Walt Disney World announced the opening date of Moana’s Journey of Water at EPCOT! This shares the debut date and new details about soft openings prior to the official debut! Plus, predictions about virtual queue v. standby, Genie+ Lightning Lane, crowds, and more! (Updated October 5, 2023.)
In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the attraction is officially known as Journey of Water Inspired by Moana (or Moana’s Journey of Water, as we’ll call it for simplicity’s sake). This is the first Walt Disney World attraction based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios hit film Moana, and is a walk-through exploration trail rather than a ride.
This ‘Moana Maze’ (not really a maze–it’s entirely linear) is an experience where guests interact with magical, living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting at the front of EPCOT, with Spaceship Earth looming in the background. Moana’s Journey of Water consists of a lush environment that engages and educates guests about the water cycle and how it sustains our world.
Moana’s Journey of Water is technically part of the new World Nature neighborhood of the former Future World. World Nature is dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty, awe and balance of the natural world. In addition to Journey of Water Inspired by Moan, World Nature also features The Land and Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions.
Fans won’t have to wait too much longer, or for all of the construction walls to come down in order to experience the new exploration trail! Walt Disney World announced that Moana’s Journey of Water will officially open on October 16, 2023.
Imagineers also shared that Moana herself will begin appearing in World Nature at EPCOT with her own meet & greet starting on October 16, 2023.
Soft Openings Start October 6, 2023
Walt Disney World has announced that Moana’s Journey of Water will soft open on select days and hours starting on October 6 and continuing through October 15, 2023.
According to the official operating hours, here’s the current soft opening schedule for Moana’s Journey of Water:
October 6, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 7, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 8, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 9, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 10, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 11, 2023: No times available.
October 12, 2023: No times available.
October 13, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 14, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
October 15, 2023: 9 am to 9 pm
Note that this schedule is subject to change, and Journey of Water could close at any time due to weather or technical difficulties.
During the soft open opportunities, Walt Disney World has indicated that a virtual queue may be available to join after guests enter EPCOT at 9 a.m. The virtual queue will remain open until it reaches capacity or is no longer needed to be used for that day. You can join the virtual queue in the My Disney Experience app.
Note that during AP and DVC previews, lines and wait times peaked relatively early in the day. In the evening hours, Moana’s Journey of Water was typically much less busy and not using a virtual queue. That makes sense to some degree, as usually the front of the park clears out as guests head to World Showcase for the evenings. With that said, Journey of Water is much better at night–between that and the lower crowds, we recommend checking it out after sunset.
For those who are unfamiliar with them, soft openings are also known as trial operations or technical rehearsals, and are basically an unannounced and controlled test period. They provide an opportunity for theme parks to open an attraction prior to its official opening and conduct operations and Cast Member training in a more forgiving and low-stress environment.
Typically, soft openings are not publicized via official resources. As a result, they always draw significantly small crowds than official openings. They’re a nice perk for guests who are already in the park and the most plugged-in Walt Disney World fans. (We preface that with “typically,” because TRON Lightcycle Run had a publicized soft opening in 2023, which is a first in our experience at Walt Disney World.)
Prior to TRON Lightcycle Run, Walt Disney World had gotten away from soft openings in recent years. With Moana’s Journey of Water, doing soft openings once again makes a lot of sense. But probably not highly publicized ones, especially since fall break is going to be busy. Rather, because I believe it would be prudent of Walt Disney World to slowly burn off as much demand as possible prior to the official opening date, so that it’s not chaos on October 16, 2023.
AP & DVC Previews
Regardless of a soft opening, we already know that Moana’s Journey of Water will offer previews for select affiliation groups, including Disney Vacation Club Members, Annual Passholders, Golden Oak Residents, Club 33 Members. In case you missed it, see Moana’s Journey of Water Preview Dates & Detailsfor more info.
The pertinent detail for those previews is that they do not require registration. This is a significant change as compared to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (both also at EPCOT). Having previews for those attractions offered locals a “squeak/sneak peek” at the new attraction with shorter wait times, while also helping spike attendance for EPCOT during the off-season and pulling forward some of those locals’ visits from October. Having a ‘release valve’ on demand was good for those attractions, but not essential.
Neither used standby lines upon opening, so there was no concern about overcrowding and long standby lines. (Not having as many locals ‘fight’ tourists for spots in the virtual queue is a good thing, but not an operational imperative.) Which brings us to the next topic…
Standby v. Virtual Queue
Don’t laugh or roll your eyes. Yes, Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is “only” an interactive exploration trail and not a blockbuster E-Ticket. But the thing is, virtual queues are not decided based upon how “big” an attraction is, but rather, how much it’s operationally necessary. Merchandise releases also aren’t major thrill rides, and yet, virtual queues are used for those from time to time.
The big question marks with Moana’s Journey of Water are hourly capacity, guest demand, and where to put the standby line amidst the sea of construction walls surrounding the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit. As mentioned above, CommuniCore Hall is not yet ready. The current corridor is already cramped due to the construction, and there’s not a ton of space for a physical standby line in this area until more walls come down.
