Mariah Tyler for Travel+Leisure
Carlye Wisel
August 01, 2018

When used as intended, the new Play Disney Parks app lets guests bypass wait times with interactive games that can change their surroundings inside a ride queue. The unintended effect? It's so good, you may want to opt out of Fastpass just to use it.

The free iOS and Android app can be used at home or at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, allowing guests to answer trivia questions about termites while walking through Animal Kingdom’s zoo-like exhibits or quiz each other on Splash Mountain’s history when boarding a flight to Orlando. Inside the parks — and on four specific attractions — it shines, leveraging that oft-dreaded wait time into an experience that’ll make those breezing past near-envious.

With location-specific activities that play off ride themes and queue spaces, Disney is striving to transform the most boring part of vacation into its own kind of entertainment. Do your best at virtual training missions while waiting for Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom and your spacecraft will battle others in real life, or dive deeper into Andy’s bedroom in unsuspecting ways while waiting for Toy Story Midway Mania. The better you do in Disneyland’s Off To Never Land game in Peter Pan’s Flight famously long queue can even increase the odds of Tinker Bell making a special appearance before you board.

Even if your family’s not really into game play, there’s another layer of entertainment on offer. The app’s animated map is a sweetly designed interface rife with its own cutesy version of Hidden Mickeys; swipe to the side and surprises, like R2-D2 popping out from Disneyland’s future Star Wars Land location or a Na’vi off in the distance of Pandora — The World of Avatar, will appear. The more you use it, the more robust it becomes, as frequent play and actual time spent within the parks will unlock different sections of the game board. Boarding rides and experiencing attractions at Disney World and Disneyland yield little digital buttons, too, giving guests the thrill of discovery that pin trading brings without having to spend a dime, stacking up everything you’ve done on vacation into a true badge of honor.

Though seemingly otherwise, it’s not just another reason to be stuck staring at your screen. Like Heads Up! and similar interactive app games, Play Disney Parks encourages families to participate in activities together through a single phone. The four in-queue activities are multiplayer and easy for all ages, relying more so on teamwork and creativity than mere digital distractions, striving to turn an attraction’s wait into an attraction of its own. Two interactive Walt Disney World activities, Soarin’ Challenge and Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, have been added into the app as well, making them even easier to utilize.

It’s not Disney’s first attempt enhancing guest experiences by having their surroundings do double-duty as real-life game boards. The Menehune Adventure Trail at Disney’s Aulani Resort leads guests to interacts with statues, waterfalls, artwork and other unsuspecting features of the Hawaiian property that magically come to life when activated, while Disney Cruise Line’s Dream and Fantasy ships offer three interactive games within the Midship Detective Agency. Mickey Mouse, Cruella de Vil, even The Muppets come to life throughout the ship’s corridors by way of slyly concealed screens projecting still images as “artwork” throughout the ship until game play kicks in.

Clearly best when used inside parks, there’s still plenty to enjoy prior to leaving. Themed playlists in partnership with Apple Music cue up everything from “Beauty and the Beast” standards and the Star Tours’ theme to throwback tunes from old attractions, like Kitchen Kabaret and Universe of Energy. Part DJ, part trivia game, and part experiential enhancement, it’s an addition that can make your Disney vacation all the more fun.

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