A Guide to “Soft Opening” at theme park attractions.
As a ‘summer of trains’ is the talk of the Orlando attractions scene during 2014, the phrase ‘soft opening’ is perhaps one of the most searched for terms in relation to theme parks right now.
With Diagon Alley and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train about to debut, there’s no shortage of new fun to be had in Orlando’s amazing theme parks!
We thought we’d do some ‘soft opening’ research, and find out as much as we can for you about what’s also known in the industry as ‘technical rehearsals’.
Q: What are soft openings?
A: Soft openings are used to try out a newly created attraction, or even restaurant. Everything is basically ready to roll, staff have been trained and the soft opening allows staff to learn how guests interact with the new ride’s loading procedures etc.
Think of the phrase ‘technical rehearsals’ and you get an idea that soft openings are more about ‘people’ rather than the ride itself.
That aspect has already been totally tested before this point arrives.
Staff are practising their ‘lines’ as they explain safety procedures or simply advise where to place your flip flops and loose articles while the ride is under way.
Q: Are soft openings safe?
A: Yes, the ride has been fully tested and audited for safety and is also supervised by additional technical staff during the soft opening phase.
Q: Can I rely on riding an attraction during soft opening?
A: No, during soft opening, you’ve got to consider that the attraction is actually officially closed. If you are lucky enough to experience the attraction, this is a huge bonus!
Q: How far head of official openings can soft openings begin?
A: There’s no firm rule, but typically soft openings occur about seven to ten days in advance of an official opening. Before attractions take their first trial guests, the ride normally would have cycled on numerous occasions in a steady state. For example, in the case of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, all of the ride cars would usually have been tested in operation in a continuous sequence before guests ride during soft opening.
Q: Can things go wrong during a soft opening?
A: Yes, rides can often stop unexpectedly and there’s no guarantee of operation during the test period.
Q: What are the best hours of soft opening?
A: During the early phase of soft openings, mid mornings and late afternoons are often the best time to catch a ride. Early mornings are rare as the attraction staff are often in team talks to discuss the day ahead. Evenings are rare as most tech support staff have left for the day. During the busy mid day periods, ride staff try to avoid managing large crowds and drawing too much attention to the attraction, causing guest disappointment.
As the soft opening phase matures and approaches official opening, the soft opening durations often gradually extend until they almost reach full operation.
Soft openings are hugely popular with both theme park tech teams and park guests alike.
They allow the attraction to unofficially open as soon as it has been deemed safe and operational, yet without the phenomenal pressure and expectations that accompany the ‘officially opened’ tag.
The theme park’s operational team can choose how long, and how often they open the line wait area to park guests, and the more often they do, their staff gain more experience.
During these soft openings, staff learn how to respond to questions like:
Can I leave my hat on for this ride, right through to advising riders how to recover their false teeth that flew out of their mouths during the fast bits!