Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened inside Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios about a month ago, on December 5th, 2019. Since then, we’ve taken a good look at how best to experience the attraction as Disney has made a number of operational changes that have impacted when we want to arrive in the morning and what we can expect to be able to accomplish once we set foot inside the Park.
Our current run of posts includes the most up-to-date touring strategy. In case you missed any of them:
- Major Changes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop and Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group Distribution – A look at what changed, operationally, between December 5th and December 18th, and what to expect from December 18th onward.
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group Signups with the New Opening Procedure – An on-the-ground report showing when to arrive, what to expect from the run up to the Studios’ official opening, and how to best secure a Rise of the Resistance boarding group.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios 7am Rope Drop with New Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group Procedure – A look at the walk back to Galaxy’s Edge for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run first thing in the morning and how you might want to organize your day overall.
- An Early Morning in Toy Story Land After Smugglers Run with Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+ – What to expect in Toy Story Land in the early morning, and what to do between 9am and 10am, when wait times at the rides may have gotten too long and the shows have not yet begun.
- Late Morning Touring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a 7am Open and Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group – Covering FastPass+ strategy for your visit and how best to experience all of the Tier 1 rides, in addition to stops at Star Tours, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror.
Disney hasn’t necessarily made figuring out our plan of attack easy, surprising everyone involved with the virtual queue system that’s been in use since Rise of the Resistance opened, coupled with the constant toying of theme park hours, and how the opening procedure actually works in practice.
On January 2, 2020, Disney updated the Studios’ operating hours over the next several weeks yet again. Over the last month, we’ve seen at least five major updates to the operating hours, with the Park opens moving earlier and earlier, and the morning Extra Magic Hours getting switched out for evening Extra Magic Hours.
The chart below includes the most recent operating hours. The dates run down the first column, the second column shows the current hours, and the third column lists the up-to-date Extra Magic Hours schedule. The fourth column then shows the operating hours before the update, with the last column listing the previously-scheduled EMH:
The most recent update adds a little bit of clarity to what we can expect to see over the next couple of months.
First, Disney looks to be reserving the 7am regular opens for days that it expects to be busier. The first week in January continues some of the Christmas/New Year’s crowds, and then the Walt Disney World Marathon takes hold from the 9th to the 12th. The 7am opens return over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, from January 17th to 20th, and we see more 7am opens the following weekend, from the 24th to 26th.
Disney will inevitably make major changes to February’s operating schedule as well, though we may not see that happen until the 13th or 17th of January. And if the past couple of weeks are any indication, even more updates may be made with even less notice as February approaches and then gets underway.
Disney is clearly taking a “wait and see what happens” approach, potentially hoping that the 8am opens are viable, and will cause people to begin arriving later in the morning. Operating a theme park is obviously expensive; Disney is willing to extend hours if crowds necessitate it, but they would prefer not to be open at 7am if there aren’t enough people inside to make it profitable.
Disney also changed the morning Extra Magic Hours that were originally scheduled on Sundays to evening Extra Magic Hours in February. March still shows a morning Extra Magic Hour, but it’s likely that it too will be switched to a set of evening EMH after Disney updates the operating schedule for the first month of spring break, likely on February 14th or 17th.
Morning Extra Magic Hours are probably not tenable at the Studios given the heavy early morning crowds. With so many people arriving so early – the picture above is from 6am on a weekday a couple of weeks before Christmas – trying to figure out who is a resort guest, and finding a place for all of the non-resort guests to wait out of the way for regular Park open, is probably an operational impossibility.
You might remember that Rise of the Resistance does not currently operate during Extra Magic Hours. It’s unlikely that the app would be able to assign boarding groups only to those who are eligible resort guests, and it wouldn’t be a great look if Disney stopped calling regular boarding groups, only to reopen during the evening EMH with a completely different set of groups. Moving to a standby line during evening EMH also wouldn’t work, as demand would far outstrip supply. There would probably be 10,000 people waiting to ride Rise of the Resistance during evening EMH. It would take eight hours to move through that many people.
Unfortunately, the last ten-or-so days don’t offer us any insight into how quickly Rise of the Resistance boarding groups will fill, or what wait times will look like throughout the day. There is nothing quite like holiday crowds at Walt Disney World. On January 2nd, 2020, regular Rise of the Resistance boarding groups filled in their entirety in less than five minutes. On January 3rd, you would have had even less time. Backup groups, which now go up to more than 200, filled to capacity about a half hour after the Park opened, at 7:35am.
