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Play-While-You-Wait: 10 Must-See Interactive Theme Park Queues

5. Peter Pan’s Flight

Image: Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom
To do: Experiment with shadows

The idea of making queues interactive by scattering embedded physical games and props throughout seems to have begun in earnest with 2010’s Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh queue upgrade. Then came the Haunted Mansion; video games in the queues of Space Mountain and Soarin’; interactive elements added to Big Thunder Mountain’s line in 2013, and the 2014 opening of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. But the big finale of the relatively short-lived initiative was Peter Pan's Flight, the ultra-popular Fantasyland dark ride.

Thanks to the opening of the Tangled-themed restrooms (cue fans' snickering), the former restrooms in Fantasyland were cleared out and reconfigured as a much-needed extended, indoor queue for Peter Pan's Flight. Taking the opportunity to plus the experience, Imagineers practically turned the ride's queue into a walkthrough attraction unto itself, leading guests into the Darling family home. In the nursury, Tinker Belle causes mischief in brief mini-shows, and guests can watch butterflies land on their shadows and play bells using only their silhouette.

Despite being one of the last game-based interactive queues added, Peter Pan's Flight probably gets more right than any of its predecessors by keeping guests moving and providing subtle but spectacular experiences rather than more obvious games.

4. Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Image: Universal

Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
To do: Scream

Back when Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990, its camera-ready New York area was headlined by the Lost Legend: Kongfrontation. On board, guests were caught up in an evacuation of New York during Kong's legendary, cinematic rampage, with aerial trams carrying guests through the wreckage left in the ape's wake. Naturally, the ride featured two face-to-face encounters with the massive, raging ape and his legendary banana breath, making it one of the signature rides from Universal. It closed in 2002 to be replaced by the Modern Marvel: Revenge of the Mummy.

Universal seemed to have regretted the loss enough to warrant a comeback. In 2016, Skull Island: Reign of Kong opened not at the Studio park, but its more mythological neighbor, Islands of Adventure. Fittingly, rather than dropping Kong back into our world, we're marrooned in his: the otherworldly and sinister Skull Island, inhabited by gigantic insects, dinosaurs, killer worms, and more. That's why the ride's queue sends us into the tombs and temples of the island's hostile natives, including awesome animatronics, jump scares, and even live actors. In fact, Skull Island's queue was developed alongside the team behind Universal's world-class Halloween Horror Nights, meaning the queue is essentially a haunted house unto itself! 


Image: Disney

Location: Epcot
To do: Design a car

When the original Lost Legend: TEST TRACK opened in 1999, the premise was simple: you were stepping into a General Motors proving grounds / vehicle test facility to become a test dummy and go along for the ride while a car was put through the paces. Fittingly, the queue was a sort of kinetic museum of safety features in an industrial warehouse of traffic cones, reflector lights, warning stripes, and more. 

After just twelve years, Test Track underwent a surprising redesign that edited the ride from the ground up. Now a sleek, glowing, streamlined showcase of Chevrolet's most ethereal prototype vehicles, the queue does something spectacular: it invites guests to design their own custom cars and put them to the test. Guests end up in the Chevrolet Design Studio, each person paired with a computer and tasked with doing just what real engineers do: balance Capability, Efficiency, Responseness, and Power. They start with a line to determine their car's shape, then add and subtract features as desired. With a tap of the MagicBand or park ticket, their custom car goes along for the ride.

Now, the ride through the day-glo, TRON-inspired "SimTrack" isn't just a wild test of vehicle features: it's an experiment with the engineering design process all based on the concept vehicle guests themselves create in the queue.

2. Race Through New York

Image: Universal Orlando

Location: Universal Studios Florida
To do: Pandas, postcards, and phone charging

Waiting isn't supposed to be the highlight of an attraction, yet that seems to be case with Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. The simulator through New York and beyond will probably go down in history as the straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back, tipping the scales of fans' patience and officially making most of Universal's rides amount of being shaken in front of a screen, and most of that majority requiring 3-D glasses. Put another way, Race Through New York has been (pardon the pun) universally panned.

Image: Universal Orlando

One bright spot? The ride's queue. Here, Universal opted to reinvent the experience of waiting. First, guests choose a return time (a la pick-your-own FastPass). But upon returning, they don't enter a queue. Instead, they step into NBC Studios and are handed a colored card (one of the six colors in NBC's peacock logo) and invited to a second-story lounge. Here, there's live queue entertainment (including a meet-and-greet with Hashtag the Panda and The Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet live on stage), plus a mini-museum of Tonight Show props and costumes, desks to send interactive greeting cards, and couches outfitted with all the phone-charging access you'll ever need.

When the lights inside change to match the color on your card, it's time to make your way to the next room for the pre-show... But, you might prefer to keep hanging out instead. (A similar set-up is in use at Universal's next installation, the equally-panned Fast & Furious: Supercharged, allowing guests to mill about in a garage of Fast & Furious cars.) Even if Race Through New York isn't exactly a keeper, could this format be the future of "interactivity" in ride queues? 

1. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland
To do:
 Decode the legend

When Disneyland opened in 1955, its ride queues were standard chain stanchions sending people through back-and-forth through a sea of waiting guests. In the 1960s, queues began to evolve, acting as prologues to the settings and scenes within (think of Adventure Thru Inner Space or the Haunted Mansion). But it was during Michael Eisner's cinematic era that queue became part of the ride... From The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to Splash Mountain, suddenly queues were a place for guests to take their first steps into the story...

Image: Disney

And there's perhaps no original story as creative as that behind the Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure. Having traveled to the misty jungles of Southeast Asia lured by the 1930s media's sensationalized coverage, guests step into the role of would-be explorers – the nouveau riche of Europe – descending on the newly discovered Temple of the Forbidden Eye. From its cracked exterior along the misty rivers of the Jungle Cruise, guests descend into a quarter-mile long hike through collapsed tunnels, bat caves, and antechambers. Sure, Imagineers scattered booby traps and interactive props throughout this queue... but at the end of the day, the queue is good for so much more...

Famously, it's packed with ancient Maraglyphs – the lost language of this region – telling the legend of the lost god Mara and his promises of ancient gifts (either earthly treasure, future sight, or eternal life) to any who venture to the heart of the temple. But a more chilling tale is told by the countless depictions of Mara throughout via carving, statue, and painting that show the god with his eyes closed or covered, hinting at the dark fate that befalls any who look into his eyes... Imagineers brilliant turned the ride's sticking point (a long wait in a queue that has to stretch to a showbuilding outside the park) into its most masterful element: a chance to let guests literally descend into the story and pull as much exposition as they can. 

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