We pick things up from Part One, where we started the day with a review of breakfast at Trattoria al Forno, and discussed the advantage that an early start in the Crescent Lake area may provide in getting over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios before the rest of the people. In a surprise twist, we opted against taking full advantage of that early start, in favor of a look at a more “normal” arrival experience.
Specifically, with posted wait times rising so much over the last couple of weeks, and crowd-feel considerably higher now than it has been at any point since the Parks reopened in July, I was interested in seeing if it would actually take longer to move through Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and the Sunset Boulevard thrillers than it did back when posted waits were much shorter. We’ll see how the morning goes following the same order of attractions.
It’s 9:22am, or about ten minutes after the parking lot typically opens, and the Studios is already filling up with well over a thousand guests. What you decide to do first may depend more on what you’re planning on doing after.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway continues to post the longest waits, and ends up being the first stop for many guests, perhaps in part because it’s also the first ride/queue that people entering the Park see. It’s also (currently) the newest ride at Walt Disney World, despite Rise of the Resistance receiving more attention. While Rise a great ride in its own right, we typically focus on its technical difficulties and the hassle/stress of the boarding group signup.
Comparing Hollywood Studios to a train wreck may be apt. You just can’t take your eyes off of it, no matter how hard you try. And believe me, I’ve tried. For the better part of ten years. The large number of people heading to the Railway likely causes others to do the same. If you were to ask the majority of the people outside the Park where they were headed first thing, most probably wouldn’t be able to give you a definitive answer. On the rare occasion that I’m feeling social, I’ll ask the people in front or behind me in line what made them stop wherever we happen to be first. The answer is almost always that it’s because the other people seemed to be doing the same thing. Maybe we can pool our funds and hire an army to march to Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy to start the day and we can enjoy an empty Park for the 12-minute duration of the show.
The three highest priority attractions remain the Runaway Railway, Smugglers Run, and Slinky Dog Dash, now in that order. I like to start with the Railway because waits are longest, and the majority of the line is out in the sun, which isn’t going to be more pleasant at 1pm than it is at 10am. It also puts me closer to Sunset Boulevard for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and yes, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, than Slinky Dog or Smugglers Run, so my walk over there after will be shorter. The Railway is also more likely to begin operating before Park open, which also means that we’ll be on our way to our next attraction sooner, when waits will ideally be shorter than if we were to arrive 15 or 30 minutes later.
From Smugglers (still no apostrophe) Run in Galaxy’s Edge, there aren’t any other rides in the Land that offer standby. That means we’d have to leave to do something else, unless we had reservations at Oga’s Cantina, Droid Depot, or Savi’s Workshop. When possible, I’d book those experiences later in the morning or early afternoon, when temperatures and wait times peak. It’s possible that you’ll score a low-number boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, and be able to head over there immediately after Smugglers, but that may be as likely as the Mariners making the playoffs this year. It could happen, but it probably won’t. So if you start at Smugglers Run, your second stop of the day is likely Star Tours, potentially followed by Muppet*Vision. If you’re looking to walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of Galaxy’s Edge with fewer people around, you’ll want to do that towards the end of the day. Like just about everything else at the Studios, the area is never busier than it is in the first hour or two of operation.
Slinky Dog Dash is the third highest priority. Both Toy Story Mania and Alien Swirling Saucers are in the immediate vicinity, but both typically see longer waits from 10:15am to 12:15pm than they will for the rest of the day, making them poor choices earlier when waits will be much higher. Once people see the 60, 70, 80, or even 90-minute wait for Slinky at Park open, they’ll elect to visit one of the other two attractions. The entrance to Toy Story Mania is right around where the line would be when Slinky is posting a 60-minute wait. Enough people scoff at waiting an hour or more to begin their day, and inevitably head to Toy Story Mania instead, which in turn increases the wait there.
Despite the queue snaking around to the right of the Chinese Theater, you’ll enter the line around and to the left. At 9:25am, the building has not yet opened for the day.
They also weren’t yet filling the courtyard, where you’ll see some of these makeshift social-distancing markers that are indicated by the equivalent of masking tape. As it gets closer to Park open, Disney will open the doors to the Chinese Theater, and people will begin to fill the short indoor portion of the queue. They’ll also move people into the courtyard, which will cause the line to move intermittently for the next 20 minutes or so. Right around the time you might consider sitting down, you’ll have to move two feet forward. Or, exactly six feet forward, as the case may be.
