Soft Openings for TRON Lightcycle Run?

10 min read

I do NOT think Walt Disney World will do a soft opening of TRON Lightcycle Run in Magic Kingdom. It’s highly unlikely and inconsistent with historical precedent. I just want to put that warning up front so you don’t get overly excited by the (highly speculative) prospect of this post. As has been the case all along, this roller coaster probably won’t arrive early.

With that said, the timing of previews in relation to the grand opening is somewhat curious. It’s a relatively lengthy gap, especially contrasted with the degree to which the previews have been timed in quick succession. Let’s start with that, addressing each of these in turn. Cast Member previews for TRON Lightcycle Run have been relatively long and remain ongoing, concluding at the end of next month. These have been far more expansive than normal, allowing Cast Members to bring guests–some have even scheduled second dates!

Next up is Disney Vacation Club previews, which are comparatively short–only a handful of days in early March. Concurrent with DVC previews, Annual Passholders can also get a sneak peek of the attraction in early March. There’s also a second set of dates closer to the middle of the month. Immediately after the second set of AP previews end, there are media and influencer events. There is a very slim possibility that soft openings occur after that…

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, soft openings are also known as trial operations or technical rehearsals, and are basically an unannounced and controlled test period. They provide an opportunity for theme parks to open an attraction prior to its official opening and conduct operations and Cast Member training in a more forgiving and low stress environment.

Since soft openings are unannounced–meaning they are not publicized via any official resources: not on park maps, the official Disney Parks Blog, wait time boards, in-app–they always draw significantly fewer crowds than official openings. Hence the “soft” part of the name.

Soft openings are good for both guests and Cast Members. Guests in the know have a chance to experience a new land or attraction with a fraction of its post-opening crowds, and Cast Members get to cut their teeth in a lower stress environment. Most guests are simply happy to get a sneak peek; it’s very different than the tensions and crowds that often exist on opening day and thereafter.

During soft openings, the guest profile skews more towards ‘average visitor’ than during the CM, DVC, and AP previews. Since it’s simply whoever is in the park that day, they’re more likely to be regular visitors than veteran park-goers. The guest mix still skews ‘slightly knowledgeable’ since it requires awareness of the attraction being open, but it’s very different from the aforementioned pre-registered previews.

With an attraction like TRON Lightcycle Run that has posed problems for larger guests (issues that, from what we’ve heard, still aren’t fully resolved), trial operations are an ordinary and necessary aspect of opening any large theme park addition. Doing this with regular guests can help fine-tune queue management, the load process, and more.

It’s also useful in that soft openings can more closely mirror regular guest demographics–significant in this scenario because that probably means more younger people. It’s safe to assume that younger guests are, generally speaking, more likely to be the right size and limberness level for the roller coaster’s bike ride vehicles.

The question thus becomes whether there will be a public soft opening of TRON Lightcycle Run, or if Disney will feel Cast Members are adequately prepared to open the attraction to regular guests based on the experienced gained during the CM, DVC, and AP preview periods. Unfortunately, we have no good way of definitively answering this. What we can do, however, is offer historical context based upon soft openings at Walt Disney World.

In terms of major additions in the last 15 years or so, two other additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios had soft openings. Toy Story Mania previewed for nearly a month, while Star Tours: The Adventures Continue was around a week. Expedition Everest had 2 months of soft openings. New Fantasyland had nearly 2 months of public soft openings for 2 attractions, 2 restaurants, and gift shops. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened after the rest of New Fantasyland, and had a single week of soft openings during the lead-up to its Memorial Day debut.

Everything on this list might now sound kinda…old. While I take issue with that characterization (mostly because it makes me feel old…all of those things are still “new” to me!), the fact is that it’s been nearly a decade since Walt Disney World did any sort of significant soft openings. That’s a long time, and the favored trial operations process has quite clearly changed in that time.

More recently, there’s a laundry list of additions that have NOT done soft openings:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
  • Toy Story Land
  • Pandora – World of Avatar

Instead, these had a mix of Cast Member previews and free registration-only events (that filled to capacity in hours) to test things prior to their media events.