Those data points are a major departure from what we’ll see over the next few weeks, when even “heavy” Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend crowds pale in comparison to what we’ve seen over the last week or so. If anyone tells you that they visited between December 23rd and January 4th and _______ happened, chances are that it won’t mirror what you experience during your visit, even if it’s a “busy” day.
Of course, there is no known end date to the virtual queue process at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. As far as I know, Disney has only gone on the record discussing the fate of the virtual queue system one time, back during the first week in December, when the Tampa Bay Times said, “According to Disney representatives, Rise of the Resistance is expected to only allow reservations via virtual queue through the next few weeks. It will then accept fast passes [sic] and have a standby line.” It’s hard to say whether or not that’s still true, and how high up the food chain those “representatives” might be, but it’s likely that Disney has changed their tune since then. There certainly doesn’t appear to be any end to the virtual queue program at this time.
How Early to Arrive
The timing hasn’t really changed, and in reality, the ideal arrival time will only move earlier in the day after the virtual queue system goes away and standby takes over.
Currently, Rise of the Resistance boarding group signups open at the same time as the Studios officially opens. So if the Park opens at 7am, boarding group signups will also begin at 7am.
Everyone who has scanned their ticket/MagicBand at the Park’s entrance on the day that they would like to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group is eligible to do so at Park open. As far as boarding group signups are concerned, there is no benefit to arriving significantly earlier in the morning; nobody will be able to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group until the Park officially opens.
Once Rise of the Resistance changes over to the usual standby/FastPass+ situation, there will be a substantial benefit to arriving early, as it will put you in front of just about everyone who arrives after you. The virtual queue system levels the playing field in that respect. The boarding group signups are not exactly a lottery, but it might feel like that once you receive your boarding group number.
Disney typically admits guests inside the Park, and holds them on Hollywood Boulevard as described in this post, between 25 and 45 minutes before the Park is scheduled to open. The exact time depends on operational considerations and the number of people waiting. To be among the first to enter the Park, you’ll need to arrive two or more hours before the Park is scheduled to open.
Moving forward, arriving at least 90 minutes before official Park open will be necessary to stay ahead of the pack, and be at the front of the holding area on Hollywood Boulevard, poised to visit one of the Park’s two priorities – either Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, or Slinky Dog Dash, first thing with a short wait. And even then, you’ll have to wait the full 90 minutes before heading to that attraction, as Disney is currently holding all guests on Hollywood Boulevard until official open.
For Pandora over at Animal Kingdom, our advice was to arrive 75 minutes before Park open, but Disney routinely opened Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey 30 to 45 minutes before the rest of the Park, so we were really only standing around twiddling our thumbs for about 45 minutes before we’d actually be on our way. And there was a big payoff, as we’d be able to do Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey in standby, both with short waits, before basically waiting for nothing else for the rest of the morning. Flight of Passage FastPass+ remain incredibly difficult to secure, and the average wait remains above two hours. Na’vi River Journey also continues to see an average wait of 60+ minutes – longer than Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
At Hollywood Studios, to be among the first to arrive and to be ahead of the pack, you’ll need to arrive at least 90 minutes early, and actually wait that long before you’re let go.
With the way the FastPass+ tier system is set up, and with Disney continuing to extend hours, and add FastPass+ experiences during those newly-added times of day, it’s never been easier to secure Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+ on the day-of. It’s also never been easier to secure them in advance with Disney releasing additional FP+ as they extend hours.
In addition, people now have to choose between Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Slinky Dog Dash as their initial Tier 1 FastPass+ selection. That opens up a lot of availability as people inevitably change their plans and switch out Slinky for Aerosmith.
In other words, you may be able to more-easily secure Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+, which makes it much less important to arrive 90+ minutes early and hurry over to ride first thing. Wait times for Slinky at the end of the night are also routinely under a half hour for those who get in line a few minutes before the Studios is scheduled to close.
Wait times for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run remain relatively short, still averaging about an hour over the course of the day:
Smugglers Run does not currently offer FastPass+, which means virtually all of its capacity goes to ordinary standby riders. The ~60-minute average wait is about a third of what Flight of Passage posted after it opened, in large part due to the fact that the Avatar simulator offered FastPass+, and gave about 70% of its capacity to those with priority boarding. We don’t have a lot of interest in waiting three hours for a ride, but waiting 40 minutes, most of which is spent surrounded by an interesting queue, might not be so bad.
