We pick things up at 11:04am on the morning of Wednesday, September 16th, 2020, as we exit Tower of Terror. The line for the Twilight Zone continues to stretch back through the old Beauty and the Beast FastPass+ holding area with a 30-minute posted wait. I waited 33 minutes from around the same spot in the back of the line, so the wait is likely about accurate. Part One of this series included a review of breakfast at Trattoria al Forno, and the potential benefits of taking your destiny into your own hands by walking over to the Studios from the Crescent Lake Area. Part Two got us going with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Tower of Terror, along with an introduction about what we’re trying to accomplish.
With social-distancing, you can expect lines to appear a lot longer than they would be if we were able to fill in all of the available space and stand on top of each other. With physical-distancing, a lot of that time spent waiting will often be outdoors and in direct sunlight, so you’ll want to be sure that you’re rocking sunscreen and a bucket hat for maximum coverage. At least if you want to be a cool-looking guy. There are few things women are into quite like a bucket hat and navy blue Columbia fisherman’s shirt, particularly when it appears like you only own the one outfit.
The use of umbrellas for protection from the sun also seems to be on the rise. As an added benefit, the umbrellas also help keep you dry during those summer showers! What a multi-faceted device. You’d think Apple would try to release a 64GB version of a Smart Umbrella for $150 and a 128GB version for $500. I don’t know what the umbrella would do, but neither does anyone with an Apple Watch on their wrist.
We’ll pull up wait times on the My Disney Experience app:
At least according to what’s posted right now, getting in line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster before Tower looks like it would have saved us a bit of time. We’ll see how long it actually takes. Previously, we could see the end of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster line from the end of the Tower of Terror line, so neither looked like great opportunities. Historically, we’ve done Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster first, but with Tower of Terror’s restricted capacity, and its propensity to operate at half-capacity, getting in line there when things are operating well is a safer bet, even if the wait for the 89-second roller coaster is showing a longer wait now.
Waits go up from there:
Smugglers Run had been operating at half-capacity, causing longer waits for several days, It has since proven more reliable with waits that are about half of what we’ll see today. The same can’t exactly be said for Rise of the Resistance, which is down about two hours into operation. It doesn’t bode well for the 2pm release of the boarding groups if Disney isn’t able to make it through many before then.
While wait times are long, the Park doesn’t “feel” crowded because most people are standing in one of only a handful of lines. More people are definitely coming this way though, with few headed out to other areas of the Park. The lower posted wait for Tower of Terror may be the driving force there, even if the line starts in the Beauty and the Beast FastPass+ holding area.
I had resigned myself to seeing how long it would take to recreate the first four steps of the touring plan we first used, which was Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway first, followed by Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. With posted waits now up 100% or more compared to July and August, we can expect everything to take longer. How much longer remains to be seen. That sign just about even with the archway marks the end of the line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
That means we’ll wait outside here.
Prepare to double back.
Double back again.
Double back again. And then head under the 55-minute wait time sign:
I got in line at 11:05am, boarded at 11:29am, and was back out front at 11:33am, for a total experience time of 28 minutes, and an actual wait of just 24 minutes. That’s less than half of the wait that was posted. The line had died down a bit while I was inside, with just one of the few switchbacks in use.
The 55-minute posted wait didn’t budge, even if it’s likely closer to 25 minutes now. Again, that’s not “bad” by any stretch of the imagination, but it does take away any ability to ride again and again with a short wait, like you could have most days in July or August. Your total experience time would be about 30 minutes on a second go-around, with only about 89 seconds on the ride itself. Like with the Tower of Terror, the pre-show is turned off and that room is simply used as more queue.
I’ve probably seen the Aerosmith pre-show over a hundred times, but it does help set the stage (no pun intended) for the ride you’re about to experience. Likewise, I’ve seen the Tower of Terror pre-show plenty of times, but each viewing does help set the spooky atmosphere for the experience that develops in front of your eyes. I would guess just about everyone visiting at the moment is a returning guest, so most people are familiar with what’s happening. If you are planning a first trip, you might watch the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror pre-shows on YouTube at some point to get an idea about what the rides are about. It’s obviously not the same as experiencing it before the attraction itself, but it will help give you a bit of an idea about what’s going on, particularly in the Twilight Zone.
Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is located in the courtyard just past the entrance to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
Outside the theater, there are a couple of photo opportunities with Cruz Ramirez and DJ…the DJ. There’s occasionally a short wait for a picture after a show lets out, but crowds quickly dissipate. Once that hotel in the background is completed, we may be able to get a picture without having to leave the room.
I could have just as easily not gotten a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance there, too.
It’s 11:35am, or a little over two hours after I first arrived at the Park. About 98.7% of that time has been spent on my little feet, so the opportunity to sit down and enjoy some air-conditioning is an attractive one. I’d probably go to this indoor show even if it was the worst 15 minutes of Mars Needs Moms shown on a 17″ CRT monitor on mute. The physical-distancing stickers on the ground leading to the holding area ahead will actually be in use later in the day as people wait outside in the sun for the next show, which is posted at a maximum wait of 15 minutes.
