Disney's New Attraction: The Happiest Lines On Earth

A full moon over Cinderella Castle at Disney World on December 21, 2010 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

A full moon over Cinderella Castle at Disney World on Dec. 21, 2010, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. David Roark/Disney/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption David Roark/Disney/Getty Images

The New York Times reported this week that Disney World is using high-tech gadgetry to manage long lines at the theme park. In a subterranean command center, video cameras and digital maps with traffic-light colors show where wait times are longest.

Too many people at Space Mountain? An impromptu parade can draw folks over to Splash Mountain instead. Or maybe Mickey will appear to entertain the long line of tired parents and cranky tots.

When I first read about this, I thought — fantastic! We've been to Disneyland. At spring break, of course. The euphoria wore off as soon as we became trapped amid the snaking rope lines at Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

Quick — what's in my purse? Oops, didn't think to bring toys. The snacks are gone. Uh oh, now we've run out of water. It was — we timed it — an astounding 45-minute wait for ... 90 seconds of flying through the air.

My husband and I launched our own commando operation, trying to distract our poor boys from the most popular attractions. Let's just say we spent an inordinate amount of time clambering around the line-free Goofy's Playhouse and Donald's Boat.

So, shorter lines? Yes, please. But I find something else about Disney's crowd management a little disturbing. Park officials say they felt compelled to liven up the experience of waiting since people today expect to be constantly entertained. The era of smart phones and video games, they say, has made us more impatient. So Disney has added its own video game stations — 87 of them line the route to Space Mountain.

Now, I was taught patience is a virtue. Actually, my mom tried to drive home that point since I've never had much of it. But even I can feel the shift. My 12-minute metro ride to work used to feel like a welcome time-out. These days, I catch myself irritated at this unproductive chunk of time. Why can't I order new pants through my Blackberry from an underground tunnel?

I wonder about this because my oldest son just got a handheld gaming device for Christmas. As I watch him bent over, tapping away, I have to ask: Is this eroding his attention span? Sapping what precious little patience he's inherited? Will he be wait-in-line challenged?

Then again, it's occurred to me this little device could be a wonderful travel companion, something that keeps his sanity — and mine — at the airport, on a plane, in a long line for Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Though I guess if we go back to Disney, I won't have to remember the handheld. For better or worse, they'll have us covered.



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