Walt Disney World has revealed preview dates for Moana’s Journey of Water at EPCOT! This shares the dates & details for Annual Passholder & DVC members, along with recommendations for attending the sneak peek and details about the virtual queue that’s being used. (Updated September 24, 2023.)
Before you get too excited about being the “first” to experience Journey of Water Inspired by Moana, it’s worth noting that Cast Member playtesting began in late July and ran through late last month. Playtesting differs from traditional previews in that Imagineering and Operations uses them to observe an attraction in action with normal audiences (or close to it) to see what works and what doesn’t. Participants are then surveyed afterwards for feedback, all of which Disney uses for test & adjust.
Walt Disney World has already moved on to regular Cast Member previews, just like most other recent attractions have offered. Cast Member previews for Journey of Water Inspired by Moana began on September 1 and will continue through September 22, 2023. That date is significant, as also just so happens to be the start of Disney100 at EPCOT, meaning that Moana’s official opening will miss that date.
We also now know that Moana’s Journey of Water will also miss the anniversary of EPCOT for its official opening date. Following the Cast Member previews, Annual Passholders can attend a special preview for Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana starting later this month. Walt Disney World Annual Passholder previews will take place at EPCOT from park open to park close on the following dates:
September 24 to September 29, 2023
October 1 to October 4, 2023
To participate in this preview experience, Walt Disney World Annual Passholders must have a theme park reservation for EPCOT on the day of the preview. Please note that:
If your theme park reservation is for a different theme park (and not for EPCOT), then you will NOT be eligible to participate in a preview that day.
If you enter EPCOT without a theme park reservation after 2:00 pm, then you will NOT be eligible to participate in a preview that day.
To check in for this preview, please visit the entrance to Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana—located across from Coral Reef Restaurant.
Registration is not required to attend the Moana’s Journey of Water AP preview.
Again, you must have a theme park reservation for EPCOT on the day of the preview–Park Hopping to EPCOT is not sufficient.
A standby queue will be in place for this experience; a virtual queue will not be available.
An eligible, activated Annual Pass is required to attend this preview. You must show your Annual Pass card, Disney MagicMobile pass, MagicBand or MagicBand+—along with valid photo identification—when checking in.
Everyone in your party must be an Annual Passholder to attend this preview experience.
All offerings are subject to change or cancellation without notice.
We also now have the details for Disney Vacation Club previews of Moana’s Journey of Water:
When: September 24 – 29 & October 1 – 4, 2023
Time: From park open through 5:00 p.m.
Where: Check-in will take place at the Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana entrance, across from the Coral Reef Restaurant in World Nature.
Who: Eligible DVC Members with a valid EPCOT theme park reservation and valid admission to EPCOT on a preview event date.
The only material difference appears to be that the DVC preview period ends at 5 pm, rather than running until park closing. I wonder if that’ll actually be enforced, or if both will operate in exactly the same way. Additionally, eligible DVC members means those who qualify for Membership Extras (meaning you bought DVC directly or have a resale contract that’s grandfathered in).
September 24, 2023 UPDATE: Moana’s Journey of Water previews started this morning, and there was a standby queue that formed immediately at park opening, wrapping around the construction walls and to the park entrance. If our estimates are correct based on attraction capacity and the pace of people through the walkthrough when we did it, this is easily a 2-hour long line.
Previously, Walt Disney World indicated that only a standby queue would be used for Journey of Water previews and NOT a virtual queue (see strikethrough above). After park opening today, they decided otherwise, launching an impromptu VQ as the line continued to worsen. This started as being offered via paper slips (a return of OG FastPass!), but has since been integrated into the My Disney Experience app under EPCOT -> Special Events:
Unlike other virtual queues for TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the one for Moana’s Journey of Water will only be used as necessary and after eligible Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members have entered EPCOT.
According to Walt Disney World, “standby line access for Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana may be available at park open and again after boarding groups have been called for the day. You can check back here to learn if current attraction access is via virtual queue or standby line.”
