Disney continues to fiddle with the operating schedule at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Just this morning, they moved the Park’s opening to 7am from either 8am or 9am through February 2nd.
Here’s the current schedule:
As you can see, Disney moved the opening earlier for January 27th through February 2nd with a minimum of just five days’ notice. From February 3rd on, the Studios is still scheduled to open at 9am. The opens on most or all dates over the next several months will assuredly change to 7am or 8am, but Disney doesn’t seem willing to commit to the earlier openings, even if those dates begin less than two weeks out. If your trip falls over the next three months, I’d plan on the Studios opening at 8am at a minimum, with a 7am opening more likely. We may also see some 6am openings around peak Easter crowds from April 5th through 11th, as we did over the Christmas holiday.
Here’s the latest on how quickly boarding groups have filled, along with the total number of boarding groups called over the last couple of weeks:
With only one exception over the last two weeks, regular/guaranteed boarding groups have filled before 7:30am on every date except for one, when they lasted until 7:35am. Of the 16 dates, regular boarding groups filled by 7:20am on all but two dates.
The difference between “regular” and “backup” boarding groups is that the regular ones are basically guaranteed to be called over to ride that day. If they don’t get to a regular/guaranteed group, then Disney should issue a digital FASTPASS to ride the following day, along with a 1-day Hollywood Studios ticket in order to return to the Park, just in case you don’t have admission. The digital FASTPASS means you won’t be required to join a boarding group in order to ride the following day, and you’ll skip ahead of about half of the people waiting in the regular return line when you do return to ride any any point during the day. Disney doesn’t make it through the guaranteed boarding groups about 10% of the time, typically due to prolonged downtime. Over the last couple of weeks, Rise of the Resistance has seen an average of about 90 minutes of downtime per day.
We’re coming off of a busy Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, from Friday the 17th through Tuesday, January 21st. Combined with the holiday crowds, boarding groups went back to filling up in five minutes or less, much like we saw over Christmas. With only a two-minute window to claim a boarding group, and 50 of the 100-or-so guaranteed boarding group filling up in between 30 and 60 seconds, you’re going to need to be poised with your phone, ready to slam that “Join Boarding Group” button right at Park open with everyone else.
If you’re wondering when your boarding group will likely be called, here’s a chart:
The first 50 groups are typically called by 11am, or about four hours after the Park officially opens. The 100th boarding group is typically called around 4:15pm. When your group will be called depends on a great number of factors, including when the ride begins operating in the first place. We’ve seen opening delays of as many as seven hours just over the last week. Most of the time, the ride is operating before 8am.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “A Super Early Arrival at Disney’s Hollywood Studios May No Longer Be Your Best Bet, Plus Updated Hours and Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Strategy.”
That posts covers my most recent advice on how to tackle a morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, including specific tips on joining a boarding group with the least hassle and likeliest possibility of success. The main point of the argument is that it makes more sense to arrive at the Studios about a half hour before the Park opens. With the boarding group signup process beginning right at Park open, it basically becomes a free-for-all, with the people who got inside the Park at 6:59am just as likely to join an early boarding group as someone who arrived at 6am and entered the Park closer to 6am. Which Rise of the Resistance boarding group you’re assigned is going to come down to some amount of luck depending on how quickly your request goes through the system and whether or not you run into any issues with the My Disney Experience app.
If Hollywood Studios is open from 7am to 8pm, then you’ve got 13 hours’ worth of boarding groups. If the ride is moving through a thousand people per hour, then that means 13,000 people will get to ride, which is probably about a third of the Studios’ daily attendance at the moment.
Disney typically calls about 10 boarding groups per hour, which means that there are probably about 100 people in each group. Over the last two weeks, the average number of groups called is 127, and the median number of groups called is 136. At 136 groups served per day with 100 people comprising each, the ride would move through 13,600 people, or a few more than 1,000 per hour over the 13-hour day. Smugglers Run moves through about 1,500 people per hour, while Slinky Dog’s hourly capacity is closer to 1,200 riders per hour.
