Americans spend a cumulative total of 37 billion hours waiting in line per year. 37 billion hours spent in a slog of needing a licenses renewed, checking out groceries, or taking another run at the biggest waterslide at the park. No one likes standing in line at the best of times, but a bad queue line doesn't just bore guests: it leaves them frustrated and ready to leave.
Bigger waterparks have the resources to bake entertainment right into the queues with live performances, pre-attraction storytelling, or interactive kiosks. Some facilities have created entire command centers focused on maximizing guest enjoyment while still working with the flow of the facility.
There's been a few roll-outs of the "Virtual Queue" with the overall idea being that guests can occupy themselves elsewhere while their token moves through the queue. Boom: problem solved! In practice, however, this has been met mixed success, depending on what else is available for guests to do in the interim. A busy park with no one waiting in a queue lines means free-roaming resources will dry up, leaving guests just as frustrated as they would be standing and waiting.
The real trick to maximizing queue efficiency isn't just in reducing wait time, it's in minimizing perceived wait time.
As an example the Houston Airport had travelers complaining about their long wait at the baggage claim. After an in-depth analysis they managed to decrease wait time, but still got complaints. So officials took a different approach and moved the baggage claim farther away from the gate. The time between de-boarding and getting their baggage was increased because travelers spent more time getting there, but low and behold: no more complaints.
Unoccupied time (waiting at a baggage claim) even with a shorter wait, is perceived to be longer than occupied time (walking to a baggage claim). So with virtual queues, the thing becomes making sure that that new freedom of being out of line stays occupied, and not just a new source of frustration.
For physical lines, we commend anyone who wants to make queue lines bearable (There’s an entire program from Savannah College of Art and Design about it! MIT Graduate Professor Richard Larson has dedicated his career to "The Psychology of Queuing and Social Justice!"), not every solution has to be high-tech or high-dollar to make a difference.
Here are a few tips to making any waterpark queue a line worth waiting in:
Layout: As counterintuitive as it may seem, having one long line is better than two mirroring lines for things such as side-by-side ticket windows, concession stands or elevators. For longer queue lines plan for 45-degree angles instead of right corners in partitions or inlaid into the floor. 45 degree angles better convey direction than direct vertical or horizontal lines. Setting up lines this way also occupies less space and leaves more room for theming elements.
Placement: As with the Houston Airport example, perception matters as much as physical wait time. If guests can see they're steadily moving towards an attraction or goal, they'll be more patient then with a shorter wait and an obscured view. If the visual goal can't be the ride itself, then having some another focal point (the big waterslide plunge, perhaps?) keeps the line engaged.
Design: Themed rides need to balance storytelling with physical experience and limited guest attention. Queuing lines have a captive audience and a built in-structure, so can add to a themed ride's impact. While some story elements are expensive (such as large permanent structures, or mechanical elements) a lot of impact can be made with signs, themed fountains/misters, statues, or landscaping as available. Since the floor accounts for a lot of empty space, facilities can engage younger (and antsier!) guests with die cuts, fun designs, or inlaid scavenger hunts.
Comfort: Perceived wait time is shorter when guests are comfortable. If guests are outside in hot weather, having shaded cover over the lines and (themed!) misters can help beat the heat. A cushioned and non-abrasive surface, like Life Floor, can reduce standing fatigue and keep feet comfortable and guests safer.
No one likes to the wait in line, but a well-optimized park can reduce frustration and allow the features and attractions to shine through. Less frustration encourages guests to stay longer, buy more concessions, and rate their experience more favorably. Which is a win for everyone.