Frankly, it’s frustrating that Walt Disney World got caught flat-footed here. We’ve been discussing demand, capacity, and operational logistics for Moana’s Journey of Water for a while. In fact, our post about the Opening Date for Moana’s Journey of Water has an entire section dedicated to “Virtual Queue vs. Standby Line.”
Here’s the conclusion to that: “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.”
How this issue would be very obvious to someone on the outside, but not internally is confounding. That’s doubly so after multiple dates of Disney Park Pass reservations have fully booked up for EPCOT on preview days. Walt Disney World knew these dates would be busy–they have the data saying so!–and yet, they still said a virtual queue would not be used. (Let this be Exhibit 82 in the case that Walt Disney World is not nearly as good at forecasting attendance and demand as many of you seem to think.)
It’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions about what this means for the official opening day and thereafter, but our view is that this dramatically increases the odds that Moana’s Journey of Water will also need a virtual queue during normal ops. In the nearer term, it’s likely that the virtual queue will be necessary even after today. Although demand is always worst among the APs wanting to be “first,” the fact that park reservations are fully booked for several other dates suggests there’s a steady stream of demand in the days to come.
What follows is the original post about Moana’s Journety of Water AP and DVC previews…
Timing-wise, these preview dates make sense for Moana’s Journey of Water. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised the timeframe isn’t longer, running at least 2-3 weeks in late September and early October 2023.
That has pretty much been the preview playbook for EPCOT in the last few years with both Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Both of those had prolonged preview periods, and both occurred during the two slowest months of the year (September and May).
This was mutually advantageous: they 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…
It’s really interesting and curious that Walt Disney World is not requiring registration for Moana’s Journey of Water previews. There are a number of plausible potential explanations for this. One is simply that their system is so bad at sending out emails to notify APs of the registration opportunity, and that the past previews have filled up fast.
We’ve seen this play out again and again, which is why we send out email alerts letting readers know when registration emails have gone out for past previews. We typically hear from a ton of people who didn’t get the email directly from Walt Disney World–or who had it get caught by SPAM filters–but got the notice from us, and were only able to register because of that.
We’ve also heard from even more frustrated fans who didn’t get the official notification and saw our email “too late” (meaning over 15 minutes after it went out), got stuck in a long virtual queue for registration and wasted hours watching a progress bar…only to be shut out. I’d hazard a guess that Walt Disney World has received a ton of complaints from Annual Passholders as a result of the preview process.
So this could simply be a “solution” to that–shifting demand to the park itself, and letting the chips fall where they may.
Another possibility is that Walt Disney World is dropping registration since Moana’s Journey of Water is not an blockbuster addition or E-Ticket attraction, so the internal view is that preview registration is unnecessary. This could be a matter of not wanting to set expectations too high, or thinking that demand will be far lower since this is “only” a walk-through water exploration trail.
I’m skeptical of either explanation. For one thing, the ship has already sailed on setting expectations. Walt Disney World has been teasing Moana’s Journey of Water for years–for better or worse, fans have already formed an opinion on what this is or should be. The hype is what it is, and preview registration (or the lack thereof) is not going to change that.
For another thing, this could be an opportunity to purchase an Annual Passholder exclusive Moana fidget spinner for “only” $25, and there would still be a long line on day one. Disney diehards are a different breed, and savor nothing more than exclusivity and ridiculously long lines. Since this is a new attraction several years in the making rather than a fidget spinner, you can be assured that the demand will be even higher. And not just on day one. So either Walt Disney World management has made a massive miscalculation, or this is purposeful.
My money’s on the latter. I suspect all of the previews have been and will be part of a “stress test” on Moana’s Journey of Water–both the walk-through itself and logistics in handling demand and operational realities of a relatively low-capacity walkthrough nestled among construction walls.
Walt Disney World operations is still likely learning a lot about crowd flow for Moana’s Journey of Water. I suspect final line logistics have not been finalized–and probably won’t be until after AP previews. (The queueing issues for Journey of Water are another topic for another day–for now, just be aware that they exist.)
