Did Disney Wait Too Long to Change the Queue for Star Wars?

October 3, 2021, 8:30 PM · Let's talk about virtual queues. Walt Disney World recently ditched its virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and now some fans are asking why that change took so long.

With wait times now routinely under two hours - and often under one - those fans (including me) are wondering why Disney stuck so long with a virtual queueing system that left some devoted Star Wars fan unable to ride an attraction that's now pretty easy to access.

The problem with virtual queues - as well as all non-traditional queuing systems - comes when they allow theme park visitors to wait for more than one attraction at once. That effectively clones park visitors, increasing the demand - and thus, wait times - for attractions throughout the park.

Trying to get into the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance became a "must do" for everyone visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios, including, I suspect, a large number of people who really didn't care all that much for Star Wars or for this ride. It didn't cost you anything but a moment to click to try for a space. That meant many perhaps-less-than-enthusiastic fans claimed spots to ride, pushing out those who really wanted to go but got unlucky with what played like a lottery on many days.

With the virtual queue now gone, only the people willing to wait in the physical queue are trying to ride. That's cut demand and helped make the resulting wait times even more manageable.

So should Disney never have implemented a virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance? I wouldn't go that far. The crushing demand for the ride was real in its first months of operation. And Rise's uptime record was not as good back then, either. Rise's virtual queue likely spared fans from what could have been an all-day wait for one ride... if the ride stayed operational that whole time. A physical queue back then likely would have spawned another epic queue in front of the guest relations department at Disney's Hollywood Studios, as fans lined up to complain about the mess at Rise of the Resistance.

The virtual queue did away those problems, at the expense of leaving hard-core, dedicated, "we will wait 10 hours for this" fans in the same pool with fans who just entered the queue lottery on a whim.

The fairest way to run a virtual queue is all or nothing. Make every popular attraction in the park a virtual queue, then allow people to wait in just one at a time, so you're not cloning visitors and blowing up wait times. It's the same process as using traditional physical queues, but without the physical standing around. Outside of Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay, no major parks in the United States are using virtual queues in this way, however.

Virtual queues offer a powerful tool for improving guest satisfaction in theme parks and other high-demand, limited-capacity venues. Attraction designers can - and have - created wonderful immersive environments in which to queue people for the main attraction in a theme park experience. Queues can, and should, be part of the show. But people have limited patience for even wonderfully designed queues. At some point (and mine is about 90 minutes), it's merciful to free people from the drudgery of standing around and to make a queue virtual instead.

So if Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance - among many other wildly popular and perhaps not-yet-reliable new attractions - needed a virtual queue when it debuted to protect the guest experience, the question for parks becomes, at what point do you ditch the virtual queue and go traditional?

Walt Disney World said that it reserved the right to switch back to a virtual queue if it feels the need to do so with Rise of the Resistance. As it should. The current (relatively) low wait times may be as much a function of (relatively) lower attendance at the Walt Disney World theme parks as a softening of demand for the Star Wars ride.

The pandemic surely disrupted whatever timeline Disney might have anticipated for retiring the virtual queue on Rise. But the last few weeks pretty much confirm that Disney waited too long to make the switch on Rise. Star Wars fans who couldn't get on the ride this summer deserved a better chance. At least the virtual queue is gone, for now.

So the next question is... how long will Disney keep its virtual queue for Remy's Ratatouille Adventure? I'll bet not nearly as long as it stuck with the one for Rise.

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Replies (17)

October 3, 2021 at 8:40 PM

So the next question is... how long will Disney keep its virtual queue for RotR at Disneyland?

October 3, 2021 at 9:06 PM

I'm so glad they got rid of that virtual queue. Maybe I'll actually get to ride it one day.

October 3, 2021 at 10:01 PM

I like Universal's approach at Hagrid's, where they use virtual line when the queue gets too long, which effectively turns it into "luck in the lottery + 60 minutes wait". But for the reason you note, the 60min waiting part is important, to discourage people who don't care much for the attraction from trying their luck because it's free. I would prefer if Universal made the wait time explicit in the app. (I would also prefer if they actually ran a lottery rather than first-come-first-served which unfairly favors locals and the tech savy.)

October 3, 2021 at 10:52 PM

I'm right now waiting on an actual line, when I made six hours of virtual queue. The space is so closed, and my wife needed tongo out.

October 3, 2021 at 10:53 PM

And then they make you wait again in the middle of the attraction, it's so anticlimatic.

October 3, 2021 at 11:18 PM

Good timing as I’m getting ready to book a two day trip myself to Disneyland during my son Xmas break in December. This will be the first time he will be able to ride on almost everything and this is the only ride I care about. My parents (who are retired) and my girlfriend usually take their time getting up and having breakfast that it’s practically already noon when we enter the park. If the Lighting Lane or Genie Pass is available, I will be willing to pay to guaranteed I get a chance to ride it. I’ll be more than happy to stand in a physical queue as well. It’s unfortunate we will only have one day at Disneyland and one day at California and who knows how long it will be until I return.

October 4, 2021 at 7:47 AM

completely agree that they had the v-queue way too long and all it did was create a disservice to both star wars and disney fans. i remember stressing out each time i tried till i finally gave up. and i spoke a few weeks ago about a friend who is a giant star wars fan who wasn't able to get on. now, her attitude toward disney and especially galaxy's edge ("it's just a cool themed place for me to go pay $200 to build a bear") has become extremely soured, when her love for universal (she is an equal HP fan) has grown immensely. i really think disney shot themselves in the foot here.

