Hollywood Studios has been testing a new “rope drop procedure.” For the uninitiated, the term “rope drop” basically refers to the opening of the theme park. If you are “arriving for rope drop,” you are planning to arrive at the turnstiles (where you insert your theme park ticket) in time to be among the first people admitted into the Park.
In days of old, Disney would begin operating the Studios’ turnstiles prior to the official opening time and allow guests to make their way up Hollywood Boulevard toward Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat. Once guests arrived at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, cast members held ropes to stop them from continuing further toward Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, etc. Once Disney was ready to open the Park, usually right at the official opening time, the cast members would “drop” the rope and allow guests to push their way toward the attraction of their choice. Because people tended to get a little more riled up at the Studios than the other theme parks, cast members usually walked guests slowly to Toy Story Midway Mania, while holding onto the rope to keep guests in front of them. Unfortunately, “Rope Walk” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Rope Drop.” Actually, it does, but I wasn’t consulted when the phrase was popularized.
In 2012, “rope drop” is a somewhat antiquated phrase. There have been no internal ropes at Epcot since September and no internal ropes at Animal Kingdom since December. Usually, Magic Kingdom doesn’t have internal ropes other than those that keep people in front of the Train Station to watch the opening ceremony. Once Mickey’s train arrives and the streamers shoot into the air, guests are let into the Magic Kingdom to head where they please. Occasionally, cast members with ropes will be standing at the entrances to the various lands, but that depends on timing and where you’re headed.
Hollywood Studios seems poised to join Animal Kingdom and Epcot in its lack of an opening ceremony. Instead, the turnstiles are used to help stagger the flow of guests as they enter the Park. Disney begins operating the turnstiles 30 minutes prior to the Studios’ official opening (usually 8:30am with a 9am official open). Once you’re through, you’re welcome to head to any operating attraction. This includes Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours. Most people are still headed to Toy Story, but instead of jostling shoulder to shoulder with 1,000 people, you’re meandering over with just a few dozen along paths that all-of-a-sudden seem much wider.
First, we’ll briefly take a look at the old rope drop procedure. Then we’ll take a look at the new one and see what can be accomplished in the first hour and a half of operation.
So you arrive at 8:45am, just to find out that you’re late and this far back from the front of the pack.
We are a lot of rows back as we’re held here on Hollywood Boulevard until 9am.
These gentlemen appearing high above us have one task – to remind us to walk to Toy Story Midway Mania. Amusingly, their line was, “Running won’t get you to Toy Story Mania any faster.” Of course, this is patently false. Running would get you to Toy Story much faster.
Right at 9am, the ropes are “dropped” and people are unleashed into the Studios. Some people are headed down Sunset Boulevard toward Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.
And a few to Star Tours in the opposite direction.
But most are headed to Toy Story Midway Mania. This picture is of the FASTPASS line backed up all the way to One Man’s Dream. There’s a lot of confusion as to which line is for FASTPASSes and which is for the actual standby line. There’s a cast member in white shorts and a red shirt at the end of the line trying to explain that this is the FASTPASS line.
The pictures above are from May 19th, which was a Thursday with 9am – 7pm hours and no Fantasmic. Not even particularly busy. I pulled a FASTPASS at 9:12am with a return time of 10:55am.
The actual wait was 34 minutes if you had gotten in line at 9:15am.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to capture the frantic nature of the “Toy Story Dash” in pictures. It’s similar to those videos you may have seen on Black Friday at Wal-Mart when a few hundred people are trying to push by each other on their way to a $75 Blu-ray player. Luckily, Disney does do bag checks and charges admission, so your chances of getting pepper sprayed are substantially lower. Should you wish to ride Toy Story Mania with a relatively short standby wait, you would have to join the masses pushing toward it in the morning.
Alternatively, you could head in a different direction and then over to collect FASTPASSes later in the morning, after the initial rush had cleared. FASTPASSes collected at 10:30am had a median return time of 5:15pm – 6:15pm in 2011. On this particular day, the return time was 4:15pm to 5:15pm at 10:33am.