We begin our wait out here in the extended queue at 9:26am. This is only 15 minutes after the parking lot opened and the first buses would have arrived. That’s why we put so much emphasis on the early arrival.
Lines will build incredibly quickly in the morning. While we didn’t see anyone coming in from the buses before 9:20am ourselves, they will arrive en masse over the next hour.
The physical-distancing markers on the ground seem like some sort of intelligence test as we try to figure out which direction the line snakes around.
At the same time I’m standing in line for the Railway, dozens of people are heading back to Smugglers Run. Or they’re just following the people in front of them who happen to be walking in that direction.
We’ll inch forward as Disney moves people into the courtyard and then inside the building. We might have five layers of line here. Maybe they are still called switchbacks even if there are no ropes.
Two minutes later, I’m still (probably) in line, but the outer courtyard is already seeing a massive increase of people. The entrance to the courtyard is almost immediately across from us and those now entering need to take a right before they’ll be able to take a left into what is the regular entrance. It’s never a good sign when you’re pointed in the opposite direction of the way you’re trying to go.
The good news is that our path is relatively clear closer to the front of the line. There’s a rope keeping the riffraff away on my left. We can let them know that they should have arrived three seconds sooner and they could have been on this side. We’ll head forwards, then double back, and then head forwards again before we’re basically under cover and just a couple of minutes from heading inside the Chinese Theater.
Just about everyone in this picture is behind me in line waiting for the Railway to open. What set of directions they have to take to get to where we are is not our concern. There would be considerably more back and forth though.
There’s no telling where the back of the line is. Over there somewhere.
The My Disney Experience app doesn’t typically post wait times until official Park open, which is currently 10am. Just about everyone to my right is headed for Toy Story Land at 9:59am, where they’ll find a 60+ minute wait for Slinky Dog and a 40+ minute wait for Toy Story Mania. Some people are already doubling back after seeing the lengths of those lines with their own eyes. They wouldn’t yet be able to confirm the waits on the app. At this point in the morning, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to join a short line. Star Tours would basically be it, with both Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror already at 20 to 35+ minutes each.
Signing up for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group is the same process as before. Here’s the home screen of the My Disney Experience app:
The virtual queue opens right at 10am and then again at 2pm. The “Join” button will illuminate in blue when the virtual queue becomes available, though you may need to consistently refresh the app for that to happen in time to secure a group. If you don’t see this on the app’s home screen, scroll all the way down to the bottom, and click the hamburger button on the far right, which will bring up a separate menu. Then click “Virtual Queues” and you’ll be taken to the same screen as if you clicked “Check Status” from the home screen. You can also typically swipe down on the home screen to refresh the app, at which point this part of the page should appear.
Before 10am, this is what you’ll see if you click “Check Status” and then “Join Virtual Queue.” Or if you just click “Join” before it turns blue:
When you see this screen, click on the blue “back” arrow at the top, which will take you back to the “Join Virtual Queue” screen. Click that again and you’ll be brought back to this page. It’s unlikely that the “Join” button will show before exactly 10:00am, but this is the My Disney Experience app. Just about anything is possible. You’ll want to click “Join Virtual Queue” and the back button as quickly as possible as 10am approaches so you’ll see that blue “Join” button as fast as possible. I pretty lazily click between the two screens from 9:55am to 9:59am, just in case the virtual queue is screwed up and opens early, but my fingers basically transform into the Tasmanian Devil in that last minute running up to 10am.
Disney recently removed this Voyage of the Little Mermaid sign so they could clean it up. It’s obviously now back. They could probably rewrite the show to be more relevant to today’s audience. Ursula could offer a guaranteed boarding group in exchange for your voice, social security number, credit cards, bank account information, and the keys to your automobile so that she can drive to your house, which she also now owns. After you ride, you don’t get anything back. There are people here who would probably take her up on that offer.
For the Rise of the Resistance signup, I would offer one more piece of advice that I don’t think I’ve seen posted elsewhere. You’ll want to deny the My Disney Experience app access to your location.
On an iPhone, you’ll do that via the following steps:
Scroll down on this screen.
Find the “Disney World” app and click on it.