Currently, it’s not possible to ride both Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash, with short standby waits, back to back in the morning. This is true even if you arrive five hours before the Studios is set to open and are the first person to arrive at your first ride of the day. If you go to Slinky Dog first, then the wait for Smugglers Run will be at its highest point of the day immediately after you disembark. You’re still going to have to find another time to ride it. If you go to Smugglers Run first, then the wait for Slinky Dog Dash immediately after you disembark will also be prohibitively long. You’re going to have to find another time to ride.
If both of those things are true, then arriving 90 minutes before the Park opens, on less sleep than you’d probably like, and with more transportation difficulties than you’d probably like, doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. It may make sense to arrive closer to 30 minutes before the Park opens and start at any attraction other than Slinky Dog or Smugglers Run. Remember, as long as you’ve scanned into the Park before it officially opens, you have just as much of a chance to book the first Rise of the Resistance boarding group as the last.
Ideally, you’ll be able to ride Slinky Dog Dash with FastPass+ or at the very end of the night. With FastPass+, Slinky Dog usually takes about 12 minutes from the time you get in line to the time you’re back out in front of the attraction entrance, even if the posted wait is in the triple digits.
With Smugglers Run, you can simply get in line at some point in the afternoon and wait between 35 and 70 minutes most days, or get in line at the very end of the night, when the actual wait is typically under a half hour. Single rider at Smugglers Run is also an option with wait times that are usually under ten minutes. I don’t recommend single rider for those experiencing the attraction for the first time, because you’ll bypass the interesting queue and miss the pre-shows, which set the stage for the experience. You’ll also give up your “right” to request the pilot position, which is where you want to sit, should you get in single rider. There’s a 92.6% chance that you’ll be given the engineer role in single rider.
Outside of Slinky Dog and Smugglers Run, you won’t find appreciable waits at any other attraction at Hollywood Studios after the Park opens. You could crawl to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story Mania and still wait less than ten minutes first thing.
The huddled rush to Smugglers Run or Slinky Dog Dash is significantly less pleasant than being able to casually sashay to another attraction of your choice.
The early morning arrival – 90 minutes before the Studios opens – is still a viable option for those unable to get a Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+, or for those who simply prefer the early morning to the late night. To be at the Studios that early, you’ll likely need to rely on Uber/Lyft if you don’t have your own vehicle, as Disney buses won’t be running that early. The Disney Skyliner gondola system also comes online right at 6:45am with the 7am open – more than 90 minutes too late to arrive early enough to be among the first to arrive at the Park.
So What Does It Mean?
As things currently stand, it’s hard for me to recommend that most people arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios 90 minutes before it opens, only to stand there for an hour and a half in order to rush to either Smugglers Run or Slinky Dog Dash first thing. Of course, you’ll still need to be there at least 20 minutes early to be sure that you’re able to make it through bag check, enter the Park, and open up the app to secure a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. While it’s unlikely that boarding groups will fill within ten minutes of the Park opening, there’s always the possibility that it will happen. If you’re visiting during a very busy time, then regular boarding groups could be gone within a minute, as they were during the first week in January.
Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group Tips
I’ll cover a few “best practice” tips for successfully joining the Rise of the Resistance virtual queue as early, and with as little stress, as possible
First, go to the FastPass+ Select Party Screen here, and verify that everyone who you’re going to be signing up for a boarding group is on this list. When you sign up for a boarding group on the day of your visit, the screen will look almost identical, with the same people available to select:
If you don’t see them on the list, go to the “Add Guest” page on DisneyWorld.com here, and get yourselves connected.
Have more than one person in your party attempt to sign the group up for a boarding group. The My Disney Experience app behaves differently from phone to phone, operating system to operating system, app version to version, and from day to day. If two or three people in your group are poised to sign the group up, then it’s more likely that one will get through.
Sometimes, the app will not register that someone in your group has entered the Park, and it will say that they’re ineligible to join a boarding group. You’ll have the option to remove that person and continue with the booking process. It’s best to do that and then go back and try to sign up the person who originally was unable. If that still doesn’t work, visit a Guest Experience Team cast member as described below and explain the situation. They should be able to assign the same boarding number as the rest of the group. If trying again does work, and that person is assigned a wildly different boarding group, then you can also visit the Guest Experience Team to try to get it reassigned to the same number as the rest of the party. If you fail at one kiosk, then you might try another.
