If you’ve had the misfortune of following the website over the last couple of months, then you’d know that we’ve run into quite a bit of trouble touring Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the morning. To get a better idea about what I’m talking about, including a 75-minute wait for Alien Swirling Saucers at 8:30am, and a perpetual 165-minute wait for Slinky Dog Dash all morning, you can pull up this post. At 8:40am, or just over a half hour into the day, I waited 75 minutes in line for Toy Story Mania. And that wait was below-average compared to the other available rides. That’s not great.
Our problems with early morning wait times are largely due to the fact that an unprecedented number of people are arriving before Park opening in order to secure a boarding group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Once they either succeed or fail at doing that right at 8am, they then need to find something else to do with their time come 8:01am. With a great lineup of attractions on the high-end of things, including five of Disney World’s newest rides, it makes sense that people would be eager to visit Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, etc.
With Disney failing to move the Park openings earlier, to help spread out crowds and make morning touring easier, and their refusal to schedule shows earlier in the day to help absorb the increased number of people present earlier in the day, things are incredibly rough in the morning. For at least 90 minutes, from 8am to 9:30am, the 20+ thousand people in the Park basically have their choice of getting in line for one of seven or eight rides, each of which will likely sport a 60+ minute standby wait within a few minutes of Park open.
Shows like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular don’t begin until noon, and others, like Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, don’t begin until 10am. No shows begin before 9:30am, or 90 minutes after the Park opens. To add insult to injury, Disney actually cut back the hours of several popular characters, including Woody/Jessie/Buzz in Toy Story Land, where they no longer appear at Park open, after doing so for more than 18 straight months. Characters like Bo Peep, Frozone, and Mike Wazowski were cut entirely. Entire shows have also been recently canceled, including both Star Wars stage shows.
FastPass+ also comes online right at Park open, which increases wait times almost immediately as the majority of each ride’s capacity goes to those with FP+ boarding priority. Over at Animal Kingdom, Disney actually opened Pandora 30 to 60 minutes before official Park open for a couple of years, which allowed 1,500+ people to experience Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey without FastPass+ bogging things down. Since FastPass+ experiences are not distributed during hours that the Park isn’t officially open, those pre-opening blocks of time are crucial in moving guests through standby lines. The people who were able to move through the Pandora rides early were also on their way to other attractions earlier in the morning, which allowed those arriving later to enjoy shorter waits, since many of those who arrived before them had already cleared out. At the Studios, no such offer is made. If the Park says it’s opening at 8am, then that’s when the walk over to the rides begins. Nobody is riding Slinky Dog, Smugglers Run, or any other attraction before the Park officially opens.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve offered some alternative ideas on how to best tour Hollywood Studios. Those tips include:
- Consider arriving before the Studios opens to scan your ticket/MagicBand to be eligible to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, and then head to another Park. I describe that process here, along with a description of what to expect if you’re taking the Disney Skyliner to the Studios first thing. Epcot is easy enough to tour without pre-selected FastPass+. Theoretically, you could begin your day by scanning in at the Studios to be eligible to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, and then take the Skyliner over to Epcot to rope drop there. You could then plan on using your three pre-booked FastPass+ at the Studios later in the afternoon. With two rope drops at Epcot, and two days of FastPass+ at the Studios, you’d be able to easily get just about everything you want done at both Parks. You can see how much success I had at Epcot in this post after starting the day by scanning in at the Studios. There are followups to that series with the rest of morning here and here.
- If you are staying at the Studios after it opens, begin using FastPass+ as early in the morning as possible, with the highest-priority attraction first. On your average day, by 8:30am, Toy Story Mania, Alien Swirling Saucers, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror are already going to be posting 60+ minute waits. Smugglers Run, Slinky Dog, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will all see triple digit waits all morning, with 2.5+ hour waits common. You can read about what it takes to rope drop a super-priority attraction like Slinky Dog Dash here. The final part in that series is located here, with links available to the previous parts at the top. You can see just how quickly wait times rise and how little opportunity there is to do much of anything at the Studios.
- Late evening touring is your friend. Wait times drop significantly beginning in the afternoon, and only go down from there as Park close near. The afternoon arrival approach is what we’ll be taking a look at with this series.
Choosing appropriate FastPass+ selections at the Studios is key, with the attractions falling into one of two two tiers. You can select up to one attraction from tier one, and two or three attractions from tier two, to make a total of three attractions. Tier one attractions are in short supply, which is why you may be forced to select three tier two selections.
