We head out to Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the morning of Monday, November 4th, 2019. It was the first day since the end of August that the Studios opened at 9am to all guests. Through November 2nd, the Studios had offered three hours of (Extra) Extra Magic Hours (EEMH) every morning, in anticipation of historic crowds for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Of course, those crowds never did materialize, and we were able to use the EEMH period to get an incredible amount done in the morning, as seen here. I followed that up with a second morning EEMH rope drop, where we began with Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land instead. We’ll actually be running a very similar touring plan on this particular morning, though we can expect things to be considerably more bogged down given the number of people that we see present before 9am in the image above. In this post, I’ll go over what I did given the EMH-less 9am open, what you should do instead, and then consider what our findings mean for the future of Hollywood Studios touring.
It’s worth noting that things will change considerably in one month’s time, as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance officially opens on December 5th, 2019. At the moment, I think it makes more sense to avoid Galaxy’s Edge first thing, and instead visit Toy Story Land. The reasons behind that will be evident as we move about our day. However, after Rise of the Resistance opens, my estimation is that we’re going to want to begin the day with that ride, then do Smugglers Run immediately after. We’ll then have to figure out how to take care of what may now seem like a lot of rides in Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers, Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours, in addition to several of Disney’s best stage productions and a trio of nighttime shows that includes Fantasmic. Things may finally be coming together for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Smugglers Run didn’t quite do it; Rise of the Resistance may be our only hope.
The Skyliner reopened three or four days later than my original prediction, after it closed a couple of weeks ago following the accident that saw people stranded in the air for as many as three hours.
That may be part of why we’re seeing a reduction in the original operating hours:
The Skyliner doesn’t currently operate early enough to get you to the Studios in time to be anywhere close to the front of the rope drop crowd, which will result in long waits at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run or Slinky Dog Dash. If you’re heading elsewhere first thing, then the Skyliner would work.
But this is how things are going to look outside of the entrance at 8:05am, which is the earliest that you’d be able to arrive on the Skyliner from Caribbean Beach Resort. You’d have to add ten minutes from Pop Century/Art of Animation. If you’re staying at a Skyliner resort and trying to make it to the Studios by 7:30am, then you’ll have to plan to rely on a bus instead.
I’m arriving bright and early as I approach bag check, which hasn’t yet opened, at 7:28am.
Bag check now wraps around the front of the entrance with two distinct areas separated by an exit and a lot of open space. Depending on which direction you’re coming from, you’ll naturally gravitate to one section or the other, as indicated above.
You’ll likely see more people in the Skyliner/Boats/Buses area, but there should also be more bag check lines open on this side. Where you’ll find shorter lines and a quicker experience probably ends up being a wash depending on the speed of your bag checker and how many additional lines open up just before screening begins around 7:40am. I’d probably stick to this side and line up in front of one of these tables without anyone waiting should you arrive before the bag check process begins. People will initially line up in front of the metal detectors, but each table represents its own line.
There were probably fewer than a hundred people present at 7:30am, but crowds will quickly pick up.
I was past bag check and on my way before 7:40am.
In the recent past, before Galaxy’s Edge opened, the Studios had opened the tapstiles around 7:45am, and allowed people to congregate just inside the entrance at the base of Hollywood Boulevard. About a half hour later, we progressed further up Hollywood Boulevard, until eventually being walked back to Toy Story Land around 8:50am. It was an annoying system as people who arrived later were able to push their way forward over the course of several starts and stops, in addition to the discomfort that comes from being clumped together with thousands of people whose prime concern is beating you to the same attraction that you’re interested in riding first.
It looked like that was what we were going to do again as we were initially herded into just two lines off to the right.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, more and more lines off to the left opened as opening time approached. Because of that, I’d suggest getting in line in one of the lines on the left and then be prepared to hurry over to a newly-formed line once it opens. A lot of these people who arrived after me are going to end up getting in the Park earlier as I stand here on the right. On the far, far left, in the distance, you’ll see the line for those with breakfast reservations before the Park officially opens at Hollywood & Vine. They’ll be admitted first.
It “felt” like Galaxy’s Edge had moved the crowds forward about 20 minutes. This is the scene at 7:45am on November 4th, which is closer to what you would have seen 20 minutes later, at 8:05am, six months ago. In the past, I recommended arriving an hour before the Park officially opened if you were interested in riding Slinky Dog Dash first thing. Now, you’ll want to arrive 75 to 90 minutes early if your first stop is Slinky or Smugglers Run. For Rise of the Resistance, arriving closer to 90 minutes than 75 minutes is probably going to end up being smart. That’s what it’s been like for Flight of Passage over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the past 2.5 years.
Just ten minutes later, quite a few more people have arrived.
This is 7:55am, or more than an hour before the Park officially opens and about 25 minutes after I arrived.
