The last year has brought some significant changes to theme parks.
We’ve been seeing a TON of changes as Florida theme parks (and beyond) reopen from their historic closures this year, but our focus is on an even more noticeable change. Prior to the closures, we started to see Virtual Queues in theme parks, and now they’re expanding more as a health measure. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Virtual Queues, and how YOU can navigate them like a pro!
How do Virtual Queues work?
We’ve seen a few instances of virtual queues used in the past few years at the Disney Parks and most recently at Universal Orlando and Shanghai Disneyland. Though there are slight variations in the different systems, there are also a lot of similarities.
The Virtual Line at Universal Orlando uses the free Universal app on your smartphone. Once they’re in the park, the app gives guests the option of reserving a spot in line for any of the attractions that offer Virtual Lines. You can reserve a spot in line for up to two rides at a time and once you use those reservations, you’re free to make more. Universal’s Virtual Line is the only example where some attractions have both a Virtual Line and a standard standby line available at the same time.
Disney World and Disneyland have used a system that is slightly different at the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and later at the opening of Rise of the Resistance. Both systems utilize a Boarding Group method where guests use the My Disney Experience app to reserve a space in a Boarding Group. These groups would then get called in order throughout the day (starting with Boarding Group 1 and moving up) and you could head to the ride when yours was called (via a push notification to your phone).
Of course, the system works a little differently when it’s used for a whole land, like Galaxy’s Edge, instead of a singular attraction. In Disneyland, the Boarding Groups offered a four-hour window during which guests were allowed in the land. When those four hours were up, guests from the current boarding group were required to leave the land to make way for the next boarding group. However for an attraction like Rise of the Resistance, the boarding group simply meant you were permitted to enter the queue once your group was called.
The most recent Disney implementation of a virtual queue is the Disney Standby Pass in Shanghai Disneyland. This pass is currently in a trial period but gets rid of a physical line much like other implementations of a Virtual Queue. The Standby Pass is a free service through the Shanghai Disney Resort Official App. New passes become available hourly and allow guests to enter the standby line during a specific hour-long period, much in the same way that Disneyland’s MaxPass system has worked.
As you can see, there are some differences in the implementation of Virtual Queues, but the general process remains the same: guests use an app to reserve a specific window of time to access the ride. This keeps them out of the physical line and able to enjoy other areas of the parks while they wait for their designated ride time.
The Pros of Virtual Queues
As you can probably expect, there are a lot of advantages to using these queues. They definitely help to allow for physical distancing in reopened parks. We’ve seen them effectively help to keep large crowds from clustering in a high-demand queue like Universal’s Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. The same could be true if they were used to control crowds in more high-demand areas of the parks.
A behind-the-scenes pro of Virtual Queues is that they allow Disney and other parks to regulate the number of guests entering the queue in a given window of time. Disney, for instance, knows their rides’ capacities so that they can maximize riders and minimize wait times.
The Universal method is actually somewhat similar to Disneyland Resort’s MaxPass offering, and since you reserve rides two at a time throughout the day, that means that your day is not as structured. This has the effect of everyone getting a chance to ride the rides they want. There are no rides with availability running out first thing in the morning (like we were seeing each and every morning with Rise of the Resistance). Everyone is on an even playing ground.
When we tried out Universal’s Virtual Line, it felt pretty practical. You can plan out your day without that plan being too rigid, and you’ll spend less time waiting in line. With no pre-planning, we felt like we could’ve gotten on every single attraction in the course of a day! That’s pretty cool.
Plus, these systems can be flexible so that they can adjust for the demand. In Universal, once crowds started to lessen later in the day — they could turn the Virtual Line feature off. This allows for even MORE measured control of guests and ultimately can make for a more pleasant park day.
The Cons of Virtual Queues
But, the systems are not perfect. They can get wonky if there’s really high demand. The Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue essentially turned into a lottery system for those who got to the parks HOURS before it opened. This resulted in a situation where people who couldn’t get to the park until later in the day didn’t have a chance to ride at all.
In Universal, some rides were Virtual Line only; and Disneyland Shanghai’s Standby Pass shuts down access to the ride for anyone who DOESN’T have the pass. This can limit options for anyone who is unable to get a spot in the Virtual Queues for whatever reason.
Perhaps one of the biggest cons is that these Virtual Queue systems are not super accessible for those who aren’t tech-savvy or those who don’t have a smartphone. These folks could have a LOT of trouble in situations where the Virtual Line is the only option — and that doesn’t really seem fair.
So, let’s talk tips so that you can get the full advantage of these Virtual Queues! First off, if you’re having trouble with the system (whether from glitches or because you’re not the most tech-savvy), ask a Cast Member or Team Member. They will be happy to help you and get everything worked out!
It’s also beneficial to screenshot any important info (just in case!). If your booking suddenly disappears from your phone, it helps to have a photo you can show a Cast Member to prove it was there in the first place.
And what happens when a ride breaks down during your ride window? When rides break down at Universal Studios, those with active Virtual Queue windows are given the equivalent of a Multi-Experience Fastpass. Keep in mind, though, that you should give it some time after the ride comes back up before you head back. Hagrid’s broke down in Universal while we were there; since there was no express line, the line was SUPER long when we came back as all the people returned as SOON as the ride was running again.
Finally, and perhaps the most important tip, BRING A PORTABLE CHARGER! Having a functional phone is more important than ever when you’re in theme parks now. If your phone dies early in the day, you’re going to have a lot of trouble navigating the parks. So, be prepared!
FuelRod chargers are available at stations around the parks and resorts for $30 with unlimited free exchanges after your initial purchase, or you can bring your own charger from home. Here’s one of our favorites.
And there you have it! Now you know everything there is to know about this relatively new advent in theme parks. We’ll let you know as soon as more information is revealed pertaining to virtual queues in the Disney Parks. You can keep checking in with DFB for updates about Virtual Queues in Disney and beyond!
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How do YOU feel about Virtual Queues? Tell us in the comments!