On my most recent Disney Trip (2022), I finally had a chance to try out the Disney Rider Swap system.
It worked great, but a bit differently than I thought, so I wanted to take the opportunity to explain.
First a quick explanation: Rider Swap is only available for certain rides. Specifically, ones with height restrictions, when you have a family member that doesn't meet the restriction. One parent needs to stay with the smaller child, so the others can ride. Essentially, each parent gets to ride once, and the child that meets the height requirement gets to ride twice - once with each parent, while the other parent stays back to handle the child that doesn't meet the height requirement.
We were actually the perfect use case for Rider Swap - My oldest child is a little over 44 inches. This already makes him the height requirement for nearly every ride at Disney World! The only exceptions were Rock N Rollercoaster (48 inches) and a standalone driver at Tomorrowland Speedway (52 inches), although the Speedway still allows him to travel with someone.
My youngest on the other hand is just shy of 32 inches. In fact, height restrictions at Disney World start at 32 inches - meaning he was just a touch too short to go on any rides that had a height restriction.
Thankfully, the majority of rides at Disney World do not have height restrictions - so there was plenty all four of us could go on together.
We used Rider Swap three times (and an attempted fourth time that I'll explain below). This was for both Star Wars Rides in Hollywood Studios (Rise of the Resistance and Smuggler's Run), and Soarin' at Epcot.
I should point out that we only used the Lightning Lane Rider Swaps as we had reservations for all the rides we did. It is also usable for Standby waits as well.
To use Rider Swap, you need to find the "Rider Swap" cast member. I'd assumed the Cast Members that handled Lightning Lane could take of it - but that's actually (not always) the case. However, the Lightning Lane cast member can likely point you towards the Rider Swap cast member, as they did in our case.
For Rise of the Resistance, for instance, the cast member was under an umbrella a little ways away from the ride. We approached them and told them we wanted to use rider swap. The first thing they'll ask you is who is riding twice - in our case, it was a little obvious, but I'm sure they have to ask as a formality.
They only need the Magic Band of the person who'll be riding twice - in this case, my five year old. They tap his band to a hand held unit they have (an iPhone with a fancy Magic Band reader), which gives him an extra "credit" to use the Lightning Lane. So Parent 1 and Child then tap into the Lightning Lane, and head onto the ride. Parent 2 and non-riding child wait outside the ride. When finished, Parent 2 and Child (who was credited) then taps into the ride and does it.
Since we were using Lightning Lanes, I presume that standard Lightning Lane time rules apply - that is, you still have to tap into the ride within your reservation time or grace period, for both parents (see my previous post for information on the grace period). It might give the other parent a slightly longer grace - but I can't confirm that.
Now this part is important - when approaching the Lightning Lane to ask about Rider Swap - do NOT tap your bands to the Lightning Lane tap point, and do not let your kids tap into the ride either! After you tap in, your reservation is used, and you should be heading onto the ride, not back out to get a Rider Swap credit.
Since my oldest was incredibly excited to tap his Magic Band, he tapped too early by accident into a ride we needed to use Rider Swap on. They ended up directing us over to the Rider Swap cast member anyway, who was able to fix it, but essentially she had to credit his band twice instead of the usual once since he had tapped it by accident.
As I said above, Rider Swap also works for Standby lines too, although we didn't use it this way. Now of course, each parent could just wait in the full Standby line and not use Rider Swap at all - but, that's a little tedious, especially for the poor kid waiting twice. So the intent is to help you save some time and not have to wait through the Standby line twice.
Disclaimer: This part is a bit speculative since we never did it, but based on my observation, my assumption is that you would still find the "Rider Swap" cast member and tell them you're rider swapping - at which point, they would probably ask for the Magic Band of both the child and the non-riding parent, so they can be credited with a Lightning Lane reservation. So then Parent 1 and child wait standby, finish the ride, Parent 2 and child get on quicker with a Lightning Lane. Again, I'm not sure that's how it works, but it seems reasonable.
Another warning about Rider Swap - be sure you leave enough time for both parents to use it!