It’s been a little more than a half hour since we’ve checked posted waits, so we’ll pull them up while we wait for the next show:
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s wait has dropped closer to reality and Toy Story Mania and Alien Swirling Saucers are already easing from their morning highs.
Rise of the Resistance remains closed, which isn’t good, since we missed out on the first batch of boarding groups and will likely need to rely on a chance at a backup boarding group when the virtual queue opens again at 2pm. On the plus side, I’ve already made it through three of the five rides with the longest posted waits. The bad news is that I’m not too keen on waiting about an hour each for Slinky Dog Dash or Smugglers Run, and it will be several hours before those waits go down.
On my previous visit, you might remember that I was “literally” the only person watching Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy as the character and his attendants looked on. This time I was either more or less lucky with several dozen people joining me.
Just last month, that guy up there was me.
Well, not exactly. I sat here.
The Racing Academy is, at worst, a mildly entertaining show featuring neat effects, a giant wrap-around screen, bad jokes, and an impressive animatronic Lightning McQueen.
It’s a “must do” with kids who enjoy the Cars franchise. Adults could certainly skip it without missing a life-changing experience, but the theater is relatively comfortable and the 12ish-minute show is over quickly whether you’re enjoying it or not.
Remember when I said these social-distancing markers would be in use later in the day? That’s already happening as more and more people look for something to do that doesn’t have a 45+ minute wait attached to it.
On this visit, the timing for my first four attractions looked like this:
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway: 9:25am – 10:21am
- Tower of Terror: 10:25am – 11:05am
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 11:06am – 11:33am
- Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy: 11:35am – 11:57am
Not including the wait before the Park opened, I made it through three rides and the show in just under two hours, which doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Back during our first run-through a couple days after the Studios reopened, the timing looked like this:
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway: 9:32am – 10:18am
- Tower of Terror: 10:23am – 10:47am
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 10:51am – 11:12am
- Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy: 11:13am – 11:32am
We can probably ignore the Lightning showtime since I’d be able to walk into whenever the next show started. But the first three rides took 21 minutes longer than in July, which is an increase of more than 25%. I also arrived for the Railway later in July and disembarked earlier. The fact that this time around, I arrived earlier and waited longer, seems to indicate more people are prepared to arrive earlier and find a line in which to wait a while. The backup at the poll plaza before the parking lot opens at about 9:15am is only getting longer.
Obviously, waiting seven minutes more per attraction isn’t the end of the world, but we did need to arrive earlier for that to be the reality. If I had gotten in line for the Railway at 9:32am now, you could add at least 15 more minutes to that initial wait, and I’d be done with the first three attractions about a half hour later.
For a look at what crowds looked like back in July, you can pull up one of our original rope drop series:
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop and Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Return
- Backlot Express Hummus and Afternoon Touring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Reopening
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Toy Story Land Touring After Reopening
It certainly isn’t our first rodeo. On my first visit, I think I was finished with about everything in the Park before 4pm. This time around, I’m barely going to finish everything by the time the Park closes at 7pm, or three full hours later.
Overall, our initial morning touring didn’t go much differently than before. At least part of that is due to transportation problems and people unable to get to the Park early enough to get in line in front of us. We’ll take whatever advantage we can find, even if it’s trying polenta for the 48th time at 7:45am at Trattoria al Forno.
At 11:51am, we need to find something else to do. Let’s pull up wait times:
It’s still a little early for the lower Toy Story Land priorities. We’ll be able to walk on Saucers and Mania later. Ideally, I’d be able to do Slinky Dog during that same time, so I won’t have to spend time backtracking. Star Tours is posting 35 minutes, but the actual wait is probably closer to 20 minutes. We should be able to walk on that later too.
The line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster still spills outside of its entrance, but with no FastPass+, and six feet in between parties, the wait should still be under a half hour. A deep-clean routine is on tap, which could add as much as 15 minutes to the wait. That’s part of why wait times are inflated in a lot of places. You don’t want to see 30 minutes posted, only to wait closer to 50, because the ride is temporarily shut down during disinfection. They could save us some time and just delouse us before every ride. It probably wouldn’t help, but it’s unlikely that spraying whatever gunk Disney has got going in this pesticide sprayers is actually doing much either.
We have 45 minutes posted, which is accurate with cleaning, and about 15 minutes overstated without it.
Tower of Terror’s queue continues to stretch back through Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage’s old FastPass+ containment zone. With FastPass+ currently unavailable, most lines moves forward steadily. Those on VIP tours, using child swap, or taking out a third mortgage to pay their Club 33 dues are eligible to use the FastPass+ lines where applicable. But that’s a very small percentage of people riding.
