From my planning around FASTPASS return time enforcement article, you may remember that I outlined my ideal Hollywood Studios morning. It looks like this:
Arrive at 8:25am and head to the far right turnstile immediately to the left of the ones that say “Cast Member and Guest Entrance” overhead.
- There may or may not be a line at the Guest and Cast Member entrance. The turnstile immediately to the right of the arrow almost always opens, but the other two may not be staffed first thing in the morning. I like to hedge my bets and get in line at the arrowed turnstile. If the others open, I can either move over quickly myself or watch the line in front of me dissipate as others move over.
- Collect FASTPASSes for Toy Story Mania with a return time of 9:40am – 10:40am.
- Ride Toy Story Mania in the standby line.
- Ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
- Ride Tower of Terror.
- Collect FASTPASSes for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with a return time around 11am – 12pm.
- Ride Toy Story Mania with FASTPASS.
- Ride Star Tours.
- Do whatever.
- Ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with FASTPASS.
- Have lunch.
With a bunch of shows and attractions that easily take 30 to 40 minutes, it’s usually easy to find something to do while you wait for a Star Tours or Tower of Terror FASTPASS to become ready for use.
Generally speaking, I am of the opinion that you should plan the first two to three hours of your day at the Parks. After that, you’ll want to have a good idea about which attractions will have reasonable afternoon wait times. We’re going to hit the major attractions and those that will have long afternoon waits first. After that, the militarized let’s do this now this now this now this now this isn’t really necessary.
An early arrival like this affords a view of the Florida sunrise. Hollywood Studios is really the most important rope drop these days. Toy Story Midway Mania is slammed 365 days a year, whether the overall crowd level is a “1″ or a “10.” We’re talking 40+ minute waits by 9:10am with peak waits that often hit 70+ minutes. 100 minute waits aren’t unheard of, even in “low crowd times” like September. It’s mostly a matter of capacity. While Toy Story Mania’s ride system is similar to attractions like Buzz Lightyear and Spaceship Earth, the fact remains that it stops to let guests on and off, unlike traditional omnimovers. At a Park like Magic Kingdom, people are headed in 100 different directions after it opens. At the Studios, it’s basically just Toy Story Mania. And because of that, people that don’t even know they’re supposed to head to Toy Story first do so because “literally” everyone else is too.
I admittedly don’t get out early that often, but this was the first time I’ve seen characters greeting guests out front prior to opening. Here we have Donald and Daisy meeting guests in the same outfits they’ll be wearing at the Sorcerer’s Hat later in the morning. Minnie is off to the left there.
And Stitch on the other side.
I had arrived at 8:30am and was easily 15+ people back in line. Luckily, I saw friends-of-the-site Dennis and his wife up ahead and cut in front of a bunch of peasants. The night before we had visited Universal Studios for mini golf, which was pretty fun. I would have liked to see more moving objects and other effects, but it was still a good time. We all agreed that the haunted course was better than the alien one.
Should you arrive later, you may want to look for a turnstile that’s covered up, like the one in the picture above this one. While there are 50+ people behind me, there was no one in line to the right because the turnstile was covered. They should all open. If you aren’t forever alone like I am, you may want to send someone to one of the covered turnstiles, while the rest of the group waits at the other turnstile. Then if the one that should open does, you can quickly move over. Likewise, if you’re interested in meeting the characters outside, have one person in the group hold your spots in line, while others visit the characters. It seems like Disney is putting the characters out there to help pull people away from the turnstiles prior to opening, because it really does get pretty nutty waiting there with a thousand other people.
Per usual, the turnstiles started welcoming guests right around 8:45am. People refer to this as a “soft opening.” While I don’t know what this phrase means, I don’t use it. The Studios simply opens 15 minutes early most days. Occasionally it will be a few minutes earlier or later. When the Studios is expected to be particularly slammed, you may see an open 30 minutes early.
People are hopefully headed down to the left for Jedi Training Academy signups in the old Sounds Dangerous Building, which is past American Idol Experience and across from Indiana Jones on the right side. My usual recommendation is to head straight here if you’re interested in signing up for the Academy. You’ll need an adult along with the child(ren) that want to participate in order to sign up. Probably close to ten times out of ten, there’s still going to be Jedi Training spots if you were to head straight to Toy Story and then swing back here to sign up. But once sign ups are full, that’s it, unlike Toy Story that isn’t physically going anywhere. You may want to send someone to pick up Toy Story FASTPASSes while others wait for Jedi Training. It seems like being able to pick your Jedi Training show time is hit or miss. Ideally, you want a show after 11am, so you’re not wasting the precious morning hours waiting for a Jedi show. If the cast member gives you trouble about picking a show, you can either step to the side and wait for previous shows to fill or be really subversive and tell them you have a 10am Hollywood & Vine breakfast reservation that conflicts with the show time. You didn’t hear it from me.
