Disneyland this week has switched to a traditional stand-by queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Disney previously had been using a virtual queue for the popular attraction, but that system left some fans frustrated when they could not obtain any boarding time for the award-winning ride.
As one might have expected, thousands of fans have rushed to the Galaxy's Edge attraction at park opening each morning, with the line of waiting guests spilling over into Critter Country and even Frontierland. But wait times have not been unreasonable, with a 120-minute wait soon after park opening this morning dropping to 90 minutes at mid-day, according to the Disneyland app.
The switch at Disneyland appears to be mirroring the earlier change at Disney's Hollywood Studios, where the Walt Disney World installation of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance dropped its virtual queue earlier this year. While Rise has had long wait times on both coasts, they have not been out of line with other high-demand attractions at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts. At mid-day today, the ever-crowded Radiator Springs Racers still had a higher posted wait time that Rise of the Resistance.
So was Disney wrong to use a virtual queue for Rise?
It's not fair to compare demand months after an attraction's opening with demand immediately after a much-hyped ride's debut. It's certain that Rise of the Resistance's wait time would have been much, much longer than a couple of hours had Disney opened the attraction with a stand-by queue instead of a virtual one.
Theme parks bear a responsibility not just to keep their guests safe, but to keep them as comfortable as possible within an often-crowded environment, as well. After two or three hours in a queue, people need bathroom breaks. After four or so hours, they need food. After six hours, they may have blown half their day park. It's reasonable, even necessary, for parks to look for alternatives to physical stand-by queues for attractions that generate waits that long.
But the problem with virtual queues - and most other line-skipped schemes - is that they allow people effectively to clone themselves by waiting for more than one attraction at the same time. That's what made the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance so frustrating to so many fans. There was no cost to guests for trying for a spot in the Rise virtual queue. So pretty much everyone visiting the park that day did. The overwhelming demand turned the virtual queue opening into a lottery drawing. How badly you wanted to experience the attraction - and how much you would be willing to wait in a traditional queue for it - no longer mattered.
Allowing people to wait in two queues at once - one physically and one virtually, can make a 30,000-person crowd in a theme park feel like a 60,000-person crowd. In a park such as SeaWorld, that rarely approaches its physical capacity, cloning actually can lead to a better experience, as fans get more for their money since the park has plenty of excess capacity to handle that increased demand. But in parks such as Disney's, which almost always draw near-capacity crowds, the overflow from double-waiting can push wait times to uncomfortable levels all over the park and make getting virtual queue return times difficult or even impossible.
Ditching the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance relieves some of that excess pressure. But with new pay-to-play schemes such as Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane, Disney is cranking that pressure right back up again at Walt Disney World by allowing more opportunities for guests to be in multiple queues at once. (Disney's implementation of mobile order also contributes to this problem, though limited kitchen capacity also contributes to the now-long wait times to get food from many locations in the parks.)
An ideal implementation of virtual queuing would look more like Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay, where virtual queuing is the only option and people cannot wait in more than one queue at the same time. But that's a water park on a constrained site with limited capacity. To this point, no major theme park has shown any sign of considering a switch to an all-virtual-queue approach. The money to be paid by selling alternatives to physical queues is probably just too tempting to allow major parks to consider a fundamentally different system.
As a Star Wars fan, I welcome the physical queue for Rise of the Resistance. The time cost of waiting in that standby queue reduces demand enough to make it possible for fans like me to experience the attraction whenever we visit, without having to log in before 7am to play the virtual queue lottery. But as a theme park fan, I dread any attraction opening that forces guests to stand in a line for hours and hours. Give me a lottery over anything approaching a six-hour physical wait.
If that's an inconsistent point of view, so be it. The search for the perfect queuing system for theme park attractions continues.
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