You want Location set to “Never.” I had not previously given the My Disney Experience app permission to access my location until a few weeks ago, when the app required it to check in to restaurants using mobile check-in. The app wants to confirm that you’re close enough to the restaurant to reasonably check in, so you’re not sitting in your room at the Contemporary and checking in for your meal at Narcoossee’s at the same time. You don’t need to be inside Hollywood Studios to be eligible to sign up for a boarding group. You just need to scan your ticket at the touchpoint at the entrance to the Park. You’re then registered as a guest as far as Disney is concerned. At least as long as there isn’t a glitch.
If the previous screen doesn’t already say “Never” to the right of “Location,” click on what it does say, and then select “Never” from the following screen. Later, when you might need to check in for a restaurant, you can give the app permission to access your location again.
I mention this because as you try to sign up for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, the app will run a search for your location, even if it doesn’t need to for the sign-up process. This can take some time depending on where you are, and potentially even more time if you’re on mobile data instead of WiFi.
My app ended up stalling as it attempted to pull up my list of family and friends, and then the time of day at the top turned blue, which indicates that the app is actively searching for my current location before loading the next screen.
I ended up getting shut out of the first round of Rise of the Resistance signups:
Now, I would not personally take advice on how best to sign up for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group from someone who was unable to secure one themselves. It would be like enrolling in the master’s program at the “easywdw.com Center For People Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn How to Write Short Blog Posts Too.” You’ll come out of that class with a 4,200 word post about pancakes from Trattoria al Forno.
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) September 17, 2020
But I don’t know any local bloggers/personalities who weren’t at one time shut out of a Rise of the Resistance boarding group for one reason or another, despite knowing exactly which buttons to press. Part of the reason why we’re here at 10am is to have two shots at joining a group, as Disney will release more spots at 2pm. If you look up at my screenshot above, you’ll notice that it’s still exactly 10am when all boarding groups for the first wave were taken. That means the virtual queue was open for less than a minute. In reality, they filled in about 15 seconds. That’s all the time you have. The number of boarding groups Disney releases is dynamic and changes based on the number of groups they processed over the previous days. On the days leading up to my visit, Rise was only making it through an average of 40 groups per day, when they usually make it through closer to 80 groups. That means Disney likely released just a handful of boarding groups at 10am.
The last time I rope dropped Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, just about everyone around me cheered at 10am, indicating that their request had gone through and they were awarded a boarding group to ride. On this particular morning, I heard one group out of hundreds clap. So I was far from the only person who didn’t get through. We’ll try again at 2pm. Lord knows we’ll still be here given the length of some of these lines.
As we’ve previously discussed, Disney made a recent change to the boarding group process, where all of the members of your party who have scanned into the Park will be automatically checked off on the boarding group signup page. Previously, only the primary user of the My Disney Experience account would be selected on the “Create Party” screen, and you would then need to go down the list and click on each individual who was with you in your party. This took precious seconds, and often resulted in larger parties ending up with higher boarding groups or getting shut out entirely after fumbling through the clicks.
Now, at least theoretically, a party of one, and a party of eight, should both need to click only the “Join” button on the “Create Party” screen. Disney should have the members of your party who have scanned in already selected and checked off. That gives smaller parties less of an advantage, and makes the system “more fair” overall. It’s good news for large parties and bad news for smaller parties. Few things benefit everyone. Adding a third register at Woody’s Lunch Box might be a start, though.
It’s 10am as a group of dour guests circle the courtyard immediately outside the ride’s entrance. The second opportunity to be sad about not getting a boarding group is only four hours away!
Two minutes after official open, Runaway Railway is posting 90 minutes, which might be conservative for those just getting in line.
Since the Studios reopened to the public, they no longer put on the short pre-show video, which sort of introduces what you’re about to experience. I say “sort of” because I still have no idea what’s happening on the ride, despite seeing the pre-show on multiple occasions. For the first couple of months, cast still assigned guests a number in the pre-show room, and then briefly explained themselves that Goofy had screwed everything up. We then proceeded to the loading area.
Now, you’ll hear an announcement over the intercom that starts with, “Welcome, everyone. Well…we have a little change of plans.” The slow, measured cadence of the announcement made it sound like the ride had gone down for technical trouble. Since we’ve seen the Runaway Railway average about an hour of daily downtime, including several instances where the ride was down at or near Park open, I was preparing to exit the queue after hearing the first line. It sounded exactly like Disney’s cutesy way of saying it’s time to bail.
But the voice goes on to say, “In our last screening, as Mickey and Minnie drove off to the park to enjoy their perfect picnic, Engineer Goofy pulled up in his train, and let’s just say, he really had a blast! Now, instead of watching the cartoon, you get to step into it!”
