June 20, 2024

Will Magic Kingdom Have Two Virtual Queues?


With the opening of Tiana's Bayou Adventure in Summer 2024, Magic Kingdom is set to have the two newest attractions at Walt Disney World in that and TRON Lightcycle Run. This post runs through arguments

With the opening of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in Summer 2024, Magic Kingdom is set to have the two newest attractions at Walt Disney World in that and TRON Lightcycle Run. This post runs through arguments for and against the new Princess and the Frog water ride getting boarding groups.

If Tiana’s Bayou Adventure gets a virtual queue and nothing else changes, there will be two rides in Magic Kingdom with virtual queues, as TRON Lightcycle Run has used the VQ system since it opened last spring. Additionally, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind also still uses a virtual queue despite having opened nearly two years ago. Despite the ride being much more reliable, Cosmic Rewind will soon surpass Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as the longest-running virtual queue at Walt Disney World.

Even though it’s odd that Cosmic Rewind still uses a virtual queue, it probably has less bearing on the line status of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure than TRON Lightcycle Run does. Cosmic Rewind is in EPCOT, whereas TRON and Tiana’s are both Magic Kingdom mountain range-ish rides. Having two virtual queues in the same park could present problems and frustrations for guests who want the option of riding both new attractions. Against the backdrop, here are reasons why Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will or won’t get a virtual queue. (Note: if you’re looking for a definitive answer, you can save your time and stop reading now–this post doesn’t have one.)

No Precedent for Two – If both Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and TRON Lightcycle Run in Magic Kingdom have virtual queues, it’ll be the first time that two rides in the same park have used the boarding group system simultaneously. The only other time that previously almost happened was when Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Cosmic Rewind opened back-to-back at EPCOT. (If you count all attractions, it did occur briefly–for like a day or two–with Cosmic Rewind and Moana’s Journey of Water.)

However, the Rat Ride dropped its VQ within a few months of opening–and before Cosmic Rewind debuted–to avoid that outcome. If you count only normal ops and not the phased reopening, Rise of the Resistance didn’t have a virtual queue for that long, either. Only Cosmic Rewind has exceeded a year of regular operations with a virtual queue. So really, it’s the odd duck–and there’s nothing to say that TRON Lightcycle Run couldn’t follow the precedent of the Rat Ride or Rise and drop its VQ before this summer.

The biggest reasons for not having two virtual queues in the same park is complexity and complaints. While it would be theoretically possible to ride both–even multiple times–via a strong VQ game and/or buying ILLs, that will not be the result for most average guests. Many will need to pick one or the other, or (at best), get a boarding group for one and buy an Individual Lightning Lane for the other. Anything above and beyond that is the domain of high-knowledge guests and savvy planners, like those reading this. Don’t make the mistake of assuming every guest is like you. They aren’t.

It’s Brand New – Many Walt Disney World fans assume it’s a foregone conclusion that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will utilize a virtual queue because “all new attractions use virtual queues.” And that has been the case in the last few years, with the last three consecutive major attraction openings–TRON Lightcycle Run, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure–all using virtual queues upon opening.

This started with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, but it hasn’t been true of every attraction since then. If you’re worried about virtual queues and being up at 7 am to score difficult boarding groups being “the future” of attractions, look no further than Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The Walt Disney World version of this ride never used a virtual queue, and the Disneyland incarnation quickly abandoned its virtual queue.

That’s because Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is a high capacity attraction that’s reliable by new ride standards. As we’ve reiterated time and time again, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance debuted with a virtual queue during normal operations because it was highly unreliable, inefficient, and prone to hour-plus breakdowns. It has made significant strides since then, but still has its operational woes.

There were and are unique issues with Cosmic Rewind (limited covered queue space) as well as both TRON Lightcycle Run and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (major pinch-point entering their areas that would be problematic at park opening during the mad dash to the ride). In other words, popularity is not the sole reason why it certain attractions are or have used virtual queues. They’re more varied than that.

Known Quantity – Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is much more like Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway or Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (which lost its VQ fairly quickly) than it is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or Cosmic Rewind. Both Runaway Railway and the Rat Ride were reliable tech or clones of existing attractions, being known quantities that wouldn’t require virtual queues for the long term.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure uses the exact same ride system as Splash Mountain, and the track has not been altered (unlike Frozen Ever After, which changed its load/unload from Maelstrom, a complicating factor that led to significant dispatch/timing issues). It should actually be more reliable than Splash Mountain was upon closing, as overdue maintenance will have been performed during the year-plus of downtime.

From reliability and downtime perspectives, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will not “need” a virtual queue…because its bones are still Splash Mountain, and that ride didn’t need one.

