ARKit. I’m sure they realise that most people don’t want to develop their shoulder muscles by using AR all the time.
No, this is all preparation for their future heads-up display — one that really will fill up your field of vision, be perfectly comfortable to use, utterly desirable, and only barely affordable.
When Disney surveyed the public about a hypothetical immersive Star Wars hotel early this year, it felt like an idea from the future, not an actual commitment. Surely they’d wait until after the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — already a highly ambitious and risky new park area — before starting work on a whole new hotel?
But at this year’s D23 convention in July, Disney confirmed not only that the hotel was real; not only that it’d be fully immersive; but that it’s a pilot for an entire ‘Disney 360 vacation concept’:
According to Bob [Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts], this revolutionary new vacation experience will be a living adventure that allows guests [i.e. paying visitors] to immerse themselves in an entirely new form of Disney storytelling.
“It’s unlike anything that exists today.” Bob said. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”
…which is about when every Star Wars fan on the planet posted shut_up_and_take_my_money.gif
There are two extraordinary things about this announcement.
One: Disney has chosen one of its most valuable crown jewel IPs for what anyone should realise is a highly risky venture. Star Wars may be the best possible fit for an immersive hotel (more on that later) but that only raises the stakes if the tech doesn’t work or the story or acting is bad.
No: Disney’s Star Wars hotel may well cost thousands of dollars for a family, and the entire point of going is the immersive storytelling experience. It’s what they’re paying for, so it has to be sensational.
I’ve spent the past 13 years designing alternate reality games with emails and websites and actors and black helicopters, and smartphone games that make exercising more fun in the real world. I can guarantee that the Star Wars hotel team will be rightly terrified at the scope of what they’re building, and thrilled that they get to be the first people in the world to do it.
But what’s driving Disney to build this ‘360 vacation experience’? Why was it so hard in the past, and (just about) feasible now? What kind of technology might it employ? And most importantly, what will the experience be like?
Disclaimer: My company, Six to Start, has consulted for Disney Imagineering on theme park stuff in the past. It had nothing to do with Star Wars and I have no inside knowledge on what they’re up to.
Why ‘Living Adventures’? And why now?
Disney has a poor track record with immersive storytelling experiences, providing that you look only at its most popular incarnation: videogames.
Over the decades, they’ve tried again and again to develop videogames in-house, with little lasting success. With the shuttering of Lucasarts, Disney Interactive, and the $100 million ‘toys-to-life’ Disney Infinity in recent years, and Star Wars games now farmed out to Electronic Arts (who promptly delivered a game with precisely zero story), it certainly seems as if Disney’s thrown in the towel.
Their heart was never really in it. Disney had to pursue videogames because too much money was at stake, but their most talented storytellers and artists and designers never truly wanted to work on games; movies were where true artistic glory lay. Along with the theme parks, they were the font of all new and refreshed IP, from Toy Story to Frozen to Moana.
More prosaically, I think Disney see themselves as narrative storytellers, and they’ve never figured out how to tell the stories they want to tell in a wholly digital and interactive format while still making bucketloads of money.
It’s tempting to draw comparisons between the Star Wars hotel and videogames. They both involve people interacting with computer systems with the aim of progressing in an immersive, digitally-mediated environment where multiple outcomes are possible, some of which are more desirable than others. You might then conclude that the Star Wars hotel will fail in just the same way as before, with Disney not quite making their stories mesh with a deeply interactive experience. Continue reading “Disney’s Giant Leap Forward”
I was born in the UK — in Birmingham — although obviously I don’t have the accent! My parents came from Hong Kong, but we didn’t visit it until I was a few years old, since it’s quite the trip for any family.
The approach to the old Hong Kong airport in Kowloon Bay is hair-raising. You descend between skyscrapers, so close that you can practically see inside their windows. We were staying with relatives near the airport, which was fun, if noisy.
Me and my brother did the rounds of our aunts and uncles and grandparents, but eventually it was time for my parents to see their own friends. We were left with our cousins and the world’s greatest collection of pirated Famicom and Sega Megadrive videogames.
