On the off-chance that anybody:
- Still goes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Wakes up in time to make rope drop
We head out to Walt Disney World’s least popular theme park on the morning of Friday, December 15, 2017.
It’s 7:57am so I have arrived in plenty of time to see how the crowds build with the 9am regular open. As usual, the tapstile entrances that Disney uses for those dining at Hollywood & Vine prior to opening are down on the far left.
They’ll be converted to regular tapstiles that anyone can use closer to 8:20am. If you’re running later than you’d like, it would behoove you to get in line on that side and once the cast member motions for those in other lines to join the newly-opened far-left tapstile, scurry over. You can check out how that whole process works in this rope drop walk-through post from earlier this year.
Since it’s 5% less awkward to hold up an iPhone, hold your hands above your head as high as possible, and snap a picture of the people directly behind and next to you as compared to a full size camera, we’ll rely on Steve Jobs in the near-term. Above is the crowd at 8:10am – still minimal, but there’s closer to 15 people waiting at each tapstile compared to the two or three that we saw a handful of minutes ago. You can ignore the Annual Passholder Entrance arrow at this time of morning should you see one.
This is just ten minutes later at 8:20am and serious crowds have already amassed.
And just five minutes after that, at 8:25am, every line spills back past the ticket windows. That puts the arrival sweet spot right around 8:10am, though earlier is always better. Those arriving closer to 8:30am are looking at being behind more than a thousand people.
My view from the front is a little more glamorous.
The time that Disney first allows guests through the tapstiles depends on how quickly lines build. We were on our way towards the holding area near the end of Hollywood Boulevard at 8:25am, which is a little earlier than average. But as long as you arrive around 8:10am, it doesn’t really matter whether Disney allows you in at 8:15am or 8:55am. You’ll be ahead of the pack either way.
Signing the kids up for Jedi Training Academy remains the highest priority in the Park. To get to the signup location, follow the running parents that are pushing their strollers, take the first left, and continue past Hollywood & Vine and 50’s Prime Time until you arrive at Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost. It’s located to the left of the entrance into the Stunt Spectacular show. People really do run as fast as they can over there, so be prepared for that. Those interested in participating probably want to arrive closer to 8am. With my ambling pace, I would have been around the 30th person to arrive. The child must be present to sign up, but a parent can hurry ahead and save a spot. Those with reservations at Hollywood & Vine prior to Park open can typically sign their kids up for Jedi Training before breakfast, which is a distinct advantage for those interested. A pre-opening breakfast otherwise affords no touring advantage and will probably put you behind the majority of the early-arriving rope drop crowd.
The crowd behind me as everyone is held just before the turn onto Sunset Boulevard at 8:40am.
And 8:45am as it looks like the mass backs up all the way to the entrance.
Right at 8:50am, we were on our way to the attraction of our choice – most people are headed to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story Mania.
As we’ve come to learn since Disney added the third track at Toy Story, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s wait times are typically longer and FastPass+availability is typically lower than its Pixar counterpart, making the thrill ride a higher priority for those that want to experience both attractions.
You can pull up the website’s in-depth touring plans, custom maps, expected wait times, FastPass+ priority, etc. at this link. The Studios Cheat Sheet includes plans that begin at either Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story Mania depending on how you want to go about your day. Toy Story is actually more forgiving for those arriving late or unable to move quickly. Tower of Terror is a much lower priority and a safe bet if you arrive between 8:45am and 9:30am most days.
Compared to rope dropping Flight of Passage over at Animal Kingdom, the experience heading to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a breeze.
It’s moderately uncomfortable being herded into the narrow ropes that start well before the attraction entrance, but it’s more than doable. As always, I move at a relaxed pace and despite being at the very front of the initial clump, find myself a hundred people back at 8:52am. While I am actually a slow person in more ways than one, I take an easygoing pace to better mimic where you’re more likely to find yourself with kids in strollers etc.
At 8:56am, or four minutes before official Park open, I’m about to head inside the building, while hundreds more people continue waiting to queue up outside the entrance to the courtyard. As always, this is why arriving early is so beneficial.
Yes, I still waited from just before 8am until just before 9am to ride Rock’n’ Roller Coaster, but I’ll have virtually no wait at my first priority ride and then be as ahead of the game as possible at subsequent attractions.
This early, the pre-show wasn’t even running in order to move as many people as possible into the loading area.
I boarded right at 9am.
And was back out front at 9:07am for a total experience time of less than ten minutes. The current posted wait is 50 minutes and later in the day, the wait would peak at 135 minutes. That’s two hours and fifteen minutes. For a 90-second ride.
Next up is Tower of Terror in standby with a 13-minute posted wait.
That indicates that you can walk right onto the attraction.
