We love the themed design at Walt Disney World; it’s what made us diehard fans in the first place. We also think that using Lightning Lanes to skip lines can be overrated and other savvy strategy can work just as well or better. So it probably comes as no surprise that we have the unpopular opinion that there are certain queues should not be skipped.
At their best, Walt Disney World’s elaborate queues make the wait fly by, as you notice the elaborate details and Imagineering uses the spaces to foreshadow the attraction or extend their stories. Queues can play an integral opening act of the experience, setting the stage for what’s to come and helping guests suspend disbelief.
It makes me a little sad when I’m in line and look around to see a sea of faces buried in phones. It makes me even sadder that Walt Disney World has practically forced guests to do this, by making My Disney Experience so essential for booking ride reservations, ordering food, etc. But that’s another rant for another day. The bottom line is that highly-themed queues are one of the things that separates Walt Disney World from Six Flags, and there are some that absolutely should not be skipped.
This is a controversial take because using the standby line as opposed to the Lightning Lane can come with a non-monetary cost, and one that’s sometimes considerable. Many attractions have elaborately-themed queues precisely because people are spending a lot of time waiting in the standby line, and the details give them something to see or do.
With that in mind, we’re not just putting this list together in a vacuum. It’s not simply a list of ‘good queues you skip via the Lightning Lane.’ We’re also going to approach this from the cost-benefit perspective of seeing the themed queues, and reasonableness of slotting these attractions into an itinerary without using Lightning Lanes.
Yeah, it’s a lot to juggle, but we try to come at as much as possible from a practical planning perspective–and that includes ‘just for fun’ lists like this. So with that in mind, here’s our list of the lines you shouldn’t skip (except when you should!) at Walt Disney World!
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – If you’re old enough to read this blog, skipping the queue at the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh could save your sanity. But if you’re reading this blog out of necessity, there’s a good chance you have kids who will absolutely adore it. I believe this is what philosophers have dubbed the “Prisoner of Pooh’s Dilemma.”
The interactive queue in the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is cute and filled with fun little games and tactile effects. Kids love it. We’ve heard from some friends whose families enjoy the line more than the ride.
The interactive queue in the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is also loud and chaotic and is a place microbiologists specializing in germ theory should study. I hate it. If all goes according to plan, Megatron will never even know there’s an interactive Pooh queue.
Given the foregoing, many people (single riders and couples) should skip this queue whenever possible. Others should do the exact opposite. A ‘best of both worlds’ approach is doing Pooh via standby towards the end of Early Entry or late in the evening, when it’s moving fast, so your kids can get a taste (not literally, please) of the interactive queue while saving your sanity. As you can see already, this is a tricky topic!
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – It’s a somewhat similar story here, as the Lightning Lane at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train bypasses portions of the interactive queue. The differences are two-fold, with the first being that the games and interactive features here are fun and not the least bit abrasive. It brings me way more joy than it should when I can get enough other guests to spin the jewels and get [redacted: spoiler] to appear.
Beyond that, 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 in a slow-moving line for hours on end, the design and details do make a half-hour wait at the end of the evening pass quickly.
With that in mind, whether to skip the line at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a very close call. You’re still getting a taste of the design and detail in the Lightning Lane, and nothing above is worth a 2-hour wait in line. Conversely, you won’t be waiting nearly that long if you follow our Best Ways to Beat Long Lines at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and do SDMT with 1 minute left on the clock!
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – The standby queue at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance features a waterfall, caverns, and series of rooms inside that set the stage for the action to come. The big deal here is pacing, as the standby queue takes you out of Galaxy’s Edge and resets the experience as you enter the hidden outpost and prepare for the mission to come.
This is a very similar story to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. If you’re debating between a midday 3-hour wait, there’s no question–skip the line. You’re not missing anything that is integral to the actual attraction story. If you’re able to follow our advice and do Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during Early Entry or at the end of the evening, the queue is worth it, as it further enhances and elevates a world-class attraction.
Haunted Mansion – Home to one of the more controversial interactive queues, Haunted Mansion’s standby queue is–at minimum–worth experiencing for yourself. The Lightning Lane skips the interactive portion entirely, picking up at the ‘classic’ beginning of the attraction.
The cartoonish style of the interactive queue may contradict the otherwise foreboding tone of the Haunted Mansion’s opening scenes, and like a bit of a caricature of the ghosts in the attraction. The ‘pro’ side of that is it provides an approachable vehicle for foreshadowing what kids will see inside, and could undercut apprehension younger guests might have.
If you set aside all of that controversy and how the interactive queue fits (or doesn’t) the atmosphere of Haunted Mansion, it’s a lot of fun. On its own terms, there are neat gags and fun interactive features (that still work!) along with an extension of the lore and storytelling inside.
As much as purists may grouse about its execution, I think the argument could be made that the Haunted Mansion interactive queue is a gateway into caring more about the backstory and history of the attraction, and that’s a good thing.
Toy Story Midway Mania – The defining feature of the Toy Story Mania queue is the Mr. Potato Head Audio-Animatronics figure in the standby line. Mr. Potato Head acts as a barker of sorts, interacting with guests and cracking jokes. There was a time when the Mr. Potato Head AA was among the most advanced at Walt Disney World, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
Still, I would argue that this is the coolest thing about the entire ride. The standby line also has more of everything, meaning references to classic games and toys that you won’t see in the Lightning Lane. The counterpoint is that the standby line can get really, really long and there’s almost always Lightning Lane availability for Toy Story Mania, even later in the day.
Moreover, once you’ve spent about 30 minutes in this line, all of the “details” begin blurring together and you notice that you’re essentially in a boxy warehouse with a bunch of switchbacks. But mid-morning or early-evening? That’s the perfect time for Toy Story Mania via standby, without much opportunity cost.
