Ah, the best queues of Walt Disney World. 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 certain cases, the elaborate queues make the wait fly by, as you notice the elaborate details that foreshadow the attraction. In other cases, like Avatar Flight of Passage, even the elaborate queue cannot make the ridiculously long wait fly by. 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. 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…
T10. 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.
T10. 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 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.
9. 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.
8. 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 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.)
7. 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.
6. 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. On Page 2, we’ll look at the Top 5 queues in Walt Disney World–can the new Avatar Flight of Passage overthrow iconic queues like Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest? Click here to find out!