We’re rope dropping Disney’s Hollywood Studios as we need to reassess our touring strategy now that Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is loading every row in each train car, and effectively doubling capacity and the number of people who can ride per hour. That basically makes it a “high-capacity attraction” with physical-distancing protocols continuing to reduce capacity at the majority of the Studios’ other attractions. Before last Tuesday, Runaway Railway was the highest priority attraction with a standby line at the Park, with the longest waits, as it operated at less than half capacity. It’s now the fourth or fifth priority at the Park with average waits that now come in around 45 minutes, compared to the 70+ minutes that we had seen most days in September, October, and the first half of November.
For once, we’ll be taking our own advice and heading to the Studios from the Crescent Lake Resort Area, which includes the BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan, and Dolphin Resorts. Guests staying here or otherwise starting their day somewhere around the lake are able to take their fate into their own hands by walking over to Hollywood Studios before 99.9% of guests arriving via any other transportation option could hope to arrive at temperature/bag check.
There is no need to try to time the opening of the parking lot correctly, coupled by spending precious time parking and walking all the way to the entrance with no tram service. You also won’t need to rely on Disney bus service, which is limited in a number of ways at the moment, including the number of people who fit on each bus given physical-distancing and the increasing amount of time between bus arrivals. And you won’t have to gamble that your visit doesn’t fall on a day when the Skyliner gets going late. As temperatures cool heading into Florida’s version of winter, those delays only become more likely when the low is around 50 degrees.
If you’re not staying at a Crescent Lake Resort, then the easiest way to guarantee access to the area via an Uber/Lyft drop-off or driving yourself is with a breakfast reservation at Trattoria al Forno on the BoardWalk or Ale & Compass Restaurant at the Yacht Club. I go over the various scenarios on how to best set that up, in addition to reviewing the current breakfast offerings at Trattoria, back in this post. During that series, we also came in from the BoardWalk, but I purposefully arrived alongside guests coming in from the parking lot to better show what an “average” arrival experience looks like. It was not pretty.
If you want to get real cutesy with it, you can theoretically save three minutes of walking by cutting through the BoardWalk’s pool area. Instead of coming down here at all, if you’re being dropped off/parking at the BoardWalk, you can also continue walking outside the front of the resort lobby and around down towards the parking lot opposite of the bus stops. Then take a right towards the tennis courts and you’ll be on the same walking path over to the Studios. This is far less scenic, but will cut your walk down by a few minutes.
Crescent lake always popular. I stop talking after the first few seconds don’t worry pic.twitter.com/qRxKF7qHzI
— josh (@easywdw) November 18, 2020
Personally, I prefer taking the walk around the BoardWalk because it’s so scenic, particularly in the warm morning glow.
This is the direction you’d head if you were walking to Epcot, which is about five minutes away from the International Gateway entrance. We’re heading in the opposite direction.
Currently, most of those planning on rope dropping the Parks are going to run into a few additional snags compared to what it would have been like before the March closures.
Most notably, Disney buses begin transporting guests much later in the day, with just about everyone relying on Disney doing the driving arriving after those coming in from the Crescent Lake area, driving themselves or getting dropped off, or taking advantage of the Skyliner. Fewer than 20 guests typically fit on a regular-size bus with physical-distancing measures, which can lead to some long waits even given fewer people waiting than you would have seen at the same time last year. Before the March closures, buses started transporting guests from the various resorts beginning right around 6am. Now, you’re lucky if a bus arrives an hour before the Park is scheduled to open, which would be 9am with the current 10am opens at the Studios most days. Back before March 16th, if you wanted to be at the Studios at 6:30am, whether you were driving yourself or taking Disney transportation, you could without issue. The parking lot would be open. Buses would be on the road. Now, the Studios’ parking lot opens just 50 to 70 minutes before official Park open. If you arrive more than 15 minutes before the parking lot, you’ll likely need to circle around and come back because cones block the lanes leading to the auto/parking plaza where you’ll either pay for parking or prove you have some mechanism for free or reduced parking.
