It’s easy to understate the importance of how we wait in line at theme parks. All it takes for me is a visit to Six Flags St. Louis to reinforce how well Disney constructs their queues. Even 20 minutes on the blacktop without shading is enough to leave me ready to hit the exits. In the hot Florida sun, Disney needs to keep guests cool and engaged while waiting for the next attraction. What makes certain queues so pleasant while others feel interminable? It isn’t just a shorter wait.
A wide range of factors determine which queues succeed in delivering a great experience. In the best cases, we don’t mind waiting because of the cool atmosphere. It’s too easy to call the queue its own attraction; that point often drifts into marketing from Disney. The waits are thrilling; they’re part of the fun! Putting a game inside Space Mountain does not make it immersive. That line needs little help to build anticipation for the trip to space, but others aren’t so lucky.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to queues either. Living with the Land just needs a basic switchback entry because the line rarely is large in that spot. The boat ride is also its own journey that builds slowly towards the greenhouse reveal. On the other hand, The Haunted Mansion would be incomplete if you walked in and immediately boarded the Doom Buggies. It bugs me when we’ve skipped the first room on certain trips to the Mansion. The walk-through portion after the stretching room is technically a queue, but it rarely feels like a typical line.
Sometimes the queue builds to a ride that can’t match the effective prep work. Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid at Disney World is a perfect example. The exterior and entryway are gorgeous, but the attraction itself is an average dark ride. The flip side is a wonderful headliner with a slightly lesser reputation due to a painful line. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a good example, particularly if you’re stuck in the outside portion. The best queues feel seamless and set up the experience in an organic way. Pirates of the Caribbean in Florida is less effective than its California cousin, but the queue is much better. That improvement helps the ride feel less inferior than it really is because the opening experience is so good.
EPCOT Center’s Huge Capacity
My focus in this article is Epcot, which began with a much different group of attractions in 1982. Disney built the park with a huge capacity; this was not a limited experience like the Studios in 1989. EPCOT Center included a strong core of Omnimovers, particularly after Horizons and Journey Into Imagination opened in 1983. Don’t get me wrong; there were serious lines during the park’s early days. I remember standing in hordes of people during our trips in the ‘80s.
What made these waits less painful was the consistent moment of the lines. There was no FastPass to slow down the steady progress, and that’s important to remember when viewing old photos. It might amaze you to see a massive crowd outside Universe of Energy or Horizons, but that group quickly moved into the building. That isn’t always the case now. Disney has slowly whittled down Epcot’s capacity and introduced greater lines at the remaining Omnimover attractions since the advent of FastPass (and especially FastPass Plus).
I mention these changes because they play a role in how I approach the queues. Disney can build an amazing interior queue, but it will get old if you’re stuck there. I’ve yet to experience Flight of Passage, but I’m not itching to wait four hours anywhere. World of Motion had a really boring line, yet it’s a blur in my memory. I can’t say the same about these picks. I’ve only chosen three because I don’t want to pick half the lines in Epcot. If you set aside the World Showcase films, there are only 10 attractions with queues in the park. The field is small, so three feels right.
3. Spaceship Earth
The victim of FastPass Plus at Epcot is Spaceship Earth; its lines have slowly grown. You can still walk on sometimes, but that used to be the norm. Even with a FastPass, I’ve experienced surprisingly long waits outside of the massive icon. Spaceship Earth’s queue was not designed to hold large crowds. The disruption of FastPass Plus guests slows down the overall flow and reduces the capacity. Standing outside in the Florida heat is rough even when it’s only 20 minutes. I don’t expect Disney to make the line more exciting. What we need is a smoother process! I want to stroll up the ramp and visit Judi Dench a lot quicker than in my last few trips.
2. The Seas with Nemo and Friends
A question for Disney: why is it so hot in the queue for The Seas with Nemo and Friends? If they’re trying to simulate a tropical environment, Disney is succeeding. Sadly, they aren’t producing the exciting parts of a beach trip. It’s also way too dark inside the queue. In the early days of The Living Seas, the first queue was not much better but did have some nautical items displayed. The split among the pre-show areas also made it less painful. You rarely waited too long in any spot. Nemo rarely has a long posted wait, but I waited 25 minutes there in March with a FastPass in hand. It was 85 degrees outside and worse inside the pavilion.
In making this choice, I’m not referring to a two-hour wait through the standby line. That’s for amateurs! Even a FastPass visit to Soarin’ leads to the dreaded hallway of claustrophobia. I rarely feel uncomfortable in tight spaces, but that hallway after the FastPass intersection is difficult. Unlike the previous examples, Soarin’ is not a quick-moving Omnimover. I understand why it takes time and load and unload the attraction. I just wish that Disney would do anything to make it palatable. No cheap interactive games! Let Patrick Warburton entertain us with new safety videos the hallway. Despite having great background music, Soarin’s queue needs help.