Suffice to say, if you’ve been shut out of AP or DVC previews in the past and are relieved to see that Moana’s Journey of Water is lower stress…you might want to hold that thought. What’s happening here is Walt Disney World opening the floodgates and shifting that stress to the in-park experience. You’ll pay the price in the Florida heat and humidity, rather than while sitting at your computer enjoying creature comforts, such as air-conditioning.
On a positive note, demand for Journey of Water previews will definitely be lower than for Cosmic Rewind or TRON, but so too is the barrier to entry. Those previews could be pretty chaotic, and that was even after Walt Disney World limited their levels well below organic demand. In this case, organic demand is lower–but it’s going to be unchecked. Total shot in the dark, but I’m guessing more APs show up each day for the Moana’s Journey of Water previews than did for Cosmic Rewind or TRON Lightcycle Run.
To that point, demand for Moana’s Journey of Water previews is going to be at its highest on the morning of September 24, 2023. This is an incredibly easy prediction to make even though it’s a Sunday when Pixie Passes are blocked out. The basis for this is quite simple–it’s a weekend when many locals are off work, and there are tons of diehard Walt Disney World fans who want to be “first” for everything.
Following that, September 25 in the morning will be very busy for pretty much the exact same reason, with the lack of Pixie Pass blockouts further fueling elevated demand. To be clear, those entire days will be bonkers, but the mornings will be especially bad.
After that, I’d expect it to be reasonably busy most of the time, perhaps with lower crowds in the mornings on subsequent days and higher crowds in the evenings after work and school. In general, “best” and “worst” are relative terms, as it’s likely that lines will be lengthy pretty much no matter when you go during the preview period.
We won’t be able to attend these previews for Moana’s Journey of Water, but if we could, we’d target the mornings of September 28 or October 3. Depending upon how chaotic the earlier dates are, we might even do Early Entry and make a beeline for Journey of Water. I’d probably also return for evening on either or both days, hoping that demand had died down a bit. (This assumes each AP can attend multiple times; if not, I’d go only at night and just deal with whatever the crowds might be.)
To each their own, but I personally do not see the point in trying to be “first” for a preview of Moana’s Journey of Water. For one thing, you won’t be first–there’s already been over a month of Cast Member previews. For another thing, who cares? Are the bragging rights of being first-but-not-really that great? Is it worth fighting what will undoubtedly be colossal crowds?
The answers for me are an unequivocal “no,” and I say that as someone who blogs about Walt Disney World. (You’ve probably heard the saying, “it’s better to be the best than the first.” That also applies to being a fan and enjoying things for fun rather than having bragging rights in being first.)
For those who are wondering, this potentially leaves the door open to soft openings for Moana’s Journey of Water. My guess is that the walk-through opens after Columbus Day in order to miss the worst of the fall break crowds. If that’s accurate and the official date ends up being October 16 or later, I could see Journey of Water doing wider soft openings as something of a release valve for regular guest demand.
As always, we’ll be paying close attention to what happens with both the official opening date for Moana’s Journey of Water and any (additional) preview or soft opening opportunities. If you’d like a heads up when an announcement is made or soft openings begin, you can subscribe to our free email newsletter for instant alerts.
Ultimately, we are 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. In the near-term, I have a lot of concerns and unanswered questions about how Journey of Water will “work” until demand dies down.
Between its capacity and the new attraction smell, I anticipate a number of unavoidable operational issues that are going to frustrate fans–including those who were previously pissed off about being shut out of previews completely. Personally, I think opening the floodgates is an interesting approach for AP and DVC previews and a “good” way to stress test for what demand will be like and how Moana’s Journey of Water will handle regular guest demand once it officially opens. But in fairness, I say this as someone who won’t have to endure the long lines myself, and can watch it play out from afar!
What do you think of Moana’s Journey of Water? Excited to attend an Annual Passholder or Disney Vacation Club member preview? Will you try to do one of the dates 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!