Our look at what to expect from Walt Disney World’s reopening continues with Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I tried to delay this series as much as possible. For your sanity and mine. But no matter how much we collectively will the Studios out of existence, there it remains. We’ll get down to it.
We started with Magic Kingdom, in order:
- Magic Kingdom Rope Drop Expectations and Tips
- Morning Touring in the Current Normal
- Fantasyland and Frontierland Touring in the Current Normal
- Late Morning Adventureland Touring
- Afternoon Touring After Reopening
- A Virtually Crowd-less Opening Day at Magic Kingdom
And continued on to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in order:
- Rope Dropping Avatar Flight of Passage in the Current Normal
- Morning Touring at Disney’s Animal Kingdom After the Reopening
- Low Crowds and Nonexistent Waits in the Current Normal
- An Afternoon of Low Crowds, Nonexistent Waits, Yak & Yeti Lunch, and a Bird Show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
We’re rolling up at 9:20am with the official 10am open. Currently, Disney opens the toll plaza and parking around 45 minutes before official open. You should be able to line up beginning just before 9am, but they may turn you around before that. As with the other Parks, they don’t want people lingering around the entrance. To be ahead of the game, you probably want to arrive here around an hour before the Park opens. You may sit in your car for about 15 minutes, but you’ll be parked and on your way as soon as possible. That will put you near the front of whichever attraction you want to ride first.
As you’ll recall, Disney is staggering Park openings. Animal Kingdom starts us off at 8am, Magic Kingdom follows at 9am, Hollywood Studios opens at 10am, and then Epcot kicks things off at 11am. This is likely due in part to reduce the number of buses Disney is using for what is currently a very limited operation. Things are slow enough that Disney just pushed back the openings of several resorts, including the Polynesian to October 1st and Art of Animation to November 1st. Both resorts were set to open on August 14th. Historically, the first buses to each of the Parks arrived at the resorts around 6am to transport guests for a variety of early morning tours.
With Disney not offering any of those tours, there’s no reason for Disney to run those early buses. Unfortunately for those trying to arrive as early as possible, it also means that the first bus to your theme park of choice may not arrive until about 45 minutes before that Park officially opens. With the limited number of attractions available at the Studios, wait times that build faster than the other Parks, and its propensity to run out of Park Pass availability, it’s the Park where arriving early is most important.
Obviously, the 10am signup for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group/virtual queue is also paramount. For the best shot at having an opportunity to ride Disney World’s most popular and least reliable attraction, you’ll want to be inside the Studios no later than a minute before it opens. We’ll cover the specifics of all of this as we move about the Park.
On the flip side of potential transportation issues, Disney is opening the Skyliner a full hour before the Park opens. That’s a departure from what we saw before the extended closure, where the Skyliner didn’t come online until a half hour before Park open. The late end times are also a little surprising considering how few people would be sticking around after Park close with no nighttime spectaculars scheduled. The Studios closes at 8pm, yet the Skyliner runs until 9:30pm. Epcot closes at 9pm with the Skyliner continuing to transfer guests through 10:30pm.
You might remember that we tried to make it over to the Studios from Pop Century/Art of Animation in time for Park open back in March. I ended up getting through security and entering the Park about 30 seconds after the it opened. Now, the Skyliner should offer one of the most reliable ways to get to Hollywood Studios early. From Caribbean Beach/Riviera, you’re looking at a gondola ride that takes just a few minutes. From Pop/Art of Animation, it will take about ten minutes longer, but you’ll still be in good shape.
As with the other Parks, you’ll first undergo a temperature check. Despite being approximately the sweatiest person on earth, I have yet to fail a check. They do offer a cool down tent should you overheat the first time. If I walked over from the BoardWalk/Crescent Lake area, it wouldn’t surprise me if the infrared temperature gun that they’ll point at your forehead would indicate a high temperature. Worse, if one person in your group tests high, everyone will have to wait and then potentially leave if the second temperature check also returns a number above 100.4. Fortunately, I haven’t run into a wait for the temperature check longer than a few seconds. You shouldn’t be stuck baking in the sun for too long provided you arrive via an air-conditioned method.
At 9:24am, I think we see more people in the frame than we did over the entirety of our visit to Animal Kingdom. They are still using the old metal detectors here. They’re likely “turned down” so that they’re less likely to indicate a positive result. You’ll still be asked to place heavy metal items in a tub. I walked through the metal detector with my phone, keys, extra camera batteries, and whatnot without any trouble.
Back before the fine-tuning, a small mail key would be enough for the metal detector to beep. The worst case scenario should be a wand-down, where you can point to your belt buckle. It’s still a less streamlined process than what we saw at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There, you can stroll through the new scanners without having to do anything other than hold your umbrella out in front of you. As usual, the bag check on the far right will likely have nobody in line. Others may be backed up. If you’re willing to spend ten more seconds walking, you may be able to save a couple minutes in line. Later in the day, there won’t be any backups whatsoever.
Like the other Parks, Disney does not hold anyone at the gates. Once you’re able to park your vehicle or arrive via Disney transportation, temperature check should be underway. After that, you’ll be able to enter the Park. The attractions won’t begin operating until right around Park open, but allowing guests inside immediately helps disperse the crowds.
