A couple of months ago, Disney announced that Tron Lightcycle Run, their shiny new coaster in Magic Kingdom, would open on April 4. In the last few weeks, there have been various previews for Tron - cast member, annual passholder, etc. Since the previews began so early, the question for many people was whether there would be a "soft open" to the general public before April 4, and as Disney announced today, the answer is yes - a soft open will take place between March 20th and April 2nd.
A soft open is a good way to test out a new attraction before the official opening date. Expectations are lower, and if there are any issues, people usually chalk those up to working out the bugs and are more forgiving than they would be once the actual opening day comes along. Is that the case here? I'm not so sure, honestly. The question is more about why the opening was so late, rather than why the previews are so long.
As I speculated recently, I think the announced opening date was designed to set Tron apart from the 50th anniversary celebration, which officially ends March 31. I don't think this was the original intention, but as the delays piled up, I think this was a conscious decision by Disney. However, since the attraction was done and just sitting there, a long preview period made sense.
This is new ground for Disney, or at least for Disney in recent years. There hasn't been a full general public soft open for any new attraction or land that I can remember. Usually once an opening date is announced, there are some very limited cast member and AP previews, often only a few days before the attraction officially opens. That wasn't the case here, and allowed Disney to open up the previews to more guests. This way they can still keep their official opening date, but allow guests to ride it at a busy time of year and soak up some of that precious capacity.
Another interesting aspect here is that the soft open is using the virtual queue and Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) options. Usually during a preview, there is only a standby queue, and a guest basically has to be lucky enough to be in the park and curious enough to see if they can get a sneak peek to even find out if it's running that day. Instead, Disney is operating the soft open the same way they will once it officially opens - no standby queue at all, and only these two options for riding.
This is another reason I don't think this is a "working the kinks out" situation - the expectation, especially with a paid option, is that the ride is operating normally. There have been some reports, especially early on, that guests of certain body types have had issues fitting in the ride vehicle. I haven't heard much about this lately, so either it isn't as widespread an issue as had been reported, or the cast members are getting better at mitigating the situation. Perhaps both of these. But that was the time when things were still being worked out - now it appears they are full speed ahead, with only the date signifying a soft open instead of the official opening.
A couple of other notes I find interesting on the options for riding. As I said above, Tron will operate with a virtual queue and ILL only for the time being. Let's talk about the virtual queue first. In its limited history, there has usually only been one VQ operating at a time throughout Walt Disney World. Since the 2019 opening of Rise of the Resistance, each new attraction that has opened at Disney World has used a virtual queue, at least for the early part of its time. But when a new attraction opened, the previous attraction would drop the VQ.
That is NOT the case here, as when Tron opens with a virtual queue, Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind at Epcot will continue to use the virtual queue as well. For the 7:00 a.m. distribution, you need to have a park reservation for the park you are attending that day. And for the 1:00 distribution, you need to physically be in that park. That makes the possibility of joining both VQ on the same day a difficult (though not impossible task). I would recommend focusing on one at a time unless you have a very limited time to visit.
It's an interesting choice to keep the Guardians VQ open when Tron debuts. This is so far unprecedented, but like I said, there hasn't been a lot of history on this. There has been speculation that Guardians no longer "needs" the VQ, based on its availability in recent weeks/months. This may be true, but since Disney is keeping it around, I would take our advice and embrace the virtual queue - it's a good way to leverage a free asset and still accomplish other things rather than waiting in what would surely the longest line at any given park. Consider this one a blessing in disguise.
The other option for riding Tron will be the Individual Lightning Lane (ILL). As you probably know, that is Disney's paid option for attractions that are NOT in the regular Genie+ purchase. It is a cost for one individual ride - no more, no less. When ILL (and Genie+) was first offered, there were two attractions at each park that fell under this category. But Disney quickly changed their mind on this, first moving the "lesser" of two attractions at each park into Genie+ for a "limited time", then quietly making that time less limited. In other words, there is now only one ILL in each park - everything else falls under Genie+.
That is, until now. As part of today's announcement, there comes clarification that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom will keep its ILL status rather than move "down" to Genie+. There are now five attractions that offer ILL - two at Magic Kingdom and one each at the other three parks. Unlike the double VQ I talk about above, this is a negative - I had been hoping that Seven Dwarfs would be included in Genie+ once Tron opened, making it a more attractive purchase option as part of a package.
While I'm not happy about the choice, I do understand it. If there was any park which could sustain two ILL attractions, it's Magic Kingdom, given the large number of attractions in the park. Genie+ still has plenty of value, even without Seven Dwarfs being added. And given the other options for riding (VQ in Tron's case, standby for Seven Dwarfs, most useful at the end of the night), it isn't too onerous to attempt both in the same day without purchasing either.
It remains to be seen how long Seven Dwarfs will remain as an ILL. This is somewhat new territory for Disney, as they can now look at purchase data for both attractions and see if it warrants two ILL at the same park. Either way, Tron is gearing up to go for real. It's been a long time coming but now Disney is ready to let everyone ride it, even earlier than anticipated.