When it comes to “predicting” soft openings for TRON Lightcycle Run, this lengthy list should be most instructive and is precisely why we’re encouraging you not to expect an open-access preview. Recent history trumps past precedent, and the Florida parks have had reticence in conducting soft openings to major expansions the last few years.

Once again, we do not think TRON Lightcycle Run will soft open prior to its official debut of April 4, 2023. Many readers have asked us about this, who were either shut out of the previews or are visiting for spring break and hoping they get lucky. We can empathize with you (the preview registration process was sloppy/frustrating and we think it’s lame that this isn’t opening to the public at the start of spring break season).

Nevertheless, what we think should happen and what will happen are two very different things. We to be crystal clear about that, and NOT give you a sense of false hope. In short, if you’re heading there anytime in March, you almost assuredly will NOT have a chance to ride unless you’re already registered for one of the previews. Please do not get your hopes up about your chance of the ride opening early. It is exceedingly low–close to zero.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance?!

Admittedly, this is pretty dumb and requires me to don my tin foil hat. I’m doing so because the preview schedule for TRON strikes me as odd. The Cast Member, Disney Vacation Club, and Annual Passholder previews are all stacked right on top of one another, with a jam-packed schedule that started a few weeks ago and runs through March 12, 2023. Media events begin almost immediately thereafter, and run a few days longer.

After that, there’s nothing for over 2 weeks. (At least, to my knowledge.) This also is not entirely unprecedented with past attraction openings, but the difference here is that nothing occurs during a couple of weeks that are peak spring break season at Walt Disney World, and at a park that could desperately use additional capacity following the closure of Splash Mountain. Bringing back Enchanted Tales with Belle and other meet & greets has helped, but nothing like opening an actual ride early.

Beyond historical precedent strongly suggesting that soft openings are not going to happen, another complicating factor with TRON Lightcycle Run is the virtual queue. That’s going to be used here in part to control crowd flow, because entering and exiting the area around the attraction isn’t easy due to narrow pathways.

TRON Lightcycle Run won’t be using the virtual queue during previews, but it’s also not strictly necessary then because capacity is controlled by registration limits. Soft openings are a different story–the floodgates are essentially opened and anyone in Magic Kingdom has access, in theory. Walt Disney World could debut the virtual queue early, but that would be a pretty big tip-off that the ride is opening early.

If I were to get really conspiratorial, I might suggest that this is precisely what Walt Disney World should do: open the whole thing early, and actually announce that as the plan. Spin it as something being done to surprise and delight guests, “we’ve listened to the overwhelming excitement and interest from our guests, and have decided to move forward the official opening of TRON Lightcycle Run…”

Again, all of this is exceedingly unlikely, but that would certainly generate positive PR and buzz, while also drowning out some of the criticism about how long it took to build the attraction. (We fans have short memories and recency bias–we’re more likely to remember the excitement of a ride opening a few days early than we are the agony of it taking ~2 extra years to build.)

For one final time, I absolutely do not expect any of this to happen. TRON Lightcycle Run almost certainly will NOT have soft openings for the general public before its official debut date on April 4, 2023. However, if soft openings do occur, they would likely happen between March 19 and April 2, 2023. This would be after previews for Cast Members, Annual Passholders, Club 33 members, and the media events.

The odds of soft openings for TRON Lightcycle Run before March 17 are 0%. The odds of soft openings after March 19 are only slightly higher than that. I’m disinclined to put a percentage on them, but the number is likely in the single digits. Again, there’s a mountain of past precedent and other reasons (virtual queue) to suggest it’s not going to happen.

The only things on the “side” of opening early are the preview schedule and what added capacity would bring to the table–but it’s busy at Magic Kingdom right now, and Disney already opted against opening TRON Lightcycle Run for this worst week of winter. So in other words, I am telling you there’s a chance, but it’s about as high as Lloyd marrying Mary. But who knows, perhaps we’ll be saying Mary Christmas in March…both about the happy couple and after Disney gives us the gift of an early opening for TRON Lightcycle Run. I doubt it, but we can dream.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think the chances are of a TRON Lightcycle Run soft opening at Walt Disney World? What about the roller coaster officially opening early as a way to ‘surprise and delight’ guests during the busy spring break season, while also adding much-needed capacity to Magic Kingdom? Agree or disagree with our assessment about its odds? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

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