Here we are arriving at Toy Story at 8:50am.
With FASTPASS out to 9:45am. That should give us enough time to visit the other attractions on our itinerary. By 9:20am, FASTPASS return will be all the way out to 12:10pm. And this is a recommended day in October. With Fantasmic scheduled every day, the big drop off from one day to the next doesn’t happen. With the same schedule and entertainment, virtually every day is going to “feel crowded” outside of a couple days in January and September. The Studios simply doesn’t handle crowds well.
My first wait/ride time on Toy Story took about 15 minutes. I’m back out front at 9:06am.
I was waiting for friends-of-the-site Darcie and Tim to finish their second ride on Toy Story, so I went across the street for a picture with Woody and Buzz, who begin greeting at 9:15am. These guys typically see the longest waits at the Studios, surpassing Phineas & Ferb and Sorcerer Mickey.
And if you’re in front of the line, you’ll get to see the characters appear, which is fun. Buzz gives Rex a hug to start the day.
Too early for smiles. I had run into a nice couple who identified themselves as fans of the website in front of me in line. As usual, I apologized profusely for the website’s content. The characters came out at 9:18am and I had my picture and was out the door at 9:20am.
Darcie and Tim finished up their second standby ride right around 9:20am and we already have a line out the door. This is the reality of the Studios these days and it’s the reason why arriving early is key.
When we swing by the Meet and Greet after using our Toy Story FASTPASSes, the wait is going to be out the door and posted at 60 minutes. While it might seem silly to wait at the turnstiles 30 minutes early, it’s going to save hours and hours and hours in line. Just between Toy Story Mania and the characters, I easily saved 90 minutes in line compared to what it would look like with a 10am arrival.
This Pirates of the Caribbean business must be opening soon.
Heading over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was a nine minute walk from Toy Story.
The posted wait was 20 minutes.
And it took exactly that to wait for, ride, and be back out in front of the building.
At 9:54am, I grabbed a set of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FASTPASSes. We should have no trouble arriving back in time to use them.
There are some really funny Tower of Terror cast members, Brian being one of the best. I would “literally” die wearing that jacket just about any day of the year in Florida.
With a 20 minute wait, we’ll hop in line. This is a queue with a length that can be hard to gauge. It “feels long” because we’re backed up all the way near the entrance, but none of the extended queue is open, so it’s a straight shot to the entrance. And this early in the morning, few people are going to be arriving back with FASTPASSes, which also speeds things up.
Tower of Terror is in really deplorable condition. Exposed rock…
And it’s only going to get worse inside! Personally, I don’t see how Disney can justify operating the attraction in these unsafe conditions. If you would like to experience Tower of Terror in the way Walt Disney himself originally intended, you may want to delay or even cancel your vacation until it goes down for refurbishment for 18 to 24 months to fix the many problems.
I’m personally disgusted.
We arrived at 9:55am and were back out front at 10:19am, for a total wait/ride time of 24 minutes. That’s about the minimum amount of time you can expect it to take, even with FASTPASS. There’s the initial wait, then the pre-show, then the boiler room wait, and then the ride itself. It’s going to take at least 20.
This is also a pretty easy one to FASTPASS later in the day. FASTPASSes are usually just 40 to 60 minutes out, particularly when standby waits are less than 30 minutes.
This shirt may or may not be new. We’ll take a look at a bunch of new stuff at Mouse Gear shortly.
Back to Toy Story at 10:34am after a brief coffee break, where wait times have skyrocketed to 70 minutes with FASTPASSes all the way out to 4:25pm.
With FASTPASS, it took about 18 minutes to wait for, ride, and be back out front of Toy Story.
In that time, FASTPASS return was out to 5:10pm. That 30 minutes in front of the turnstiles isn’t looking so bad now, is it?
The out-the-door wait for Woody and Buzz across from Toy Story.
Phineas and Ferb seem to be regaining some of their popularity. If you’re not headed to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror, you’ll want to head over here at Toy Story Mania and the Toy Story characters, assuming you want to meet them. The second best time to come over is 3pm, which is ten minutes before their 3:10pm reappearance time. Otherwise, later is better. They greet through 6:30pm.
