Now that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we head out to see what we can expect from the opening and rope drop procedures.
We continue our morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, having not made it very far, at least physically, on the morning of Friday, December 6th, 2019. In Part One, we talked all about Park opening times, boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance, the virtual queue, how early you probably want to arrive, and what to potentially expect in the future. The Studios will be moving to official 8am opens beginning Monday, December 9th, and we’ll see how things look again then.
While we’re not exactly in Twilight Zone territory here, it’s 6:15am and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is officially scheduled to open at 9am. As I walked towards the entrance, I heard the tail end of what sounded like a vague announcement about the boarding group process and how it would only be instituted for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, while standby was available at other attractions. This was what I was expecting to happen based on the first day of operation, where Disney surprised us all with the virtual queue system.
The stores lining Hollywood Boulevard were already open. This is Mickey’s of Hollywood on the left.
This isn’t typical, with the doors to The Darkroom wide open almost three hours before the Park was scheduled to welcome its first guests.
At least 75% of the people who had arrived before 6:15am were milling about on Hollywood Boulevard, perhaps not exactly sure how to proceed. I think most of us were expecting to be held at the end of the street for a couple of hours, at least until 8:15am or so, before being dispersed. Recently, Disney pushed back the actual opening of Pandora at Animal Kingdom, as we learned last month as part of this series. Disney has been stingy with operating hours elsewhere, opening Magic Kingdom at 9am every day during the very busy week of Thanksgiving for the second year in a row. During the ten years that preceded 2018, the Park opened at least an hour earlier during that week. We also used to see a lot more 8am opens at Magic Kingdom during Mickey’s Party Season with so many early closes.
Starbucks was more than a little hoppin’ with relatively cool morning temperatures. We’ve got the line snaking around outside and down the stairs. There’s probably more people in line for coffee right now than at any of the actual rides at the Park, all of which are currently open.
Looking down Sunset Boulevard at 6:19am, I expected to see cast members holding guests right around where those two people are standing. But Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster were already open.
Signs pointing towards Toy Story Land to the right, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to the left, were already up. I think I see nine cast members and zero guests.
With the heavy expected crowds, and the unpleasantness of the walk over to Galaxy’s Edge from Hollywood Boulevard first thing, I thought that perhaps Disney had moved our starting position down to Grand Avenue, just in front of the main entrance to Star Wars Land. If they were to do that, then the walk over to Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run would be much shorter. It seemed to me that Disney may also accept a certain number of standby riders at Rise of the Resistance first thing, before using the virtual queue system later in the day. None of this ended up being true. The rides are all currently open and Rise of the Resistance is only available to those who have secured the first boarding groups of the day.
I passed by Star Tours at 6:23am. It was already operating with a 5-minute posted wait.
The walk into Galaxy’s Edge was just about as unencumbered as possible. I think I count eight cast members and eighteen guests making their way towards Star Wars Land. If we were held on Hollywood Boulevard until 9am, and then walked over here as one group, then there would be 5+ thousand people in and around this picture.
The virtual queue makes Rise of the Resistance the lowest rope drop priority at the moment. Even if you get the absolute first boarding group and it’s immediately called, you’ll still have two full hours to return. That’s plenty of time to do Smugglers Run, the Toy Story Land rides, and probably the Sunset Boulevard thrillers before you’d need to return to Galaxy’s Edge. If your boarding group is 20 or later, then you’d have even more time to complete that itinerary, along with potentially Star Tours and other attractions.
The fact that so few people will be engaged with Rise of the Resistance at any given time is potentially a little worrisome. Lines, and people in them, are a quintessential part of theme park design. Volcano Bay, Universal’s “third theme park,” opened as a water park with a lot of virtual queues for its biggest water slides, knowing how low the capacities would be and how quickly waits would develop. That sort of backfired on them, as there were so few other things to do at the Park outside of grabbing something to eat or going down one of the lazy rivers. You might have a virtual queue time to return to the best slide in the Park in three hours, but that means you have to find three hours of stuff to do elsewhere. During those three hours, you’re going to increase wait times and crowds at the few attractions that are available for anyone to experience.
While it’s too early to make any estimates about what kind of a bump in attendance we’re going to see now that Galaxy’s Edge is “complete,” it stands to reason that a 25% increase is likely. If the Studios currently averages 30,000 guests per day, then that’s an increase of about 7,500 people per day. With the boarding group system at Rise, fewer than a thousand of those people will be experiencing the new attraction at any given time, whether they’re in line waiting, in one of the pre-shows, or on the actual ride. That leaves 6,500 other people looking for something else to do.