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run – The Single Rider line at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run skips over almost all of the queue and the pre-show, and we highly recommend avoiding it for your first ride-through as a result. The Lightning Lane is a different story, though, as you still see the pre-show and part of the queue.
Whether to skip the standby queue in favor of the Lightning Lane here largely comes down to the posted wait time and how big of a Star Wars fan you are. The regular line takes you through the maintenance areas of Ohnaka Transport Solutions via catwalks above where damaged ships are being repaired.
This area is absolutely brimming with details and Easter Eggs courtesy of the Imagineers, both in the visuals and audio. You’ll also have a great view of the backside of the Millennium Falcon via the windows. Oh, and if you’re among the .01% of guests still doing the Play Disney App, you definitely won’t want to pass up the standby line.
Tower of Terror – This 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 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.
Thankfully, you get close to the full experience no matter how you do it. You will miss some of what’s outdoors in the gardens via the Lightning Lane, but unless you’re a diehard fan of the Twilight Zone looking for every single episode Easter Egg, that’s probably okay. The merge point here happens inside the lobby, and you’ll still see the best portions of the queue and all of the pre-show.
As one of those aforementioned Twilight Zone fans who likes to linger here (and eve has the full background music loop on my playlists), I’m probably a bit of an odd duck on this one. Most regular people aren’t going to be missing much via the Lightning Lane.
Peter Pan’s Flight – One of the old school Fantasyland dark rides, the standby queue of Peter Pan’s Flight received a massive plussing with an all-new interactive area several years back. Prior to this, it was all standard switchbacks…which is still the case with the Lightning Lane, which skips the entirety of the interactive queue.
The indoor interactive area takes guests into the Darling household to experience enchanted encounters and endearing effects. This includes Tinker Bell flying around the room, and a variety of other shadow and light interactive features. There’s a lot here, and for kids, this can be even more magical than the attraction itself.
As a practical matter, this is a tough one. We love the mix of practical effects and modern technology, which produces some truly special results that will wow children (and adults!). From that perspective, it’s well worth seeing.
Expedition Everest – For a roller coaster, Expedition Everest has a shockingly strong story. The surrounding area starts by introducing guests to Serka Zong, a quaint little village that houses local mom & pop businesses, including Norbu and Bob’s 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 roller coaster thing.
The queue for Expedition Everest also holds an embarrassment of artifacts (both real and reproduced) that legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde and his team sourced from Nepal. You get a taste of this in the Lightning Lane, but far from the full effect. Given how easy strategy is for Animal Kingdom, doing standby here outside of midday is our obvious advice.
Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid – I would argue that the Little Mermaid dark ride has the most underrated queue at Magic Kingdom. This consists of interactive elements (a little crab scavenger hunt-sorta game), stunning details of Prince Eric’s castle and the grotto around it, passing under waterfalls, and navigating through rocky coves and caverns.
Even when the attraction is a walk-on, which is often, we take our time to walk through the queue slowly. Because the Little Mermaid dark ride often has a short wait and given that the queue is so good, we view this one as essential. Do it via standby at least once.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – I mentioned above that it makes me sad to see other guests with their faces buried in phones while in line. Well, another thing that makes me sad is people pressing against the far right wall in the Cosmic Rewind pre-show, wanting to shave 45 seconds off their wait time by being first into the loading area. Don’t follow their lead and (erroneously) assume there’s some sense of urgency to get into that area. There is not. But that’s not the point of this post, as the pre-show is after the merge point.
Before that merge point, there is a lot that the Lightning Lane skips in Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Basically, the entire Wonders of Xandar exhibit, which includes a great gallery filled with nods to Walt Disney, EPCOT Center, urban planning, and (of course) the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and characters.
I cannot fathom missing this queue on my first time through. That’s doubly true while the virtual queue is still in use for the standby line, given that the alternative is a pricey Individual Lightning Lane. This one is a no brainer–do the regular line for Cosmic Rewind.
Avatar Flight of Passage – The longest and most expensive queue (probably?) ever built in Walt Disney World has also gained some notoriety for the long lines it has held (they literally added a mid-queue restroom due to this), but it should also be famed for its remarkable attention to detail.
This queue takes guests through multiple different environments from outside through Pandora’s mountain range (a vista that offers the best view of Pandora’s floating mountains) to interior caves to RDA bunkers, with a lab that contains one of the coolest effects in all of Pandora. There is a ton of beauty in the first several sections of this queue, and it’s interesting to watch how nature has started to reclaim some of the abandoned test facilities.
The Lightning Lane skips almost all of this. Great news for those who want to shave steps off their visit to Walt Disney World’s largest theme park, but terrible news for fans of Imagineering’s lavish attention to detail and storytelling. All of that queue that the Lightning Lane skips is important to the story, and is worth seeing once. It’s also an important tactile counterbalance to the screen-based nature of the pre-shows and attraction.
This list isn’t numbered for a reason, but if it were, Avatar Flight of Passage would be the #1 queue that you shouldn’t skip. That’s bound to be a controversial or unpopular opinion given that the attraction has the longest average wait time at Animal Kingdom, routinely in the triple digits. It doesn’t matter. Find a way to experience Avatar Flight of Passage at least once without resorting to the Lightning Lane. It is well worth your time, even if that’s 100 minutes or more.
Any queues that you recommend first-timers do via standby instead of Lightning Lanes? Which queues do you think are essential to experience at Walt Disney World? Or, do you skip them all whenever possible? Do you agree or disagree with our picks and cost-benefit analysis of these standby lines at Walt Disney World? Any queues you love or hate? Any memories of slow-moving queues that have made you say never again? 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!