Technological Theme Park Touring
Friday, September 19, 2003
by Mike Scopa, staff writer
Earlier this year, we looked at touring plans with Bob Sehlinger of the
Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Within that discussion we
mentioned a touring software package named RideMax. RideMax is a tool
that can build a touring plan for Disneyland.
In my July 17 article, I quoted the Unofficial Guide:
The Unofficial Guide's new program uses a sophisticated, custom-made
computer program to create most of its touring plans. We know of at
least one other software tool that creates touring plans: RideMax for
Disneyland. We tested an early version of the software, but found it
lacked certain important features we needed, and many of the touring
plans produced were significantly inferior to those derived from the
original Unofficial Guide model.
Notice the quote says early version of the software. That
raised a flag. And in fact, according to RideMax creator Mark Winters,
the Unofficial Guide folks had looked at an early beta version
that was discontinued more than a year before the publication of The
2003 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
Since the software was in beta versionindustry jargon for not
ready for primetimeat the time and was being tested, it would
be an injustice not not revisit this tool and see what it offers for Disneyland
The beta version had no support at all for the Fastpass system (RideMax
knows about the Disneyland Fastpass machines that are disconnected from
the others, allowing you to hold more than one Fastpass ticket simultaneously).
The current version of RideMax can create itineraries for users with
the Unlimited Fastpass feature provided by the special admission tickets
from the Disney Travel Company.
Other RideMax features include:
- Plan adjustments for the holiday versions of Haunted Mansion and
- Published wait time estimates for the rides shown on the itinerary.
In this session, I talk with Mark Winters, creator of the RideMax software.
Mark has graciously accepted an invitation to talk with me and provide
his insight into his creation.
In the Beginning
How did the concept of writing a touring plan software package come about
for Mark, and what prompted him to venture into such a challenging piece
I was visiting Disneyland with my family one morning, Mark
said, and we were trying to decide which attraction to visit next.
So of course with my 'nerdy' computer science background I thought, 'Wouldn't
it be great if I had a software program that could take a bunch of wait
time statistics for the different attractions, and give me an optimum
itinerary, based on how long the lines were expected to become as the
day goes on?
Then, Mark said, we would know which rides we need
to hit early in the day before the crowds grow, and which attractions
we could save until later.
How does RideMax use wait time estimates for each attraction to create
an efficient touring plan, and how did Mark make these estimates?
We've been collecting wait time statistics for the various Disneyland
attractions since 1998, Mark said, We've sampled these wait
time statistics at different seasons of the year, from uncrowded weekdays
in January to very busy days in the middle of the summer.
So what about Fastpass?
Since Fastpass was implemented we've also been gathering Fastpass
pickup and return times during various times of the day at these different
seasons of the year, said Mark. Last year alone I personally
made several multi-day visits to the park where I gathered these statistics.
The Best of RideMax
There was obviously a lot of work and pride put into the product, and
Mark believes RideMax offers several advantages over other planning techniques:
First of all, RideMax lets you decide which attractions you'll
be visiting. You're not relying on some pre-canned set of rides that
a guidebook author has selected for you.
Second, when you use the software you choose the specific date
you'll be visiting the park. This is important because wait time estimates
can vary greatly depending on the date of your visit, and RideMax needs
to take this into account when it builds your itinerary.
Third, if you're planning to see more than about 10 attractions
or so, even if you're somewhat familiar with typical wait times at the
park, it can be quite difficult to come up with the best itinerary on
your own. This is simply due to the math involved. There are a huge
number of possible itineraries you would need to consider. RideMax is
able to evaluate literally millions of possible itineraries, in order
to come up with a plan that reduces the expected waiting and walking
you need to do.
Another advantage of using the software is that a RideMax itinerary
will display our wait time estimate for each attraction in your list,
assuming you ride at the time shown on the RideMax plan. Although these
estimates won't be perfect, they at least give you a rough idea of what
we expect the wait to be. This is important, since it allows you to
play what-if with the software and try different planning parameters.
