Disney World Implements Measures to Lure Guests Into Ride Queues

in Disney Parks, Featured, Walt Disney World

Colorful carnival booths themed with "Toy Story" designs in a bustling Disney World amusement park with walking visitors and a blue sky.

Credit: Becky Burkett/Canva

Though every part of a Disney World vacation is meant to be magical, most frequent visitors to the parks can think of at least a few things about a Disney trip that are anything but magical. Perhaps one of the most agreed upon of those things is waiting in line for a ride or attraction.

Related: The Lines Are Disney World Are Insane, and It’s All Your Fault

Nighttime view of a futuristic, blue-lit pedestrian bridge bustling with people, featuring a distinctive arched design and glowing light spheres.
TRON/Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom/Credit: Becky Burkett

No One Wants to Wait in Line

The term “waiting in line” carries with it all kinds of negative associations. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who looks forward, with great anticipation, to heading to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Public Safety for a fun-filled day of vehicle title transfers or paying fees to register a car yet again.

And having a picture taken for a driver’s license brings about untold angst for lots of people.

It’s not any more fun to wait in line at Disney World–even if it’s the line for a favorite attraction at the theme parks.

But thanks to some imagination, crafty engineering, and some minor psychological trickery, Disney World is able to move thousands of guests through numerous queues across four unique theme parks without them ever knowing how long they’re actually waiting–or how long they might have waited, had it not been for Disney’s behind-the-scenes efforts.

Visitors gather in front of the colorful facade of the "mickey & minnie's runaway railway" attraction at a theme park under a cloudy sky.
Credit: Becky Burkett

When it’s all said and done, there are three things guests will experience as they move through the line for a ride, and all of them work to make them feel as though they’re spending less time waiting for an attraction than they actually are.

The Value of Good Storytelling

The Walt Disney Company has prided itself on its storytelling prowess since the company began more than 100 years ago in October 2023. Walt Disney enjoyed stories very much, whether they were the ones created inside his studios or the ones written by other creative forces that Disney then adapted and used as inspiration for its animated feature films.

Walt spent more than 20 years attempting to secure the film rights to Mary Poppins from the author who created her, Pamela “P.L.” Travers, after promising his daughters he would make a film from the books about the practically perfect nanny.

His efforts to secure those rights served as the inspiration for Disney’s 2012 film Saving Mr. Banks.

Left: a man in a gray suit and a woman in a tweed dress stand closely, looking pensive in a crowded plaza. right: a smiling woman in a black hat holds an umbrella, extending her gloved hand elegantly.
“Saving Mr. Banks” (2012)/”Mary Poppins” (1964)/Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Walt wanted to keep his promise to his daughters, but he also knew the value of a good story. And so did his Imagineers.

The Storytelling Begins When Guests Step Into the Queue

One of the things that sets Disney World apart from its competitors is the way in which each attraction is presented as far more than just an attraction. Disney World’s attractions are stories in motion. But the story starts long before a guest boards the ride vehicle; it starts as soon as they enter the queue.

A dramatic image of Disney's Tower of Terror under a dark, stormy sky, accentuating its foreboding architectural details reminiscent of an old haunted mansion.
Credit: Disney

One of the best examples of this can be seen inside the queue for the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The queue takes guests through the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, and the props–each one covered in layers of dust–serve to tell the story of what happened on that fateful night in October 1939 when a freak lightning storm caused the disappearance of five guests who boarded an elevator car inside the hotel.

Related: Disney Scraps New Attraction After Imagineers Cite an Unsolvable Problem For Guests

An opulent medieval-themed lobby with arched doorways, elaborate chandeliers, two large fireplaces, ornate wooden furniture, and decorative rugs, conveying a warm, antique ambiance.
Credit: Disney

But the stories told inside Disney World’s ride queues are only for the sake of storytelling. They serve as a great distraction for guests who might otherwise become extremely impatient and frustrated by a long wait for an attraction.

The Queue Design: As Important As the Ride Design

Imagineers are a group of wildly talented and astute individuals across a vast array of disciplines. Originally incepted in 1952, Walt Disney Imagineering has served as the think tank tasked with creating the magic of Disney’s theme parks for over 70 years.

Colorful illustration featuring a fairy tale castle under a vibrant sunset sky with the words "Disney World imagineering" written in flowing, stylized script across the center.
Credit: Becky Burkett/Walt Disney Imagineering

While some Imagineers are responsible for the creation, development, or construction of Disney’s theme park attractions and rides themselves, other Imagineers are tasked with ensuring that guests have an exciting and magical experience that keeps the “real” world as far from their minds as possible.

One way they achieve this is with an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” approach to the queues for Disney World’s rides.