Fortunately, tourists are tourists, and even if they have a virtual return time for some far-off boarding group, they’ll still spend the majority of their time standing in front of the entrance, waiting. “Boarding group” is apt, as the experience at the attraction will likely mirror what you have to endure at the airport trying to get to Walt Disney World in the first place, as those in the “F” boarding group cram around the gate before the “A” group is even called. With a lot of people heading to the Studios with Rise of the Resistance at the absolute top of their priority list, it stands to reason that many who arrived a couple of hours early to get one of the first boarding groups will still head to the ride first thing. That should continue to open up the other attractions for us.
Overall, the virtual queue is going to end up being a good thing as it frees us up to do anything else in the Park while we wait our turn. We can even leave the Park and head to another, or do whatever else in front of our boarding group being called.
To see what boarding group they’re on, you simply need to open up the My Disney Experience app and check the first screen that loads:
Disney will not tell you if Rise of the Resistance is down on the app, or on the screens around the Park that display the current boarding information. If the ride is down, then the boarding group number simply won’t increase until things are back to normal. Under the best of conditions, Rise of the Resistance seems to move through ten boarding groups per hour, or approximately one boarding group every six minutes. So far, things seem to be going much more smoothly in the afternoon, when boarding groups are called much more quickly. Downtime in the morning is much more common thus far, potentially due in part to the cooler mornings affecting everything from the electronics to some of the physical sets. We’ll discuss what to expect should the ride go down while you’re waiting once we arrive over there.
The following chart is relatively useless, but it shows the current boarding group being called, on average, over the first three days that Rise of the Resistance has been open:
Things begin auspiciously enough with the ride moving through about ten boarding groups in the first hour, but downtime is common after that, grinding things to a near halt between 7:30am and 12pm, when only about ten more boarding groups have been called. At 1pm, things really begin to take off.
Part of the slow start could be due to guest recovery from the day before. On opening day and the few days that have followed so far, Disney didn’t make it through all of the boarding groups. To make up for it, they automatically gave everyone who was still waiting a FastPass+ to ride Rise of the Resistance or any other Studios’ attraction the following day, along with a 1-day Park Hopper ticket, just in case they didn’t have another day of admission to use it. That’s a pretty generous offer, and one that many people probably took advantage of, with many of them returning early in the morning again to ride Rise of the Resistance the next day. With those people filling the queue, the line is going to become more backed up, and Disney is less likely to call even more people over by adding more boarding groups to the fracas. Moving forward, I would expect the slow starts to continue. Don’t be too concerned, as the ride hasn’t been down for much longer than an hour at a time, and eventually, it does look to become more reliable in the afternoon and evening.
At 6:25am, some of the first guests of the day are heading into Rise of the Resistance. I’ll go over the logistics of cashing in your boarding group pass when we return after visiting Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. I have about a half hour until my boarding group will be called.
I’m actually wearing one of these helmets right now in a desperate attempt to shield myself from all of the Rise of the Resistance changes.
Perhaps draping myself in a towel and wearing a button would provide more protection. The helmet doesn’t seem to be helping.
Personally, I’m more of a First Order kind of guy anyway.
The relatively few people in the Park this early were well-dispersed, particularly given the fact that I think we all thought we’d be standing on Hollywood Boulevard right now.
We’ll return early next week to cover a more streamlined touring plan, ideally based on how things will go with what are now regular 8am opens almost every day over the next month.
We’ve got a couple dozen people in the Marketplace section.
There was nobody waiting outside Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at 6:30am. Ordinarily, to get a picture with this few people around, you’d have to wait 90 or more minutes after the Park officially closes and everyone has had a chance to head towards the exit.
This is even fewer people than we saw for Extra Extra Magic Hours, due in large part to the fact that Disney actually told people the Park would open at 6am on those dates, instead of today’s surprise.
We might have seen a dozen people in total while walking the queue.
About 15 other people stood among us during the pre-show.
It would have been a great opportunity to get a picture at the chess board.
It turns out that Smugglers Run is incredibly fun when it’s just you and a friend as pilots with nobody else in the cockpit.
I still screamed at the imaginary people in the back. You have to press the buttons with gusto in order to get the most points.
We arrived at Smugglers Run at 6:33am, were in the pre-show at 6:38am, found ourselves on-board at 6:42am, and were back out front at 6:48am, for an unbelievably short experience time of 18 minutes. Once FastPass+ becomes a thing here, I would expect the average experience time to be about a half hour, so we’re well ahead of that. Such is life when a theme park opens unexpectedly three hours before it’s supposed to.
Unfortunately, this website is not a big enough deal to be invited to any swanky media events. I actually live here, underneath the Millennium Falcon, in a hole. My only regret about that, other than being this insignificant, is the inability to capture pictures with nobody else in them.