Now, these cousins. Their great aunt Agatha lived with them. As I was told it, she’d travelled the world, sailed the seas, fallen in love with all sorts of people, and made her fortune. Now in her eighties, she was still as sharp as a tack, with photographic memory and a wickedly funny tongue.
Agatha couldn’t easily walk any more, so more often than not, she’d sit in her armchair in the corner, situated just so she could see the whole living room and kitchen and hallway, and watch everyone coming and going. She wanted to know what was going on in the home, but more importantly, she wanted to be useful — and she was.
If you were on your way out but you’d forgotten to get pick up your keys, auntie Agatha would remind you (very loudly). If you were looking around for a letter or book you’d misplaced, she’d know precisely where you’d left it. She’d even watch you while you were doing your chores and tell you just which spots you’d forgotten to dust. Her job, as she saw it, was to help the household flourish, and keep them safe.
I’m sure some of you have figured out where I’m going with this. Almost forty years later, we all have auntie Agathas, watching over us in every room of our homes.
Today, in 2027
8 out of 10 households in the UK and US now have multiple home cameras. It’s one of the most astonishing success stories in the history of technology, with an adoption curve almost as impressive as smartphones in the previous decade. But unlike smartphones, we’ve bought many more than one per person.
What fuelled the rise of home cameras? Let’s start with the devices themselves.
Why did the home camera revolution only begin in 2018 and not earlier? Fast and cheap internet was an essential condition, allowing owners to monitor their homes on the move and abroad. Another boost came from the ‘smartphone dividend’, which reduced the price of camera components.
But beyond 2018, two technological revolutions fuelled the rise of home cameras: charging and sensors.
Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that almost all home cameras in the mid-teens were wired. These cameras had no batteries and had to be tethered to a power outlet at all times, constraining their placement within homes and generally causing an unsightly mess.
From 2018 to 2023, home cameras adopted batteries lasting one week to one month — a massive improvement over tethering, as they could be mounted anywhere, including outdoors and in bathrooms — but arguably more irritating than wires, as their “low-power” chirping became a frequent sound in many homes.
It wasn’t until the full rollout of resonance charging, or more broadly speaking, ‘charging at a distance’, that cameras truly permeated every room and corner of our homes. Freed from the need to be wired or retrieved every month, and completely weatherproofed, they were stuck in the corners of ceilings, thrown onto roofs, hung on walls, mounted on gates, and balanced precariously on shelves. Providing they remained within range of a resonance station, they could be placed and forgotten for years.
The improvement in the sensor capabilities of home cameras has been even more extraordinary. In 2018, most cameras had a laughably-named ‘high-definition’ resolution of 1920 x 1080 — barely enough to distinguish small objects across a room. Matters were soon improved with the introduction of ‘High Speed 4K’ sensors that could examine minute changes in skin bloodflow to monitor people’s heartrate and emotional state. Soon after, cameras reached beyond the visible spectrum to infrared and ultraviolet, essential for home security and health applications.
It wasn’t until the introduction of multipath LIDAR in 2024 that the supremacy of cameras in our hearts and homes was assured. Various primitive forms of LIDAR had been present in earlier cameras, as an aid to home VR and augmented reality through precision depth mapping and 3D positioning. Multipath LIDAR, however, multiplied the reach of our cameras by using reflections to see around corners into other rooms; to interpolate new camera angles; and to even see inside objects. It finally provided total awareness of all objects within a home, without the need for excessive numbers of cameras.
In fact, the most advanced multipath systems now pose a threat to the business model of the camera manufacturers who’ve emphasised quantity over quality. Now that a single camera can take the place of many, it’s likely that overall camera shipments could begin falling.
It is 100% impossible for humanity to invent a technology superior to printed books. Who doesn’t love the feel of the printed page, suffused with organic volatiles that emit its distinctive scent, bound into a form so perfect that it’s hard to believe humans invented it, that –
Me. I don’t love printed books.
Now, I own hundreds of printed books. Some of my best friends are printed books. And yet I prefer to read books on my phone and tablet. Call me old fashioned, but you just can’t beat a good backlit screen that you can read in the dark.