The line for Tower is about exactly where it was when we got in line just before 10:30am. It’s now going on noon. Actual waits should still be about 35 minutes given physical-distancing. Back before the March closures, with FastPass+ in full effect and the elevators running at full capacity, your standby wait from back here would be about three hours. As I’ve mentioned in the past, with no FP+ to bog down the standby lines, they move quickly and there’s enough to look at it that it doesn’t even “feel” like you’re waiting that long in most instances. Tower’s garden areas and the hotel itself are beautiful, even if the Hollywood Tower Hotel could use a bit of upkeep. Maybe on a future episode of the Twilight Zone, the characters will return to a pristine hotel and the experience will be even weirder. Because I am annoying, I usually ask out loud, “Wait, what kind of a ride is this?” just before the initial drop. It’s about 50/50 on whether or not someone giggles, which is above average for my jokes. The capacity limitations have also reduced my potential audience.
Tower is posting 45 minutes, which is probably about ten minutes overstated. You may run into the cleaning procedure since it’s now two hours after Park open. That could easily add ten to fifteen minutes to the wait and make it exactly accurate.
With waits only going down as it gets later in the day, we’re trying to experience the few attractions at the Park that don’t require long waits in the late morning and afternoon. The longer we can put off Slinky or Smugglers, the less we’ll wait as people inevitably give up and go home. There’s a particularly large exodus shortly after 2pm when people are unable to join a boarding group for Rise on their second attempt.
You’ll find the Disney Society Orchestra in the old Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage theater with the entrance in the regular standby line. If you end up in Beauty and the Beast’s FP+ queue on accident, you’re riding Tower of Terror in about a half hour.
Disney is promoting the show with additional signage, which is nice to see. You can still arrive just a minute or two before a performance time and have no trouble finding seats closer or further back from the stage. This is about four times the size of the audience that we saw last month.
They may be hard to see, but showtimes are 11:15am, 12pm, 1pm, 1:45pm, 2:30pm, 4:10pm, 4:55pm, 5:30pm, and 6:20pm, so there are plenty of opportunities.
Last month, there were about 15 people joining us in the theater.
The Disney Society Orchestra is not an essential part of your visit to the Studios, but it’s another opportunity to sit down and enjoy 15 minutes of Disney tunes featured around Hollywood Studios. The characters from Beauty and the Beast come out for a couple of minutes and bounce around once the band gets to songs from the movie during the finale. It is their stage, after all.
Belle and Beast join at an appropriate distance to close out the show for about a minute. This is the only opportunity to see these characters at the Studios. The show lasts a little over 15 minutes and offers another opportunity to sit down under cover in a theater that’s a little more comfortable with the seat backs and industrial fans overhead helping to circulate the air.
We’ll take a look at our wait time opportunities after the show:
We’re still saving Toy Story Mania and Swirling Saucers for after 2pm, when waits should be nonexistent. We’ve been to every attraction on Sunset Boulevard, which will save us from backtracking later. I’ll still come back over here to check on the lines when posted waits drop to see if lines decrease in turn.
Waits elsewhere look to remain prohibitive for the most part:
We have already been on the ride with the longest posted wait, which is good news. We also waited less than what’s currently posted at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.
The sort of strange thing is that while certain areas “feel crowded,” a lot of them don’t, even with long lines.
Here on Sunset Boulevard, it helps that people waiting for Tower are being rerouted off the street. But there aren’t a ton of lingerers elsewhere.
Looking in this direction, I’d ordinarily expect to see more people. Most guests are probably in one of the eight ride lines. Those social-distancing markers on the left are for Tower of Terror, so even with the Beauty and the Beast extension, it can always be worse.
As we covered a few days ago, Hollywood Scoops, as part of Sunset Ranch Market, recently reopened.
Here’s a look at what’s available. I think we’re only missing the Apple Crisp a la Mode and Cookies ‘n’ Cream ice cream. With the number of fall treats around, you can always dunk something else in your sundae to mix things up a little bit. Whatever you put in there, Disney will probably officially add it next year. A “Box of Bones Eclair Sundae” does have a ring to it.
Fairfax Fare remains closed, potentially because there just isn’t enough room inside to prepare a menu that’s relatively diverse.
Based on the angle of the sun, it looks to be 12:20pm. We’ll move over to the other side of the Park and see if we can sneak in Star Tours and Muppet*Vision, hoping that the people are heading to lunch. Or in one of those 60+ minute lines elsewhere.
So far, my day hasn’t gone bad at all.
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway: 9:25am – 10:21am
- Tower of Terror: 10:25am – 11:05am
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 11:06am – 11:34am
- Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy: 11:35am – 11:59am
- Disney Society Orchestra: 12:01pm – 12:16pm
That’s the highest-priority ride in the Park that offers standby, in addition to two moderate priorities and two of the shows in about three hours after arriving, and in about 135 minutes of Park time. While it’s certainly not the short waits that we saw in July and August, we do benefit from the early arrival, allowing us to wait less at the Railway. One issue with the bus transportation lagging behind demand is that the Sunset Boulevard thrillers do see longer waits earlier as waits at the super-priorities are much longer from 10am onward. 35 or 45 minutes for Tower of Terror sounds better than 90 minutes for Smugglers Run or Slinky Dog Dash. Those arriving a little later than they’d like are probably headed towards a shorter wait.
We’ll keep going.