With so few people around, I dropped by Dok Ondor’s Den of Antiquities, which is easily the neatest store in Galaxy’s Edge, and one that’s incredibly easy to walk past.
You’ll see the door that leads inside basically across the way from the outdoor seating section for Docking Bay 7.
In addition to a lot of unique merchandise…
There’s a ton of other cool stuff to inspect that you couldn’t buy even if you tried. I’ve tried to bring Dok Ondor home, to my hole underneath the Millennium Falcon, multiple times. He’s still not for sale.
Should Hollywood Studios open early enough, you might spend some time looking around the Land with very few people not consumed by standing in front of Rise of the Resistance waiting for their boarding group to be called. Speaking of Docking Bay 7, it, along with Oga’s Cantina, Ronto Roasters, and the other eateries, should all be open as soon as Galaxy’s Edge opens.
Stormtroopers were already out interacting with what may be the only two other guests around these parts.
By 6:50am, our boarding groups had already been called. I had a friend arrive before 6am, who got boarding group 15. I was through at 6:15am and got boarding group 18. Another friend scanned into the Park at 6:30am and got boarding group 21. My guess is that there are around 200 people assigned to each boarding group, which would mean about 1,200 people can ride per hour given optimal conditions.
Once your boarding group is called, you’ll enter the queue on the left side of the attraction entrance, only a handful of feet after entering Galaxy’s Edge from the main entrance on Grand Avenue. Should the ride go down after you’ve scanned in, then you’ll either receive a digital FastPass+ or a paper FASTPASS depending on where you are in the experience. If you’re still in the standby queue when the ride goes down, then you’ll likely receive a digital FastPass+ to return after the ride becomes operational. If you’re already to one of the pre-shows, then you’ll likely receive a paper FASTPASS. With the paper FASTPASS, you’ll return to the right of the attraction entrance and your adventure will start back up farther ahead in line, shortly before the first pre-show. That way, you’ll end up waiting less than those who entered the regular queue either with a regular boarding group or a digital FastPass+.
Here I am on the left side of the attraction entrance, walking up the queue to get my MagicBand scanned to verify that I’m in an eligible boarding group. After that, I’ll proceed through the standby queue. With things running smoothly, your wait should be 15 to 25 minutes before you reach the first pre-show. From there, the entire experience takes about 20 minutes. Conservatively, I’d expect Rise of the Resistance to take about an hour after your boarding group is called and you enter the queue.
I may offer some thoughts on Rise of the Resistance in the future, but won’t spoil the experience here by showing anything in the queue or on the ride. It’s an attraction that everyone who is tall enough likely wants to experience. I’d give it a 9.8 out of 10, which is probably the highest that I’d rate any ride at Walt Disney World.
Unfortunately, our first ride on Rise of the Resistance didn’t go very smoothly, and we were dumped from the queue after waiting about 20 minutes in line. At the exit, a cast member gave everyone who was unable to ride a digital FastPass+ for any eligible attraction at Hollywood Studios by pressing the iPad thing that they carry against my ticket/MagicBand. At 7:19am, I have a Multiple Experiences FastPass+ that makes me eligible for any of the following:
None of these are very good replacements.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is the one that we want to keep. Interestingly, we could use it at Smugglers Run if we wanted, even if that attraction isn’t yet eligible for FastPass+ booking.
These choices round out the selections.
There is one particularly important key with these Multiple Experience FastPass+. Here’s the list of FastPass+ that I had booked in advance:
As we know, the actual return time for most FastPass+ experiences is up to five minutes before the stated return window, and up to 15 minutes after. So for Star Tours, I can actually arrive at any point between 10:35am and 11:55am, scan my ticket/MagicBand, and have the reader automatically show green for good to go. However, if I scan my MagicBand/ticket during the grace period, either from 10:35am to 10:39am or from 11:41am to 11:45am, then it will redeem that Multiple Experience FastPass+ instead. So if I scanned my 11:40am to 12:40pm FastPass+ for Muppet*Vision 3D at 12:45pm, during the grace period, then it would take my Multiple Experiences FastPass+ instead of my Muppet*Vision FastPass+. So in essence, I’d be using a Rise of the Resistance FastPass at Muppet*Vision. You do not want this, so be careful about your timing if you’re holding a Multiple Experiences FastPass+. You might ask if they can give you a paper FASTPASS return instead for peace of mind. As long as you don’t use the return tickets as napkins and throw them away, they’ll work no matter what you do with your other digital FastPass+ options.
We’ll see how things look in Toy Story Land when we arrive there after 7:30am in the next part. Pull up that post here.