Is Walt Disney World Punishing Parents with their Child Swap Policy?

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walt disney world child swap issues
At Test Track in Epcot we lost almost 30 minutes due to the Rider Switch Policy.

Disclosure: On our recent trip to Orlando both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando provided me with two free press tickets each. These tickets allowed us to move between parks and the Universal tickets came with an Express Pass. There was no agreement as to what I was going to write about regarding my experiences. These words and ideas are my own.

Walt Disney World Rider Swap Issues & Needs for Improvement

My family and I love theme parks including everything Disney. In fact, we have been to every Disney Resort around the world and I will be visiting each one this year again. About a year ago we had a beautiful baby girl, who also loves Disney, but there are of course some rides she just isn’t tall enough to go on. In comes “Rider Switch” or Baby Swap or whatever you want to call it.

The basics of a Rider Switch are simple. One adult waits in the line and rides while the other adult stays with the child. They are given a ticket (either at the entrance or when they get on the ride) that allows the second adult to “skip the line” (along with one or two others) and ride while the first adult watches the child. It seems like a great solution, but at Walt Disney World it really is failing.

Better Policies Exist

walt disney world child swap issues
A sign directing the way to the Child Swap waiting area at Spiderman in Islands of Adventure.

Child swap passes at Walt Disney World allow the second adult to “skip the line” by using the Fastpass queue. While this sounds good, sometimes the lines for Fastpass are quite long themselves. This means that often it takes twice the amount of time to complete the swap. This might be acceptable if there wasn’t another way, but there is.

On this recent trip to Orlando we also visited Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure. Instead of having rider switch passes, Universal has actual child swap rooms near the ride entrance where a parent can wait with the child. Once “Adult One” gets off of the ride, “Adult Two” walks right up and gets on. This is a much better solution for a few reasons.

First, the entire family can wait in the line together in most cases. The child swap rooms are near the actual ride stations so we were able to wait in the queue together before being split up. This made things so much easier for us. Second, there is no “Fastpass” or other queue. The switch is instant. “Adult One” gets the child and “Adult Two” walks right on the ride. The way it should be.

Disneyland Paris Does It Right Too

walt disney world child swap issues
We were able to see both parks at Disneyland Paris in one day thanks largely to the time savings of their child swap program.

Now some will argue that Universal has a lot more height restricted rides which in turn means they need a better policy (perhaps somewhat true), so let’s look at another Disney Resort that does it the right way. Back in March we visited Disneyland Paris for baby Ellie’s first birthday. It was a magical day and one that was made so much easier by their “Baby Switch” program.

At Disneyland Paris “Adult 1” would wait in line and get the switch pass when they reached the front. After getting off the ride, “Adult 2” would use that pass to go up the exit and get on the ride immediately. It basically worked like Universal’s system in that it didn’t punish parties doing a swap. If Disneyland Paris can do this, then surely Walt Disney World can do better than they do now.

A World of Its Own

walt disney world child swap issues
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train swap was one of the best since its Fastpass line moves quickly.

I understand that Walt Disney World is a unique place and that things are a bit different with Fast Pass+, etc., but the truth is that families are being punished by this policy. In some cases the wait is almost double what it would normally be, because the swap takes a lot of time. We ran into this for example at Test Track where it took my wife 25 minutes to get through the Fastpass line after I had already waited and rode.

To be honest I don’t know what the exact solution will be to this problem because Walt Disney World is operated at a huge scale, but I do know that this policy is failing. In the Test Track example, we lost almost 30 minutes of our day that we shouldn’t have. At other rides it was 10 or 15 minutes. That adds up over the course of the day.

Conclusion

In the end we enjoyed our day at Walt Disney World and still had a wonderful time, but there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to Rider Switch. Perhaps their policy wouldn’t have stood out to me so much if we had not visited Disneyland Paris or Universal Orlando as well, but we did. To me, Universal’s policy and facilities are top notch, while Disneyland Paris does a good job as well. The bottom line is Walt Disney World can and should do better.

What do you think? Does Rider Switch at Walt Disney World work just fine or should they implement a similar program to what we see in other parks like Disneyland Paris? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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18 COMMENTS

  1. Is this at all WDW parks? I just have to wonder whether it’s at least partially a question of the difficulties in adapting infrastructure from the 70’s. Also, if they implemented your changes in, say, Animal Kingdom, would people complain even more that The Magic Kingdom didn’t have the new system.

    • Not at all. Many of the rides at Magic Kingdom have a “Baby Swap” waiting area where you get off the ride as the system used in Disneyland Paris is how Magic Kingdom used to do it. The area with the screens for looking at your ride photo as you exit the ride vehicle on Space Mountain, it used to have seating and was where the second adult and child waited.

