Universal has been betting big on the idea of Virtual Queues as of late – Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, which officially opens next week, is the first ride to have the lineless queue be built into it from the ground up, and Volcano Bay, the brand-new “water theme park” that bows on May 25, will have all of its nearly-two-dozen attractions take advantage of the concept, as well. (Looking ahead, next year’s Fast & Furious: Supercharged has also been confirmed to utilize a Virtual Queue.) Universal has even gone so far as to declare this approach as the future of themed entertainment – no small claim.
Disney has certainly taken notice of the developments. After originally experimenting with a line-free wait with its revamped Dumbo ride five years ago, and after seeing all the marketing hype that Universal has been attempting to drum up with Volcano Bay’s imminent arrival, the company has decided to make something of a major, coordinated preemptive strike.
Starting today, March 28, and running through to Friday, April 7, Disney has initiated a “virtual queue system” for several select attractions at both of the water parks at its Walt Disney World Resort: the brand-new Miss Adventure Falls at Typhoon Lagoon (which was already seen as being something of a countermove against Volcano Bay), and Downhill Double Dipper, Slush Gusher, and Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach.
Of course, the FastPass, Disney World’s version of Express Passes, was originally envisioned to fulfill essentially the same function as Universal’s Virtual Queue: make a reservation for a later time and then go off and enjoy the park (and its many gift shops and restaurants) in the meantime. The main difference with the two water parks’ Virtual Queues, however, is that guests can’t obtain these return times either on their smart phones or in advance; they will have to actually hoof it to the attractions in question in order to do so. (It should be noted that even though Universal will hand out a TapuTapu wearable to every Volcano Bay visitor, the same procedure is [largely] in place for making ride reservations at the new water park.)
The sudden nature of this move, with no advance warning from the company (not at all in keeping with its usual MO), only underscores the extent to which Disney would like to nullify any marketing bulletpoint from its rival up the street – particularly as we head into summer 2017, which looks to be the single most competitive year between the two theme park operators in quite some time; just two days after Volcano Bay throws open its doors at Universal Orlando, Animal Kingdom will be welcoming its long-in-development Pandora: The World of Avatar expansion at Disney World. (In fact, insider reports indicate that the two companies were in something of a race to beat the other to the punch.)
Indeed, the addition of a new family raft ride – the first at Typhon Lagoon in over a decade – and Virtual Queues should prove to be quite the formidable combination. But will it be enough to drown out Universal’s growing chorus of watery announcements? That all depends, in part, on whether Disney will make the waitless option permanent – and whether it expands the initiative to its theme parks, as well.