25 Jun 19
Orange County Register
I can’t imagine visiting Disneyland or any other theme park without my phone.
Yes, theme parks are supposed to provide an escape from everyday life, but every major park has created official apps that have made visiting significantly easier than in the old days when all we had to find our way was a flimsy paper guide map.
With official park apps, I can — at a minimum — see where I am in the park and the current wait times for all attractions. Many apps also serve as park tickets and allow visitors to make reservations for restaurants, attractions and more.
I love park apps, as do many of the fans I talk with in the parks and online. But when I am inside a park, I use my phone as a tool to help my visit and not something to distract me from the experience.
That’s not true for everyone. I have lost count of the number of kids (and adults) I have seen playing video games on phones and tablets in theme parks, even during parades and shows. Design professionals I’ve talked with have said they worry about competition from phones. A fan started a discussion on my website this week asking if theme park visits were less fun now that so many people are staring at screens instead of talking with each other.
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Disney has been trying to lure park visitors who can’t resist playing games on their phones to at least play Disney’s own mobile games. Inside Disneyland’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land, visitors can use the Play Disney Parks app as a “datapad” to interact with locations and characters throughout the land. You can scan cargo containers, eavesdrop on characters and take control of droids, spaceships and door panels with the app.
On my most recent visit, I tried completing a task that asked me to scan cargo boxes in the queue for the Millennium Falcon ride. It felt like a nice way to pass the time, but I soon discovered that the task actually used up too much time. I was holding up the line trying to scan all the boxes, so I just gave up.
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More from Robert Niles
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The politics of play on Disneyland’s Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
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It’s the Southern California Theme Park Wars as Disneyland throws down the gauntlet with Galaxy’s Edge
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Ultimately, even used as an in-universe “datapad,” my phone was distracting me from experiencing the land. Unless the ride was closed and I had nothing else to do, I enjoyed myself more just leaving my phone in my pocket and experiencing all the real-life things that Galaxy’s Edge has to offer.
Maybe someday, parks will design attractions and apps that truly work together to create a powerful, unique experience. But if there is a park-made mobile game that enhances rather than distracts from a theme park experience, I have yet to find it.
At best, parks’ mobile games help to pass the time in queues that offer nothing else to distract you from the wait. But most of the time, I would rather just check the park’s app to look at wait times and plan my next move in the park, instead.
I don’t need another trivia quiz. I’d rather just enjoy the rides, shows and sights I came to the park to see.
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