By walking over, we’ll be able to arrive before anyone coming in from the Disney buses or parking lot so long as we arrive before 9am with the 10am opens. If you’re visiting on a day with a rare 9am open, then you’ll want to be at the Studios no later than 7:45am, with the potential that they’ll open things even earlier. It’s better to wait an extra 15 minutes outside the Park than 45 extra minutes at your first attraction inside the Park. You’ll see the difference immediately at our first attraction, where I’ll wait just five minutes to board the Runaway Railway. By the time I’m off, just ten minutes later, the entire extended queue will be full and the wait will be 45 minutes to an hour for those guests just getting in line. After that, a guest who arrived 30 minutes before official open will be looking at 45+ minute actual waits at most attractions come 11am. Slinky Dog will be backed up into the Voyage of the Little Mermaid queue. And we’re talking about a random Wednesday during one of the less-crowded weeks that we’ve seen over the last couple of months.
A lot of the BoardWalk is yet to reopen, including Big River Grille, ESPN Club, Flying Fish, Jellyrolls, and Atlantic Dance Hall.
This is where we’ll be taking a left, around Jellyrolls, and onto the path leading to the Studios. Who would have thought Atlantic Dance Hall would be the point of no return. It was very difficult to not just go back to sleep. Any of these benches would do.
After the turn, you’ll see the direct path over to the Studios. A lot of people take that first left, which is supposed to be dedicated to service vehicles. You won’t see many this early, but you’ll eventually need to walk down the stairs to the walking path as you pass the BoardWalk’s pool.
If you don’t want to make a breakfast reservation or sweet talk the security cast member as you pull into one of the Disney resorts, you can easily be dropped off at the Swan without needing to go through the rigmarole. Parking at the Swan will run you $27 versus no additional cost at the Disney resorts. Standard parking at the theme parks is $25, so if you’re paying for parking anyway, it’s basically a wash.
Here’s what that looks like. You basically walk through the resort and outside onto the promenade, before taking a right across the bridge, and ending up exactly where we are coming in from around the BoardWalk.
Directly in front of me is the much wider path that most guests begin walking.
There are stairs and walkways down to the pedestrian path as you move along the top path. Watch out for the golf carts up there. On the other hand, jumping on the back of one may be the best ride of the day.
We’ll take a look at the Luna Park Pool at the BoardWalk as we pass by.
But only because Pennywise is covered up. The pool slide refurbishment continues with the expectation that the work will be complete by the end of the year. The rest of the pool and amenities remain open, along with the leisure pools.
It’s 8:15am on the morning of Wednesday, November 18th, 2020. There aren’t yet a lot of people heading over. This is particularly true with only the Villas sections of the Beach Club and BoardWalk Inn open. That cuts the number of available rooms down by almost a thousand, and decreases the number of people staying in this area by a few thousand. So there is less competition at the moment with far fewer people naturally on the premises.
As an aging, meandering, picture-taking old man, it takes me about 20 minutes to walk from the BoardWalk to Hollywood Studios. From the pool area, it’s closer to ten minutes. Add about five minutes if you’re coming over from one of the other area resorts. Shave a few minutes off if you hustle and don’t take a picture every three steps.
The walk is a scenic one, perhaps with the exception of walking under this bridge.
Duck content always sells pic.twitter.com/ttfFC3zZH3
— josh (@easywdw) November 18, 2020
After you pass under that, you’ll see Tower of Terror.
And then the Studios.
It’s 8:25am as I pass by the Studios’ bus stops. The first bus from the Disney resorts won’t arrive for at least a half hour.
The boat also won’t get you over here early enough to beat the people. It’s not quite the worst method of transportation for an early rope drop, but it almost is.
Here’s a look back at the bridge and the walking path that we just traversed.
