Walt Disney World has once again updated its policies on virtual queues, reflecting another way big changes are coming to the guest experience starting on January 9, 2024. This post covers how TRON Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will work after that, plus our commentary about how this could impact crowds–and why WDW should retire VQs completely. Here’s the announcement:
From time to time, a virtual queue—accessible via the My Disney Experience app—may be used for select attractions or experiences. When a virtual queue is in place, you can request to enjoy that attraction or experience later in the day, so you can enjoy other experiences while you wait. When the virtual queue is in place, a standby queue will not be available, and Guests must use the My Disney Experience app to enter the attraction or experience.
Starting January 9, Guests will be able to join one attraction virtual queue at any theme park where they have valid admission. Guests may hold one attraction virtual queue at a time. Like today:
Select admission types may also require a theme park reservation to join a virtual queue.
Guests do not need to be inside a theme park to request to join the virtual queue at 7:00 AM.
Guests must be inside the theme park to request to join the virtual queue at 1:00 PM.
Stated differently, regular tickets that don’t require reservations will be able to attempt to join the 7 a.m. virtual queues without restriction. Walt Disney World’s system will simply validate that you have eligible park admission–no reservations will be necessary. Not a huge surprise, as this is exactly how it works with single-day tickets, the 4-park magic tickets over the summer, and other select ticket types that already don’t require reservations. We’ve never heard of anyone having problems joining the virtual queue with any of those tickets.
Although not expressly stated, the same will almost certainly be true for Annual Pass good-to-go dates. Walt Disney World’s system already can validate on reservations or park tickets, so presumably there’s an “off-switch” of sorts for admission types or times that don’t require reservations. You never really know with Disney IT–it’s always a wildcard–but they’ve been managing this successfully for several months already. Safe to assume it’ll continue to work how it has for select ticket types.
One thing to note–especially as Park Hopping restrictions are dropped–is that Walt Disney World’s official policies almost certainly are not 100% correct. It has never been the actual policy that you need to be in the park for the 1 pm entry time. Everyone in your party does need to tap into Magic Kingdom or EPCOT (as the case may be) at some point before 1 pm in order to “unlock” access to the virtual queue at 1 pm. Meaning you could arrive for park opening, walk over to Steakhouse 71 at the Contemporary for lunch, and try at 1 pm from your table.
In the past, none of the virtual queues have been geofenced or based upon proximity—this functionality has unlocked in the My Disney Experience app for each guest after they have physically tapped into the park’s tap/turnstiles. You can leave after tapping in and still join during the afternoon entry time from your hotel room or wherever–you could literally be inside Magic Kingdom or Manitoba, it wouldn’t matter.
The virtual queue system only validates whether you’ve tapped into the park where you’re trying to join a VQ (meaning Magic Kingdom or EPCOT), not your current location. It can actually be advantageous to leave the park midday, as that’s when crowds and wait times are worst. If you’re like us, you also may prefer to do lunch at a Magic Kingdom area resort rather at Walt Disney World’s worst food park.
Going forward, we also see a number of scenarios where we’re bouncing back and forth between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and that should make the 1 p.m. virtual queue easier.
Speaking of strategy, several readers have asked how we think this will impact crowds and/or demand for virtual queues. That’s a good question, but my answer is not really at all. Some of you are playing 4D chess while the majority of Walt Disney World guests are struggling just to find their checkers pieces.
It’s definitely a “power user” idea to think like this. The reasoning would be that, if you’re shut out of the 7 a.m. virtual queue, you quickly pivot to a different park. That way, instead of putting all your chips into the 1 p.m. virtual queue, you can try the 7 a.m. VQ again on a different day, and ensuring a spot in the VQ before you even enter the park.
It’s good theoretical logic. The problem, I think, is that the only people who actually think this way are highly likely to be very good at joining virtual queues, and thus, they will not be shut out in the first place in any meaningful numbers. Stated differently, the person gaming this out is at pretty much zero risk of being shut out of the virtual queue.
By and large, those who do get shut out would never consider doing this in the first place. It’s not just a skill issue–the type of planners who are more inclined to care enough to pivot probably have ADRs and other things locking them into specific parks on specific days.
This dynamic could be different on Annual Pass good-to-go dates. A far more likely scenario than the above is APs only visiting Magic Kingdom or EPCOT if they’re able to score a spot in the virtual queue for TRON Lightcycle Run or Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
However, good-to-go days are going to be ones where the attendance forecast is lower for the parks in question and there’s excess capacity for Annual Passholders without reservations. So there’s the practical reality of that and the still relatively-low likelihood of a high number of APs revolving visits around virtual queues.
As such, my answer is that this virtual queue change will have a negligible impact on attendance and crowds. At most, we’re probably talking about fewer than 100 people per day who would pivot. Unless all of those people have a meet-up and somehow queue up in front of you for every single ride, it’s not going to impact you.
Another better question might be whether you should pivot if you get shut out. Also no.
