When I was a kid, the Walt Disney World theme parks had a reputation. Come to our parks and stand in line in the beaming Florida sun.
If you don’t get heat stroke, you’ll eventually get to ride a bumpy track ride starring a toad from a movie no one remembers.
A Disney vacation was something of a trade-off. Give money and be willing to endure a set amount of pain and discomfort, and Disney would provide life-long memories.
In the intervening decades, Disney has turned crowd management into an art form. From “adjusting” announced wait times to encourage or discourage riders to things like the now-defunct FastPass, Disney has developed a toolkit of options to help manage crowd flow and maximize the experience.
After all, happy guests are typically willing to spend more during their Disney vacation than miserable ones.
Among Disney’s current tools are Individual Lightning Lanes, Disney Genie, Disney Genie+ and occasionally the virtual queue.
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What’s a virtual queue at Disney?
Essentially, a virtual queue at Disney is a physical queue reduction tool.
From time to time, Disney will make certain popular rides available through the virtual queue.
Using the My Disney Experience app, you can – with your tickets and Disney Park Pass Reservation – book a spot in line.
Is Disney still using a virtual queue?
Yes. Disney says that it – from “time to time” – uses virtual queues. It’s actually a wait times mitigation tool for a new attraction that is most frequently used at the ride launch.
Currently, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in EPCOT is the only one of Disney’s popular attractions to use a virtual queue.
Previously, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT had virtual queues.
They, however, have both transitioned over to standby queues.
How do I join the Disney virtual queue?
Using Guardians as an example, you first must have theme park reservations and tickets to the EPCOT park. Two days before your reservation, Disney will send a notification.
However, you cannot get your place in line until the day of the visit.
We didn’t get a similar message when we used the virtual queue for Remy’s. Therefore, it is uncertain if that is a new policy for all virtual queue rides moving forward or simply a one-off for Guardians.
On the day of your visit, there are three windows to book your place in the virtual queue. You must book your space or you won’t get to ride. When there is a virtual queue, there is no standby line.
Disney does, however, allow you to purchase Individual Lightning Lane Access for Guardians.
The windows to book your virtual queue spot open at the following times:
7 am: You do not have to be in the park to book your spot. You must have a ticket and park reservations for the correct park – in this case, EPCOT.
1 pm: Guests must physically be in the park – in this case, EPCOT – to use this window. It does not matter if you have an annual pass or a park hopper. You must be in the park.
6 pm: On select dates only, in which the park has extended evening theme park hours, guests at any of the Disney Deluxe Resort locations or the Villa Deluxe Resort may use the virtual queue system to book a spot in line for the after-hours access.
What you should know about using virtual queue at Disney
You still need a theme park reservation and a ticket to join the virtual queue – or a ticket or annual pass with the park hopping option. You must also enter the park for which the reservation was made.
Remember, competition will be especially fierce at the 7 am slot. This is because everyone with an EPCOT reservation can compete for a spot in the virtual queue.
Before the window for the virtual queue opens, select one member of your party to use the app to book your party’s spot.
You don’t need to have multiple people trying to log on and book your group. In fact, it can cause you to miss a spot in line.
You only get one virtual queue spot per day, so if the system sees multiple bookings, it will reject them. Therefore, you might want to pick the person with the best cell service.
At 6 am, that person can log on and verify your party. Importantly, be certain that all members of your party are included in the boarding group. You can reserve your boarding group spot until 7 am.
After selecting your chosen availability time, say for instance 10 am, you book your group and you will be given a boarding group number.
Disney warns that receiving a boarding group number and virtual queue reservation does not guarantee you’ll get to ride.
To put it in plainer terms, stuff happens. If the ride has to shut down for some reason, your window may close.
If your boarding group is called to return, you’ll receive a notification via the My Disney Experience app. Then, head over to the entrance of the experience within your designated return window.
How long do you have to wait in the virtual queue?
In our experience, it’s about a 45-minute wait once you are in the physical queue. But obviously, that can vary based on a lot of factors.
You should know, however, you’re unlikely to simply arrive during your designated return window and just walk right onto the ride.
Can I ride Guardians twice in one day?
Yes, if you pay for it.
While you are only allowed to use the virtual queue once in a day, you can use your virtual queue spot AND pay for Individual Lightning Lane access.
Are there any other virtual queues on the horizon?
Well, Disney is a bit cagey about the exact policy. Currently, they can use them for select experiences and at the launch of popular attractions in the future.
The next major opening is the Tron ride in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. It will assuredly open with a virtual queue before transitioning to the standby lane.
Why doesn’t Disney take all of its rides to virtual queues?
Theoretically, Disney has the ability to apply the technology when it feels the need. If, for instance, Smugglers Run surged in popularity and had massive wait times, Disney could make the decision to install a virtual queue.
Rides like Smugglers Run and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway are an important part of the Genie+ service.
For example, it serves as an upsell that allows guests to choose from a handful of rides where they can skip the standby queue. A virtual queue would lessen the motivation for guests to pay for Lightning Lane access.
Disney is unlikely – in my opinion – to give up that potential revenue to open a virtual queue for a ride already in existence.
Also, it comes down to crowd management again. Disney’s models are based on the fact that “x” number of people are going to be in line at any time in the parks. I’m not smart enough to crunch the numbers.
However, it seems to me that if all the rides had virtual queues, it would be more difficult to keep other parts of the park experience from being unpredictably overwhelmed.
Is going through the hassle of the virtual queue worth it?
Yes. My family missed the virtual queue option for Rise of the Resistance. It had transitioned to a regular standby lane. We waited a miserable two hours.
Certainly, it was completely worth it. But a chance to ride one of the park’s new and spectacular rides with only a 45-minute wait is better.
In the case of Guardians, many say it is now the best ride at Disney. Although I, as a child of the Force, cannot bring myself to admit it – it is absolutely a must.
What do you think about Disney’s virtual queue? Have you tried it? Let us know in the comments.