Standby Return Test Continues at Soarin

As Theme Park University reported on earlierSoarin’ at Epcot tested a new standby wait time test on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Just like with Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairy Taile Hall, this was only a test to see how guests would react to being given a time to come back and wait instead of standing in about a 2 hour queue for the attraction.

Keep in mind, this does not replace FastPass+ in any way. Guests who booked a FastPass either weeks in advance or even the day of got to experience the attraction as they normally would. The amount of FastPasses distributed for the day were not altered in any way for this test and to an extent, I am sure those guests who had FastPasses for Soarin’ were unaware there was even a test going on.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

I arrived at Epcot around 3:30 pm. My original intent was to try and get a FastPass for Soarin later on in the day, but alas, they were all gone by the time I arrived. So everyone wanting to ride the attraction this afternoon had to take part in this return time test.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

To say that they were ready for the worst is an understatement. There were a ton of extra cast members from the moment you walked in The Land pavillion trying to keep traffic flowing as much as possible. In any direction you looked there were attractions, guest relations, coordinators, managers and more all scurrying around trying to make sure this test ran smoothly. Regardless of what you think of this test, I can assure you that it was not a last minute decision as you don’t pull this kind of staffing out of thin air. Plus, everyone had to be up to speed on the process and procedure for the day.

For me, that procedure was approaching the Soarin standby line as I normally would, but instead of entering the line directly, I was ushered into the area to the right where the old FastPass machines used to be. They literally created a small queue so you could obtain a return time card. Why? Personalized service. As each party went in to the area, they were greeted by a cast member who would explain that instead of waiting in the actual line for two hours, that I could return during the one hour window on this card and I would experience roughly a 45 minute wait in the actual queue instead.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Keep in mind, I waited zero time to approach a cast member to obtain my return time. In addition, I stood around an additional 30 minutes just to see if a queue ever built up to obtain return time cards. It did not. During that time, I also watched dozens of other guests obtain their return time card and not a complaint in the bunch.  However, there were many that were confused. “Is this a FastPass?… Do I return to the FastPass line with this?… What happens if I have dinner reservations during this time?”… I felt having a human answer everyone’s personal questions was a nice touch instead of a brochure or sign.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

I obtained my Soarin’ return time card at 3:30 pm with a return time of 4:45 to 5:45 pm.  If indeed the line would have been two hours at that point, returning at 4:45 would have put me at 75 minute mark of my 2 hour wait if it had been in a physical queue. After riding Journey Into Imagination (and finally picking up those snazzy Figment comic books), I returned to Soarin’ and entered the standby queue after showing my return time card to no less than 4 (told you they were overstaffed) cast members.

When you try something new at a theme park, maybe you chat with your friends or take a lot of pictures. No matter what I do, whether it’s a new show, ride, parade or in this case, a queue test… I stay silent.  Everyone around me was in the same boat, we all participated in the test. I waited to hear grumbling of something, anything… nada. I also waited to hear “well I sure am glad I didn’t have to stand here for two hours”… also, nada.

Soarin Standby Test

I started the stopwatch on my Iphone and from the moment I got in line until I reached the merging point where FastPass and Standby combine into one line, I waited 37 minutes. From the time I entered the queue until I was assigned a spot in the boarding area, where I waited for the pre-show? Exactly 45 minutes. No more, no less. Instead of wating 2 hours in a queue, I rode another attraction, poked around for a bit, bought some merchandise and then returned. Personally, I found it a much better alternative to being on my feet that long.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

Keep in mind, this was a test and there were several cast members counting the amount of guests returning and how quickly they were moving. This is also a delicate situation where if you hand out too many return time cards, the line backs up and it negates the point of returning at a later time. Hand out too few and you could end up with empty seats on the ride. From what I understand from reading other reports as well as asking a few cast members, the three day test was to see how varying amounts of tickets within a certain time period will affect the queue.

Also, it’s worth noting that return time tickets were handed out until around 6:30 or so. Around 7:00 pm the standby line reopened as normal and guests were allowed to wait in the queue without a return time card. The reason being is the line for Soarin’ drops drastically after 6 in the evening as guests flood World Showcase for dinner reservations and trying to get a spot for Illuminations. When I left the park at 7 pm, the standby line for Soarin was a 40 minute wait anyway… so having a return time card would have been pointless.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

During that period of not handing out return time cards and only letting people enter the queue who had one, guests were told that they couldn’t ride Soarin’ at all without a return time card or a FastPass. They weren’t telling them to come back after a certain time… zip. This, more than anything, caused some major frustration for about 45 minutes of guests not understanding why they couldn’t just wait in line. If there’s a wrinkle in the system, this is the biggest one.

Much of the frustration of what I read online seems to come from the fact that Disney is expected to do everything perfectly all the time. Everything needs to be figured out in advance and if everyting doesn’t go smoothly, then they are idiots. I have never subscribed to that thinking and I personally think it’s great they even wanted to test this. Sure, they could have said (and have for many years) “the line for Soarin can get up to 4 hours or more on busy days) you can suck it up and wait, or not) and indeed guests would have to wait that time on their feet in that queue. However, they are trying to do something to make that longer wait a bit easier on your feet.

Will this become permanent? It’s too early to tell without going and looking at the data. Based on everything I have seen, they were tracking a lot of physical numbers on how many people entered the line every few minutes and how many cards were handed out during a certain time period to when they ran out of return time cards. In addition, the guest feedback hasn’t exactly come in yet. From talking with a few Cast Members on the spot, most said there were very few guests upset with the test over the last few days both from the operations and guest relations side of things. However, many guests won’t say anything the day of their visit, they will often call or write a letter and those comments may take a few weeks to fully come in regarding this test.

Photo by Josh Young

Photo by Josh Young

For now, the Soarin standby test is over. However, what do you think? Is this too confusing? Are long lines just a part of theme park life? If you didn’t have a FastPass for Soarin’, would you personally rather wait in a 2 hour queue or spend roughly half of it doing anything else than waiting in line? I would love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

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