For example, you might want to see how the total wait time estimate
changes should you choose to arrive at different times of the day. Or
you might decide to remove a less-desired attraction from your plan
if the overall wait time seems too high.
RideMax and Fastpass
How does RideMax help with Fastpass?
As many of your MousePad readers know, there are quite a few quirks
with the Fastpass system at Disneyland that even makes it different from
the Fastpass system at Walt Disney World. For example, there are several
attractions, which are disconnected from the rest of the Fastpass system,
allowing the savvy guest to hold more than one Fastpass at a time under
certain conditions, Mark said.
RideMax knows these tricks and is able to make itineraries that
take advantage of them. The resulting savings in wait time can be substantial,
and I have yet to see these Fastpass techniques described in any Disneyland
RideMax customer reactions
Mark says he has received reports from his customers, who detail how
well the software has worked for them.
There's the grandmother in Santa Barbara, for example, who reported
taking her grandson to the park for a summer visit and never waiting more
than eight minutes in line by arriving early and following her RideMax
plan, Mark said.
Another family from San Diego reported having the time of their life
by doing more than 20 attractions, with an average wait of less than 10-15
minutes, on December 27, the busiest day of the Christmas season last
There was even a friend of mine who I had given a complimentary
copy of RideMax to, whose wife insisted he pay for it after they returned
from the park; their summer visit had gone so well, Mark said.
Mark has, however, received a complaints about RideMax from those who
do not follow the itinerary. According to Mark, in order for the plan
to work, wait times can become worse for those who show up late for their
If you arrive late this is expected, since the optimum touring
order can change substantially depending on your arrival time. To avoid
this issue, we recommend creating a backup plan with a later starting
time, just in case you arrive later than originally planned, he
In addition to the occasional negative comments, Mark also gets feature
requests. One of the most popular requests is that we add support
in the itineraries for the various shows and parades at the park,
While Mark hopes to add this to a future release, RideMax normally adds
a large afternoon block of free time to a plan, which should accommodate
varying entertainment schedules.
Tips from Mark
According to Mark, the most important tip, especially during the busy
season, is to arrive early and be one of the first guests into the park
in the morning.
I've collected wait time statistics during some of the busiest
times of the year4th of July week and Christmas week, for exampleand
I have yet to see substantial crowds right at the 8:00 a.m. opening time.
This doesn't necessarily apply when the park opens at 9:00 a.m. or 10:00
a.m., however, since more folks are out of bed by then.
In addition, Mark recommends that visitors learn all they can about the
One of your own MousePad users, who goes by the username of Darkbeer,
did a great job of documenting these tricks, he said. RideMax
knows about these tricks, of course, and is able to take advantage of
them, but it still helps to be very familiar with them yourself since
they can make a huge difference if you're trying to make the most of a
visit to the park.
RideMax software has been receiving some positive reviews, including
one review done a few months back by a Phoenix-area TV reporter and aired
on Good Morning Arizona. A video clip of the review and other information
can be found on the RideMax Web site.
RideMax for Walt Disney World?
After visiting with Mark and playing with the RideMax software myself,
I was quick to ask Mark when a WDW flavor of RideMax would be available.
Unfortunately Mark would not comment on any future development plans.
Over the last 28 years as a Walt Disney World consumer advocate,
I have noticed much anxiety for first-time visitors to Walt Disney World.
I firmly believe there is a market for a WDW version of RideMax and see
the development of such a tool as being an enormous undertaking.
If you have any thoughts about the value of RideMax for WDW, send me
e-mail and I will be sure to pass them on to Mark.
Mark Winters has created a very interesting touring plan tool. On behalf
of those who have used this tool I'd like to thank Mark for his hard work.
It seems that we just can't leave the issue of park touring just yet.
In our next session we will look at park touring for those empty nesters.