Obviously, this scene, which we saw at 6:30am before the extended closure, is untenable at the moment. Back then, we had to arrive nearly two hours before Park open in order to be ahead of the crowds descending on Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash. Showing up at 9am is a lot easier any way you look at it. It also makes it possible for the majority of the guests arriving for the day to get there by open.
Hollywood Studios is particularly busy from 10am to 12pm with wait times peaking at 10:20am. That makes sense as anyone in the know is on-hand prior to Park open for the Rise of the Resistance signup. Waits go down after noon and continue to drop more and more as closing approaches. You’ll actually have a much easier time touring from 2pm to 8pm than from 10am to 4pm.
How you design your day is potentially up to you. I’m going to wait for about 40 minutes for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, including the half hour I have before the Park opens. I’ll be off the ride at 10:18am, or 18 minutes after the Park officially opens. I’ll then wait a little over 15 minutes for Tower of Terror, 10 minutes for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and two minutes for Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy before heading to Rise of the Resistance.
None of those waits are prohibitive because the touring plan is relatively efficient, but other attractions will see 30- to 90-minute waits during the same time frame. By 5pm, you could cycle through just about anything without a wait longer than a couple of minutes. The exceptions remain the Runaway Railway and potentially Slinky Dog Dash, which you’d still want to save for the end of the night when possible.
My advice would be to arrive 45 to 60 minutes early and head to a top priority first thing, followed by a couple of lower priorities. At that point, you may want to stop for a leisurely lunch or visit a couple of the limited number of anytime attractions still operating. By 1pm, things will already be considerably less crowded and only become more so as it gets later in the day.
If you arrive closer to 10am, it makes sense to start on Sunset Boulevard for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, or in Toy Story Land at Toy Story Mania and Alien Swirling Saucers. If you get in line for Slinky Dog Dash, Smugglers Run, or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway between 9:55am and 10:15am, you’ll wait longer than at any other point in the day.
I’m headed for the Runaway Railway, which currently posts the longest average wait at the Park.
It’s easy to gauge the line for the Railway because 85% of it is outside. That’s the extended part over on the right, covered by green umbrellas. Depending on the time of day, and length of the line, where you’ll head to enter the Railway queue differs. We’re currently being routed around to the left.
At 9:32am, we’ll begin our morning waiting outside in the extended queue.
Arrive earlier and you’ll be closer to the front of the line. That will also put you on your way to your next attraction even sooner. As usual, we’re taking a reasonable approach to the morning. My arrival is in line with when you would get here on a Disney bus or if you were running a little late driving over from your resort. It doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense for me to be the first person to arrive and then run from attraction to attraction. I mean, it does, but you probably won’t. And if you do, your timing will just be better than mine. You might call this a good BaseLine. Like the Tap House. I’ll show myself out.
Those arriving earlier may even score some indoor air-conditioning inside the Chinese Theater.
The line can be much longer as all of these physical-distancing stickers are for the Runaway Railway. There are even more behind me, running back towards the Hyperion Theater.
As you might expect, more and more people will pour into the Park as opening time approaches.
With 15 minutes to open, the end of the line is down there somewhere. The cast member in red is holding an “end of line” sign vaguely in the area where the line starts.
A few minutes later, things are significantly worse. If you’re running behind, it’s smart to alter your plan and skip that top priority attraction. If you got in line now, you’d wait over an hour, compared to two or three minutes for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, or Alien Swirling Saucers.
Even more people are heading towards Toy Story Land and Slinky Dog Dash.
As far as your first three attractions of the day go, it makes the most sense to do something like:
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Tower of Terror
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Toy Story Mania
- Smugglers Run
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Toy Story Mania
You’re not going to be able to hit the top three priorities: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, and Smugglers Run in a row without waiting 30 to 90 minutes for the second and third stops. It’s best to hit one super-priority first thing. Then, put off the other two for as late in the day as possible. At the moment, Smugglers Run remains the most forgiving. Its average wait since the Park reopened is only around 20 minutes at 1pm. Slinky is typically around 30 minutes and the Runaway Railway posts 50 minutes at the same time.
You’ll want to keep your eye on the time as the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance opens right at 10am. This is what the home screen looks like on My Disney Experience:
The key is for the “Join” button to illuminate in blue, which means the queue is open. Note that for the first ten days or so that the Studios reopened this month, Disney distributed boarding groups at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm. As of a few days ago, they switched to two releases. The first one is at Park open at 10am and the following starts immediately at 2pm.
The change makes sense given the fact that the ride has seen significant downtime since reopening. It’s also operating at a significantly reduced capacity given that each vehicle is limited to one party, which is typically two or four people out of the eight available seats. With a 4pm virtual queue release, and an 8pm close, you’ve only got four-hours-worth of boarding group spots to release. With Disney moving through eight groups per hour, on average, that’s only 32 groups, assuming there isn’t any late day downtime. It also assumes that Disney is able to move through the boarding group spots that it released earlier in the day. If they haven’t, then there’s either going to be very little availability later in the day, or if you do manage to join a group, Disney won’t get to it. Just like before, there are backup groups that won’t necessarily be called.
