We pick things up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 9:55am on Tuesday, July 21st, 2020. In Part One, we took a look at what to expect from the arrival experience, covered some general touring strategies, and reacquainted ourselves with joining the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. That post also linked back to our coverage of Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopening.
At the other two Parks, we ran into significantly lower crowds and wait times than we’re used to seeing. That will be true here at the Studios as well, but potentially to a lesser extent. While Disney has capped capacity at a low number, all of the live shows and meet and greets are dark, which in turn reduces the Park’s capacity and a lot of the major productions that help absorb the crowds. If you add ten thousand people to Hollywood Studios, you’re obviously increasing attendance dramatically. But if shows, stores, eateries, and the like entertain those people, then there shouldn’t be as much of an effect on wait times at the rides. We’ll see how the morning goes.
Hollywood Studios does not disappoint us with just a strip of duct tape on the ground indicating where we’ll be standing next. Somehow, the Park opened last, with the fewest operating things, and the smallest overall footprint, and was still the least prepared. There is always comfort in the expected.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway either opened early or began letting guests into the loading area before official Park open, as the line began to move at about 9:52am. The 90-minute wait is probably exaggerated for those just getting in line now. The posted wait dropped to 60 minutes at 10:30am and then 40 minutes by 11am. Getting in line for a super-priority right at 10am will result in the longest wait of the day. My actual wait will end up being about 40 minutes too, if you include the half hour that I’m standing there waiting for the Park to officially open. But I’ll only be spending about ten minutes of Park time waiting and I’ll be in good position to head to Sunset Boulevard after.
Despite the 90-minute posted wait, people continued getting in line. If you are running behind schedule, then simply skipping your first attraction should put you right back on track. Particularly at the moment, wait times drop dramatically in the late afternoon and evening. If a wait for something is prohibitive in the morning, move it to the last hour or two of the day. With the Studios’ 8pm close, you could get in line for the Railway at 7:58pm and wait less than ten minutes.
Once you’re inside the building, it’s only about five minutes until you’re in the pre-show room.
There is an alternate entrance for Disability Access, and eventually, VIP tours. The markers for that line are on the left.
I took this picture right at 10am, which means the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance was about to open. I was a little nervous about getting through being inside a building with notoriously poor WiFi and cell service. With the virtual queue opening right at 10am, and the Disney servers trying to process thousands of boarding requests in the matter of seconds, it “feels” like it would be important to have a strong, fast signal. Luckily, the signal was either strong. or I’m just that good, as I managed to join boarding group “2.”
Theoretically, you can take things a step further, and also have someone elsewhere try to sign the group up for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. They can either log in to your account or theirs, so long as their account also has everyone in the boarding group party attached to their account. When selecting the party members to sign up, the far-off person would not select themselves, since they haven’t scanned into the Park. They can still sign anyone else up who is inside.
If you’re traveling from abroad, and have to rely on Disney WiFi, then it may make the most sense to try to set something like that up. I would still recommend trying to sign yourselves up at the Park where applicable, but it’s just one more way to have a bit of an edge. Someone sitting at home in Nantucket on Google Fiber is probably going to do better than someone with a 2G connection in the bowels of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster queue.
We’ll wind around here pretty quickly.
Then around the corner, it’s time for the pre-show.
Disney has not been running the ~90-second pre-show. That’s a bit of a bummer since it’s likely most people’s first opportunity to experience the attraction. The Railway was open for less than two weeks before closing again in the middle of March.
You can potentially watch the pre-show on YouTube here if you’re so inclined. I suppose you could have it up on your phone as you head inside the pre-show, and if they don’t show it, you could then quickly watch it in the next room. It’s not exactly a make it or break it thing. I’ve seen the pre-show multiple times and still basically have no idea what’s going on.
I took a look at wait times just five minutes into operation:
Everything here is more than reasonable.
Only the Railway is really prohibitive, which is why we’re here first.
The queue running up to load looks similar to most at the moment:
Currently, cast will only seat one party per row. You’ll also likely have an empty row behind you unless your party is larger than four guests. There’s just one single lap bar, which reminded me a lot of what they use at Spider-Man at Universal.
I’ll post some on-ride pictures. Close your eyes and scroll for a while if you’d like to keep the surprise intact:
I really enjoy the Runaway Railway. The Great Movie Ride was considerably longer and more relaxing, but the Railway mixes screens and practical effects to great…effect. It’s virtually impossible to understand what’s happening at any given time, but it certainly is a zany trip. I prefer to sit in the front car, where I think you see more of the storyline as it develops. By the time the back car arrives at certain scenes, they’re sometimes switching to something else.
