The Incredible Hulk roller coaster at Universal's Island of Adventure theme park takes riders from zero to 40 miles per hour in two seconds. The speed of the line to get on the ride, however, has long been a concern of customers and park managers.
The Florida amusement park complex, which consists of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, now has ticketing kiosks called Universal Express. These ticketing stations, scattered throughout the parks, let visitors choose when to ride the Incredible Hulk and 19 other major attractions.
Waiting in long lines is the number one complaint among guests, said Tom Schroder, spokesperson for Universal Orlando. Customer dissatisfaction was a major motivator for installing the machines.
"When we ask them what they don't like, they say, `We can't stand waiting in line to get on your theme park attractions," Schroder said.
During the peak season, customers can wait more than an hour for an attraction.
"The bottom line is, you can be in line for a really long time," Schroder said.
The park held what Schroder called a "soft open" of the ticketing kiosks in February to test the system. The Universal Express program officially debuted in March.
Windows of opportunity
Universal Express stations contain as many as four kiosks. Using them, guests can reserve an hour-long window of time at two attractions. During this window, they are guaranteed a seat in 15 minutes or less. In addition to attractions, visitors can reserve seats for nearly all the rides at both parks.
"It allows guests to plan their day a lot more effectively than they were able to before this," Schroder said.
Did you get a pass?
After deciding what to ride, visitors insert their theme park ticket into the Universal Express station. The park tickets have a magnetic strip on the back, which allows access to the system and activates a touch screen. A display shows two windows of time for which fun seekers can obtain a pass for an advance seat.
Keeping it simple
Is the system too complicated for harried families trying to take in all the attractions?
"Once you insert your pass, it's all business. There's very simple wording, large buttons that you know you're supposed to push on the screen. So really, it's very easy to use," Schroder explained.
If all goes well, the kiosk prints out a Universal Express Pass indicating the reserved one-hour time frame (for example, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.). Schroder said it takes seconds to complete the process.
With pass in hand, riders can use a special Universal Express queue entrance to get their saved seat.
The making of the machine
Armed with a vision and the need to make it a reality, last December Universal Orlando contacted Greg Swistak, president of the Factura Corp. in Rochester, N.Y. Factura manufactures custom kiosk systems and develops solutions to unique hardware requirements.
The ticket machines needed to withstand outdoor conditions. The units would need monitors that could be read in direct sunlight, a water resistant shell and a cooling system to keep internal components from overheating in the Florida sun.
Other requirements included a barcode scanner and need for an interactive touch screen to work while using an existing ticketing printer. In addition, Universal Orlando wanted the kiosk to be relatively small so that it would not be obtrusive to the park's appearance. It was obviously a custom job.
"Sometimes it's difficult to find what you want off the shelf," Swistak said.
I need this yesterday
Universal Orlando gave Factura the go ahead to begin work on the kiosk ticketing system in January, with a deadline of February 15. That deadline was half the usual turnaround time for a Factura project. Universal wanted 75 kiosks installed in three days. With just six weeks to complete the project, designers from Factura flew from Rochester, N.Y. to Orlando to get started.
In one day, Universal Orlando designers and technical staff worked with Factura kiosk designers to come up with a plan. At the end of the day, Factura engineers were already working on the project. The Florida crew had e-mailed the mechanical drawing and design back to Rochester before boarding their flight back.
Swistak said that Universal Orlando hired a separate company to complete the software portion of the system. The systems are working well, other than a few minor problems with system wiring, Swistak said.
While Schroder didn't give details of how Universal tracks the use of its kiosks, he said a lot of satisfied customers are using the devices.
"So far, a large number of guests are using it, and we're getting very positive feedback on the system and how it works," Schroder said. "We see people of all ages using the kiosks, and the process seems to be very easy for them."