What are the top 10 attraction queues at American theme parks?

June 14, 2017, 8:23 AM · Waiting is a necessary annoyance at theme parks. If you don't have people waiting at a ride's load platform, the operators either have to send vehicles empty or at less than full capacity... or hold the circuit to wait for a car's worth of people to show up to ride. Either way, you're running the attraction at less than full capacity, which means the park wasted money building more capacity than it needed.

While no one minds that happening every once in a while — near park open and close, or on especially slow days — parks want to minimize the amount of time with wasted capacity. So that means parks design their attractions to have a wait for almost all of the time that they are operating.

Which raises the question, what to do with all those people who are waiting? The tradition queue is a simple back-and-forth, "serpentine" line, where people walk single-file through a chained lane. But no one wants to spend time in those frustrating eyesores. Better queues get the show started right away, holding us in a themed environment that sets the mood for the adventure to come, while establishing whatever story — and safety instructions — we need to know.

Disney set the standard for theme park queues when it opened Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in 1973. Instead of the basic chain queue that held riders in California, Florida's Pirates sent visitors through a Spanish fortress, with richly decorated scenes for people to look at while they waited. (So who won that chess game, anyway?)

In recent years, Disney has worked to reinvent the queue yet again, even as it expands its Fastpass ride reservation systems to allow more people the option of skipping them. (At least Disney is trying to provide more entertainment for people who end up in its standby queues!) According to a Disney spokesperson, Disney's Imagineers have created interactive queue experiences for nearly a dozen attractions, including:

At the same time as Disney is adding new animation and play elements to its queues, Universal seems determined to blur the line between what is the queue and what is the attraction itself — then doing away with everything else. At Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, some fans take the "castle tour" of the Hogwarts-themed queue and skip the ride itself. And at the recently opened Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, many fans consider the green room experience with Hashtag the Panda and the Ragtime Girls' live singing performance superior to the flying theater ride that follows.

The Fallon attraction also features Universal's Virtual Line system, which replaces the standby queue with a timed reservation system — eliminating any wait before you enter the attraction building for the start of the experience. Universal is using a virtual queuing system for its New Volcano Bay water park and promises to use it on its upcoming Fast & Furious - Supercharged attraction, raising suspicion that Universal might have built its last physical standby queue for an attraction.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I list my picks for the Top 10 theme park queues in America, based on theming and entertainment value. The list includes Disney World's Pirates, for its historic value, as well as recently-opened queues including Flight of Passage and, yes, even that new Jimmy Fallon experience. But some fun queues didn't make the cut. (Sorry, Haunted Mansion fans!)

What are your favorite theme park queues? And which attractions do you think need some enhancements to their queues? Let us know, in the comments.

Read Robert's column:

Replies (25)

June 14, 2017 at 9:26 AM · Star Tours is my favorite (either version). As a Star Wars fan, its just so cool to walk through and see C3P0 and R2D2 working, and all the little easter eggs hidden throughout.
June 14, 2017 at 9:28 AM · Great choices! If you ever expand this to a worldwide selection, Mystic Manor and TRON should definitely be included!
June 14, 2017 at 9:42 AM · Expedition Everest is, hands down, my favorite queue due to a long interest in all things cryptozoological. Heck, I own some of the books in the display cases :-). Forbidden Journey runs a close second.
June 14, 2017 at 9:52 AM · OH COME ON, NILES! 'Men in Black: Alien Attack.' Airtight theming. Great effects. Supports the attraction story. Big swing and a miss!
June 14, 2017 at 9:58 AM · I was going to go with Indiana Jones as my top. But yes B Goodwin is right Star Tours is good too. I forgot how much better the Pirates queue is as WDW since it has been a long time for me.
June 14, 2017 at 9:54 AM · I agonized over the MiB cut. This was much tougher to get to 10 than I thought it would be.
June 14, 2017 at 10:12 AM · Yeah, MIB is good too.... And what about Universal Orlando's Mummy? That's probably third on my list.
June 14, 2017 at 10:14 AM · I've always loved Indy and can't wait to see FoP, but no queue has ever had more immersive impact for me than the old Dueling Dragons (before it was Potterized)
June 14, 2017 at 10:27 AM · I remember the Dragons, the great talk on their mythology and cool effects to sell it.

I also enjoyed the redo of Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom, more gags for the grave markers and some "touch and play" stuff to entertain.

Also Jurassic Park River Adventure, videos of Hammond and models of the park, a nice bit there.

June 14, 2017 at 10:36 AM · My personal top 10
1) Gringotts
2) Hogwarts
3) Kong
4) Tower of Terror
5) Haunted Mansion
6) Minion Mayhem
7) The Mummy
8) Star Tours
9) E.T.
10) Jimmy Fallon
June 14, 2017 at 10:43 AM · Thumbs up for the shout-out to Everest, I loved the bits of lore as well.