As it turns out, this was just the new announcement introducing us to the ride.
Instead of being placed on a number inside of the pre-show room where they don’t show the pre-show, you’ll just continue straight through.
I’ll post the on-ride photos at the end of the post in case you want to skip what may be spoilers.
I originally got in line at 9:25am, boarded at 10:14am, and was back out front at 10:21am. The end of the line for the Railway is now outside of the courtyard with the same 90 minutes posted. It can be longer as we see some available markers underfoot.
I pulled up wait times on the My Disney Experience app:
Just about 20 minutes after the Park officially opened, it didn’t look like there were too many opportunities to visit an attraction and wait less than a half hour. We should be able to basically walk on Swirling Saucers, Toy Story Mania, and Star Tours in the early afternoon, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait 30+ minutes for each now.
On the other hand, the rest of the list is worse. The Studios still offers just eight rides that offer standby, and six of them will currently take over an hour to experience.
Just after 10:20am, there are a lot of people streaming in who probably intended to be here at least a half hour earlier. Take that Uber/Lyft advice into consideration if you’re planning on relying on the bus.
Despite seemingly few people getting boarding groups, the line for the Guest Experience Team was just a few groups long. It’s possible that they just have Mickey saying, “Sorry, pal” on a loop.
The line for Trolley Car Cafe Starbucks circled around outside. Personally, I would prefer to be awake less at Hollywood Studios, so a coffee won’t do me much good. Maybe they have a limited edition Ambien cupcake that we don’t know about.
Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster are my next two stops. It’s unlikely that actual waits will go down over the next couple of hours.
I would admit that I try to push all of my memories of Hollywood Studios out of my brain, but I can’t remember ever visiting when I was standing at the end of the Tower of Terror line and could also see the end of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster line. Most of this is due to physical-distancing, where groups are supposed to keep six feet of distance between parties. Without that mandate, we’d all be on top of each other, and the line would “feel” much shorter.
Fortunately(?), my view of the end of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster line didn’t last long as the Tower line was re-routed through the old FastPass+ waiting area for Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage.
This did not bode well, particularly considering Disney looked to be ready for it to happen with markers already on the ground.
As you may remember, someone on Twitter said that I should be more positive about longer wait times. I’m not sure if the fact that the end of the line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is inching back towards its own courtyard brings blue skies or tears. I do know that wherever the end of the line is, we’re heading there next.
Despite what appeared to be a long line, Tower was posting “just” 40 minutes. That doesn’t seem great less than 30 minutes after Park open, but cast only fill the first and last rows on the ride, and leave an empty seat in between parties in the front row. So something like seven people ride in each elevator.
As we’ll see shortly, it’s not even a straight shot to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s entrance. There are all sorts of switchbacks out in front.
The Tower of Terror cast member on the left is directing people somewhere. Where, I am not real sure, but this is the Twilight Zone. Maybe in more ways than one.
Here’s another look at wait times:
Whether it makes more sense to get in line for Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster first is a bit of a toss-up. Tower is more likely to run at half capacity, or with just one elevator shaft in operation, which really slows things down.
Here’s a look at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s waits this month:
Since we can expect to be at either Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror around 10:30am, and actual waits typically track about 15 minutes behind what’s posted, I’ve highlighted 10:45am on the chart, even if we got in line closer to 10:30am. The wait for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster averages 40+ minutes from 10:15am, or 15 minutes after the Park opens, through 12:45pm. 30+ minutes are then posted through 6pm, or just one hour before the Park currently closes. You can see how much shorter wait times were earlier in the month with the 8pm closes. The 14-minute average at 7:15pm is shorter than at any other point in the day. For the month, the overall average is 35 minutes, as we see in the lower right hand corner of the chart.
Here’s Tower of Terror on the same dates:
Tower of Terror’s average wait at 10:45am is a minute longer than Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and the overall average for the month is the same 35 minutes. Check out those low wait times during that last hour in early September. The 13-minute wait is actually an indication that the the ride is a walk-on. Very spooky.
So with the same average wait for the day, and the averages at 10:45am within a minute of each other, it remains a wash. I go with Tower first these days if it’s running at full capacity as I pass. You’ll know if it isn’t because the wait will be 70 or 80 minutes instead of 30 or 40. September 18th is a good example of that happening.
40 minutes? We’ll see.