Depending on overall crowds, wait times tend to decrease briefly around 9:30am from 30 – 40 minutes to 20 – 30 minutes. At that point, most of the people that were present for rope drop have moved on to Sunset Boulevard and relatively few people arrive between 9:20am- 9:45am.
Now we’ll fast forward to the morning of January 10, 2012 to check out the “new rope drop procedure.”
Here we are arriving bright and early at 8:20am. Hollywood Studios is the most recommended Park. The operating hours are 9am – 7pm and Fantasmic isn’t scheduled, just as it won’t be for the rest of the month. At rope drop, I like to line up in the far right “regular” line, even if it appears to be a little longer initially.
The arrow on the bottom illustrates the turnstile I’m talking about. To the right are three additional turnstiles that are marked “guest and cast member entrance.” I’ve enlarged the signs at the top of the picture. The guest/cast member entrance has several uses throughout the day. Well before Park opening, you may see on duty cast members entering the Studios through them. Throughout the rest of the day, it’s used by cast members to use their “main gate pass” or other ticket type. As the sign insinuates, regular guests are also welcome to use these turnstiles, but many don’t.
These three turnstiles may or may not be operating when you arrive and there may or may not be a cast member manning them like there will be at the other “regular turnstiles.” Should you arrive early enough that none of the guest/cast member entrances are staffed by cast members, you can expect that one or two will arrive just before or just after the rest of the turnstiles open. Once a cast member arrives and the additional turnstile(s), you can either switch lines easily or stay in the same line and let half of the people in front of you head over. Either way, you’ll most likely find a line that’s half as long as any of the others to the left. By getting in a “regular line initially,” you’re hedging your bets in case a cast member doesn’t arrive at the guest/cast member entrance. Should you get in line at an unmanned turnstile initially, you run the risk of no one showing up and then you’ll have to go to the back of one of the other lines.
On this particular day, one cast member arrived to operate one of the guest/cast member turnstiles just after the “regular turnstiles” were turned on at 8:30am. As I was headed through, another cast member arrived to begin operating the two guest/cast member entrances furthest to the right. I switched lines and had four people in front of me instead of 12 or 15.
I was through the turnstiles at 8:33am and headed up Hollywood Boulevard toward Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat. There were no internal ropes as you can see above. Because only one person can go through the turnstiles at a time, they act as a buffer that staggers crowds out over the course of several minutes. You can see how much space the people ahead of us have around them.
This cast member was signaling people interested in signing up for Jedi Training to head down to Sounds Dangerous where sign ups take place. If you would like to guarantee that your child will be able to participate, have at least one adult and the child(ren) that would like to participate head down there first thing.
Headed over to Toy Story Midway Mania. You can see the stream of people headed in the same direction ahead of us.
We have several cast members “guarding” the walkway that would take you over to the stairs down to Toy Story Midway Mania. Like with the Land Pavilion over at Epcot, the big fear is that someone would fall down the stairs and seriously injure themselves. Should that have happened, you would probably have a decent lawsuit. You might recognize the circled cast member in the red shirt – he’s the same one from May.
Those are the stairs to the left as we head up to Pixar Place.
Remember when the FASTPASS line was backed up all the way to One Man’s Dream? This time, you could walk right up to the FASTPASS machines with no line whatsoever.
You can see in the lower right hand corner that this FASTPASS was collected at 8:39am with a return time of 9:30am. The first FASTPASSes collected would have a return time even earlier. I wasn’t in much of a hurry as I take a picture every 15 steps, but I could have arrived three or four minutes earlier. The great thing here is that you’ll be able to head over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror next and conveniently collect a FASTPASS at 9:30am for one of those rides. Or you could head back to Toy Story and collect another set of FASTPASSes with a decent return time. In our example above, I pulled a FASTPASS at 9:12am with a return time of 10:55am. By the time I was eligible to collect another FASTPASS at 10:55am, Toy Story’s FASTPASS return time would have been after 6pm.
Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours should all be operating when the turnstiles are opened. Toy Story is running at full capacity already.
I almost “walked on” Toy Story Mania. This is where the line was backed up to, which is just before the stairs down to the loading area.