To have the best shot at joining a low-number group, I’d start refreshing the app a couple minutes before the Park is scheduled to open. Currently, that’s around 9:58am. The easiest way to do this is to click the “Check Status” button.
That will take you to this screen, where you’ll click “Join Virtual Queue.” If the queue has opened, you’ll be able to select your party members on the next screen and join the virtual queue. If not, you’ll hit the back arrow there on the top left twice to get back to the home screen, and click “Check Status” followed by “Join Virtual Queue” again, unless the blue “Join” button is illuminated at that time. Each click should refresh the app and will show the virtual queue as being available that much sooner. From the home screen, you can also click “Join” when it’s white, then the back button on the following screen, and then “Join” again until it eventually comes up as blue.
As before, you can run into a number of issues with the signup process. I always recommend that each person in your group try to sign everyone up. That way, you have the highest chance of getting through. The app can work in mysterious ways depending on phone type, app version, operating system, etc. If whoever you have designated to sign the group up doesn’t have the “right” setup, you may not be able to join. Disney will tell you that it’s wiser to have just one person trying. They don’t want you to overload the system. It’s not very American to care about anyone else, so we will continue to slam that join button across multiple devices.
Occasionally, the system will show someone in your group as not being in the Park. This is true even if they’ve scanned their ticket and are standing right next to you. If you see this error, it’s best to remove the person from the party and join a boarding group with the eligible members selected. You can go to guest services or a guest experience team cast member and have an extra person added to your boarding group manually. If you fiddle around with it, all of the virtual queue spots will likely fill before you can figure anything else out. Even with the attendance cap, Rise of the Resistance boarding groups still fill in less than 30 seconds most days. You might have a minute at most. It’s imperative that you’re refreshing the app and ready to click through as quickly as possible.
The 10am virtual queue dispersal is the main reason why you’ll want to be at Hollywood Studios before the Park opens. It gives you the best shot of joining a boarding group that will be called. If for some reason you don’t care about Rise of the Resistance, then it may make more sense to arrive in the afternoon, given the fact that crowds and waits are so much lower from 4pm to 8pm than they are from 10am to 2pm. Of course, you can still arrive early and skip the boarding group process altogether if riding is not important to you.
If you get shut out of the 10am release, then you do have a second chance at 2pm. Likewise, if you arrive later in the day, you can also go for the 2pm drop. It’s just less likely that you’ll be successful in joining a boarding group that will be called during the day.
I actually had a little too much success as Disney called my boarding group immediately:
Originally, you had up to two hours to return to ride Rise of the Resistance. Now, the return window is just one hour. That means I need to be over there by 11:01am.
My plan was to ride the Runaway Railway, followed by Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, and then go on from there. By needing to get to Rise by 11am, I’m not going to have enough time to do all three. It’s also quite a hike from the end of Sunset Boulevard all the way back to Galaxy’s Edge. Even so, I would not recommend trying to wait a few seconds to join a boarding group in order to try to get a later group.
Boarding groups can “literally” fill in under 15 seconds. There just isn’t enough time. If groups filled in ten minutes, then it might make some sense to wait a couple of minutes to join a group. But that isn’t the reality of the situation. Having to go over to Rise earlier than I’d like will potentially put a tiny wrench in my plans; it’s much better than the alternative, which isn’t getting to ride at all.
So to recap:
- Make sure everyone in your group is connected via the My Disney Experience app as described at DisneyWorld.com here. You should be able to see everyone in your potential party here. Get acquainted with the order that they’re listed so you can quickly check the boxes on the signup screen. If you don’t have someone connected, make sure you add them in advance of your visit. If you’re still having trouble, you would ideally see guest services before your visit to Hollywood Studios to have the problem fixed. When that isn’t possible, either start your day at guest services or visit them after signing the rest of the group up for the virtual queue.
- Refresh the app beginning a couple of minutes before official Park open. You can do this by clicking the “Check Status” button or the “Join” button. If the Join button isn’t highlighted in blue, then it hasn’t opened yet. Refresh until it’s available.
- Quickly add the members of the group who would like to experience the attraction together on the next screen. If you see an error about a member not being in the Park, remove them and join the boarding group. Then head to guest services to have the person added manually.
Unfortunately, the Rise of the Resistance signup remains a stressful one. I know exactly what buttons to press, and even I occasionally have a problem joining a group. Everyone I know, who also knows what buttons to press, has also run into a problem at some point. You can mitigate this by having more people try to sign the group up.
Also a note on which day to visit Hollywood Studios. Since the Parks reopened, they have been considerably more crowded on weekends. Saturdays are particularly busy. Because Hollywood Studios will run out of Park Passes for Passholders every day, and be more likely to run out for Theme Park Tickets Guests and eventually Disney Resort Guests, it makes the most sense to visit the Park on a Saturday. You’ll run into a similar number of people than a weekday with the attendance cap in place. At the other Parks, you’ll find significantly more people there on a Saturday.
In Part Two, we might actually get to ride something.