Boarding groups should open exactly at Park open. It will be no secret that people are able to join, as you’ll hear cheering and see some very rare smiles inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. On your own device, you’ll be able to join a boarding group when the “Join Boarding Group” button lights up in an orange-ish red. To refresh the app, you should be able to click the “Find Out More” button on the homepage, which will take you to the “Join Boarding Group” screen. Then click the back button at the top of the screen to return to the homepage. Click “Find Out More” again and the app should refresh and the Join Boarding Group button should illuminate if boarding group signups have begun. If the button doesn’t come up red, close the app entirely and restart it.
Most people will want to turn off WiFi and instead rely on their own cellular data. Disney’s WiFi may be slow and overloaded. With multiple people trying to sign the group up, you might have some of them on WiFi and others using their own data. You might also have someone ready to open the app fresh once other guests begin to cheer that they’ve been able to join a group, just in case there are issues with refreshing.
In rare cases, there may be a widespread issue with the virtual queue signups on the app, requiring guests to visit a Guest Services or Guest Experience Team Cast Member in order to join a boarding group. This has happened exactly one time since Rise of the Resistance opened almost a month ago, but you never know.
If you run into another issue with the app, then you may also need to visit one of these locations. First thing in the morning, Hollywood Boulevard will be lined with most of these cast members in order to aid as many guests as possible. If you have an issue, seeking out one of these cast members is likely your best bet, as the various Guest Experience Team kiosks may either not be staffed, or you’ll find just one cast member standing there. Later in the morning, the Guest Experience Team kiosks are your best bet if you need help. The least crowded kiosk can be found on Sunset Boulevard, as pictured above, in between Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
First thing in the morning, you might have your eyes on the nearest cast member wielding a helpful iPad in case things go south. It may also be a good idea to move towards one of these cast members prior to Park opening if possible.
You’ll also find one at the end of Hollywood Boulevard on the left, where that blue umbrella is.
There’s one on the left as you head into Toy Story Land.
There’s also one on Grand Avenue across from BaseLine Tap House.
The good news is that, with the exception of Christmas/New Year’s, Rise of the Resistance boarding groups have been available for an average of about 45 minutes after open. Backup groups, which are not guaranteed to be called, are typically available for about two hours after the Park opens. That gives you some wiggle room should you run into some issues first thing.
So What Do You Do?
You’ll need to decide if a very, very early arrival is right for you, or if merely arriving pretty early is good enough. To be in front of the crowd heading to Slinky Dog or Smugglers Run first thing, you’re looking at an arrival at least 90 minutes before Park open. As people realize that there’s little benefit to arriving so early, it may be possible to arrive later in the morning and still be ahead of the curve as we move forward.
Originally, Disney allowed guests to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group immediately after they scanned into the Park, which did offer those who arrived earlier an advantage, as they were virtually guaranteed a low boarding group number. Now, that advantage is lost, but it’s possible that the memo hasn’t reached the majority of the people who just watched one YouTube video about it the day after Rise opened to the public.
With a Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+ in hand, it doesn’t “feel” like there’s a tremendous amount of value in arriving 90+ minutes early. Instead of waiting an extra hour, from 5:30am to 6:30am with a 7am open, or from 6:30am to 7:30am with an 8am open, you can arrive later and instead wait about 45 minutes for Smugglers Run later in the day. Those planning on riding Slinky Dog last thing may also find less benefit in an early arrival.
An early arrival is still best for those who want to maximize their Park time. While you may be waiting that same hour before the Park opens, the opportunity cost is typically only sleep. Once the Park opens, the hour you spend in line for Smugglers Run could be spent doing something else, like visiting BaseLine Tap House.
The bottom line is that no matter whether or not you arrive incredibly early, the rest of your day will rely on booking additional FastPass+ experiences, and potentially staying late to take advantage of short waits as Park closure nears. The person who arrives 90+ minutes early will only benefit from a short wait at one additional attraction compared to the person who arrives 30 minutes early.
Things will continue to change with Rise of the Resistance eventually moving to a standby/FastPass+ situation, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway opening on March 4th, and the FastPass+ tiers likely changing.
We’ll continue to monitor the situation.