I admit, that title is a bit ambitious. But I’m gonna give it a go, and if I miss anything let me know in the comments. Last updated/republished May 15, 2023.
Just to give you a preview, here’s what we’re going to cover:
- What are Virtual Queues?
- Why you need to know about Virtual Queues
- The Basics of Virtual Queues at Disney World and Disneyland
- Additional Details and Special Situations
- Some reasons why Disney uses Virtual Queues
- What happens if you miss your Boarding Group window
- Other frequently asked questions
Let’s start with …
What Are Virtual Queues?
In the broadest sense, a virtual queue is any queue system that lets you keep your place in a line without physically standing in it. You know how at the supermarket you can take a number at the deli counter and then grab a few more things while you’re waiting for your number to be called? That’s a virtual queue, and it doesn’t use any technology more sophisticated than a roll of numbered cardboard tickets.
Many theme parks or water parks use virtual queues, but today I’m going to be talking specifically about the Virtual Queues at Disney World (and Disneyland) because let’s be honest, the system in other places is usually more straightforward. More like take a ticket in the deli line, less like needing a Ph.D. in MDE.
Why Do I Need to Know About Virtual Queues?
When Flight of Passage first opened anyone could show up, get in line, and ride it. A six-hour line, yes, but it worked the same as the lines for all the other attractions in the park. Since the 2019 debut of Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios, all new attractions at both Disney World and Disneyland have used a Virtual Queue when they first opened – no standby line. If you don’t know in advance that you’ll need to use the Virtual Queue, you may not be able to get on Disney’s newest rides.
Note the crafty and specific use of the word “may” in “may not be able to get on a new attraction”. In the Genie era, these attractions have all offered the opportunity to ride by purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane. But in the early days the ILLs are usually gone by the time the parks open, so if you’re not staying at a Disney World Resort this might not be an option for you.
One thing to be aware of is that Disney offers Virtual Queues in multiple contexts. There are Virtual Queues for Attractions, for Entertainment, and for “Select Experiences” such as runDisney Expos. This article is about Virtual Queues for Attractions.
What Are the Basics?
The My Disney Experience (MDE) app is used to join Virtual Queues for Disney World attractions. Virtual Queues at Disneyland use the Disneyland app. You’ll need to install the appropriate app and have it set up.
The Virtual Queue for an attraction will open a few times a day, usually 2-3. These openings happen at times that everyone knows in advance, and are often referred to as “drops”. There are different rules about who is eligible to join the queue at different drops, for instance you may or may not need to have entered the park to be eligible for a specific drop.
If you’re successful in getting a space, you’ll be placed into a numbered “Boarding Group”. Many other people may have the same Boarding Group as you. You’ll be given an estimated return time, but this can change throughout the day. You won’t know for sure when your group will be called until it is, but once it’s your turn you’ll have an hour to get to the ride entrance and sign in. If you have a very high number (and the definition of very high changes with each ride), you might not get called at all.
One thing to know is that you can only be in one Attraction Virtual Queue at a time. If you’re visiting a resort that has Virtual Queues at two attractions (say, Cosmic Rewind and Tron Lightcycle/Run), you’ll need to do some fancy dancing to have a shot at riding both of them on the same day. And you should know that this restriction doesn’t apply to queues for Special Experiences, such as the World of Color Virtual Queue at Disneyland.
Can You Give Me a Few More Specifics?
Sure. For attractions that are currently using a Virtual Queue, click one of the links below for a walkthrough for that specific ride.
Here are some tips and tricks that have been pretty consistent across all of Disney’s Virtual Queues.
Usually, the first drop is at 7 a.m., and you don’t need to be in the park to enter this queue. Everyone who wants to ride needs to have a park reservation for the park where the ride is to be eligible, or have a ticket that allows them to enter without a reservation. And everyone who is riding should also be linked in MDE’s Family & Friends to be included in your party.