Back out front at 8:56am for a total wait/ride time of 15 minutes. I could have ridden again with a similar wait/ride time. Probably a couple of minutes longer.
This is the “rush” at 9am. As you can see, there’s no backup for the FASTPASS machines and no mass of people like there would have been if the hordes were kept on Hollywood Boulevard until 9am.
The Sorcerer’s Hat Meet and Greets begin at 9am. The characters and locations may change. Today, Piglet appeared to the right of the stairs down to Toy Story. There are two or three kids in line. Of the normal Winnie the Pooh characters (Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet), Piglet is the one that’s hardest to find. He doesn’t appear at Animal Kingdom or Epcot, whereas you can find Pooh/Tigger at Epcot and Eeyore/Pooh/Tigger at Animal Kingdom.
Minnie began meeting guests in her pink dress as well with only a few people waiting. If your group is split among people (kids) that want to meet the characters and others that want to head to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster/Tower of Terror, consider splitting up at this point. It’s a great time to ride the thrill rides and meet many of the popular characters with short waits. We’ll take a look at the other characters and their lines a little later. In the back to the far left, you can sort of see Donald and Daisy meeting people on the other side of the Hat. These characters appear off and on until 11:30am most days. After that, they’re gone.
More people streaming in just after 9am.
Headed down Sunset Boulevard to Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Very lonely.
The Fairfax Fare breakfast menu while we’re here:
One of few locations in the Studios that offers breakfast items. Another handy location is the “Hey Howdy Hey Takeaway” across from Toy Story Mania’s FASTPASS machines. We’ll take a look over there as well in a bit.
You could walk right into the preshow at Tower of Terror. Most people will want to head to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster first because lines get longer quicker and FASTPASSes aren’t as widely available.
I walked right into the preshow area at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster just as it was ending. No wait outside.
Just chillin’ bro. Sad he doesn’t get to go to the show I bet.
You’ll still run into a bit of a wait after the preshow. Disney was running just enough vehicles to clear out this area before the next group arrived from the preshow.
I was back out front at 9:20am. So since the Studios opened at 8:30am, I’ve collected FASTPASSes for Toy Story with a return time of 9:30am, gotten pictures with Piglet and Minnie Mouse, and ridden Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Had I been kept at the Hat until 9am, I would have been lucky to have FASTPASSes for Toy Story and be off the ride.
At Tower of Terror, I walked right up to the door to the preshow.
But like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, there is still a decent wait inside the boiler room after the preshow concludes. Even with FASTPASS, the total wait/ride time at both attractions is around 20 minutes. The FASTPASSes gets you into the preshow quickly, but it doesn’t do anything for you here. The same is true in the standby line at both thrill rides. Budget at least 20 minutes at each.
The “Express Elevator” is also known as the “chicken exit.” It’s hilarious because it’s also an elevator. Talk about traumatizing. Going down? Should you wish to walk through the queue and wait with your group, you can head down to the gift shop on this elevator rather than one of those pesky haunted ones.
I spent a few minutes photographing the Tower of Terror merchandise, which I’ll add to a separate post. By 9:50am, the posted wait was 20 minutes. That should be pretty close to the total wait time, including the boiler room wait after the preshow.
Sunset Boulevard just before 10am. A little busier, but nothing approaching even remotely “busy.” Interestingly, I had struck up a conversation with the family in line behind me at Tower of Terror. They asked if I had ever been in July and if it was busier then. I said, “Yes.” The woman remarked that she thought this was busy. After waiting zero minutes for the Tower of Terror preshow and maybe ten minutes after. Tourists…I told them they ought to head over to Toy Story Mania next as they were with a five year old girl.
Nominal waits for 10am. Tower of Terror is a bit over exaggerated.
Incoming crowds on Hollywood Boulevard at 10am.
Another 30 minutes until it’s time to meet Handy Manny and Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
That’s him on the far left with his queue in case you haven’t seem him before. This is in the Animation Courtyard.
He’s not particularly chatty, but I’m jealous of that hair cut.
Inside the Animation Building, The Incredibles characters won’t begin appearing until 11:30am.