Tier one FastPass+ priority probably comes down to the following, though the jury is still out on how Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway fits in, with the ride seeing less than two weeks of operation thus far:
Tier 1 (Choose one, when available):
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
The attractions on this list are somewhat interchangeable, as using FastPass+ at any of the three tier one attractions will save you 75+ minutes in line at 11am, and likely closer to two hours. Slinky Dog Dash remains the highest priority because its wait times are still the longest. The wait in line is also all outdoors and the most uncomfortable. The Runaway Railway comes in at number two, with higher waits than Smugglers Run so far and less availability. Smugglers Run also offers a more-interesting queue, which makes waiting a little more tolerable. There’s also the single rider line, which can turn a 70-minute standby wait into a 10-minute single rider wait for the engineer position.
Which tier one attraction you select will likely come down to what’s available. Sixty or fewer days out, you’ll likely see either no availability or very little availability for any of the tier one attractions, as those on longer trips are able to gobble up the experiences 63, 64, or 65+ days in advance.
You may also want to pick a tier one attraction based on where you want to start your day. To wait less than 20 minutes in line for any of the tier one rides first thing in the morning, you’ll have to arrive 90 to 120 minutes before Park open. With the Studios regular 8am opens, that means you’re at bag check between 6am and 6:20am. You’ll then be admitted inside the Studios around 7am, and then have to wait in front of your desired attraction until the Park officially opens at 8am. That’s certainly a viable strategy if you prefer to do some of your waiting before the Park opens, but after 12pm, you could wait those same 100 minutes in line for any of the rides and experience them just the same. If you are planning on arriving before 6:30am, then it probably makes the most sense to rope drop Slinky Dog Dash and then head to Alien Swirling Saucers immediately after. You’d likely want to rely on FastPass+ at Toy Story Mania, or risk a 40ish minute wait by 8:20am. By 8:45am, you’re looking at a 45+ minute wait for Alien Swirling Saucers, a 60+ minute wait for Toy Story Mania, and a 120+ minute wait for Slinky Dog. That’s even with below-average crowds.
You could instead rope drop the Runaway Railway, and potentially hurry to Tower of Terror, before using FastPass+ at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. For Smugglers Run, the lengthy amount of time that the attraction takes means that only Star Tours is a viable second stop in standby. After that, it’s FastPass+ or a 60+ minute wait to ride something else.
So as far as tier one FastPass+ selections are concerned, you’ll likely be limited to specific attractions and specific return windows, unless you’re booking 65+ days out. When your FastPass+ booking window opens, and assuming you’re eligible to book 60+ days out, you’ll want to start with the day of your last planned visit to the Studios, and then work back from there, potentially selecting FastPass+ on another Studios day next. I’d then grab Avatar Flight of Passage on your Animal Kingdom day and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on your Magic Kingdom day. After that, you should have no trouble securing whatever other FastPass+ you might want as all other selections are in much greater supply.
With a full range of tier one options, you’ll want to decide if single rider is viable at Smugglers Run. I’ll walk you through exactly what to expect there as part of this series. You’ll also want to decide if you’re going to visit one of the tier one attractions last thing at night. For Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, it’s possible that the standby line will close early due to the fact that the attraction’s entrance may be in the fireworks fallout zone. That isn’t an issue at Slinky Dog or Smugglers Run. If you’re planning on visiting a tier one attraction at the end of the night, then you’ll likely want to make it either Slinky or Smugglers to avoid potentially being shut out at the Railway, and instead select the Runaway Railway as your FastPass+ selection.
Here’s how tier two FastPass+ priority shakes out:
Tier 2 (Choose two attractions if you’ve booked a tier one FastPass+, otherwise choose three):
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Toy Story Mania
- Tower of Terror
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Star Tours
- Frozen Sing-Along
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Disney Junior Dance Party
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- Muppet*Vision 3D
This list is relatively straightforward, based largely on average wait times and difficulty in securing the attraction as a 4th FastPass+. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will save you the mos time, on average, and is typically a harder pull than the attractions that fall further down the list.