Again, I think there’s a low chance–probably less than 10%–that any of you who have read our speed strategy are getting shut out of the 7 a.m. virtual queue. The most likely scenario where it happens is a tech glitch–and those definitely do occur. There are also still some days where, even with fast fingers and all going according to plan, you lose out on the VQ at 7 a.m. But that’s happening less and less.
More importantly, there’s still the 1 p.m. virtual queue even if something goes wrong with the 7 a.m. entry. The 1 p.m. VQ is now much, much easier to join on the vast majority of days. Last time we checked, it was open for multiple minutes over 85% of the time for both Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle Run. In other words, the odds are very much in your favor–especially as a power user.
I understand that ~85% is still not 100%, and that leaves ample room for uncertainty. The problem, though, is that the remaining 10-15% of dates are very busy, and you really should have ADRs and, ideally, Lightning Lane reservations on those days (at least for Magic Kingdom). So one way or another, you probably shouldn’t alter your plans!
I’ll bet many of you opened this post thinking that the big change for 2024 would be Walt Disney World eliminating virtual queues. When I first saw the blurb about virtual queue experience updates, that was certainly my hope.
Honestly, we’ve been expecting the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind virtual queue to be retired for a while. We first wrote about the declining demand for it last July, and predicted it would be retired by the start of the August off-season. When that ended up being wrong, we moved that prediction to mid-January…then shortly before TRON Lightcycle Run’s opening.
At this point, we’ve resolved ourselves to the Cosmic Rewind virtual queue somehow still existing when Megatron is tall enough to ride. Whenever it seems like it’s about to happen–like this summer, when Walt Disney World set up an outdoor overflow that turned into a seating area–the plans are abandoned for whatever reason. (Also this summer, we received a survey with leading questions that, I think, was sent to reinforce the preordained conclusion that guests want virtual queues.)
Honestly, I like virtual queues and am selfishly, not-so-secretly (since I’m posting about it here) happy to see them continue. However, I can also appreciate that I am not the average guest and that what’s good for me is not good for the park-going public.
I like virtual queues because I’m very 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. That applies even if you’re planning your first trip!
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 this year. At minimum, they’re more efficient than waiting in a standby line and/or are cheaper than buying an Individual Lightning Lane.
I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I’ve gotten to the point where I only join the 1 p.m. virtual queue and hesitate for a bit (usually around 1:05 p.m., but it’s crowd-dependent) so I get a callback time later in the evening when the return line is almost always shorter (unless there was significant downtime earlier).
Using this method, 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. The only other headliner attraction I ride as much as those two is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (can’t resist at the end of the night when it’s a walk-on). That most definitely would not be true if the rides were posting 90+ minute standby wait times–and both would but for the virtual queue.
I know I’m not alone in this, and a lot of other Annual Passholders and locals who would otherwise balk at high standby wait times are doing Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle Run every single visit. 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 90-minute standby wait, those spots are coming at the expense of someone else (assuming that the attractions are operating at or close to 100% efficiency–and they are).
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 unable to join for whatever reason, 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 and its marketing might’ve been one of the reasons they booked the Walt Disney World trip in the first place!
These are the very demographics that, in my opinion even as a biased and self-interested Annual Passholder, Walt Disney World should be favoring. It’s probably 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 might sound crazy to some of you. If you booked a trip after seeing marketing for Cosmic Rewind or TRON Lightcycle Run, wouldn’t you do the requisite research to ensure you’ll be able ride?!
But it’s important to remember that not everyone is like you. It’s also easy to underestimate how much knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years, and just how daunting or unintuitive all of this is to the uninitiated. For like the thousandth time, there’s a reason why we say that if you can master visiting Walt Disney World, you can travel anywhere. Language barriers, lengthy international times and time zone changes have nothing on the complexity of WDW!
Perceptions of virtual queues among Walt Disney World fans have changed a ton since late 2019 when the system debuted for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. For a while, our strategizing for that attraction was the most popular topic on this blog. There was so much fear, uncertainty, doubt–and thirst for answers. That long ago ceased to be the case, as most you reading this became comfortable with virtual queues and started leveraging them to your advantage.
Give fans enough time to learn how to exploit something, and they’ll learn to love what they once hated. (Save this sentence for when first-reactions roll in for Lightning Lane advance-booking, and suddenly a bunch of Genie+ fans come out of the woodwork!)
Both winners and losers still exist with virtual queues, as capacity is finite. That has not changed. What has changed is that you reading this are now typically the winners instead of potential losers. So your perception of virtual queues has largely changed–or at the very least, it stopped being front of mind.
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. Virtual queues add yet another unnecessary layer of friction and make things overwhelming and intimidating for inexperienced and older guests.
Thoughts on the virtual queue changes for TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind? Happy or disappointed about this? Think this will have any impact of attendance, crowds, or the dynamic with VQs? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of virtual queues being guest-unfriendly as a whole? 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!