The second drop is usually at 1 p.m., and for this drop you need to have entered the park. Disney’s language implies that you need to be in the park in order to be eligible, but in practice we find this is not true. If you were in the park in the morning and left to take a break, you’ll still be able to join even if you haven’t gone back yet.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind was the first attraction to offer a third drop, limited to those who are eligible for EPCOT’s Extended Evening Hours. If you’re eligible for this drop, you can book from anywhere and don’t need to have entered the park.
One thing to know: for each attraction, you can only get one Boarding Group a day during regular hours. So if you’re successful in the 7 a.m. drop, you’re not eligible to try again in the afternoon. However, if there is a Virtual Queue offered during Extended Theme Park Evening Hours, you can enter that queue even if you got a Boarding Group for the same attraction earlier in the day. When there’s more than one attraction using a Virtual Queue, you can’t get a Boarding Group for one if you’re currently in a Boarding Group for the other – you can only be in one Attraction Boarding Group at a time. This restriction doesn’t apply to the special experiences queues, such as the World of Color Queue at Disneyland.
When the rides are newest, Boarding Groups fill up at each drop and it closes in literally seconds. It’s possible to do everything exactly right, and still not be successful. After the attraction has been open for a while, drops tend to be open for longer periods, sometimes even long enough to enter as a Park Hopper.
Tips for Success in Getting a Boarding Group
Having multiple people trying on different devices will increase your chance of success. It’s OK if they’re all logged in using the same MDE account.
Get your party set up and ready to go in the app 5 to 15 minutes before you’re going to try for a group, depending on how familiar you are with the process. (If you do some advance planning, you can practice joining before you leave for your trip.) Many people find it useful to set timers to make sure they don’t forget. For the 1 p.m. drop, make sure you’re not going to be on a ride or deep in a queue when it’s time to book – I’ve been caught this way more than once.
Make sure that you have a good signal. There are people in camp WiFi and people in camp data, and there’s not a lot of agreement. That’s likely because the right answer can depend on where you are standing and can change over time. I find that the best way to tell is to test in advance from the location where you are going to book. After you’ve got your party set up, use the Refresh button at the bottom of the screen and test whether the refresh is faster on WiFi or data. Whichever one is working best for you is the one you should go with.
Monitoring Your Group
If you were successful, you can check on the status of your group at any time — and you should. Your estimated return time may shift later if the ride is offline for a while. Or it may move up depending on the ebb and flow of arrival times and the number of people purchasing ILLs.
You can see what the current status is from either the Virtual Queues tile (under the hamburger menu) or the “My Day” tab in Disney Genie. I find the one in the My Day tab easier to use, as it tells me the time instead of how many minutes I have left to wait. In the screenshot below, notice how much the callback estimate has changed in a little under two hours.
Note: As of April 6, 2023, estimated return times are not shown for TRON Lightcycle/Run. You will need to monitor closely to make sure you don’t miss your time.
Riding Two Virtual Queue Attractions in the Same Day
With both of Disney World’s newest coasters using a Virtual Queue at the same time, you might wonder if you can ride both in the same day. The answer is a strong maybe – it will depend on crowd levels on the day of your visit, and on what Boarding Group you get on the first attraction. For more details, see How to Get a Boarding Group for Tron and Cosmic Rewind in the Same Day.
Why Does Disney Do It This Way?
It can be frustrating to have so little control over your return time, and many people find the process of getting a Boarding Group stressful. So why does Disney use these Virtual Queues? I don’t work for Disney so I can’t say for sure. But here are some reasons why they might think it offers a benefit to visitors that outweighs the negative aspects.
When standby lines are used, newer attractions tend to have some of the longest waits. The “balk point” of a ride is the wait time where guests feel that it isn’t worth it to get on the attraction. The same person might have a different balk point for different attractions, but individuals will also tend to have generally lower or generally higher balk points.
Longer queues can affect how accessible a ride is to less frequent or first-time visitors, who often have lower balk points for a single ride. That makes sense—if you’ve been on most of a park’s other attractions many times, you’re probably more willing to skip them to wait in an extremely long line for just one ride. Disney may feel that using the Virtual Queue makes new rides more accessible to visitors with lower balk points. It gives them a better experience, at minimal cost to those who would have been willing to wait in a really long line.
