Welcome, World Travelers! Goodbye And Good Riddance, Virtual Queue!
by James Coulter
Earlier this September, Walt Disney World discontinued virtual queues for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios. Virtual queues are still being utilized on the West Coast at Disneyland with Rise of the Resistance and Spider-Man: Web Slingers, but over here on the East Coast, guests will now wait in an actual line rather than a virtual one for attractions.
Virtual queues were exactly what they sounded like. If you wanted to ride an attraction with a virtual queue, you did not wait in line. Instead, you would open your app at a designated time, either 7 a.m. or 2 p.m., for a chance to designate your place on a “virtual queue.” If you received a “boarding pass,”you would return to the attraction at your assigned time to gain admission. However, that’s only if you were lucky enough to receive a boarding pass, which were infamous for running out in mere seconds.
If virtual queues sound like a lottery, that’s because they essentially were. Many other news outlets and blogs have stated that fact. Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider wrote how Disney had a “lottery problem” with its virtual queue system and howthe entire experience felt like the actual lottery.
“That is frustrating thousands of fans who feel like they’ve wasted an expensive ticket when they are denied a chance to ride,” he wrote. “I love the idea behind a virtual queue… It’s the theme park version of putting your name in at a busy restaurant. But when tens of thousands of people try to enter a virtual queue at once, ‘first-come, first-served’ becomes meaningless.”
I had two experiences with the virtual queue. Neither of them were good. During my first trip, I had opened the My Disney Experience app at precisely 2 p.m. when I heard someone in line exclaim in frustration that all of the boarding groups had been filled. I soon discovered that very truth for myself when I opened up the virtual queue.
I nearly had some luck on my second trip. Five minutes before the 2 p.m. mark, I opened the app and repeatedly refreshed the virtual queue until 2 p.m. Through a stroke of luck, I was notified that a boarding group was available. Awestruck, I pressed the button and waited in anticipation as the app told me it would prepare my boarding pass—for 25 minutes, during which time the announcement was made over the park loudspeakers that all boarding groups had been filled. Needless to say, I did not go on Rise of the Resistance.
Now, are there ways to cheat the system? Sure. There were plenty of videos and articles explaining how guests could guarantee themselves a boarding pass on the virtual queue. But that’s the problem. If you need to “cheat” the system to participate in it properly, then the system is broken. It doesn’t matter if I woke up at the crack of dawn to get a spot on the morning queue, or if I opened and refreshed the app ad infinitum until the afternoon queue, the fact guests have to go to such extreme lengths to have a slight chance of riding an 18-minute attraction is ludicrous.
Say what you want about the now-discontinued Fastpass system: at least if you didn’t get a fastpass for an attraction, you could still ride that attraction. You would have to wait a long time for some of the more popular attractions, but if waiting three hours in line means actually getting to ride Flight of Passage, then it’s more than worth the wait.
But if you didn’t get a boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance? That’s it! You’re not riding Rise of the Resistance. There’s no actual line to wait in, only the virtual queue. So if you don’t get a spot in the virtual line, you’re not getting on the ride. You’ll have to come back another day and try again.
As an annual passholder, I could theoretically re-visit the park day after day and test my luck with the virtual queue system until I finally get on a boarding group. And some people might actually have the free time to do so. But most annual passholders aren’t visiting the park every day. Some only come a few times per year. And some park guests only visit the resort once a year or even once in a lifetime. So, if they don’t get on the ride, they may never have a chance to do so again.
Zoë Wood, a contributor to the Disney Information Station (DIS), voiced her disapproval of the virtual queue and its overall unfairness: “You spend five minutes furiously poking at your phone until something pops up to tell you ‘bad luck.'” She even mentioned how one of her friends visited the park five times and not once received a boarding pass!
“As you can see, I’ve got some feelings about this one, and even though I am usually more of a go-with-the-flow type, this strong departure from being able to choose your own adventure to a five minute window that decides what you will and won’t miss out on for the whole day doesn’t feel very Disney to me,” she wrote. “Sure, COVID threw a curve ball, anyone in business gets that, but the ongoing lack of a standby line feels so discouraging.”
Could the virtual queue work? In theory, yes. But I’ll be darned if I knew how. The best suggestion I’d make is to offer both a virtual and physical queue. However, that’s too similar to the Fastpass system, which has since been replaced by Disney Genie Lightning Lanes, which are essentially Fastpasses you pay for.
Interestingly enough, the virtual queue was discontinued around the same time Lighting Lanes were implemented. Call me cynical, but that change seems rather too convenient. Get rid of virtual queues so guests wait hours in line, thus “encouraging” them to pay big money through Disney’s shiny new app so they can skip it? Wouldn’t surprise me if that was the Mouse’s Modus Operandi. Either way, the virtual queue will not be missed.