      The new system was a reaction to complaints about the wait being boring. Test track has a play area at the exit and that was originally where the swap took place. It was a nice system in some ways but in many ways you are much better off with the new system if you know how to utilize it most efficiently. Instead of having the second parent ride immediately after the first, collect the swap passes and use them a bit later in the day. That way they do not use up prime ‘short line’ time, but instead function almost like the old Fast Passes that never expired.

      All in all it is a “you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time” situation. A couple with one young child might love the baby swap rooms. A family with a rambunctious 4 or 5 year old is going to feel very differently about it. It is one thing to ride something your child can’t at WDW, it is another to make them wait in a boring enclosed space while you ride something they can’t. In the second case the ability to take your young child somewhere else, maybe on the Tea Cups or a play area or for a diaper change, while the parent rides is a much nicer option.

      • That is true and you make good points Haley. While Universal’s rooms worked well for us, they wouldn’t be perfect for everyone. I should point at that DLP’s system is almost the same as the WDW swap system with the exception that you don’t need to use the Fastpass line. You still get a ticket that allows you to come back at a later time and bring 2 extra people, you just get to use the exit when doing so.

  2. I agree that it is pretty much a mess now.

    Child swap has changed over the years. When we used it regularly 8-10 years ago, there were still rides where you would all go through the line and switch right at the entrance for the ride. It was so much nicer.

    I think they may had moved to giving the FP for the second rider because they thought it would be preferable if the child didn’t have to wait in the line at all, and that can be nice, especially if your child is napping.

    However, FP return lines exploded when FP+ came online. Pre-FP+, the only rides were you experienced even a couple minute FP return wait was Soarin and maybe Toy Story Midway Mania. Now, 20 minute waits are not abnormal for FP+ return.

  3. We generally like the rider swap at Disneyworld. We used to have annual passes and attended quite frequently. We found that the magic way to do Disney was with young kids and grandma tagging along.

    The rider swap tickets are especially beneficial once you have a few kids who are tall enough to ride the ride but not all of them are. The rider swap tickets allow up to three riders so we would get my husband and son a fast pass while my daughter and I got fast passes for another ride and we would get rider swap tickets so the kids could go on the rides twice.

  4. It used to be better years ago, much like Paris and Anaheim are now. Parents would wait at the exit, essentially, then be escorted to the load area by a cast member. At most Disney rides, which have height requirements, there would a be a “chicken exit” if someone changed their mind about riding. This is what had been used. Not sure why they changed things up, but it was probably in response to abuses (some perceived, some probably real), much like how they changed access for people with disabilities.

  5. Interesting and thoughtful analysis, but one that I think is partially driven by the fact that you and your wife were traveling with just a young baby. If you have multiple kids of varying ages and thrill ride interest, Disney’s policy still (mostly) works well for a few reasons.

    With a 7 and 2.5 year old, what I love about Disney’s policy is that the swap doesn’t have to happen then and there. The second group can ride any time later in the day (and in the case of WDW, sometimes even later in the week). The Rider Swap passes work essentially as extra Fastpasses good at any time. They also mean my older child gets to ride twice since they are good for up to 3 people. We make great use of them by saving them up for use during the busiest part of the day when the toddler is usually back napping at the hotel with one parent.

    That my family couldn’t wait together in line at Disney like you did at Universal doesn’t bother me at all. With my 2.5 year old, I frankly don’t want to be waiting in line with him for any minute more than I have to. Disney works well for me because I just take him on another ride while my husband rides a thrill ride with my older child. At Universal, there simply aren’t these kind of alternate options since most of the baby/toddler friendly rides are in dedicated sections of the park.

    As someone who does Rider Swap more often at Disneyland than at WDW, I must admit that it works better at DL because 1) most of FP queues are shorter (with the exception of Star Tours which is always heinous at DL) and 2) there are several rides (like Matterhorn) that don’t have FP so you really do cut the full line like you mention you could do at Universal and DL Paris.

    Classic case of YMMV, and I think it varies a lot depending on the ages and stages of your kids.

  6. I didn’t have any problems with rider switch when we were at WDW. The 25 minutes actually worked fine for us (though it wasn’t that long in our case) because my wife took my daughter to go ride buzz lightyear while I was on spacemountain. I also think the current system is easy to “game”. It sounds like since you were using rider switch as intended (riding immediately), that wasn’t ideal and that kind of sucks and that is what most end users are probably doing.

    But imagine a world where you just alternate who goes on what ride all day, build up rider switch passes all day until you have 8-10 in hand, drop your kid off with a babysitter or grandparent, and then hit the FP+ queue from 7-11 PM on 8-10 rides…WHEE!

    • Yeah I tried to keep this post within the realm of non-gaming the system. My main point here is that the return pass should in theory get you right back on the ride like in DLP. In DLP you still get a return ticket which doesn’t have to be used immediately, but you don’t need to wait in the FP queue.