Balk points aren’t the only factor. Newer rides can be prone to more downtime or unreliability until the kinks get sorted out. Standing in a queue for hours only to have it be “dumped” at some point because the ride is down is very frustrating. Virtual Queues avoid this issue.
Finally, Virtual Queues help keep initial demand from overflowing the queue space that has been built for the ride. The queue at Flight of Passage holds about 2-3 hours worth of riders, but in the first year or two the queue routinely exceeded four hours and spilled over into the land: people were waiting so long that a bathroom was added to the queue. Virtual Queues weren’t in use then, but they could have provided better management of the extra demand.
What Happens if You Miss Your Boarding Group Window?
If you show up 2 hours late to a Lightning Lane reservation, you’ll be out of luck. But the uncertainty with Virtual Queues creates more unavoidable conflicts. Disney is aware that sometimes callbacks will conflict with pre-existing dining reservations, or even transportation plans if it’s the first day of your vacation.
If you’re only a little late, let the Cast Member at the entrance of the attraction know what happened. Usually you’ll be allowed to ride. If you’re late because of a dining reservation, bring your receipt to show the conflict. If you’re very late for some other reason, Disney’s recommendation has been to start at the Guest Experience team. Look for the stands with blue umbrellas throughout the park.
All that being what it is, I don’t recommend intentionally showing up late for your call.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Which Attractions Are Currently Using Virtual Queues?
At Disney World, there are currently two attractions using Virtual Queues. They are Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle/Run.
At Disneyland, no attractions are currently using Virtual Queues.
What About the World of Color Virtual Queue?
Just to make things extra confusing, Disneyland is using a “Virtual Queue” to manage attendance at the World of Color nighttime show. I put Virtual Queue in quotes because it’s really more like a ticket lottery; Disney positions these as Virtual Queues for Entertainment (vs. Attractions). You have one chance, and you either get a seat or you don’t. There are no Boarding Groups, and the show is at a fixed time. And just to be unique, there is still a standby line, which Virtual Queues for Entertainment do not have. You can read about World of Color’s Virtual Queue here: Step-By-Step Guide For How To Get a World of Color Virtual Queue Spot.
How Do Virtual Queues Fit In With Genie/Genie+?
Virtual Queues are a completely separate system from Genie/Genie+. There is only a single point of intersection, which is that if you have a Boarding Group you’ll be able to view the status from the My Day tab in Genie.
How Do Virtual Queues Work With DAS?
If someone in your party is eligible to use the Disability Access System (DAS), you will still have to join the Virtual Queue and get a Boarding Group. Prior to the opening of TRON Lightcycle/Run, Boarding Group return times were not enforced. When your group was called it was be treated like a DAS start time – you could check in any time until the ride closes for the day.
For TRON, it appears that the Boarding Group return time is being enforced even for DAS, and you’ll need to return within the hour once your group is called. However, once you arrive at the ride and show your DAS card, you’ll be directed to the Lightning Lane in order to minimize your wait.
Can You Get an ILL and a Boarding Group in the Same Day?
For rides that offer both ILL and Boarding Groups, yes you can get both in the same day.
If You’re Eligible for a Virtual Queue During Extended Hours, Can You Get One During Regular Hours Too?
Yes. If you’re eligible for a Virtual Queue drop during Extended Theme Park Evening Hours, you can get a Boarding Group for the same attraction during the park’s regular hours and still join the Virtual Queue during the extended hours. This will give you two rides in one day. If you get spots in both the regular hours queue and the Extended Hours queue, and you buy an Individual Lightning Lane for the same attraction, you can get three rides in one day.
Can You Be in Two Virtual Queues at the Same Time?
This one is tricky. Disney positions Virtual Queues as being for Attractions, for Entertainment, or for Select Experiences. An example of an Entertainment Virtual Queue is World of Color. An example of a Select Experiences Virtual Queue would be the one used for the runDisney Expo, which assigns you a time to enter the merchandise location.