Which I did:
I arrived at 9:08am and was back in line for round two at 9:26am, which puts my first experience time under 20 minutes.
It was a bit of a struggle to set my FastPass+ experiences up on the evening before my visit. I must have refreshed 40 or 50 times before a single Star Tours FastPass+ was available and another 30 or 40 times before I was able to set up reasonable return times for my day. In reality, I was casually refreshing on my computer and phone from time to time over the course of an hour or so, but there was still “literally” no availability for Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, or Tower of Terror for a party of any size on the morning of my visit. This is par for the course for the most part, particularly with Great Movie Ride closed. While the slow-moving ride was a low FP+ priority in the grand scheme of things, its closure means something like 10,000 fewer FastPass+ experiences to go around on any given day. Considering the Studios operates with exactly four rides, eliminating that many experiences means every other experience becomes more difficult to secure as a similar number of people grapple for less inventory.
Since I was loosely following the website’s morning touring plan, these are the FP+ selections I made.
But since I had flown through Tower of Terror so quickly on my first go-around, I decided to hop back in the standby line rather than burn my first FastPass+.
This resulted in a wait that was about three minutes longer than it would have been with FP+:
And I was back out front at 9:43am for a total experience time of about 17 minutes and a ride that is still virtually a walk-on. One benefit of my visit this far into December is that Disney had already ramped up staffing, which allows more people to move through each attraction beginning at Park open. So instead of just three simulators at Star Tours operating at 10:30am, we’ll see all six.
Here’s the standard touring plan:
It’s basically a foolproof framework that uses FP+ at Tower of Terror on the second ride to combat capacity issues that typically rise up in the morning – usually due to unforeseen technical problems.
Since I’m relying on other people’s cancellations/changed plans, there isn’t necessarily a substantial advantage in rescheduling my Tower of Terror FastPass+ rather than using it. But doing so gives me more time to find an experience and time slot that will actually save me some time later in the day.
After about 15 minutes of passive refreshing, I was able to attach Tower of Terror after my Star Tours FP+ at 1:20pm. The posted wait will be 75 minutes at that time versus the three minutes that I saw early in the morning
Sunset Boulevard at 9:45am.
Things are picking up, but we’re far from bonkers.
Still, at 10am, the posted wait for Tower of Terror would jump to 55 minutes, while Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster sits at 60 minutes and Toy Story Mania pulls up the rear at 45 minutes.
I was interested in the viability of riding Star Tours in standby around 10am with renewed interest in Star Wars with “The Last Jedi” and the new-ish ride scenes.
A curious 40-minute wait for Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight at 9:50am, which would be down to 15 minutes by 10:15am.
Star Tours was posted at 20 minutes at the same time:
I was standing in front of the pre-show video at 10:03am.
And back out front at 10:17am for a total experience time of 27 minutes. That’s about seven minutes longer than average with FastPass+, which indicates my actual wait was around 10 minutes. Not bad at all. When I swing back around to use my FastPass+ at 1:15pm, the posted wait will be 75 minutes.
Disney updated the Frozen Sing-Along to include music from “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.”
The show inside of the Hyperion Theater remains quite popular with most shows filling close-to or completely-at capacity, though the fervor surrounding it has died down quite a bit since the days when our summers were filled with Everything Frozen.
Arriving 20 minutes before showtime in standby is usually sufficient, though you may want to try to score a 4th or 5th FP+ for a show later in the day. There is no reserved seating section for FP+ users, though those with FP+ are guaranteed a seat to a specific show while standby guests can theoretically be shut out if a show is filling to capacity. Both FP+ users and standby guests wait in the same holding area for the doors to the theater to open. Long story short: Grab a FP+ for an afternoon show if you like or simply arrive 15 minutes before showtime and see how you do. If it’s full, refresh FP+ availability for a future show and you shouldn’t run into any problems.
I walked into the 10:30am showing at 10:20am to find a mostly-full theater, though there are plenty of seats in the back and I could also weasel my way into an empty seat closer to the stage if I so chose.
I’m 110% not joking when I say that I enjoy the Frozen Sing-Along.
On the left is my favorite Historian of Arendelle.
There’s a surprising amount of authentically funny improvisation throughout the show.
So unlike Indiana Jones or Beauty and the Beast, where the show is 99% the same every time given a lack of technical problems, each Sing-Along is a unique experience. Admittedly, some are better than others.
The new script brings Olaf out at the end for about six minutes of song and dance.
In turn, that means six or seven minutes have been cut from the previous script.
I haven’t seen “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” and had never heard any of the songs, but they all “felt” less catchy than the original tunes.
But the kids seemed to genuinely be excited about Olaf appearing on stage.
In Part 2, we’ll pick things up with lunch at ABC Commissary, use some FastPass+, and take a closer look at wait times at the Studios’ (few) attractions.