About 90% of the time, I’m kidding when I say that I don’t know where the physical-distancing markers are leading. But sometimes it’s hard to say, and as we’ll see throughout the day, Disney modifies their queues, and the markers that led to one attraction back in October lead somewhere else in November.
I would guess this is for the Skyliner.
But this appeared to be the last one and we’re not really near anything.
You’ll pass by a large set of restrooms just before arriving at The Line.
I don’t discuss photography much now that 97% of the people visiting are using their phones rather than some kind of DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.
On this particular visit, I’m using my favorite lens, which is this tiny Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake attached to a 5D Mark IV camera. That’s my 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens next to it. The 40mm weighs less than five ounces. The zoom weighs about 3.5 pounds.
At $180, the 40mm is a great value if you’re shooting Canon. Almost all of the pictures in this series and the upcoming Animal Kingdom series will be taken with it.
When you’re just starting out with a new interchangeable lens system, most people recommend the “nifty fifty,” or 50mm f1.8 lens. It’s faster and cheaper than the 40mm, but it’s also “more zoomed in,” which can make it difficult to capture indoor scenes on crop-sensor cameras, which is where most people start. On crop-sensors, the actual field of view is multiplied by 1.6x in Canon’s case. That means your 50mm is shooting at the equivalent of 80mm on a full frame camera. That’s actually “more zoomed in” than that giant zoom lens I’m also carrying when attached to my full frame sensor camera.
Everything in Canon’s Rebel series is a crop-sensor cameras. If you’re looking to add an inexpensive lens, the 24mm may be your best bet, with an equivalent focal length of 38.4mm, which is basically the same field of view as the 40mm lens I’ll be using today. If you do have a Rebel camera, like a T7i with the standard 18-55mm kit lens. Check out what you can see when you set the lens to 24mm, 40mm, and 50mm. The three previous lenses are fixed length, so what you see at those distances is what you’ll always see with these lenses. The nice thing about the three of these is that the picture quality is considerably sharper than anything taken with the kit lens, they let more light in, so you can take better pictures at dark with faster shutter speeds and lower ISOs, and the field of vision is narrower at f2.8, so you get more of that background blur. If absolutely none of that makes sense, and you have no interest in learning what it means, then you probably want to stick with the iPhone.
That’s enough of that. At 8:30am, we’ve arrived about a half hour before the first buses will arrive. The parking lot will open at about 9:05am. You can very clearly see that “literally” nobody is on their way in.
This is the entire size of the crowd that’s beaten me during my stroll. It looks to be about 15 people.
We’ll be held here for about 20 minutes.
Between 8:30am and 8:45am, about 60 more people arrived. In the grand scheme of things, you’d be just fine arriving 15 minutes after I did. I’d probably still shoot for 90 minutes before Park open as Disney seems to be pushing things earlier as crowds and demand continue to grow. This past Friday, the parking lot opened before 7:15am and people were already inside the Park at that time. The parking lot there has historically opened a half hour before official Park open. But that goes back to the difficulty in timing everything. Simply walking over at 8:10am no matter what is going on with Disney’s transportation system is virtually foolproof. You just need to be up and ready to roll.
We can see the top of The Walt Disney World Swan Reserve Hotel as construction on what looks to be an office tower continues immediately next to the Fantasia Gardens mini-golf course.
From where I was standing, it looked like Disney started allowing cars to line up in front of the auto plaza at 8:50am.
We started walking over to get in line in front of the temperature check at 8:51am. Interestingly, about 20 people had already managed to make it over from the Skyliner. Since they’re dropped off closer to the entrance, they’ll get in line in front of us, even if we arrived 20+ minutes before them.
