I recently wrote about how difficult it is to plan (and actually go on) a Walt Disney World vacation. This is still true, and probably always will be. Many guests don't want to put in the leg work to plan everything and learn all the ins and outs of what you should do, and when (this is why the Disney-specific travel agency is big business).
That being said, Disney does reward planning and understanding the rules. One of the things I wrote about in that earlier post is all the different ways to experience attractions - at any one time, you have the standby line, Genie+, Individual Lightning Lanes and virtual queue. It might take an advanced degree to figure out or remember which attractions are in which category (or categories).
But I'm here to tell you that one of these options can be leveraged in a way that the others can't. So even if it's a pain, and even if it takes away the most traditional way of riding attractions, you should embrace the virtual queue. Learn to love it. Because this system is the best way to ride the newest attractions at Walt Disney World.
What is a virtual queue? In simple terms, a virtual queue (VQ) takes the place of a traditional standby line. You are assigned a time to return to a particular attraction, so your spot in line is being held "virtually" until your return time (often referred to in Disney parlance as a "boarding group") is called. This is similar in many ways to a Genie+ reservation, or the old FastPass+ before it.
There are a few things that set VQ apart from those options, however. One is that there is NO standby line when a VQ is active for an attraction. This can be a real gut punch when you can't get in the VQ and ride the newest attraction, perhaps a ride that you planned an entire trip around. I get that. But there are ways to work around this (which we'll talk about below). The upside is that the crowd patterns are controlled - they don't need to satisfy both the Lightning Lane and the standby lane. Disney knows how many VQ are available each day and know they can fit everyone in (barring ride breakdowns, of course).
The other big difference in the current landscape is that a VQ is free, where Genie+ and ILL are not. Getting a VQ for the newest attraction is like getting a G+ or ILL for no charge. Think of it as a bonus - if you buy Genie+, you are limited to selections when you tap in to a ride or every two hours, whichever comes first. With VQ on the table, you can get a boarding group for the most popular ride at a park AND still use G+ to start making ride selections.
As an example, the attraction currently using VQ as I write this is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot. On your Epcot day, you can join the VQ at 7:00 and get a return time for Guardians at, say, 12:00 p.m. You can then use Genie+ (already purchased, in this example) to pick up a return time for Frozen Ever After. Before you even leave for the park, you have two rides booked and ready to go. Without the VQ, you would only have one.
Why does Disney use this system? The virtual queue is a relatively new wrinkle to Disney planning, which started when Star Wars Rise of the Resistance opened in late 2019. Disney knew the demand for this ride would be massive (and they were correct) so they tried to circumvent the system that was in place at the time (FP+) to help satisfy this demand.
For Rise in particular, Disney was ahead of the curve with this system. Rise is a very complicated attraction and had a lot of downtime, particularly in the early days after it opened. If Disney had added this to FP and the ride broke down, there would have been a lot of unhappy customers that didn't get to use their selection. By using VQ instead, Disney could estimate how many boarding groups they could get through in one day and only release that many. This number could be toggled up or down depending on reliability. Of course, there was still a possibility that the ride would break down for the whole day (which happened) and very few people would get to ride. But Disney made that clear when releasing VQ - by separating it from FP, Disney created a different expectation level for availability.
Eventually, when Disney was confident enough in Rise's reliability and when it had been around for a while, they changed to make this ridable via standby or ILL only. From personal experience, though, the VQ for Rise was a big success - we rode it twice in one trip with no issue. To ride it now, you either have to be at the front of the pack for early entry rope drop, wait till the end of the night when the lines are lower or purchase an ILL. For my money, the VQ was a much easier system to use in this case.
Disney brought back the VQ when Remy's Ratatouille Adventure opened in Epcot. This was probably an unnecessarily cautious approach, as this ride was much more reliable and less in demand than Rise. But again, a VQ could be leveraged in combination with Genie+. They dropped the VQ shortly before Guardians opened, so that only one ride (Guardians) would have VQ at any one time.
In some ways, Guardians is a better comparison for Rise. This is a big budget, massively popular ride which will change everyone's plan for Epcot for years to come. However, Guardians is a more reliable attraction than Rise as well, and has a high rider capacity. This means more boarding groups can be released daily, and it makes it easier to ride. If you're going on a trip in the near future, this is definitely the best way to ride Guardians - once the VQ goes away, you'll have the same issue that you have with Rise now, which means you will have to dedicate time and/or money to get on without a multi-hour wait.
You might say that a standby line means a guaranteed ride for the day (even if you had to wait for hours) whereas a VQ means you could potentially be shut out. This is true, but not as much of a concern as it once was. For Guardians, there are VQ drops at both 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. (not to mention a 6:00 p.m. drop for Extended Evening Hours guests - and since that's separate from regular park time, you could potentially ride Guardians twice in one day). I've seen plenty of people succeed at the VQ - even if you miss the 7:00 one, almost everyone gets in at 1:00. This is definitely different than it was for Rise.
Plus if you miss the 7:00 drop and don't want to risk it, there's always the ILL. Yes, this costs money ($17 as of the time of this writing) but it is at least an option, and availability is good for hours after 7:00, which gives you time to think about it (Rise often runs out of ILL early on in the day, taking away an option if you decide standby is too long). Again, this isn't likely to be an issue for all but the busiest times, but it does give you some flexibility there.
By using the VQ for multiple new attractions in recent years, Disney is signaling the fact that they like this system and will probably roll it out for future new attractions as well (Tron at Magic Kingdom will be next). So like it or not, the system is here to stay. I'm saying that you should like it - the system works well in general, and will make it much easier to ride these new popular attractions. Remember this when the standby line for Guardians is 150 minutes - you should consider how good you have it now.