And whenever I went to Horizons (even if no line), I paused to check out the gorgeous murals of future cities they'd have there.

Also, a shout-out to Six Flags Great America's Batman the Ride. You go through a nice quiet park area, complete with a "donated by Bruce Wayne' bit, nice and sedate. Then you're in a dark back alley with crashed police car and such, sets the stage for the differing parts of Gotham and a cool ride.

June 14, 2017 at 11:10 AM · Best line: Fastpass. It's amazing how so few people use them. I refuse to wait more than an hour on any attraction.
June 14, 2017 at 12:17 PM · Anton: I LOVE Fastpass, I really do. I was there when Disney World started it in 1999 and asked "What took them so long?" So yes, I like it but really, some places do have great line stuff, especially in recent years so I can admire it.
June 14, 2017 at 12:17 PM · Anton: I LOVE Fastpass, I really do. I was there when Disney World started it in 1999 and asked "What took them so long?" So yes, I like it but really, some places do have great line stuff, especially in recent years so I can admire it.
June 14, 2017 at 12:26 PM · Fallon's queue is just fine. I'm not much into singing performances, so the Ragtime Gals did nothing for me. I ended up finding the downstairs portion more interesting that the upstairs, which was very crowded and felt like waiting in the lobby for your movie to begin. I'd replace that with ET, Kong, or MIB.

I'd also cut Pirates from the list and put Roger Rabbit at Disneyland in. Pirates may have been big back when it opened, but the crowds today have turned it right back into a barebones, barely-themed switchback.

June 14, 2017 at 1:12 PM · I'm thrilled to see the queue becoming more and more important. It's sort of the wrapper around the overall experience and can make or break your mood going into these attractions.

I'd like to see some attractions start to do a post-experience also, where the exit has some theming and finishes off the storyline and mood. That is, of course, before it dumps you into the gift shop!

Escape from Gringotts
Forbidden Journey
Flight of Passage
The Mummy
Men In Black
Jimmy Fallon
Star Tours
Minion Mayhem
Spider Man

June 14, 2017 at 1:26 PM · Gotta say the Haunted Mansion may be a major omission. Although it depends at what point you consider the queue to end. I consider it to end once you get on the Doom Buggy, so going into the foyer, the stretching room, and the hall of portraits (in DL) is still part of the queue, as is the grandfather of the best queue of all time. If you consider it to end once you walk into the foyer, then okay. The MiB is a good one, as is the Simpsons, but it tends to be too long. Alien Encounter was good, but the top three have to be Forbidden Journey, Haunted Mansion, and Twilight Zone.
June 14, 2017 at 2:35 PM · MIB is one of my all time favorites, and if I am not mistaken, TH Creative worked on that ride (the ride itself).

Tower of Terror is another one I really love.

June 14, 2017 at 2:37 PM · Keep in mind, impatient people like myself, who cannot live without front of the line access, skip 90% of the queues all together.
June 14, 2017 at 3:40 PM · No one mentioned Disneys Rock n Roller Coaster
June 14, 2017 at 4:09 PM · E.T.'s queue is epic. The smell of the forest and easter eggs to the movie. It is quite serene!
June 14, 2017 at 8:43 PM · @JC, Haunted Mansion has a good pre-show, but the queue is mostly just a bunch of switchbacks under a canopy.
June 15, 2017 at 12:37 PM · @DBCooper, re: post-ride experience theming:
(I suppose if we borrowed literary terminology, we'd call it the "denouement"?) In that vein ... At Disney's Animal Kingdom, the "Dinosaur" ride has a corridor between the debarkation area and gift shop, and there are overhead security monitors showing a dinosaur (the one retrieved during your time-jaunt) wandering around the facility. At Tokyo DisneySea, the Tower of Terror continues the Hotel Hightower theming into the gift shop, with Harrison Hightower III inserted into the Indian-style murals around the ceiling, just to drive home his overweening ego.
June 15, 2017 at 6:19 PM · The Fallon queue seems to be better than the actual attraction. That might be the first.

MIB has a great queue as well except for that annoying song. I heard somebody not CREATIVE came up with that one ;)

June 17, 2017 at 10:40 PM · I am surprised that Six Flags' Justice League: Battle for Metropolis has not been mentioned. This has to be the coolest queue in SF history! In fact, waiting in line provides an immersive backstory via video monitors and an animatronic Cyborg too! This is especially important for first time riders but is still entertaining for repeat riders. Bravo Six Flags! (Now please, pretty please MAINTAIN IT!)

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