Long Physical Queues – Another place where the bones of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure are still Splash Mountain is its physical standby queue. I have never pulled out my tape measure to do comparative analysis, but I’d hazard a guess that Splash Mountain had one of the longest standby queues at Walt Disney World.

There’s even more space than you might realize thanks to the outdoor courtyard capable of scaling up its line length at busier/hotter times. Splash Mountain was built in a different era, a time pre-FastPass when long physical lines were favored. As a result, its queue is quite lengthy and also offers a variety of environments to engage guests. (It’s a really underrated line–and it sounds like more is being added for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.)

Not only that, but there’s no pinch-point entering this area of Frontierland and there’s ample space for even more outdoor overflow queue. If Walt Disney World wants to have a standby queue for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, they could. It does not seem like there are operational considerations that “mandate” a virtual queue.

Seasonality – Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World when it opens. It will be a marketable draw and even more in-demand than Splash Mountain for at least a couple of years–unless something goes terribly wrong with the execution of the reimagining, and there’s no reason to expect that after seeing the wowing Tiana Audio Animatronics.

This might be unpopular sentiment among the skeptics, but it’s really not that bold of an assertion. Everything new enjoys a period of popularity. People love princesses. Rides featuring current characters–or ones that at least still exist in pop culture (see Seven Dwarfs Mine Train)–tend to outperform unknown ones. So it’s safe to say Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is going to draw big crowds throughout Summer 2024 and beyond.

But what happens once October rolls around and nights start getting chilly? Heck, even in summer-time, there is far more demand for water rides during the day–when sunlight and fresh air provide free and natural drying mechanisms. Wait times tend to be much lower once the sun goes down because you might be wet the rest of the night if you ride then. There were several occasions when I passed on doing Splash for this very reason.

And honestly, I’d probably do the same with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in some situations if I got a boarding group with a callback after sunset. There are probably plenty of others who would do the same, meaning that–even as overall demand remains high–there could be unutilized capacity for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure by virtue of the virtual queue.

Point being, even if Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is the better virtual queue candidate in June through August 2024, that may not still be true in Winter 2024, at which point TRON Lightcycle Run could be the better option for the VQ. It’s hard to imagine Walt Disney World bouncing back and forth between the two rides having VQs based on weather (adding even more complexity and confusion for guests), so a long-term decision should be made from the outset.

Optics – If the marketing is any indication, there’s a sense of “defensiveness” from Disney with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. It seems like all of the messaging is calibrated to prove the haters wrong while also preemptively addressing criticism from different directions. My view was and is that you’re never going to please people looking for reasons to be upset, so simply let the substance of the thing speak for itself. With the release of awesome Tiana Audio Animatronics video, that’s finally the approach.

When it comes to Disney’s hypersensitivity about Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, I get it. This attraction has been a powder keg from the outset, and there was and is more scrutiny on it than any other ride reimagining or new attraction. And I get this, too–at least to an extent. Splash Mountain was one of the best attractions at Walt Disney World, so not only does Tiana’s Bayou Adventure have big shoes to fill–but it also occupies a historic position. People are readying the pitchforks, salivating for “opportunities” to deem it a failure or feign outrage.

That will include its status as a Lightning Lane attraction or whether it offers a virtual queue. It may seem silly to take optics into account when making operational decisions, but I’d be shocked if this same conversation isn’t happening internally. If Tiana’s Bayou Adventure doesn’t have a virtual queue, that will become a manufactured controversy. “This proves Disney knows the ride isn’t actually good!” “The company is only paying lip service to Tiana, they don’t hold her ride in the same esteem as other new attractions.” You get the idea.

The decision absolutely should not be made on the basis of optics, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. As should be obvious, unpleasable critics are impossible to please. In a logical world, they’d be silenced by standby wait times when the ride opens if it lacks a virtual queue or the substance of the ride. But that’s not the world we inhabit, so instead they’ll find whatever they can to satisfy their controversy quota.

Lightning Lane Status – Every time a new attraction gets a virtual queue, some Walt Disney World fans say: “it’s only getting a virtual queue to force guests who ‘lose’ the VQ lotto to purchase a Lightning Lane since there’s no other way to ride.”

Every time an attraction drops its virtual queue, other (or maybe the same!) WDW fans say: “it’s only dropping the virtual queue so it can post a high standby wait time that pushes more people to buy Lightning Lanes since they can’t bypass the wait for free.” These are really both real sentiment that’s (often!) shared in response to queueing changes.

In reality, Walt Disney World has no problem selling out Individual Lightning Lanes for new (or even some older–look at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train!) attractions. This notion that virtual queue status is motivated by money is belied by ILL sales before and after said status changes. Individual Lightning Lanes don’t sell well because of or despite a virtual queue. They sell well (or don’t) because of the attraction itself and its popularity. Not everything is a conspiracy!