But Sorcerer Mickey begins appearing right at 10am on the lower floor. He just arrived on scene.
To a full line right at 10am. This is easily a 30 minute wait.
Of the theme park Mickey Meet and Greets, I like the Sorcerer outfit the best. Cool hat. You’ll find the easiest/shortest wait over at Magic Kingdom for the Town Square Meet and Greet. And Magician Mickey is good too.
Winnie the Pooh meets alone nearby from 10:30am – 6pm. Waits are usually in the 10 to 15 minute range. WHY THEY DON’T ADD RABBIT OR CHRISTOPHER ROBIN IS BEYOND ME.
Back outside near the Sorcerer’s Hat, we have far more people waiting in line for the characters. This is to the right of The Great Movie Ride near the stairs down to Toy Story.
For Tigger and Eeyore. The easiest location to meet the two of them is over at the Character Landing at Animal Kingdom, where they often meet guests with Winnie the Pooh. The easiest location for Pooh/Tigger used to be the Toy Soldier shop in the United Kingdom Pavilion, but as we’ll see at Epcot, these two characters have moved out in the open on the walkway to/from the International Gateway.
And a longer line for Minnie.
The Citizens of Hollywood were out introducing themselves. They perform skits around Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards throughout the day.
Cool balancing trick bro, but I think I’ll take…
Serveur Amusant over at Epcot. The Citizens of Hollywood are a lot of fun though. The adults would likely get a kick out of them while the kids are off meeting characters. I would probably shy towards heading to a popular attraction this early in the morning and saving a Citizens performance for later in the afternoon. Lines aren’t getting any shorter at this point.
Goofy and Pluto were meeting guests across from Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat. That’s Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner on Echo Lake and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular behind them.
Looks like they captured one.
Chip and Dale usually meet to their right. That’s American Idol in the background. Preciousssssss.
Donald and Daisy meeting to the left of the Citizens of Hollywood Show. The Great Movie Ride and Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat are behind them. Long line. You won’t ordinarily see these two together, but Daisy is easier to meet just inside the entrance to Epcot. Donald would have shorter lines for most of the day over at Camp Minnie-Mickey in Animal Kingdom.
They could use a new stylist.
No rush to get to The Great Movie Ride. With the size of its ride vehicles, waits will be 10 to 15 minutes max for most of the day.
By 10:15am, the wait time at Toy Story has ballooned to 50 minutes, which really isn’t even “that bad” all things considered
With FASTPASS return times all the way out to 3:10pm.
Grab a gut bomb from Hey Howdy Hey if you feel like you’re moving too fast.
No wait at Backlot Tour, but I would put this one off for at least another hour as well unless you don’t have business elsewhere. No big rush, but it can see 15-25 minute wait times after noon due to a capacity cut (fewer trams running).
Just a few people waiting to pose next to Mater and Lightning McQueen.
It’s about 10:20am, which means Phineas and Ferb have been greeting guests for about 50 minutes. This is the shortest I’ve seen the line in a long time.
But here comes the crowd exiting from Muppet Vision 3D right across the street.
And the line after the Muppets’ crowd. It’s only about 15 people longer here and most of them actually came from around the corner rather than from Muppet Vision.
Star Tours with a 10 minute wait just after 10:30am. You basically walk right on.
The last spot for Jedi Training was taken at 10:36am. That’s later than usual – you want to be over here by 9:45am at the latest if at all possible, but it never hurts to check.
Even if you see this sign proclaiming all classes are full, it’s best to ask if you see a cast member with a clipboard.
The wait times according to the wait times’ board at 10:45am. Relatively short, but it’s a good illustration of how much we were able to get done by arriving so early. If we arrived now, we would have FASTPASSes for Toy Story with a return time of 6pm. 20+ people in line for each of the Sorcerer’s Hat Meet and Greets. 30+ minute standby waits at Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. A 30 minute wait for Sorcerer Mickey. And the list goes on.
Overall, I think we’re in business if this new procedure sticks. The walk over to Toy Story in the morning is much less stressful than before. And really, who can complain about getting into the Studios at 8:30am rather than 9am?