Things haven't gone the way that Disney (NYSE:DIS) planned for its newest ride at Disney World's Epcot. Frozen Ever After opened on Tuesday. The Frozen-themed ride made headlines for its long queue that stretched as long as five hours at one point, but the family friendly indoor boat ride has also proven to be a tough attraction to keep open. Frozen Ever After has had prolonged outages in each of its four days of operation.
That's bad news for guests who planned early summer vacations, hoping to catch attractions like Frozen Ever After, and the Rivers of Light nighttime show at Animal Kingdom that has yet to open. The same can be said at Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Islands of Adventure, where the originally slated June reopening for the retracked and slightly rethemed The Incredible Hulk roller coaster won't happen until later this summer. Skull Island: Reign of Kong has opened sporadically for guests in the afternoons, but without an official announcement for a grand-opening date.
Disney and Comcast have stumbled in June, and they're being quiet about their shortcomings. Disney -- which is typically pretty chatty about new attractions on its official parks blog -- has yet to publish an entry about Frozen Ever After's opening. It could be waiting for the ride to operate reliably, but who knows when that will happen.
Comcast's Islands of Adventure was supposed to have a social media event on Wednesday, encouraging pass holders to enter for a chance to attend a mixer at Skull Island: Reign of Kong. However, it quietly pulled the event without informing the entrants if they had been selected.
It's been a rough few days in Orlando for various other reasons, but horrific area events don't explain why the country's two largest theme-park operators have been fumbling during the first few weeks of the peak summer travel season.
The cold never bothered me anyway
I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm one of the roughly 30,000 people who have been able to experience Frozen Ever After. I booked my Thursday night FastPass reservations for the attraction that replaced Maelstrom at Epcot's Norway pavilion weeks ago, and it had been down most of the afternoon. It went back up less than an hour before my 6:40 p.m. EDT return time.
The posted standby wait time was 180 minutes. The attendant suggested that our FastPass queue would run closer to 45 minutes, but we were boarding our Viking ship just 20 minutes later.
The ride itself is a crowd pleaser. It features many of Frozen's most popular songs, and the animatronics raise the bar, combining the projected faces used in some of Disney's newer attractions, including the Magic Kingdom's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, with some of the more-fluid movements that you will see in robotics. The climactic approach to Elsa's ice palace as she belts out "Let It Go" with her arms swinging realistically will impress you as it mesmerizes your child or inner child.
Do you wanna build a new ride?
Maelstrom fans will find the ride's circuit very familiar. It's essentially the same ride system as the ride it replaced, with the extended queue winding to the left instead of to the right -- so you board the same Viking ship as before in the old disembarking platform. The ride's theatrics are impressive, but it didn't seem as if it would take 20 months of downtime between Maelstrom and Frozen Ever After to make this happen. The lengthy gap between the two rides makes this week's operating hiccups even harder to fathom.
A day at a Disney World park isn't cheap, and on Thursday afternoon, it wasn't the only ride malfunctioning. At one point, a little past 5 p.m. EDT, both of the World Showcase rides were down, as well as Test Track and half of the Mission Space modules. The move pushed wait times higher across the other remaining rides, including a 130-minute posted wait for Mission Space's more-intense experience.
This isn't the first time that Disney has tried to raise the bar -- as it's doing with Frozen's animatronics -- only to flop in terms of uptime. Test Track also experienced plenty of downtime during its early years. It's particularly challenging with Frozen Ever After because the ride's capacity is low, reportedly close to just 1,000 guests an hour, when it's running at peak efficiency.
The long wait times may be generating free publicity for Disney World's second-most-visited theme park, and it could help with on-site hotel reservations, because those guests have priority access to FastPass reservations. However, as the stories have turned from exploring long waits to an unfortunate streak of downtime, it goes from hype-building flattery to brand-zapping critiques.
At the other end of the park, Soarin' Around the World -- the updated Soarin' Over California -- is holding up considerably better. The ride opened four days before Frozen Ever After, and Disney's decision to increase its theater capacity by 50% is making one of the park's most-popular attractions more efficient.
That's a good thing. It's nice to see some guests soaring at a healthy clip while others get the cold shoulder on Frozen Ever After.