It's now been a week since Disney (DIS 3.51%) opened Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida, and crowds continue to flock to the park as early as a couple of hours before the official opening to secure a ride on the next-gen attraction. Disney's biggest challenge is getting as many people as it can on a shiny new experience that has limited capacity under ideal circumstances -- and circumstances have been less than ideal through its first seven days of operation.
Theme parks traffic tracker TouringPlans.com estimates that there have been as few as two and as many as six prolonged outages lasting an average of an hour in each of the ride's first seven days of operation. The bad news is that the outages are getting more pronounced since the grand opening on Dec. 5, and that means fewer patrons are getting to experience Rise of the Resistance.
Disney World is using a novel "boarding pass" virtual queue to get people on the new ride, freeing guests from having to circle the park in long lines to get on Rise of the Resistance. It's a system it developed for Disneyland's opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge back in May, but it has rarely had to use that system until now. Once inside the park, guests can request a boarding pass through Disney World's mobile app or at an in-park kiosk. They will then be notified when they can enter the physical queue for the ride within a two-hour window following the notification.
The problem with Rise of the Resistance is that between the downtime and the attraction's inherent low hourly throughput, it can get only so many guests on, even with a 13-to-14-hour operating day. Disney's Hollywood Studios averages 30,000 guests a day, and during peak periods -- like now, with everyone flocking to the park to check out the new ride -- it's easily at twice the average crowd size. Roughly 10,000 to 12,000 guests are getting on Rise of the Resistance on any given day, and that means most visitors there for the sole purpose of checking out the new ride will not be able to experience the attraction. All the boarding passes get gobbled up early in the morning, so only early risers need apply in these flag-planting days of galactic exploration.
It gets worse. Disney has been issuing fewer Rise of the Resistance boarding passes in recent days. Folks who are on the ride during a breakdown get tickets to board in the future, so Disney has to account for those returns eating into daily capacity. Disney has also been gifting one-day park admissions to return later to guests with high-numbered boarding passes that are canceled because Disney's Hollywood Studios closes before their turn comes up, and that's likely forcing the House of Mouse to be stingier with the number of guests it clears every morning. Things are bad now, and just imagine how they will be next week when larger crowds arrive for the peak holiday travel season.
This may seem to be a good problem to have. It's better to have a new ride generating rave reviews that is initially unreliable than one that guests don't care to experience. However, discretionary income isn't elastic. As more reports bubble to the surface of folks spending thousands on a Disney vacation without getting to experience the new ride, you may see bookings drop off until the ride is able to cycle through its visitors more effectively. Disney will eventually get the balance right, but for now a hot ride might backfire into a chilly Christmas for the world's leading theme park operator.