With two days’ worth of FastPass+, you could theoretically choose two different tier one selections and four different tier two selections, which covers most of the rides at the Studios. Star Tours is easy to ride before 9:30am or after 6pm in most scenarios, which should give just about anyone ample opportunity to visit without the need for FastPass+. Seeing any of the shows is possible in standby, though I’d suggest grabbing Fantasmic FastPass+ at some point in the day as a 4th or subsequent selection if you’re planning on staying for that. With a few thousand FP+ distributed for each show, the nighttime spectacular becomes available more frequently than other attractions as people change their nighttime plans.
Unfortunately, with an incredible increase in FastPass+ demand, you’re looking at absolutely no day-of FastPass+ availability for the rides, outside of the occasional change/cancellation. This is what you can expect to see leading up to the day of your visit:
People do change their plans and cancel FastPass+ selections, in turn making those FP+ available for anyone else to book, but it’s increasingly rare that a quality attraction and return time will materialize, particularly with more people than ever refreshing for additional availability. That’s a big reason why you’ll likely want to plan two days of FastPass+ at the Studios, even if you’re planning on just spending parts of two days there. After you use your initial three selections, it will take an incredible amount of refreshing to acquire another FastPass+ for a priority ride, and it will only be tougher if you’re checking availability for a party of four or more people. On a recent visit, it took almost 40 minutes of near-constant refreshing just to pull up a Star Tours FastPass+ for myself in the early afternoon.
I’ll discuss some more specifics on FastPass+ availability and wait times as we arrive at the various attractions.
In this series, we’ll take a look at what you can expect from an afternoon arrival at the Studios. In the morning, you could visit another theme park and see what you can get done without FastPass+, since we’ll be using our pre-selected FP+ here. You could also plan a relaxing day at the resort, visit Disney Springs to take advantage of lower crowds and lower lunch menu prices, or whatever else you’d like to do.
The date of our visit is March 9th, 2020, so it was a few days before Disney announced the closures of its domestic theme parks, and before virus fears got “bad.” Late morning wait times were on the high side. Here’s a screenshot from 11:23am:
If you were to somehow stand in line for all six rides listed in the screenshot at once, you’d be waiting over 11.5 hours in line. During my afternoon/evening visit, I’ll actually be able to do everything on this list without waiting more than 20 minutes for anything, due in large part to how much wait times decrease as closing time approaches. There are a few reasons for the nighttime reductions in wait times. First, the Studios’ daytime shows are pulling thousands of guests away, since they’re actually scheduled during the afternoon and early evening. That means more people are spending time in those seats, and fewer people are in line. Later in the evening, Fantasmic is scheduled at 8:30pm, and the Star Wars Fireworks follow at 9pm; well over ten thousand people are going to be occupied by those spectaculars, and wait times will be short at most attractions after 7:30pm. A good number of people who arrived earlier in the day also simply get tired and go back to their resorts, or head elsewhere for dinner.
I’m arriving at 3:30pm on the afternoon of Monday, March 9th, 2020. Bag check is a breeze with few people arriving alongside me. The familiar “All boarding groups have been assigned” signs are placed every few feet as we approach.
Disney was a little late to the game in announcing the shuttering of its domestic theme parks, with universities, professional sports organizations, and a multitude of others taking precautionary steps earlier in the week. Even the closure of the Disney World theme parks was delayed until the end of the weekend, which offers plenty more time for the virus to spread, and also enough time for those on their current spring break vacations to head home without big refunds. I took advantage of these Purell dispensers underneath the Crossroads of the World after using the fingerprint scanner. As is typical, the one on the left was empty.
We’re met with a crowd that will only decrease as it gets later in the day, unlike the morning, when crowds only increase.
Here’s a look at wait times upon my arrival, at 3:38pm:
With an afternoon arrival, we’re going to want to begin our visit with high-capacity shows and attractions, while mixing in FastPass+ experiences. Wait times are still prohibitive for the most part. Forty minutes for Alien Swirling Saucers is less than the 60 minutes that we saw earlier in the morning, but it’s still 38 minutes longer than I’d like to wait. We’ll see how things go when I get in line after 8pm.
The Sunset Boulevard headliners are also posting shorter waits than the morning, but I’m still looking at 2+ hours to ride both back to back in standby. Even Olaf is posted at 40 minutes, while Smugglers Run remains in the triple digits. None of that is good news, but it’s no reason to panic. We’ve planned for this.