October 4, 2021 at 8:35 AM

I thought the virtual queue was there so that people didn’t show up in crowds during Covid and 2 hours before park opens. Security is expensive

October 4, 2021 at 8:44 AM

It would be interesting to know how many virtual queue reservations were redeemed and how many were not throughout the course of the attraction being open. I’m sure Disney referenced those numbers before they made their decision to move forward with the stand-by line.

October 4, 2021 at 10:17 AM

I think the biggest issue with the way Disney runs their virtual queues is that it creates artificial demand for attractions. Disney's virtual queues eliminate the pain and agony of long waits for popular attractions, but by doing that, it creates a no-lose situation for guests regardless how much they care about that attraction. If virtual queue was available at DHS for A.S.S. instead of RotR, most guests would book a spot for that attraction just as they did for Galaxy's Edge's top attraction. People would be whining about how they just couldn't get on the Toy Story attraction because anyone walking in the park would be getting their spot as soon as they could because there's absolutely no penalty to grabbing a position in the virtual queue with little to no wait once guests are paged back to the attraction when their ride time pops up.

That's the problem, because by make it too easy and painless to enter the virtual queue and with the virtual queue the only way to experience the attraction, it's impossible to judge the true demand. People will enter the virtual queue because that's the only way to ride.

As others have stated, there either needs to be a substantial wait to board the attraction once you are paged to the ride (like Hagrid's) or numerous other attraction on the virtual queue system in order to force a decision from guests to accurately gauge the popularity/demand for attractions linked to the virtual queue system. Without any "pain" operators have absolutely no idea if their attractions are popular or if people are just signing up for the virtual queue because they're Drones.

I can see utilizing a virtual queue when an attraction cannot operate at optimal capacity (as RotR was in the first few month of operation), or expected demand for the new ride is 5x or more what the optimal daily capacity is (what I would expect it to be for GotG:CR and Tron). However, if a virtual queue is only on a single attraction within a park and/or stays in place for months on end beyond a traditional break-in period, it undermines the ability of a park to evaluate the popularity of attractions.

Disney has written the book on lines and queueing theory, yet these virtual queues go against everything they've built their theme parks around. FP/FP+ (and soon to be Lightning Lane) have tried to strike a balance to normalize the part of the Disney experience that guests despise the most. However, it's human nature to stand in line, and by providing mechanisms to bypass lines will just create more lines.

October 4, 2021 at 11:17 AM

Why use a virtual queue rather than good old fast passes? Radiator Springs ran just fine for years with a long standby line and fast passes, and everyone was happy, so I never saw the need for a different system.

My money says when the Disneyland virtual queue is dropped the lines stay manageable, simply because it's a long walk back to GE. The couple times we trudged over from DCA for a boarding group reservation, we were surprised at how long the walk seemed.

October 4, 2021 at 12:01 PM

I expected Virtual Queue to be dropped after a month of it debuting when the rush to be “first” died. Over at DCA with WEB Slingers there was no point of having it after the first 2 weeks of Avengers campus because it was never a long wait time: Scan your VQ code and go straight to the pre-show room. Hell, during the Oogie Boogie Bash, WEB Slingers goes to standby with no more than 30 minute wait time with Single Riders open: Virtual Queue needs to be drop.

October 4, 2021 at 6:42 PM

There are two main scenarios where I think a virtual queue is justified:

1. Demand for a new attraction is so high that the physical queue cannot contain the line.

2. An attraction is so unreliable it will likely be down frequently, making a wait time difficult to estimate.

If neither of the above are true, then virtual queuing should not be used in normal operation as it tends to lead to a decreased guest experience. In my opinion, it should have been dropped for Rise of the Resistance when the parks ended the distancing protocol, should have been dropped from Webslingers after the peak summer period, and should be dropped from Ratatouille after the holidays if not before. I think it is fair for new attractions to use it for the first few months, particularly if it utilizes new technology that may have significant downtime, but no ride should be using it as a default for a year-plus after opening.

October 4, 2021 at 11:34 PM

Even during the first few months of operation, standby plus lightning lane should be fine. As soon as Lightning Lane debuts, IMHO, there will never/ rarely be a good reason to use the damn virtual queues. And good riddance.

October 5, 2021 at 2:19 PM

@Still a fan - It depends on how much they charge for Lightning Lane. If it's as high as the rumored $15/ride, that won't put much of a dent in the suffocating standby lines for a highly anticipated new attraction like Guardians or Tron. I think AJ has put forth a pretty reasonable expectation, and that VQs should be a tool parks use for new attractions that are still breaking in and/or are unreliable. They also give parks a tool to capture a line that exceeds the length of the physical queue. As Universal discovered in 2010 when WWoHP, it doesn't help guests or park operations when lines for attractions wrap through walking paths and into spaces not designed as part of the queue. VQs should allow guests to wait in line without clogging pathways, while still mandating them to wait in the standard queue when their wait in the VQ is completed.

October 6, 2021 at 3:07 PM

At some point in the future parks will need to change their guest unfriendly business model of queue lines to a completely queue free experience. That is what visitors want most. And the real solution has been around for years with www.queuefreethemepark.com

October 6, 2021 at 4:59 PM

Keesalbers I agree with You. The problem is that in irder to make it work You would need a truly humungus park with a huge numbers of attractions and shows working simultanuesly, great Big walkways to allow people to move easily, and requires agigantic budget, not something easy to come by Even by major corporations.

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