I was back out front at 10:18am, or just 18 minutes after the Park officially opened. The line to ride the Runaway Railway is as long as it will be all day. There is no worse place to be than the end of it right now. The fact that you’re also at Hollywood Studios has to work as some kind of multiplier of worseness.
After the rush to get in at 10am, relatively few people will arrive over the next hour or two. That’s a big part of why wait times are so long right off the bat.
Here are my options at the moment:
With my 11am cutoff to return to Rise of the Resistance, it would make some sense to start heading in that direction. I’d have plenty of time to ride Star Tours on the way.
Other attractions may be a little more problematic. I could head into Toy Story Land for either Swirling Saucers or Toy Story Mania and probably be fine. Avoiding the heaviest crowds of the day inside the Land is probably better for our sanity. Slinky Dog Dash is off the table, which means I would have to return to Toy Story Land to ride that later anyway.
I opted to stay on course and went over to Sunset Boulevard for at least one of the thrill rides.
Crowds remain light with most people in line for the Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, Smugglers Run, or Rise of the Resistance.
FastPass+ and Standby for a show that isn’t running. How quaint was February 2020?
Whether you go to Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster first has always been a bit of a wash. The capacity at Tower of Terror is lower than Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with the current loading procedure. Tower is also prone to technical problems, halving the overall capacity when one of the elevator shafts is out of commission.
Regardless of which thrill ride you experience first, you’ll likely wait longer for the other.
Tower of Terror’s 35-minute wait is currently the second-longest in the Park, behind just the Railway. You wouldn’t expect that given the popularity of Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash.
Knowing I only had about 30 minutes to get going over to Rise of the Resistance to make my 11am cutoff, I pulled up wait times again:
We don’t ordinarily want to see Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance “Temporarily Closed.” Since there is no standby line for Disney World’s most popular attraction, Rise will only show on the wait time screen if it’s closed.
If Rise goes down after Disney calls your boarding group, your arrival window will not change:
My return window still goes to 11:01am per the app. It won’t change even if the ride doesn’t reopen during my hour of return. With the ride being down, they won’t let new guests enter the queue until it’s back up.
That means we don’t need to go over there until after this is removed from the My Disney Experience app, even if that time is after our return window closes. You don’t have to check in at the ride during the return window if it’s not operating. Cast members would actually prefer that you not.
It’s relatively easy to check on the actual line at Tower of Terror. If you see people waiting out here, around the corner from the entrance, it’s probably better to come back later.
Looking forward, things appeared to be fine.
With FastPass+ in play, and only one elevator shaft running, the actual standby wait here could be an hour or more.
With no FastPass+ priority, virtually all of the ride’s capacity goes to standby. I used to say that FastPass+ was great when you had it, and sucked when you didn’t. Waiting in standby is considerably less aggravating when you know that the vast majority of people who arrive after you will ride after you.
That should help move the line along.
And it did.
As with most other queues, the acrylic plastic dividers arrive closer to the pre-show/loading area. Disability access, rider swap, and eventually, VIP tours, use the old FastPass+ queue on the other side.
Those barriers continue into the hotel lobby. If you’re wondering how much of a last minute thing this all was, these barriers were not up on the first day of the cast preview.
In standby, you’ll be on this side, so you’ll still be able to enjoy a great view of the lobby.
Most people have probably seen the Tower of Terror pre-show in the library.
Disney isn’t currently showing it, potentially to increase traffic flow and make it easier to enforce physical distancing. You’ll remember that the very dark stretching room is also not operating at Haunted Mansion at the moment.
This is probably my least favorite loading process. The two lines of people on the right are not part of the same party, but they’ll stand there within about a foot of each other for a couple of minutes. It’s a big departure from all of the social distancing that Disney insists on and enforces elsewhere.
There’s very little space in between these rows. Disney uses the dot system at a number of other attractions to help space guests out. With these loading procedures likely to continue for at least several months, it seems like some alterations would help spread people out as they wait.
They could load the green dot in the back left, the blue dot in the back right, the red dot in the front left, and the yellow dot in the front right.
