by Mike Scopa, contributing 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 version—industry jargon for “not ready for primetime”—at the time and was being tested, it would be an injustice not not revisit this tool and see what it offers for Disneyland guests.

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 Small World.
  • 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 of work?

“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 guidebook.”

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 year.

“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 itinerary.

“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 said.

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,” Mark said.

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 year—4th of July week and Christmas week, for example—and 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 Fastpass system.

“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 reviews

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.

Next time

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.

Class dismissed.