You can only be in one Attraction Virtual Queue at a time. Practically speaking, this means that both planning and luck will be required to do two Attractions with Virtual Queues on the same day.
Can I Ride Two Attractions with Virtual Queues on the Same Day?
Maybe. For a more detailed answer, see How to Get a Boarding Group for Tron and Cosmic Rewind in the Same Day.
If You Need to Enter the Park to Be Eligible for a Drop, Does Everyone Who Will Ride Need to Enter?
Yes. Everyone in a group needs to meet the eligibility requirements, whatever they are, for the drop where they are trying to get a Boarding Group.
Will I Still Have to Wait in a Line After My Boarding Group Is Called?
Usually, yes. You may need to wait anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes, on average, or longer if the ride goes down briefly while you’re in the queue.
If There Are Four People in a Boarding Group and Two Don’t Want to Ride, Can the Other Two Ride Twice?
When you show up for your Boarding Group, you tap in with your MagicBand, ticket card, or MagicMobile. Nobody compares the stored ID to you, just your group. So if Dad ran out of steam before your Group got called and he left his MagicBand with your kid when he headed back to the hotel, your kid can use it to ride twice. This will only work if the owner of the MagicBand or ticket has entered the park that day; you can’t get a Boarding Group for grandma and bring her MagicBand along while she lounges by the pool. Check in promptly if you want to try this, since you’ll need to be able to complete the first ride before your window expires.
Disney’s answer to this might be that Lightning Lanes and Boarding Groups are not transferrable. But in practice, we’ve never had an issue letting one family member ride with another member’s MagicBand or ticket, and we know that this is not uncommon.
If a Ride Uses Both ILL and Virtual Queue, Which Is Easier to Get?
That depends on how long the ride has been open and how popular it is. The one thing that’s always true is that if ILLs are selling out before park opening and you’re not staying at a Disney Resort, the Virtual Queue will be your only option.
Can I Practice Joining the Virtual Queue Before My Trip?
Yes. You’ll need to make a park reservation for the day that you want to practice (unless your ticket doesn’t need one), so if you’re trying for a ride in a park that doesn’t usually have same-day reservation availability you’ll need to do some planning. But as long as you don’t actually enter the park, it won’t use up your admission.
Do I Need A Park Pass Reservation to Join the Virtual Queue at 7 a.m.?
That depends. If you need a park reservation to enter the park, then yes. If your ticket allows you to enter without a reservation, then you should be able to get a Boarding Group even if you don’t have a reservation.
Can You Use Rider-Switch With a Virtual Queue?
Yes, you can. Let’s do Mom, Dad, Jane, Joe, and Junie. Junie is too little to ride.
First of all, everyone who is going to ride needs to have a boarding group. That means Mom, Dad, Jane, and Joe all need to be in the group. Everyone will check in with the Cast Member at the front. From that point, there are two possibilities, assuming Mom rides first:
- Mom rides with Jane or Joe while Dad waits with the other two kids.
- Mom rides with Jane and Joe while Dad waits with Junie.
In the first case, Dad rides with whichever non-Junie kid he waited with, and Jane and Joe only get one ride apiece. In the second case, when it’s Dad’s turn he can take one guest with him, so Jane or Joe would get an extra ride. If you’re a family of four and you have one kid who is too small, the other kid can always get a second ride “for free”.
Since you might still need to spend a good bit of time in line after your Boarding Group is called, Rider Switch can have a lot of value for Dad because he’ll skip that queue, even if Jane and Joe are only riding once.
Which Rides Have Switched From Virtual Queues to Standby Lines?
At Disneyland, Rise of the Resistance, Spiderman WEB Slingers, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway have used boarding groups in the past. Indiana Jones Adventure also briefly used a Virtual Queue when Disneyland reopened in April, 2021.
In addition to the standby queue, all of these rides are currently available using Lightning Lane or Individual Lightning Lane.
Did we get everything? What questions do you have that we didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments!
First published September 20, 2022.