The Disney Skyliner gondola system is scheduled to come online at 9am to/from Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach Resort, Riviera Resort, and Pop Century/Art of Animation. The Skyliner is not the slam dunk that walking over is because it occasionally starts running late and only those boarding at Caribbean Beach Resort would have an opportunity to beat those walking over from the Crescent Lake area. The gondola trip to the Studios from Pop/Art of Animation takes about 20 minutes, in addition to whatever your initial wait is to board at the Value Resort station. Those lines can get long, requiring an arrival around 8:20am to 8:30am in order to beat most of the people who will be joining you on the Skyliner system and in their own cabin. You’ll then need to wait behind however many people are at Caribbean Beach to transfer to the Studios.
The number of people arriving this early via the Skyliner is inconsequential should there be any at all. They’re led to the temperature checks on the right, while I’ve filed in on the left behind about three people. At 8:55am, this is what the backup looked like. There are a similar number of people behind me on this side. No Disney buses had yet arrived as far as I could tell, and it would be about ten minutes until the first cars would be admitted.
After temperature check, we’ll basically be able to walk through bag check thanks to the installation of the Evolv Scanners.
Those using Uber/Lyft will also beat those parking themselves.
That’s the Ubers streaming in to the drop-off area, which is just about thirty seconds away from the line for temperature check. Anyone parking will have to go find their space, pull in, get out, and walk much further. At 9:08am, it looked like maybe one or two buses had arrived, if that, while the line backs up with Skyliner arrivals.
At 9:09am, temperature/bag check began, and two minutes later, I was heading inside.
As you’re hopefully aware, Disney has moved the first boarding group signup to 7am, and no longer requires guests to scan their tickets/MagicBands in order to be eligible. I have a detailed post on what the shift to 7am means and some best practices on signing up for a boarding group in this post. It’s long because it considers a wide variety of scenarios and possible troubleshooting, but the main points are summarized at the end. It basically comes down to pressing the “Join” button on the app at exactly 7:00:00am.
There is probably nobody on earth who has pressed the “Join” button more times than WDWNT’s Tom Corless, and probably nobody who has read more about potential best practices for joining a group than me, and between the two of us, we pulled group 50 to start the day:
The app delayed loading the “Create Your Party” screen by about two seconds, which will feel like an eternity as you watch the blank white screen with the loading swirl and see how many curse words you can get out in that time. I’m always impressed by my numbers. We probably want to add “Remove anybody from your Friends/Family list who won’t be visiting with you on this trip” to our list of boarding group best practices. It wouldn’t be practical for me since I visit with a variety of people and I would have to constantly remove/add them, but it stands to reason that the app would load the “Create Your Party” screen faster if there were fewer people and less information to load. So if Uncle Buck has sworn off Disney World forever and the Richardsons down the street aren’t returning any time soon, and they’re still on your Friends/Family list, it’s safe to remove them. You can always add them back in the future. If they actually notice and inquire about the slight, just tell them that it must be a My Disney Experience glitch. Nobody is going to question the extreme likelihood of that.
But group 50 will end up being just fine. Without the ride going down for technical trouble, we should be called over around 1pm. That’s good since we can head over after lunch, which will be convenient. There’s obviously nothing wrong with boarding group “1,” but you’ll be called over to ride before the Park officially opens if the ride is operational. You can see that it’s 9:48am and groups 1-15 have already been called:
With a boarding group that low, you’ll need to be more mindful of the time as you go about visiting your first handful of attractions. Disney now makes it through about 16 boarding groups per hour, on average, so you can generally calculate how long it will be before you’re called based on that. But downtime will affect the timing and number of groups called.
I also received a push notification from the app before official open, but after we were actually let inside, reminding me to wear my face covering and do what Cast say:
“Galactic” is probably not happening. My only real wish is to get through the day still standing.
Like the other Parks, once temperature check/bag check begin, the Park will essentially be open.
At 9:12am, I’m inside the Park. This is before anyone who drove themselves and 99.9% of the people relying on Disney buses would be able to be here.
I was hoping to be able to do Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run before wait times became too prohibitive. As I mentioned earlier, the Railway is no longer the Park’s top priority with the longest waits.