If you haven’t yet, I’d give “A Super Early Arrival at Disney’s Hollywood Studios May No Longer Be Your Best Bet, Plus Updated Hours and Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Strategy” a look over. The opening paragraphs are older news from the beginning of January, but it will give you an idea about where we’ve come from and how we’ve continued to develop new strategies over the last seven weeks.
The key point is that an arrival at 5am or 5:30am for the 7am opening may not be your best bet, as you’ll simply wait the 90 minutes to two hours for the Park to open, only to find yourself angling your way uncomfortably towards Smugglers Run in Galaxy’s Edge or Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land with a few thousand other people first thing.
If you’re able to secure Slinky Dog FastPass+, then you’ll be in particularly good shape as you can take care of the other two Toy Story Land rides with ease early in the morning, and beat the rush to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard. Without Slinky Dog FastPass+, you may still want to arrive around 5:30am to be among the first to arrive at Slinky Dog in standby first thing in the morning. If possible, wait until the very end of the night to experience the Toy Story Land roller coaster, as waits are usually under 30 minutes for those who get in line a couple of minutes before close. That’s a better option for those who can stay out late and don’t necessarily mind missing Fantasmic! or the Star Wars Fireworks.
One of the key points is that there are enough people in Hollywood Studios to fill the entire capacity for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in under a half hour, and in some cases, just two minutes. That means ten or more thousand people are inside Hollywood Studios before 7am, waiting to smash the “Join Boarding Group” button. This ends up creating heavy morning crowds everywhere you turn, as these people then search out one of the few attractions actually operating that early. As we saw recently, most of the shows don’t come online until 10am at the earliest, or a full three hours after the Park opens. With a 9am open, the show schedule works fine. With a 7am open, you’ve got three-and-a-half hours until the first Frozen Sing-Along beings at 10:30am, and five hours until the first Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at 12pm. At least they added a 9:30am Voyage of the Little Mermaid show, which is a half hour earlier than the first performance over the last few weeks.
Moving forward, I’d be prepared to see the 7am openings continue, with the possibility that Disney will try some 8am openings on days that they expect the Park to be significantly less crowded. With how quickly Rise of the Resistance boarding groups fill, opening at 8am will cause people to have an even shorter window to join a boarding group, because so many more people will be on hand. You might not be able to swing a 7am open, but an 8am or 9am open is much more doable. With a later opening, thousands upon thousands of additional people will be able to arrive and compete against you for that precious click of the “Join Boarding Group” button. That makes it more likely that you’ll be locked out entirely or will be assigned a backup boarding group. Earlier openings mean fewer people on hand and a better likelihood that you’ll be able to join a lower-number boarding group that will be called earlier in the day.
If you’re looking for the best day of visit the Studios, pick a non-holiday weekday. Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically best. A couple of times when the boarding groups lasted longer into the morning, it had more to do with rainy weather than the day of the week or the time of the year. If you don’t mind getting wet, head out to the Studios on the most blustery morning you can find. Fewer people will be willing to venture out in it.
Overall, the moves to the 7am opens aren’t surprising. A tremendous number of people are showing up to join boarding groups before 7am, which is something that you have to do in order to experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Arrive after 7:35am, and you’ll almost certainly be awarded a backup boarding group, which is not guaranteed to be called. These backup boarding groups typically begin around number 105 and can go up higher than 200. On the plus side, Disney has been pretty good about sending app notifications about which boarding groups won’t be called earlier in the day. At 1pm, you might receive a message that your backup boarding group will not be called. That means you can leave Hollywood Studios.
With fewer than 140 groups called most days, it’s imperative that you’re inside the Park before it officially opens and have the My Disney Experience app primed and ready to go.
I’ll update when Disney extends additional hours in February. You’d think they could commit now, since the first of the month is just about ten days away.