The Art of Attractions - October 2017

Using his TapuTapu wristband, a Volcano Bay guest locks in his ride-time reservation at a ride totem. (Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

The Line Ends Here

by Arthur Levine

Lines are the bane of attractions and their visitors. No matter how many interactive experiences or other distractions designers incorporate into queues, guests aren’t fond of inching along in them. And every minute visitors spend in line is a minute (and a potential chunk of change) they can’t spend in a park’s shops or food and beverage locations.

Attractions have developed all kinds of strategies to mitigate lines, including time tickets, ride-reservation systems, and free-roaming queues in which guests wait in a pre-show area but are allowed to move about and explore the space. But what if parks eliminated lines altogether? That’s the bold concept behind TapuTapu, the integrated wearable system Universal Orlando introduced this summer at its Volcano Bay water park.

At its core, TapuTapu is a ride-reservation system. But unlike nearly every other park’s reservation program, there are no standby lines at Volcano Bay. The only way to soar down a slide or access any ride that would otherwise require a line is to make a reservation. Visitors are issued tricked-out, waterproof TapuTapu bracelets when they enter the park; they then reserve spots in a virtual line by tapping their wearables at kiosks in front of the attractions. While they wait to ride, they can float down the lazy rivers, frolic in the wave pool, enjoy the water-play areas, grab a bite, lounge on a chair, or do other activities instead of inching along in a line.

The wearable technology also allows guests to blast one another with water guns or initiate other effects at TapTu Play stations throughout the park. They could take selfies without their phones at Universal’s TapTu Snap spots. And visitors could make purchases using the park’s cashless TapTu Pay feature.

“This is the tip of the iceberg for us. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s kind of hard to put it back in,” Jason ­Surrell, creative director for Universal Creative, told me when I visited Universal Orlando earlier this year. He was referring to the Virtual Line system he helped develop for the “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” attraction (which opened this spring at Universal Studios Florida), but TapuTapu is a natural progression. As with Volcano Bay’s slides, guests waiting to experience “Race” are free to roam around Universal Studios Florida until it is time for them to compete against “The Tonight Show” host.

Surrell sees Virtual Line and TapuTapu as Universal’s opening salvos in the war on lines—a war that he believes attractions will eventually win. “It could be 10 years; it could be one generation. But we are going to get to a point where a kid will go to a theme park and say, ‘What’s a line? I don’t know what you’re talking about, Grandpa.’”

What are your attractions doing to eliminate queues or lessen their burden? It’s time to get in line and join the battle.

I’ll see you at the parks. But maybe not while waiting in line.

A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.