US parks pro­vid­ing on­line reser­va­tions

The Phnom Penh Post - - TRAVEL - Stephanie Rosen­bloom

DOES a va­ca­tion re­ally feel like a va­ca­tion when ev­ery lit­tle thing is sched­uled? Per­haps not, but with more at­trac­tions of­fer­ing reser­va­tions, chances are you’ll have to do a lit­tle more plan­ning.

Cer­tainly, there are up­sides to reser­va­tions. They slash wait times, al­low­ing trav­ellers to see and do more. They curb dis­ap­point­ment; there’s no driv­ing for an hour only to find out that you can’t get in. They can also be es­sen­tial tools in help­ing pre­serve frag­ile en­vi­ron­ments. Zion Na­tional Park in Utah, for in­stance, is con­sid­er­ing adopt­ing an on­line reser­va­tion sys­tem amid record crowds that are wear­ing down trails and camp­grounds faster than the park can af­ford to re­pair them.

At the same time, there are trade-offs. For in­stance, spon­tane­ity and serendip­ity, a large part of what makes travel sur­pris­ing and re­ward­ing, tend to get short shrift. And as get­ting reser­va­tions for at­trac­tions be­comes more com­pet­i­tive, trav­ellers may soon no longer be able to choose whether to book in ad­vance or play things by ear. In­creas­ingly, if you don’t make a reser­va­tion, you won’t be able to find a de­cent seat at a movie the­atre, camp at a pop­u­lar na­tional park, see the block­buster ex­hi­bi­tion, or ride the lat­est roller coaster. Ad­di­tion­ally, reser­va­tions are typ­i­cally made on­line, which can put those with­out easy ac­cess to the in­ter­net at a dis­ad­van­tage.

Some of the big­gest changes are hap­pen­ing at na­tional parks in re­sponse to soar­ing at­ten­dance.

The Cal­i­for­nia State Parks sys­tem re­cently rolled out an up­graded camp­site and lodg­ing reser­va­tion sys­tem called Re­serveCal­i­for­nia that aims to de­liver a dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to book­ing a ho­tel room or air­line tick­ets.

The sys­tem also al­lows users to see de­tailed camp­site maps. You can book up to six months to the day in ad­vance of the ar­rival date. For ex­am­ple, if you made a reser­va­tion on Septem­ber 2, you could have an ar­rival date of March 2, 2018. (Reser­va­tions at camp­sites in other parts of the United States can be made at sites such as Re­serveAmer­ica and Recre­ation.gov.)

Some na­tional parks may re­quire reser­va­tions and per­mits for cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties, but they do not re­quire reser­va­tions for en­try. Zion Na­tional Park in Utah may be­come the first park to do so.

The park is con­sid­er­ing adopt­ing an on­line reser­va­tion sys­tem, among other op­tions, af­ter record crowds last year: more than 4.3 mil­lion peo­ple, up from 3.6 mil­lion in 2015. Jeff Brady­baugh, Zion’s su­per­in­ten­dent, said in a news­let­ter this sum­mer that vis­i­ta­tion there “is sky­rock­et­ing at a rate ex­ceed­ing even re­cent record­set­ting years”.

The in­crease in vis­i­tors has led to sig­nif­i­cant crowd­ing and traf­fic con­ges­tion. Park shut­tles with seats for 68 rid­ers are of­ten packed with about 100 peo­ple. And the num­ber of emer­gency in­ci­dents rangers must re­spond to has in­creased ex­po­nen­tially. Re­quir­ing reser­va­tions would be one way to man­age the crowds, help­ing pre­serve the park and pro­vid­ing a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence for vis­i­tors. A dif­fer­ent pro­posal would re­quire reser­va­tions for cer­tain parts of the park such as heav­ily used trails. Or things could be kept as they are. A de­ci­sion is ex­pected in 2018.

Be­ing able to browse and book cer­tain ex­pe­ri­ences has plenty of ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially for trav­ellers who take only one big va­ca­tion a year and want to make sure they can camp or hike where they want to. Still think of, say, a road trip, where so much of the en­joy­ment comes from spur-of-the­mo­ment choices.

At theme parks, there are reser­va­tions for prac­ti­cally ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence in­side the gates: rides, shows, pa­rades, restau­rants, meet and greets. Walt Dis­ney World’s FastPass+ fea­ture, for ex­am­ple, al­lows vis­i­tors to re­serve an ar­rival win­dow for cer­tain at­trac­tions as early as 30 days be­fore you get there, or up to 60 days be­fore check-in if you’re stay­ing at a Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort ho­tel. So there you are, de­cid­ing whether you want to sim­u­late the G-forces of a space­craft launch or meet Mickey Mouse – not to men­tion what you want to eat in between – pos­si­bly months be­fore your trip.

Think­ing about a va­ca­tion be­fore time has been shown to boost happiness, so Dis­ney-go­ers with the time and pa­tience to cre­ate match­ing itin­er­ar­ies for the en­tire fam­ily may be in luck. But in the park, all those reser­va­tions (which you can skip if you’re will­ing to spend much of your day in standby lines) can de­tract from, well, the fun. Those of us who for years vis­ited pre-FastPass+ re­mem­ber get­ting up at the crack of dawn and the thrill of be­ing among the first to board a barge on Pi­rates of the Caribbean. All you needed was will and a lit­tle luck. In postFastPass+ Magic King­dom, af­ter the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster opened, I felt anx­ious. My fam­ily al­ways had some­where to be at an ap­pointed hour. I nudged us along, fre­quently check­ing my watch. If I want to do that, I may as well just go to work.

Wait­ing can be good for you. I learned pa­tience on those lines. I ex­pe­ri­enced the joy of an­tic­i­pa­tion. I gained an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the old-fash­ioned art of street en­ter­tain­ment, which Dis­ney’s cast mem­bers ex­celled at, while wait­ing.

Reser­va­tions are easy and, th­ese days, ex­pected. But long live the lessons learned by wait­ing; by not know­ing. There is a dif­fer­ence between know­ing there’s a pos­si­bil­ity of see­ing a princess, and know­ing she’s wait­ing for you on the other side of a door. One way of­fers warm as­sur­ance. The other is a roll of the die. There’s the chance of dis­ap­point­ment, but also: the chance to find out that, some­times, when we don’t get what we want, we get some­thing bet­ter.

MAX WHITTAKER/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Tourists ride through Yosemite Na­tional Park in Cal­i­for­nia, on Au­gust 27, 2013. Ad­vance plan­ning may be in or­der if you want to camp at a pop­u­lar na­tional park or ride the lat­est roller coaster.

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