There had been concern (hope?) that Star Tours would be more of a priority after 3D happened to it. The fact remains that it’s a relatively low priority, thanks to a healthy capacity and plentiful FASTPASS availability. Even in July, when it’s actually crowded, FASTPASS return times were almost always less than 60 minutes in the future.
It does feel crowded here in the queue though. I think I see someone turning the corner up there.
Star Tours remains fun though, especially after the refurbishment. While the movement doesn’t bother me, I’ve heard that it’s more upsetting to those prone to motion sickness after the refurbishment. But it shouldn’t bother most, I don’t think.
So it’s just about 11:20am. We’ve done Toy Story 2x, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, and met the Toy Story characters, which is a pretty solid morning. If you were going to use the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FASTPASSes, it would have been prudent to head over there after Toy Story. While you can officially return to an attraction up to 15 minutes after the FASTPASS return time (the GP on the lower right hand corner of the FASTPASS refers to this grace period), I wouldn’t plan to use it unless it’s necessary. Jeff can pop up anywhere and you never know when you’re going to run int a problem. Should you have a problem, take your case to guest services, where they should hand write you another FASTPASS to use whenever.
We managed to arrive at Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar for the Italian Regional Food & Wine Luncheon, which takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the Festival at 12pm. It would run you $75 per person, including gratuity. I had signed up for a bunch of these last year, but only one this year, as they are not as bloggable as I was initially expecting. Since most of the items aren’t on the usual menu and the items that are offered may change from week to week, this (particularly lousy) “review” isn’t going to be (particularly) helpful.
I had forgotten that Italy doesn’t really discuss the food and wine that they’re serving. We got a two minute welcome at the beginning of the meal, but there was no further discussion about the wines, what we were supposed to be tasting, why they were chosen, etc. In that respect, this isn’t going to be much different than any other meal. The same was true last year at the Italy Food and Wine Pairing. It would have been nice if there was a booklet or something to explain each wine. I ended up looking up the PDF files on the winery’s website to find out what we were drinking.
The representative was about as Italian as I am. Which is to say, not very.
Up first is a pasta dish, which was actually my favorite of the meal. It was nice and spicy and the broth was excellent with the cracker and breadsticks. Tutto would ordinarily sell you a glass of the Serprino for $13 ($32/bottle) or it’d run you about $8/bottle if you found it in a store. It tasted fine, but wasn’t anything special in my opinion.
Next up is what I would identify as a single ravioli. It was very good, full of warm ricotta cheese and (shudder) melt in your mouth pasta. The Pinot Bianca is ordinarily offered for $7/glass.
The Herb Crusted Pork Medallions, Celery Puree, Jus Reduction. Because I’m an idiot, I mentioned to my dining companions that the “potatoes seem goofy.” Of course those aren’t potatoes. It’s celery. In my defense, I had been drinking. The pork was delightful and “fork tender,” surprisingly enough. It wouldn’t be the entree I’d order at an Italian restaurant, but that’s part of what this sort of thing is about. The serving was reasonably sized, though I’d put it on the small side. It’s kind of hard to gauge size from the pictures. From now on, all pictures of food will include my face.
A slice of cheese and some grapes. “It is what it is” so to speak. We were slightly disheartened to see that the wine with this course was the same as the last and we were only poured a very small sip. This is another $7 glass that’s ordinarily on the menu. Deb, one of my dining companions, mentioned that this was “no French Wine Lunch,” where you apparently have to stop them from pouring you more wine. We were poured a small glass with each course and that was that, other than the initial course, where we did receive a refill.
This Pistachio Custard reminded me how much I love Pistachio JELL-O pudding. It was quite good and a nice light way to end the meal. The Fior d’Arancio doesn’t appear to be on the usual menu, but it’s a very sweet wine made of muscat grapes.
Overall, the meal was very pleasant. With no direction as to what we were consuming, I think I would prefer to simply eat at Tutto Gusto, Italia, or Via Napoli on my own and order whatever I wanted. Splitting a bottle of one of the wines would only run about $15/person and an appetizer and entree would run another $30 or so. That would be more wine and potentially more food than what was served. On the plus side, the $75 covers the tip and you do receive some items that aren’t normally offered. Of the Food & Wine meals I’ve done, I enjoyed Mexico the most, where they shove tequila in your face hand over first.
I have a few more crowd calendar updates and we’ll head over to Epcot for more Food and Wine stuff.