It could be worse. There are a couple hundred people now waiting behind me. That’s part of the benefit of the earlier arrival. I might have waited 30 minutes in line at Runaway Railway before the Park opened, but I’m saving at least 20 minutes in line just at this one attraction now. If I arrived at the Park at 9:45am, I’d wait 90 minutes for Runaway Railway, and then 50 minutes for Tower of Terror after.
You can’t say Hollywood Studios didn’t warn you.
15 minutes after getting in line, I was actually in the ride’s queue.
And just four minutes later, I was inside the hotel lobby:
There is still no pre-show as guests simply wait inside the library as if it were part of the queue. On previous occasions, I had mentioned that the loading procedure didn’t allow enough distance between guests as they waited for their elevator. Disney has since installed the dot system, sending the group in row two to the top right, row six in the middle back, row five in the top left, and row one in the back left.
That way, your group can stay together, but you’re not in straight lines right next to each other.
I was on-board at 10:58am, or 33 minutes after getting in line:
One thing I’ve noticed on Tower is that you’re not pulled down with nearly the gusto as before, probably because there are all of five people on the elevator. Add 18 more people at an average weight of 175 pounds each, or more than 3,000 pounds combined, and you’re going to drop a lot faster.
Here’s a smattering of newer Tower merchandise:
Along with a plethora of other items.
A variety of candy and snacks, probably nearing their sell-by dates, continue to be “buy one get one.” I’m not sure what they’re up to with the capitalization scheme on their “consumable items.” Apparently complimentary is more proper than regular.
You can mix and match items, but the less expensive one will always be the one that’s “free.”
Considering most of these items are at least 50% overpriced, the savings makes them much more reasonable. You’re basically paying 25 cents for the candy and $7.75 for the packaging.
The chocolate bars come out to $2.50 each with the savings. You might want to grab them at your resort, if they’re available, or at the end of the night. I don’t see them faring too well out in the Florida sun for the nine hours the Park is typically open.
I got in line at 10:25am, boarded my elevator at 10:58am, and was back out front after taking a few pictures at 11:05am. That means my actual wait was 33 minutes ,with 40 posted. The 30 minutes now posted is probably about right.
We’ll quickly bring back up our chart for Tower of Terror in September:
Through 1pm, the average posted wait is 40+ minutes. It’s then over 30 minutes through 5:30pm, or just 90 minutes before Park close.
The question then becomes where you fit these attractions into your day. A 33-minute wait isn’t “bad,” but it’s 25 minutes longer than we would have waited with FastPass+. Twenty-four of those minutes in line were also spent outdoors, largely in direct sunlight, in Florida, in a face mask. With the longest waits at just about every attraction right off the bat, and waits that don’t drop all that much later in the day with the short hours and people sticking around for their Rise of the Resistance boarding groups, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to enjoy a shorter wait. On September 22nd, the busiest day at the Studios yet, the 54-minute average is well over twice what we saw in early September, when a 20- or 25-minute posted wait was the norm. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s a lot more 40s, 50s, and 60s. Yesterday, the wait peaked at 85 minutes.
In fact, if we take a look at waits over the last two weeks, since Disney cut the operating hours, the average waits are considerably worse:
The overall average wait goes up 20% and we go from three hours of average waits under 30 minutes to just 75 minutes, all of which either come at the very beginning or the very end of the day. Compared to other attractions, Tower of Terror is only a moderate priority, and you’re now looking at an actual wait of 40 minutes from 11am to 5pm or so. We can’t be everywhere first or last thing, and there are higher priorities to visit then, so the only option to experience Tower is to wait the 30 to 50 minutes at some point during the day. If you wanted to ride a second time, you’d be looking at another wait that long, unless it’s the ride that you save for the end of the night.
“Time-consuming” is perhaps the most apt way to describe touring at the Studios at the moment. The only other approach we could potentially take would be to focus on the anytime attractions to start the day, and then move on to the rides. But as we’ll see later in the day, an “anytime attraction” could very well have a 30-minute wait. I’m going to get in line for Muppet*Vision at 12:55pm and the first ten minutes I spend waiting will be outdoors in the sun.
So far, it’s just over an hour into the day, and I’ve experienced Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I also arrived about 40 minutes early, which you could factor at least part of into the Railway wait.
In the next Part, we’ll move on to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy and see how the timing compares to when posted waits were much shorter.
Here are a few pictures from the Railway:
We’ll keep going. Whether we want to or not.