Imagineers: Masters of Design and . . . Deception?

In line for Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland, guests are separated by walls that twist the queue back and forth, keeping guests from ever seeing exactly how many guests are ahead of them, waiting to jet off into the cosmos.

Related: Space Mountain Ride Set to Close Through 2027, Brand-New Experience Will Be Worth the Wait

A vibrant night scene at Disney World featuring neon-lit buildings and reflective water in the foreground under a starry sky.
Credit: Disney Parks

Per Popular Science, the design of the queue “stops you from grasping the true number of folks ahead, dampening the urge to bow out of a seemingly endless string of people.”

A futuristic spaceport-themed boarding area with a sign reading "now boarding — intergalactic rockets to all star systems" above a sleek control tower and gateways, featuring digital displays of queue times for
Part of the queue for Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom/Credit: Disney

But not being able to see how many guests are ahead of you–or how long the queue actually is–from your vantage point in line sure beats seeing how many times the line snakes back and forth toward the loading area for the ride. And ultimately, it tricks you into thinking the line is shorter than it actually is.

Imagineers Also Master the Art of Distraction

An expert on queueing at MIT explains how guests inside the queue are distracted so that they aren’t checking their watches and phones to see how many minutes it’s been since they began waiting to experience an attraction.

Once you’re committed, Disney Imagineers distract you from counting the passing minutes. They turn the holding areas into their own experience with dazzling stories and decorations, says Richard Larson, a queueing expert at MIT. When you’re entertained, your wait time feels less important—that’s a phenomenon called the dual-task paradigm, where exciting surroundings up the brain’s workload.

A dimly lit room with a desk cluttered with books and a globe, a sailboat model on top of a small shelf, and various décor items, including a framed picture of Disney World and
Queue for Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom/Credit: Becky Burkett

This is where Disney’s storytelling prowess comes into play. By distracting you with an engaging story with entertaining props–like those seen in the queue for Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom–that lead up to the attraction, your brain is busy with the stuff of entertainment, which distracts you from counting the minutes you’ve spent in line for a ride.

Imagineers: Mind- and Time-Benders?

There’s one more thing that Imagineers have done over the years to keep guests more at ease while they wait in line for their favorite attractions and rides, and it might leave guests feeling like Imagineers really are magic-makers. After all, they can seemingly bend time and thus, “bend” the minds of guests. Well, sort of.

As guests arrive at the entrance to the queue for an attraction, they often encounter signage that serves to forecast the amount of time they’ll wait before it’s their turn to experience the attraction.

MIT’s Larson, the queueing expert, points out that if, for example, a sign says that there’s a 60-minute wait for the ride, guests will always board the ride vehicle before that.

DCA Lightning Lane
Credit: Five Fires Twitter

It’s a move called a Machiavellian twist, and it leaves guests feeling like they’ve won back time they thought they’d lost in the queue for their favorite rides. If you’ve ever been giddy about getting to the loading area 15, 20, or 30 minutes sooner than what was initially forecast by the signage at the entrance to the queue, the Imagineering Machiavellian twist has worked on you.

Per Mental Floss, the signage in the queues intentionally misleads guests.

The signs listing wait times at the beginning of ride queues purposefully inflate the numbers. That way, when a wait that was supposed to be 120 minutes goes by in 90, you feel like you have more time than you did before.

Though it may fit the description for the trick Imagineers use to lead guests to believe they made great time in the queue, the term Machiavellian twist has a rather dark connotation. In psychology, the term Machiavellianism refers to a “personality trait characterized by a manipulative, cynical view of the people and environment around an individual.”

A composite image featuring a close-up of a person's hands holding a compass, overlaid with a group of men in business attire and casual clothes in various poses, expressing camaraderie and professionalism,
Disney’s Imagineers have been “tricking” guests for more than 70 years/Credit: D23/Canva

The “twist” is a strategic way of manipulating others, but the good news is that within the scope of Imagineering, the end result is one that makes things more magical for guests.

The End Result: Magic

When it’s all said and done, Imagineering’s efforts to “trick” guests generally have a positive effect on the experience for guests visiting Disney World.

While it remains true that no one relishes waiting in line for anything–even a ride at a Disney World theme park–the efforts by Walt Disney Imagineering help guests feel like they’ve spent less time in line, and that the time they have spent waiting for their favorite attraction was time better spent, as they were entertained in the queue as well.

toy story mania queue
Credit: Becky Burkett

As for that whole Machiavellian twist/time-bending/mind-bending thing, well, don’t be too hard on the Imagineers. After all, their intentions are positive, as they’re merely attempting to realize the magic for guests, whether they’re two or 92 years old.

in Disney Parks, Featured, Walt Disney World

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