Ted Topping, Creative Insights Inc.
Vancouver, BC Canada
Since the park’s opening day in 2001, Soarin’ Over California (later renamed Soarin’ Around the World) has been one of the most popular rides at Disney California Adventure Park. So popular, in fact, that a line-up is almost inevitable. But there’s good news: although Disney offers FASTPASS service on this attraction, Guests who work their way through the line will have a more-complete experience.
In terms of a queue, this is not one of Disney’s most elaborate. But it is an excellent example for participants to study in our Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience program because people from most retail, tourism, hospitality and other consumer-facing businesses can learn important lessons here.
Setting Up the Ride
The first (outdoor) portion of the queue comprises a series of switchbacks. These tend to feel shorter than straight line-ups because they continuously give you something new to look at. So even on a hot summer day it feels like you are making progress.
As Guests move indoors – into the main show building – they enter a themed environment that sets up the Soarin’ Over California ride, which Disney originally described as ‘an exhilarating simulated hang-glider flight over California’s famous natural and manmade wonders.’
The things most Guests will notice immediately are that it is cool inside the building and that they are entering a fairly long and narrow room. The concrete floor slopes gently down into the attraction, drawing the Guest’s attention higher, to the banners that hang from the ceiling.
Slowly it dawns on most first-time visitors that this is some sort of “museum” honoring the aviation industry in California. Many people would recognize it as “edutainment” (education mixed with entertainment), which Disney does extremely well.
The first section, Wings of Fame, pays tribute through words and photographs to planes including the Spirit of St. Louis (which Charles Lindbergh flew non-stop from New York to Paris), the Lockheed Vega (which Amelia Earhart used to cross the Atlantic), the Spruce Goose (aka The Hughes H-4 Hercules, which Howard Hughes flew just once) and the Bell X-1 (in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier).
The second section, the Hall of Fame, honors the pilots and designers of those planes and others. Here you can read about and view photos of Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, Chuck Yeager and Amelia Earhart, plus other pioneers such as Jack Northrop (who championed the flying wing design in the 1940s as the future of flight) and Kelly Johnson (the first team leader of the famous Lockheed Skunk Works).
From the Head to the Heart
So, what does the museum have to do with the coming ride? Not much, really. But it does keep you focused on something and helps you pass the time while waiting in the line.
Certainly not every Guest is interested in the museum. Some prefer to chat with friends or check their messages, and there’s nothing wrong with that…
Except that Disney Imagineers understand that a Guest who is focused on those things will not be in the appropriate emotional space for what lies ahead on the attraction itself. The museum photos let you stay in your head. They convey information, facts and history, but they do not touch you emotionally.
The queue music that you have been hearing since you entered the building is what does that. It touches your heart and sets you up for the emotional experience of Soarin’ Over California.
Endlessly Repeating “Loop”
The queue music is an endlessly repeating “loop” of recordings approximately 30 minutes in length. Guests will not be in the building longer than that, so they will never hear the loop repeat.
Disney has carefully selected the music in the queue loop because it does three specific things:
— Commands interest, contributes to the sense of reality and establishes expectations for the coming hang-gliding experience.
— Creates an ever-changing auditory environment, a subtle cue that helps reassure guests that the line-up is still moving forward.
— Exerts a subtle influence over guests and encourages an emotional response in the same way as the music in a film score.
For any readers wanting to sample some of the music that is included in the Soarin’ Over California queue loop, the following YouTube videos each open in a new window:
The American President (Main Title) by Marc Shaiman https://youtu.be/rOxQhaUpjkY
The Blue Max Overture by Jerry Goldsmith https://youtu.be/zCp0vOT09Tk
The Generals Suite by Jerry Goldsmith https://youtu.be/6X0FK0Hho8I
The Trees by Jerry Goldsmith https://youtu.be/PWdOWk5eGws
You’re On by James Newton Howard https://youtu.be/G60gJcFcWgw
The Last Starfighter (Main Title) by Craig Safan https://youtu.be/gqIxpixDx_Q
It is important to note that Disney chose these songs based on their emotional impact, not on their titles. The fact that a particular recording was once used in a motion picture soundtrack is not relevant. The “feel” of the music is what matters.
Several websites play music from the Soarin’ Over California queue loop, and Subsonic Radio www.subsonicradio.com is a particularly good one. The site offers 15 “stations” of Disney music, including one called Soarin’ that endlessly repeats the queue loops from Soarin’ Over California in Anaheim and Soarin’ in Orlando (the two are similar but different), plus the music from the actual attraction.
Ready for Boarding
Once Guests reach the end of the museum, a Cast Member will direct them either left or right down one of two long, sloping ramps that evoke the feeling of a bare, underground corridor in a long-ago aircraft hangar. In this more basic environment, the queue music becomes even more central to the experience.
Then, as another Cast Member directs them into the Alpha, Bravo or Charlie gate for the pre-boarding safety video, Guests finally leave the queue area behind. But many of them will have noticed that, from the moment they entered the building, music was a vital element of the theming. And it put them “in the mood.”
When music is used effectively in a business environment, it can add greatly to the total experience. But when it is used ineffectively, it can destroy that experience by keeping people out of it emotionally.
Guests who visit the Disney parks quickly notice the extra care and detail that goes into almost everything that is there. This is what elevates Disney from an amusement park to an amazement park. And any business that follows their example in this regard can take a similar step forward.
Now… let’s discuss the ways that you can apply this benchmarking experience to increase the success of your business.
Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience is a unique, two-day benchmarking program. It demonstrates a service standard to which every consumer-facing business should aspire
This intense, small-group experience helps you to see the business behind the magic of Disney. Although you will be among thousands of guests, we will help you notice and study specific things – both good and bad – that most people will not see. You will interact constantly with the facilitators, and have time to discuss issues that are specific to your business.
While the Disney setting is amazing, this “learn by experiencing” program delivers practical ideas that you can apply immediately in the real world. And you don’t need to be part of a huge operation because Disney’s tactics, methods and standards work in any size business.
Benchmarking the Disney Guest Experience will be most effective for people working at a level where they can influence both the service environment and the people in it, and who already “get” why those things are important.