  7. Been to Disney about 20 times in the last 10 years many times with the last 6 years with trips with kids who made us need rider swap. It doesn’t punish families. One main issue is the scale of Disney and the way the lines are constructed really necessitates them not allowing under height children in the line. As for the wait – having done this for six years, 30 minutes is by far the exception rather than the rule. 5-10 minutes is far more likely.

    You’ve also left out one of the key benefits to the way they do it which benefits families. The rider swap pass allows 3 people to ride and allows them to ride at any point that day so that the waiting parent doesn’t have to ride alone. It also allows a lot of flexibility so that you can save your passes and ride later when the kids might be napping, off with another relative, etc.

    So yes – if your family is exactly 2 parents and 1 child who is too short, you probably do lose a little bit of time the way it works. If you’re a larger group, the system has tremendous benefits over the other ways if you know how to leverage itl

  8. Been to Disney about 20 times in the last 10 years many times with the last 6 years with trips with kids who made us need rider swap. It doesn’t punish families. One main issue is the scale of Disney and the way the lines are constructed really necessitates them not allowing under height children in the line. As for the wait – having done this for six years, 30 minutes is by far the exception rather than the rule. 5-10 minutes is far more likely.

    You’ve also left out one of the key benefits to the way they do it which benefits families. The rider swap pass allows 3 people to ride and allows them to ride at any point that day so that the waiting parent doesn’t have to ride alone. It also allows a lot of flexibility so that you can save your passes and ride later when the kids might be napping, off with another relative, etc.

    So yes – if your family is exactly 2 parents and 1 child who is too short, you probably do lose a little bit of time the way it works. If you’re a larger group, the system has tremendous benefits over the other ways if you know how to leverage it.

  9. Interesting perspective. We employ the same strategy as Joe and Leslie. The non-rider rides something else or has a snack/bathroom break while the eligible family members ride. Then reverse later in the day.

  10. Honestly, the Child Swap system at EPCOT was better than, any of the aforementioned arrangements–at least it was, during our visit back in March. Granted, there was no room for parents to wait with the baby, thereby allowing the whole family to wait in the queue line together, but that was easily forgiven as Parent #2 is now allowed to skip the line, yet also ride with the kids, who now experience the ride a second time.

    We would often skip the Child Swap and just decide which parent would ride with the kids meeting the height restriction before getting in line, and which one would loiter around nearby gift shops and eateries, because the whole point of going to WDW–for us–is to experience the park as a family, or at least as much time together (yes, even time in queue lines ) as possible. I would rather not ride, unless it was something rumored to be a game changer, if I am not able to do so with the kids. Back in March, we visited EPCOT and there were a couple of attractions that the whole family could not ride together.

    We were given a Child Swap ticket for the first ride, and was told that once complete, the second parent waiting could skip the line and ride the ride with the kids. Surely, this was a fluke, but we gave it a try, only to confirm it’s truth! Still in disbelief by ride #2, we reserved the ticket to ride until later in the day, in hopes that the crowd would be thin and, if the pass didn’t work similarly, the second parent would have a shorter wait in line anyway. Much to our surprise, parent #2 was allowed to skip the line with kids in tow as well! What a great time we both had, each experiencing all of the attractions with the kids!

    We both thought that was great and hope the other parks implement the same policy–it helps make the memories when the family is kept together, which is why we all go to WDW anyway, right?

  11. I don’t know about rider switch but this does remind me of how heinously long the fast pass line to space mountain was when we were there in January. I think it was at least 30 minutes. At least.

  12. Interesting read. We’re going to WDW again in August with our 8 year old son (who has been tall enough to ride space mountain literally since he was 3) and also with our newest addition to the family which will be 8 months old. While we never needed child swap before, we will now and were wondering how it works. Sounds like it’s going to be a pain.
    We live near Busch Gardens Williamsburg and thought we should get some theme park practice in with the little one so we went for mother’s day. It was wonderful!!! It was slightly different per attraction depending on layout, but still seamless. The cast member at the front told the waiting parent where to go (sometimes in through the exit, sometimes through their disability access line) and that parent would end up waiting on the other side of the ride platform where you get off. Or withe a cm at the picture stop. Once we made it through the line to the ride, my husband would let one of the CMs know who he was switching with. Then when we got off the ride I’d take the stroller and he was allowed to board before the regular riders. My 8 year old son was also allowed to join him if he wanted to ride again so my husband wouldn’t have to ride alone. It was perfect. I wonder why WDW doesn’t use a similar approach. I realize that this might be a little cumbersome for the waiting parent if rides are long, especially if the little one is restless. However that’s kind of a part of having a baby or toddler. Just a fact of life.
    This method is the ultimate time saver and 100% fair in my opinion. Especially with visual confirmation of the switch, this makes it almost impossible for the dirt bags who are out to game the system. Anyway, we’ll be going to Universal and WDW so I’m curious to see how the experiences will compare.

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