Ah, the best queues of Walt Disney World. By the way, for those of unfamiliar with the parlance, “queue” is fancy Frenchspeak for “line.” For whatever reason, that’s how Walt Disney World refers to its line (maybe to make them seem more pleasant?) But we digress. If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World, you’ve waited in queues. Probably for hours. After all, not everything has FastPass+.
Some of those queues are elaborately detailed, some are fairly basic. In some cases, the elaborate queues make the wait fly by, as you notice the elaborate details that foreshadow the attraction. At their best, the queues play an integral part in the experience, setting the stage for what’s to come and helping guests suspend disbelief.
Despite their importance, for many guests queues are a place to kill time while they wait for the ride. Instead of absorbing the scene of what’s around and taking the opportunity to enjoy the communal experience of these attractions and engage with others, we bury our heads in our phones and other gadgets. I have been guilty of this at times, I’ll admit. This is something I want to ‘correct’ in myself and would encourage others to do, as well.
To that end, you’ll notice not many of the ‘gamified’ interactive queues make this list. I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of most of the interactive queues Walt Disney World has added in the last 5 years or so as part of its NextGen initiative. In some cases, they are a serviceable option to entertain or distract kids who would otherwise grow restless waiting in line. (Don’t kids know that waiting builds character?!) From that perspective, they are a “win” over plain switchbacks. However, few of these really add to theme or story, and several seem like simple ways to placate those who don’t want to engage.
Let’s take a look at the best of what Walt Disney World has to offer in terms of their queues, and how these queues can make a difference in the guest experience…
10. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – The interactive element here is a really mixed bag. I have little to no desire to work as free labor while the dwarfs try to crowdsource their jewel sorting operations. After paying Disney prices just to get in the park, it really seems tacky to make guests work for their seat on the ride. Setting aside that one game, the interactive elements here are neat, particularly the colored water (heads up, kids: green water tastes best!) and spinning jewel buckets. However, it’s the detail of the mine and texture of the spaces that really makes the experience for me. The whole area is just really lovely, and although I wouldn’t want to be stuck here for 60+ minutes, the design and details do make a 30-minute wait pass quickly.
9. Dumbo – A decade ago, if you polled guests on the worst queue experience at Walt Disney World, I’d hazard a guess that that Dumbo and Peter Pan’s Flight would top that list. Now, both have upgraded queues, and what used to feel like an eternity now passes fairly quickly. Parents are sure to enjoy the indoor play area (great for letting them burn off some energy) that has received plenty of accolades, but what I like here is the outdoor experience, which has been plussed itself. From the beautiful lighting to the relaxed ambiance of Storybook Circus, Dumbo’s line now actually feels like less of a circus than it did when it was in the heart of Fantasyland.
8. Splash Mountain – This is a queue for which I have a particular fondness thanks to childhood memories. In the days before FastPass (and long before FastPass+), you waited in this entire line, quickly meandering through its three distinct sections before boarding. While the first section is ostensibly unremarkable, I remember being mesmerized by the ornate little birdhouses (what kind of delightful little creature built these?) and puzzled by the ‘Brer Critter’ posters up throughout the switchback areas. The details drew me in, and I wanted to know more. For me, the charming little features like this exemplify why Splash Mountain is such a beloved attraction. It has a lot of heart, which is evident even in the “basic” areas of the queue–and then even moreso in the barn and mountain itself.
7. Haunted Mansion – I have mixed feelings about the re-imagined NextGen queue here. A lot of purists vehemently oppose it, and I get why. The overly-cartoonish style of the queue does contradict the otherwise foreboding tone of the Haunted Mansion’s opening scenes, and it seems like a caricature of the ghosts present in the attraction. With that said, I think for kids, it provides an approachable vehicle for foreshadowing some of what they’ll see inside, and could undercut apprehension younger guests might have. All things considered, I could do without it, but I don’t take issue with most opinions for or against it. Irrespective of the interactive queue, I think the original queue (which I view as ending inside, right before the Stretching Room) here is one of the best-executed examples of subtly hinting at what’s to come. The suspense arises out of the small details (such as the ghost-horse hearse), overgrown flora, and ominous gothic style. That’s juxtaposed by the almost jovial headstones, which creates a bit of tension in guest expectations. For a first-timer who’s really paying attention, there’s a sense of conflict, and it’s achieved via this subtlety. Haunted Mansion earns a spot on the list for this brilliant less-is-more approach, rather than the interactive queue. (In fact, we’d go as far as to recommend first-timers doing Haunted Mansion late at night to skip the interactive queue on their first ride.)
6. Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid – This is the first time I think the Imagineers really hit a home run with the new interactive queues. Here, the interactive crabs take a backseat to the stunning details of Prince Eric’s castle and the grotto around it, rather than being pushed to the forefront. The interactive element doesn’t feel forced, and it’s a best of both worlds result. Beyond that, the Little Mermaid queue makes the list because of its excellent variety. From passing under waterfalls and through rocky coves into the lavish castle itself, each step through the queue feels different and unique. Nothing is redundant or wasted. Even when the attraction is a walk-on, we take our time to walk through the queue slowly.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean – The winding queue through the Castillo del Morro fortress gets high marks for the way it removes you from the daytime world of the theme park. Almost from the beginning, you lose yourself in the fort, as the queue here deviates from the less-conventional back-and-forth of standard queues. You pass by cannons, stockpiles of ammunition, jails, and that iconic “stalemate” scene, all the while not knowing what might be around the next corner. This approach is equal parts disorienting and intriguing, and the net (albeit unstated) result is that it gives rise to a fairly easy suspension of disbelief. At the end of fortress queue, you’re boarding a boat to head into a moonlit bay where pirate ships lurk in the distance? It sounds far-fetched in writing, but you totally buy into the conceit while experiencing it in person. And that‘s why Pirates of the Caribbean’s queue is so effective.
4. Kali River Rapids – The most unfortunate thing about Kali River Rapids is the ride itself. While decent by rapids ride standards, the queue is rife with details and arguably gives Expedition Everest a run for its money as the best in Animal Kingdom. The first time through, it sets the bar really high, and you expect that the attraction itself will be similarly detailed. Afterwards, you’re left wondering, “did they run out of money before they got to the attraction itself?” Between this and our preference not to be soaked, we realized on our last trip that we hadn’t been through the Kali River Rapids queue for several years. We remedied this by walking through one night last trip when there was no wait, and taking the “chicken exit” at the end. Totally worth it, and we’d recommend the “Kali River Rapids Walk-Though” as an experience superior to the ride itself.
3. Star Tours – This ranks higher than it otherwise might because I think the queue at Star Tours really elevates the whole experience to the next level. I don’t think Star Tours can be dismissed as a ‘glorified simulator’, and that’s in large part because so much of the attraction is built around the pre-flight experience. Like so many of the attractions on this list, you buy the premise of the attraction here because the queue helps convey the feeling that you’re a passenger in some sort of spaceport terminal. This is accomplished via everything from the Starspeeder to the luggage screening to flight status boards. Beyond that, the Star Tours queue is really enjoyable because there are so many nods, homages, and visual gags. It’s self-referential (almost to a fault) in a way that means there’s always something new to spot, and this is another attraction where the queue is almost as compelling as the ride.
2. Expedition Everest – For a rollercoaster, Expedition Everest does a surprising amount of storytelling. The area starts by introducing guests to Serka Zong, a quaint little village that houses local mom & pop businesses, including Norbu and Bob’s (Norbu being mom, I guess?) Himalayan Escapes travel agency, where guests will start by booking their trip up the Forbidden Mountain. From there, we travel through Tashi’s General Store and Bar, small family home, monastery and shrines, and the converted yeti museum. The cumulative effect of these spaces on the guest is an understanding of the reverence locals have for the Yeti, and also an understanding of the creature’s significance and strength. It’s established as powerful, but not painted as a villain. You’re given a sense of trepidation about the journey, but also excitement and intrigue. In a way, it’s sort of like getting hyped up for climbing Everest, except your ascent will be much quicker given the whole rollercoaster thing. It doesn’t hurt that there is an embarrassment of artifacts (both real and reproduced) from Nepal, meaning you could be stuck in a 2-hour line and could still be captivated without ever embracing the warm glow of your iPhone screen.
1. Tower of Terror – More than any attraction at Walt Disney World–or anywhere else, for that matter–Tower of Terror is a flawlessly executed experience from the moment you first spot the Hollywood Tower Hotel from the end of Sunset Boulevard. The view is the establishing shot, the stroll down Sunset feels like the opening credits scroll, and the outdoor gardens are foreshadowing of what’s to come. I have distinct memories of visiting Tower of Terror in its first or second year, and actually being spooked by the fog outdoors (an effect that, sadly, no longer works) along with the eerie background music. Then you get to the lobby of the hotel, which is as grand as it is spooky, and furthers the tone for the rest of the attraction, and the brilliantly-integrated Twilight Zone tie-in.
The premise of stepping into an episode of the show is brilliant, and is a wonderful framing device that gives added importance to the queue. It also allows the Imagineers to include a treasure trove of references to classic episodes of the television show, the vast majority of which will be lost on casual guests but are truly appreciated by Twilight Zone fans (a prime example of “Disney Details”). I could gush and gush about the brilliance of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (and have); for me, this is the quintessential queue at Walt Disney World. I certainly hope the persistent rumors of it being re-themed to Guardians of the Galaxy are untrue, as that would demonstrate that the company’s leaders decision-makers don’t get what makes Disney, well, Disney.
That covers our picks for the coolest queues at Walt Disney World. While there are easily another 10 deserving themed queues, we think these are the best of the best!
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Do you agree or disagree with our choices for the best queues at Walt Disney World? Any queues you love? Any memories of queues wake you with cold sweats (Soarin’, I’m looking at you!)? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!