I got in line at 10:23am and boarded at 10:40am, so my 17-minute wait was less than half of what was posted:
There were exactly four people on our elevator out of a total of 21 seats, which means it was operating at less than 25% capacity. Not only are the middle rows intentionally kept empty, but they also leave an empty seat on the aisles of the first row and at least one seat in between the parties in the back, if they do seat two different parties back there.
I was back outside at 10:46am, for a total experience time of 23 minutes. That’s only a minute or two longer than the ride historically took with FastPass+. That’s in part thanks to the lack of the pre-show, which would tack on five minutes. If Rise of the Resistance was operating, I could comfortably head over there now.
There’s another look at the length of the social-distancing markers going away from the attraction’s entrance.
The posted wait had dropped five minutes during my experience. That’s probably still a little exaggerated.
Crowds on Sunset Boulevard a little over 45 minutes into operation aren’t substantial.
Since the original plan was to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster next, I headed over to check on the line.
It was posted at 20 minutes.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster had quite the extended queue set up out front. With social distancing measures, lines generally appear much longer than they actually are. With FastPass+ and no social distancing in place, our wait would be about 2.5 hours from back here.
I re-checked the app to see if Rise of the Resistance was still down:
It was, which actually works out in my favor, since I don’t want to go over there this early anyway.
Hopefully, Disney will come up with some mechanism to let guests who have already been called over know that they don’t need to return when the ride is down. I’d be wasting ten or fifteen minutes walking all the way over there, just to then have to find something else to do in the area. 11:01am is still my official return time, despite the ride being closed for over a half hour:
Disney could simply continue adding the number of minutes that the ride is down to the end of the return window. There’s also no mention on this screen that the ride is not currently operating. They wouldn’t allow you to get in line even if you did show up.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster looked to be about a 10-minute wait.
But it can be a lot longer. Eventually, Disney will come to an agreement with the entertainment union and at least some of these shows will return. When that happens, you’d have to expect that attendance caps would also rise.
While there are no single rider lines available, it looked like Disney was using that line for Disability Access/rider swap.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is another attraction where Disney has turned the pre-show off. There is an alternative mode that Disney uses in the early morning when crowds aren’t heavy enough to need to space crowds out by running the pre-show.
But that wasn’t even on as Disney would prefer that you keep moving from marker to marker.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is the one queue where I felt like I was in some sort of prison. The fact that I’m at Hollywood Studios probably didn’t help the whole incarceration vibe. We have plastic barriers on both sides of us.
And then barriers in between rows at load.
Fortunately, you’ll only be detained for about two minutes. That’s provided you don’t get stuck there during a deep clean of the limousines.
I was back out front at 11:12am for a total experience time of 20 minutes. That’s how long the ride typically took with FastPass+, so I’ll take it. Of course, the FastPass+ experience also included the wait for the pre-show and the pre-show itself.
I had in mind to hit every operating attraction. With Rise still down for technical trouble, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is right next door.
I arrived to nobody waiting outside, which is usually a good indication that the show just started. That isn’t ideal, since you’ll have to wait about 12 minutes to enter the theater.
But just two minutes later, the exit doors opened and six people emerged from the theater.
We’re rocking the dot system here. I have my choice.
While I have become accustomed to enjoying my own rows, and sometimes my own ride vehicles, I was not emotionally prepared to be the only person watching Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.
But here we are. Like with most shows, physical distancing means a significantly better experience. That’s true even if the theater is “full.” You’ll enjoy a completely empty row in front and behind you. Then the area one row further ahead will also be blocked off. Considering the rise of the bleachers is basically nonexistent, it makes seeing the show significantly easier.
Of course, with nobody else in the theater, we should be able to see the show just fine:
With virtually every show closed, including Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, the Frozen Sing-Along, and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, the Racing Academy is a rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy some air-conditioning while being mildly entertained. With kids, the Racing Academy is probably close to a “must do.” Adults may find some charm in the experience, which takes about 15 minutes, plus however long you have to wait outside for the next show.
Since it’s now 26 minutes after I was initially supposed to return to Rise of the Resistance, I see this screen:
Because the ride was down during my return window, I’m still perfectly eligible to return now with no questions asked. Disney does not pass this information along.
Wait times in the area remain low:
This is a little less than an hour and a half into the day. I could already re-ride Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with a short wait. I’ll be able to do the same later.
In the next part, we’ll head over to Rise of the Resistance, stop by Muppet*Vision 3D, and grab some hummus from Backlot Express.