My standard morning constitutional pic.twitter.com/J3C4pe6UHV
— josh (@easywdw) November 18, 2020
At the moment, most people will still be headed to the Railway first, in large part because it’s the first ride you see and everyone else is also headed there first, as you can see in the video. Only a handful of people take a right towards Toy Story Land.
Here’s the wait time chart for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway from the last couple of weeks:
It’s clear when Disney started loading every row as we see a big drop in wait times from November 16th to November 17th. The ride now averages a wait around 45 minutes and is basically a walk-on last thing as it posts ten to twenty minutes at the end of the night with an actual wait that should be closer to five to ten. We’ll see that for ourselves in what I’m guessing is part 18 of this series. Probably due out on Christmas Day.
At 9:15am, or a full 45 minutes before the Park officially opens, the Railway was already admitting guests.
The pre-show is still off, which is unfortunate because it does help set the stage for what you’re about to experience. It’s potentially more of a shame than the pre-shows at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror being turned off in favor of more queue space and no real ability to socially-distance guests. Tower of Terror has been open for over 25 years, so most guests have probably had an opportunity to see it at some point. That’s far less true for the Railway, which has only been open for about seven months total.
I’ll post a few on-ride photos at the end of this post as to not spoil the ride. But I will show you the modifications to the vehicles and loading procedure now.
Plastic barriers are up in between rows. Those have been there for a while.
But the barriers in between the rows are new. The biggest issue with them is the reflection, which you can see in the picture as the woman in the back row looks at her own face staring back at her.
The other issue is that there’s a solid metal beam going across the top of the plastic. We haven’t seen that on most other modified attractions, including Rise of the Resistance. My advice would be to request the front row of one of the train sections so you’re not behind the plastic. You’ll note how there is no barrier in the front of the two-row section. Requesting the front of one of the sections shouldn’t hinder the loading process as there are several per train. They can just as easily seat you in row or three of five as two or four.
The reflections probably hinder photography more than anything as your eyes are probably not paying much attention to them on-ride.
But you can see how much is reflected in this shot. The front row of each section also provides a much better overall view as you won’t have another party’s heads in front of your face.
Here is basically the same shot from the first row. It’s pretty obvious which is better.
Here’s what the vehicles looked like before the modification. Hopefully they will return to this by the summer of next year.
The current situation.
It may or may not be interesting that it took Disney almost exactly six months after the Park reopened to install these barriers. I’m not sure if it was a labor shortage, a lack of engineering know-how, or whether the company thought that it would either be unnecessary to fill every row or we would be on the other side of this thing before they would need to spend the time and money to install them. As you can see by how the barriers are bolted down to the sides, the modification is a lot more substantial than simply hanging thin plastic from the ceilings of rides like Living with the Land and Kilimanjaro Safaris.
I was already off the ride by 9:28am, which means it’s time to make the heartbreaking decision to skip picking up yet another Chuuby Bird Plush. I actually had to get a second couch so they could all be comfortably seated in my living room.
They’re just too precious.
While I got in line at 9:15am, and boarded just five minutes later at 9:20am, the line is now much longer as hundreds of cars worth of people have now had enough time to enter and more guests relying on Disney transportation have arrived.
And a lot more are coming our way.
The entire extended queue is full.
And we’re still a half hour away from official Park open with 60 minutes now posted. If you were parking yourself or relying on a Disney bus, you’d find yourself somewhere in this line instead of already being done with the ride. It doesn’t seem particularly fair, but that’s the reality. Those coming in from the Crescent Lake area have the potential for a guaranteed advantage by being able to walk to either Hollywood Studios or EPCOT as early as they’d like. Those coming in via the Skyliner from Caribbean Beach also see an advantage most days so long as you’re in line there by 8:30am or so.
I’m headed to Slinky Dog Dash next to see how things look there.
Here are a few more pictures on Runaway Railway, some of which try to avoid the reflections, and others that look straight through it:
There’s that bar at the top.
We’ll continue with the day.