Group: Disney EchoEar Grand Mouseter/AdministratEAR
Joined: Aug. 2001
||Posted: Oct. 07, 2003 10:26 am/pm
Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Creates Ground-breaking Software to Provide Readers with Super Efficient Theme Park Touring Plans
From the first edition of the Unofficial Guide, minimizing our readers’ waiting time in attraction lines has been a top priority. We know that many theme park patrons measure overall satisfaction based on the number of attractions they are able to experience during a given visit: the more attractions experienced the better. Thus, from our first edition in 1985, we have offered to our readers, field-tested touring plans that allow them to experience as many attractions as possible with the least amount of waiting in line.
Though we have always used a pretty sophisticated model to develop our touring plans, we recognized almost a decade ago that advances in computer technology and science, specifically in the field of genetic algorithms, would ultimately create a model, or program, that would leave ours in the dust.
Do you remember the story of John Henry, the fastest nail driver on the railroad? Well, one day a man appeared with a machine he claimed could drive spikes faster than any man. John Henry challenged the machine to a race, which he won, but that killed him in the process. Well, we felt a bit like John Henry. We were still very good at what we did, but knew with absolute certainty that sooner or later we’d have to confront the touring plan version of a nail driving machine.
Our response to this challenge was to build our own nail driving machine. To that end we teamed up during the mid-90s with Len Testa, a cutting edge scientist and programmer who was working in the field of evolutionary algorithms, and who coincidentally, was a theme park junkie. Bringing our many years of Walt Disney World observations and data collecting together with Len’s vision and programming expertise spawned a state-of-the-art program for creating near perfect touring plans.
In 2002, during field trials conducted during the busy spring break period, the new program beat the best touring plan generated by the traditional Unofficial model by 90 minutes at the Magic Kingdom. If you’re an Unofficial Guide reader, you might recall that the touring plans generated by the original Unofficial model saved an average of 31/2 hours standing in line compared to guests touring without the plan. Well, the new program saved an additional 90 minutes over that! Needless to say, we’re very pleased, but believe us, it wasn’t easy.
Creating effective, dependable touring plans has always been difficult, and remains so. The main problem is that there are many different ways to see the same attractions. For example, if we wanted to visit Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain as soon as the Magic Kingdom opens, there are six possible ways to do so. As we add more attractions to our list, the number of possible touring plans grows very rapidly. A list of ten attractions has over three million possible touring plans. Twenty-one attractions have a staggering 51,090,942,171,709,440,000 possible touring plans. That's over fifty-one million billion combinations, or roughly six times more than the estimated number of grains of sand in the whole world. Adding in complexities such as FASTPASS, parades, meals, and breaks makes the number of combinations grow further.
Starting with the 2003 edition, The Unofficial Guide uses our new program to create the most efficient touring plans ever created: in fact they’re near perfect. The software program contains two state-of-the art algorithms that allow it to quickly analyze tens of millions of possible touring plans in a very short time.
The new program, however, is only part of what’s needed to create a good touring plan. Good data are also important. Annually since 1996, we visited Walt Disney World 4-6 times a year to collect data. At each theme park a group of researchers recorded the estimated wait time at every attraction, show, FASTPASS booth and restaurant in the park, every .thirty minutes, from park opening to park closing. On a typical day the researchers walked about eighteen miles and collected around five hundred pieces of data each.
So how good are the new touring plans in the Guide? The computer program the Guide uses typically gets within about 2% of the optimal touring plan. To put this in perspective, if the "perfect" Epcot Adult One-Day touring plan took about ten hours on average to complete, the touring plan in the Guide would take about ten hours and twelve minutes. Since it would take about thirty years for a really powerful computer to find that "perfect" touring plan, the extra twelve minutes is a reasonable tradeoff.
Source: Bob Sehlinger, author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World
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RichKoster, Disney Echo modEARator