Our failed attempt at using Rider Swap happened at Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. My five year old and I had just finished Flight of Passage around 7:30pm - and Animal Kingdom closed at 8:00pm. I had gotten a Lightning Lane for Kali River for after Flight of Passage.
Now, if you remember from my previous post, I warned that it's very easy to underestimate the size of the parks. And Kali River Rapids happens to be pretty much on the polar opposite end of Animal Kingdom from Flight of Passage.
Keep in mind, you're not allowed to run at Disney World. In fact, I even got called out by a cast member once for it on our first trip. And it makes sense - it's a busy, crowded place, and the chances of getting hurt or running into someone definitely goes up if you're running - and nobody wants that.
That said, we booted it to Kali. We ordered both kids into the stroller and fast walked (but no running!) as much as we could to Kali.
So we hit Kali at 7:45pm and I'm already a bit skeptical this is going to happen. We tell the cast member at Lightning Lane we're going to rider swap. Now, in the case, she does have the magic iPhone, and credits my five year old's Magic Band for a second ride. We'd just done Flight of Passage, so he hops on the ride with my wife, and I wait just outside the Lightning Lane with my youngest.
I knew it wasn't exactly a short ride, but was maintaining hope they'd finish the ride by 8:00pm.
So I'm waiting, the time ticking by. And it's soo funny to see the precision cast members have - but completely understandable in an environment as complex at Disney.
At exactly 8:00, she ropes off the ride entrance. I'm still standing back, minding my own business, but I just assume at this point I won't be able to do the ride. No biggie, even though this is our only Animal Kingdom day we had scheduled/reserved. But I've done it before, and as long as my kid got to do it - no problem.
At 8:01 - another family shows up at Lightning Lane entrance, sees the rope, and tell the cast member that they had a Lightning Lane reservation.
The cast member kindly explains that the park closed at 8:00, and as a result, they won't be allowed on the ride.
I won't go into the details, but they weren't exactly pleased. So the cast member ends up calling a manager from a phone behind the entrance, who comes over. The manager decides to let them on the ride - but with a stern warning they can't be giving cast members a hard time.
Anyway, I'm still there, minding my own business.
My wife and five year old get off the ride around 8:10 pm. My wife asks if I'm going on the ride and I say no - they closed the park at 8:00, so we're too late.
The cast member at the Lightning Lane entrance over hears this and waves me over. She says we can still go on the ride, as they can make exceptions for Rider Swap. I asked if she was sure, and she said to go ahead.
So my five year old and I boot it (again, no running!) quickly down to the ride boarding area.
It turns out, the cast member at the ride boarding area is the same manager that had just dealt with Cranky Family.
He sees us approach and apologies, but says he can't let us on the ride as it's past park closing time. I briefly mention that we were there because of Rider Swap - but, he re-iterates that the ride is closed and that's it.
He's clearly having a bad day at this point. Would he have let us if he hadn't had to deal with Cranky Family? I have no idea. I respectfully thanked him, and led my son back out of the loading area to the Lightning Lane entrance.
Unfortunately, he's a bit, ahem, distraught at this point, as he believed he was going to going to get to ride it with me too. I tried to explain to him that it's only fair, as we we're late, and the cast members are tired after a long day, and deserve to go home to see their families. It goes over about as well as logic usually does with a five year old.
We walk past the entrance cast member, and I tell her thanks for trying, but they wouldn't let us on. At this point, she got a really confused look on her face, and headed back to the small phone she'd used earlier. I have no idea what she said though - I didn't want to cause any trouble, so I loaded up the kids on the stroller and we headed towards the park exit, my five year crying at this point. Anyway, he got over it, and we ended up going back to the hotel.
I can only imagine what the cast member was thinking as we left - "Seriously, you let those jerks on, but not the family that was here in time and waited patiently?" But I have no idea, haha.
Anyway, the moral of the story is if you are planning to do Rider Swap, make sure you get there with plenty of time before park close for both parents to do the ride!
And, please, pleeease, always be respectful towards cast members! Follow their directions, and while it's okay to ask for something, always respect their decision! You might end up not only ruining the cast member's day, but someone else's you didn't even know existed!