Presumably, that will happen to some extent between now and the opening of Moana’s Journey of Water. The walls around CommuniCore will shrink, freeing up an area for overflow queue. However, I’m still skeptical that there will be sufficient space to accommodate a standby line.
Again, you might laugh at the notion that there will be long lines for a glorified interactive queue, or whatever derogatory terminology you might want to use to imply that Walt Disney World fans will wait for anything. And yeah, it’s true that us diehard fans do have an affinity for standing in long lines at EPCOT.
But this is also a question of throughput. Journey of Water is truly interactive, and many of the effects “work” best when there’s a slow trickle of guests through the experience. Otherwise, the timing is thrown off or there’s congestion everywhere and it’s less impressive/enjoyable. Operations will thus either need to pulse guests through Journey of Water slowly, or just open the floodgates and let some of the experience be lost during the initial period of high demand. (I could see that going either way.)
Anyway, all of this is a contributing factor when it comes to affiliation previews, soft openings, and even the official opening date. If Moana’s Journey of Water opened with zero previews during the hottest stretch of summer, it would’ve been so popular that it needed a virtual queue, or else had a standby line all the way back to the turnstiles.
My strong suspicion is that Walt Disney World has done all of the above as mitigation measures, with the hope that a virtual queue won’t be necessary. They know virtual queues are unpopular, but view them as a “necessary evil” of sorts. With a walkthrough experience, using a virtual queue presents those same headaches–and would also create unrealistic guest expectations. (It’s one thing to get up at 7 am for an awesome thrill ride…but another entirely to do it for a exploration trail!)
With all of that said, I still think there’s a reasonable chance Moana’s Journey of Water will need a virtual queue at first. Disney diehards love anything new, and EPCOT enthusiasts are the “worst” of all. No matter how many previews or how strategic the timing, this is going to have high demand at the outset. Even opening during a lull may not help much, as October through December is an incredibly popular time of year among annual visitors–so there’s going to be a steady stream of fans for whom this is brand-new.
Again, don’t laugh or roll your eyes. On the plus side, I think/hope there’s not much of a chance that Journey of Water Inspired by Moana will be an Individual Lightning Lane attraction. Like the virtual queue, this comes down to managing expectations–there would be a lot of frustrated first-timers if they bought an ILL for the new “Moana attraction” only to find out it’s not a ride. Walt Disney World (hopefully) knows better.
So the better question is whether it’ll be a Genie+ experience. I could see this going either way. Although there are no Lightning Lane tapstiles at the attraction entrance, there’s nothing to say that it couldn’t use handheld iPad scanners, just like a handful of other attractions. The issue is more one of queue management, and the fact that there isn’t space for one line, let alone two. It has the potential to be an operational quagmire.
On the other hand, money. Moana’s Journey of Water being part of Genie+ would help sell the service, and also “allow” Walt Disney World to raise the price of Genie+ at EPCOT. Heck, Walt Disney World could obviate a lot of the aforementioned issues by having Moana’s Journey of Water be Genie+ only (no standby line or virtual queue) for a while. I don’t want to give them any ideas, but that would actually be pretty savvy…and awfully unscrupulous!
With that said, I’ll be the optimist here: Moana’s Journey of Water probably won’t offer a Lightning Lane. Yeah, Walt Disney World loves money, but they still haven’t added Lightning Lane viewing to the fireworks, and I thought having that for Harmonious would’ve been an easy way to sell the service.
Sometimes Disney does pass on making a buck when it’ll come at the expense of the guest experience. My bet is that’s what happens here. Even though having Journey of Water be Lightning Lane-only for a few months would solve the aforementioned issues and make them a boatload of cash, they (hopefully) won’t do that–or a Lightning Lane at all–due to the damage it’d cause to the guest experience.
Ultimately, we are very much ready for Journey of Water Inspired by Moana to open and I’m cautiously optimistic about what it’ll add to the lineup at EPCOT in the long term. (I’ve already had the chance to experience Journey of Water, but I’ll save thoughts about how it “fits” EPCOT and whether it’s a worthwhile addition for a separate review.)
In the near-term, I have a lot of concerns and unanswered questions about how Journey of Water will “work” until demand dies down. Personally, I think these logistical hurdles and the tradeoffs Disney makes to “solve” or minimize them are interesting, but I’m also a geeky blogger and not strictly a regular guest. Between its capacity and the new attraction smell, I anticipate a number of unavoidable operational issues that are going to frustrate fans. Just remember that Disney doesn’t have any perfect solutions to the demand dilemma–it’s a bunch of least-bad choices. So if you find all of this annoying, your best bet is to simply wait until 2024 to experience Moana’s Journey of Water.
What do you think of Moana’s Journey of Water? Excited to experience this during your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World? Will you try to do it right away, or wait until demand dies down and it’s easier to experience the ‘Moana Maze’ minus the chaos and congestion? Does this exploration trail look appealing to you? Do you think this will be a solid addition to EPCOT, or do you wish it were added elsewhere? 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!