I’ve got my eye on things like Muppet*Vision 3D and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I should be able to walk in to the next showtime at either attraction. By visiting high-capacity/low-priority attractions like those first, I’ll be able to enjoy a variety of entertainment while wait times have an opportunity to decrease further. If I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in the shows, then my arrival should be delayed until around 5:30pm.
Here’s a live look at me grasping for a Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway FastPass+ that always seems to be just out of reach.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway has proven popular since its March 4th opening, often posting a standby wait between 75 and 150 minutes.
This is actually as short as we’re going to see the extended queue for the trackless ride until we return to experience it last thing at night. Currently, posted wait times for the Railway seem to be exaggerated, with the actual wait typically between 60% and 80% of what’s posted. Those numbers will probably become more accurate as Disney gets a better feel for the throughput. It’s also unlikely that Disney is distributing the maximum number of FastPass+ experiences for each time slot, as they adjust to real world conditions over the next couple of months (that the Parks are open).
My first stop is Voyage of the Little Mermaid, where the next show begins at 4pm. It would make some amount of sense to get in line now, 19 minutes before showtime, but it looked like I wouldn’t have any trouble returning closer to the start of the show, based on the short length of the line
So I took a quick walk through Star Wars Launch Bay:
It’s always interesting to see what kinds of art, merchandise, and props are on display. Stuff switches in and out of here frequently. Disney surprised us by releasing the digital version of The Rise of Skywalker yesterday, which was about three weeks early, probably in part due to the fact that so many people find themselves at home, desperate for something to entertain them. I’m sorry that this post isn’t doing a better job.
Disney is still trying to ride that Baby Yoda train. To their credit, Disney added Frozen 2 to its Disney+ library already. That’s about three months earlier than planned.
I returned to Voyage of the Little Mermaid about ten minutes before showtime, and standby was being held outside the lobby area in front of the doors to the lobby.
This is a pretty common occurrence as Disney makes sure that they have enough space for everyone arriving with FastPass+ priority. With FastPass+, so long as you arrive at a show within the return window, you are officially guaranteed a seat. At most shows, the FastPass+ return window begins so far in advance that arriving around the same time in standby usually results in a similar seat. If you are planning on showing up seven or eight minutes before showtime, then using FP+ may offer some benefit by at least getting you into the show, even if your seat will likely be on the outskirts somewhere. I very rarely use FastPass+ for shows at the Studios, instead opting to arrive early enough to find a good seat in standby.
With shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid, you want to be towards the middle of a row, which means heading in after a little more than half of the people have an opportunity to enter and find a seat. Personally, I like to sit farther back in order to have a wider view of the stage, but most people will head for the front.
A few pictures of the show while we’re here:
It’s possible that I like Voyage of the Little Mermaid more than most, with the show mixing skilled puppeteers, live singing, and a variety of in-theater effects. I usually warn people with young children that the show is a little scarier than you might expect with the darkness, loud noises, and the fact that Ursula is so imposing. Typically, you hear three to five children/bloggers start balling their eyes out about half way through, but our theater seemed to be tougher than most. These are trying times, after all.
I arrived at Voyage of the Little Mermaid at 3:52pm, and was on my way at 4:18pm, for a total experience time of 26 minutes. Voyage of the Little Mermaid is nicely air-conditioned with comfy seats, so it makes a good amount of sense to stop there in the afternoon, even if you’re not sure if you’re going to be enamored by the show.
The line for the Runaway Railway had gotten much longer in the last half hour, now stretching back near the entrance. With FastPass+ probably accounting for about 40% of the ride’s capacity, your actual wait with a line this long should be about 95 minutes.
I was on my way to the 4:45pm Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
With 20 minutes to showtime, those with FastPass+ have already been let in, along with all of the standby guests who had also been waiting.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular continues to draw capacity crowds, but at least 25 minutes before this afternoon showtime, the far seating section was still largely empty.
But with 15 minutes to showtime, the last seats are being filled, and the show will end up being standing-room-only by the time it starts.
At the risk of being too positive, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular may be among the most under-rated shows on property. It’s legitimately funny, exciting, and probably slightly educational:
The end sequence is truly…spectacular…with the fire engulfing the airplane and nearby vehicles as Indiana Jones makes a last-second escape.
In the next Part, we’ll head over to Sunset Boulevard to see if we can’t save a couple of hours in line by using FastPass+ at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. We’ll also try single rider at Smugglers Run, see if we can make it through all three Toy Story Land rides in about an hour, and get in line for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway to close out the night.