Guest Friendliness – Honestly, I like virtual queues and am selfishly, not-so-secretly happy to see them continue. I also know I’m not the average guest. What’s good for me is not always good for the park-going public.

I like virtual queues because I’m good at them. That might sound like a humblebrag, but at this point, you’re probably pretty good at them too. If you’re reading this blog via the computer in your pocket, you’re in the top 5% of the park-going public in terms of experience or knowledge.

Virtual queues are great for people like us because they function similarly to how free FastPass used to work–although the return lines have gotten worse. At minimum, they’re more efficient than waiting in a standby line and/or are cheaper than buying an Individual Lightning Lane.

As a result, I’m doing TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind almost every single time I visit Magic Kingdom or EPCOT–even on days that are “just for fun” with no strategy or research agenda. That would not be the case if the rides were posting 90+ minute standby wait times–and both would if it weren’t for the virtual queue. I know I’m not alone in this, and a lot of other Annual Passholders and locals who would balk at high standby wait times, but do the VQ.

The thing is that ride capacity is a zero-sum game. If the virtual queue is filling up with a bunch of APs and locals who would skip a triple-digit standby wait, those spots are coming at the expense of someone else. The losers in this scenario are likely disproportionately first-timers and other low-knowledge or technology-averse guests.

Whereas these people often are oblivious to virtual queues or are unsuccessful at joining, many of them are able or more inclined to wait in a long standby line. The balking point is higher for them–they’ve never done the ride, so their tolerance for lines or threshold for waiting is higher than the average AP who skips any standby line that’s over 30 minutes.

First-timers or infrequent visitors are the very demographics that, in my opinion even as a biased and self-interested AP, Walt Disney World should be favoring. It’s better for the sake of guest satisfaction and creating new fans to make things easier for these people, and removing one layer of friction.

This is doubly true when it comes to new attractions that are the focus of marketing campaigns. There are people who have booked trips after seeing ads for Cosmic Rewind or TRON Lightcycle Run…who haven’t been able to ride because they failed at the virtual queue, or didn’t understand how to ‘play’ in the first place. They had no other recourse, as Individual Lightning Lanes are often sold out by the time these guests have discovered their error. Standby lines are not perfect, but at least they give guests an option to wait–even if that’s a really long time. It puts guests more in control of their own destiny, so to speak.

As most of us have complained about the amount of screen time and overreliance on technology in visiting Walt Disney World, we should likewise continue to support the retirement of virtual queues. They may benefit us on an individual level, but overall and in aggregate, they are a negative for the guest experience–and one that leads to more complaints and opportunities for disappointment that has no potential resolution. Virtual queues add yet another unnecessary layer of friction and make things overwhelming and intimidating for inexperienced and older guests.

Ultimately, this is all a long-winded way of saying that I don’t know what will happen with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure–there are compelling arguments both for and against the attraction getting a virtual queue. If I were a betting person, I’d probably give an edge to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure getting a virtual queue. But it’s pretty far from a sure thing–more like 60/40 as compared to the guarantees that came with Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle Run.

With all of that said, what I would do if I were in charge is start by dropping the virtual queue for TRON Lightcycle Run on or around April 15, 2024. Maybe a week later–but after Spring Break and before the start of summer season. This may seemingly defy precedent, as Cosmic Rewind still–somehow–has its virtual queue nearly 2 years after opening. But the circumstances are arguably different there, due to a shorter indoor queue and insufficient shade outside. By contrast, TRON has plenty of indoor queue and ample overflow, and a lot of that can be under the canopy.

Following that, I’d announce a virtual queue for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure “as necessary during its debut season in Summer 2024.” Using that type of verbiage leaves the door open to end the virtual queue early or extend–and makes that obvious from the outstart in a (probably feeble) attempt to quash criticism.

Most importantly, it would give operations flexibility to open a standby line at night, on colder days, and other times when a virtual queue may not be necessary or ideal. The goal here would be to ensure that capacity for an in-demand ride isn’t wasted, and guests getting shut out of the virtual queue aren’t watching empty logs drop down every night, wondering why they can’t line up to ride.

I doubt that’ll happen, but think it’s the best possible solution. What I really don’t want to see is two virtual queues at Magic Kingdom with rigid rules that effectively force many guests to choose between one big new ride or the other. That’s a guest-unfriendly result, and Disney should attempt to avoid that outcome. It’ll only add fuel to the fire about the complexity and convoluted nature of planning and doing Walt Disney World, at a time when the company is otherwise trying to address such complaints.

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Thoughts on the virtual queue or standby status of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure or TRON Lightcycle Run come Summer 2024 and beyond? Would you like to see both have virtual queues, neither, or one of the two? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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