An hour wait at Disney

You are at Disney. You planned ahead. You open Touring Plans (theme park visit optimizing software). Here’s how the creator thinks about what you see.

“Let’s say we were trying to predict what (wait time) Disney is posting for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We have to do two things. We have to predict the number Disney is going to show on the wait time sign in front of the ride, and then we have to predict the actual wait time. We have to predict both because if we showed only our expected wait time and you walk up to the ride and see the posted wait time is sixty minutes and we are predicting five minutes, then you won’t believe our number.” – Len Testa, Causal Inference, October 2021

Like weather reports or repair times, Testa and his team generate more value by being less accurate.


In the fall of 2021 Disney released a similar feature to what Testa created: Genie. It will be an interesting TiVo problem .

What’s this place optimized for?

Everything around us, notes Jason Crawford, is a solution. It may be a ‘local maxima’ rather than a ‘global maxima’, but everything around us is the best idea we’ve had yet (given the culture and incentives).

And these solutions all influence our decision. The punchline to behavioral sciences, says Kristen Berman is environment, environment, environment. The question to ask then is: A solution for who?

“If you go to a mall how could you not spend money? People have thought deeply about how to get you to spend money, they’ve thought deeply about getting you to buy something. It’s a hard fight, and it’s getting harder. Amazon Prime is the gold standard for this. They’ve figured out something about human behavior and it’s going to be hard to fight that.” – Kristen Berman, October 2021

Cinnabon is a tasty brick and mortar example of how place matters. The stores are in places of captured traffic and infrequent visits. Da Buns, said Kat Cole, are treats. So the frequency of customers affects the type of product.

Another instance is that oh-you-know-it smell. That wonderful waft was an accident. The first location lacked enough room for the oven to go in the back – per best practice prescription – so it was jammed in the front. Learning their lessons, the second location prioritized moving the oven out of the way. Whoops. Luckily for us all, they fixed that.

I’m not as strongly behavioral as Berman (though I did update) but her idea of wise designs hits home. In 2014 our family went on a Disney Cruise. We had a blast. But one evening my wife scheduled dinner with a Disney Vacation Club (their timeshare component) representative. It was there, in that office, sweating bullets that I realized something about myself. I’m bad at ‘No.’

This guy was good. Each objection he countered. Each escape he blocked. Each obstacle he climbed. Somehow, like Aladdin, we escaped.

Now I know about ‘No’ and good design and Berman’s advice.

Lead or Follow

One difficulty of family gatherings is a lack of hierarchy. As a kid we would go to my dad’s mother’s house for Thanksgiving. She made the turkey and the rest of the family filled in the sides. She also made the rules for the house, they were good for grandkids, and everyone toed the line. Different holidays had different hierarchys.

The importance of leading and following was clear after a friend griped about his family’s trip to Disney World. They had a good, but not great time. That’s too bad becuase Disney survives on great times. Part-of-the-reason for the family failure was followers not following.

One person wanted the group (of fourteen people!) to stay together all day. One group wanted to go do their own thing. One nuclear family had reservations because they planned ahead, a crucial part of a successful Disney vacation, while other families did not

I was reminded of cryptocurrencies.

Depending on the structure (proof of stake, proof of work, etc), a cryptocurrency can fork the code. Participants choose which version to use. Asking then, are you willing to lead a new direction or obiently follow this one can be a helpfu way to better corrdinate many different people.

  • When my sister-in-law visited Disney with my family, she followed along, and because our kids have similar interests everyone got along.
  • When I made dinner one night my oldest daughter didn’t want it, so she made a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.
  • When my mother-in-law joined my family on a trip she followed along, except for a day horseback riding and she planned her own excursion.

I think these are family examples because family lacks the lead/follow structure. Good organizations tend to ‘argue zell’ but after that comes the follow part. Ted Sarandos explained the Netflix way to Marc Andreessen, this way:

“It’s all credit to Reed. Reed created a culture where you’re free to ask questions, you’re free to push back – but support the outcome. Everyone has a strong voice at the table but once the decision is made everyone supports the outcome.”

Ted Sarandos

Leaders have to offer expertise on the task at hand and be willing for their followers to “fork”. Followers trade freedom for optimization. Lead or follow. Leaders walk the walk, followers don’t talk.

A Disney turkey leg and the lunch where this idea was discussed.

The Disney Stroller Couple

It was going to be a long day.

One of the great advantages of living an hour from the Disney World parks is day-trips. Typically we won’t have access to the best attractions, but we’ll have access to many good ones. Plus, seven day-trips over seven weekends is different from a seven-day trip during the week. That’s just basic Alchemy.

Before we moved to Florida, we lived in Ohio and scheduled annual visits. On those trips we had to ‘get our money’s worth’. Tickets might be one-hundred dollars per day per person. Hotel rooms can cost a few hundred dollars too. We bought two ice-cream sandwiches during our last trip and those were twelve dollars.

Flying to Florida and doing Disney costs a lot of money, requires a lot of planning, and introduces some unexpected stress. Keep in mind, this is all a vacation. On our last trip we heard this exchange as a man tried to fold a stroller so he could board a tram.

Him: “This thing is so hard to fold because of all the stuff under here.”

Her: “Welcome to being a dad.”

I felt the frustration like the Florida sun.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a few fantastic rides, some nice animal viewing areas, and a few of our favorite shows: A Great Bird Adventure, Finding Nemo, and Festival of the Lion King.

At the big finish of Festival of the Lion King, performers choose children from the audience to take a lap around the stage. One girl got to shake hands with Timon, the singing meerkat. If someone can smile with their entire body she did. It was magical.

Many people believe that Disney’s advantage is their IP—but it’s not their only one. Disney magic is an advantage too. These moments for guests don’t happen because of a character but because of a person.

When I walk around Galaxy’s Edge it’s neat—but when you watch Storm Troopers hassel guests it’s great.

If the stroller couple had a magical moment, they’ll be back. Guaranteed. They’ll look back on the trip, and it won’t have been a long day, but a great one.