We’re almost backed up to the ticket booths, which is something that we would historically see closer to 8:25am, instead of prior to 8am.
Ten minutes later, at 8:05am, this is what you’re looking at, with every line stretching back farther and farther away from the main entrance.
This is a lot of people, and you’ll want to be in front of them, by arriving at 7:40am instead of 8:10am.
Standard operating procedure remains to be seen, but from a touring efficiency perspective, it’s somewhat irrelevant where you’re standing at 8:15am, so long as it’s in front of most of the other people. We were admitted inside the Park beginning at 8:10am.
Three minutes later, I’m questioning many of the decisions that I’ve made in my life by heading inside.
We’re free to head up Hollywood Boulevard to the same holding area as we saw during the EEMH period.
Jedi Training Academy signups remain a much lower priority than before Toy Story Land opened, but you can still sign kids up down to the left past Hollywood & Vine and 50’s Prime Time. I’d probably take care of that later, though, and instead take up position ahead. When I pass by the signup location just before noon, plenty of spots will remain open.
The Trolley Car Cafe Starbucks is open. It may be a hassle to order something and then try to snake your way back around to your group.
The holding area starts (or ends?) just after Sunset Boulevard, which is farther forward than what we saw prior to the opening of Galaxy’s Edge.
This allows those headed to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror first an opportunity to branch off and enjoy a much less congested rope drop experience. If you’re not interested in Toy Story Land or Smugglers Run first thing, then you’ll be able to enjoy both thrill rides a couple of times each before long waits have an opportunity to materialize. It looks like five or six people are headed in that direction at this point. If you’re heading somewhere other than Slinky Dog Dash or Smugglers Run first, then you can safely arrive much closer to 8:30am than 7:30am, and not suffer longer waits because of it. A couple hundred people, at most, are going to be headed down Sunset Boulevard first thing.
At 8:14am, everyone that was standing outside the Park is now streaming in.
Two minutes later, at 8:16am, things are already backing up considerably.
Five minutes later, we’re already seeing the crowd backed up close to the entrance.
Here we are zoomed in a bit.
This is where I am, comfortably seven or eight rows back from the front.
At 8:30am, or 30 minutes before the Park officially opens, this is the crowd that’s formed. Moving forward, this is probably an average to a slightly above average number of people. We had the Wine & Dine Marathon over the weekend, and it’s the start of what’s known as “Jersey Week,” with New Jersey public schools closing for a statewide convention on the Thursday and Friday of this week. That doesn’t have much of an impact on crowds this early in the week, but it’s probably bumping things up slightly. Overall crowds are right around average on this particular Monday.
At 8:40am, the crowd has filled Hollywood Boulevard and cast members are pushing for people to move down Sunset Boulevard to make more room in the back.
Originally, I think this is what many of us were expecting from the Extra Extra Magic Hours rope drop that nobody showed up to, as it was at 6am in the morning. And people are on vacation. At least theoretically. On the other hand, I’ve done more than a hundred rope drops at the Studios over the past ten years and never seen so many people here this early. A big part of that is due to the 9am regular opens that we’ll be seeing over the next couple of months. While people may not be able to make it out here by 5:45am for EEMH, 9am is a lot more doable.
Despite the large number of people present before Park open, our walk back towards Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge didn’t begin until 8:45am.
Currently, there are two potential rope drop priorities at the Studios, with Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Land off to the right, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Smugglers Run off to the left. Where you start probably first hinges on whether or not you’re able to get FastPass+ for Slinky Dog Dash. The ride continues to distribute all of its FP+ more than 60 days in advance, with little or no availability typically available 61 or 62 days out. That makes it virtually impossible for guests staying off-site or on shorter trips to secure Slinky Dog FP+ in advance. Because of that, we typically operate as if we don’t have Slinky FP+. And even if we did, there’s a good chance that the return time would be inconvenient, should one be available. If you are able to secure Slinky Dog FP+, or you’re planning on riding the roller coaster last thing at night, when the actual wait remains around a half hour, then you could go to Smugglers Run first thing and have time to get to Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania before 30+ minute waits develop.
But there are a couple of downsides to heading to Smugglers Run immediately at Park open. First, the walk is a long, winding path that widens and narrows over the course of 15 or more minutes. That’s about twice as much time as it takes to walk back to Slinky Dog Dash, where the path also widens and narrows significantly less often. More people will be heading to Smugglers Run first thing as well, which also increases congestion.
Second, Smugglers Run is a lengthy overall experience. Even if you’re the first person in line, your total experience time is going to exceed 20 minutes. At Slinky Dog, the first person who arrives will be done in about seven minutes, or a third of the time. That means those headed to Slinky Dog first will be on their way to their next attraction earlier in the morning, when waits will be shorter.
Third, you’ll likely want to spend some time exploring Galaxy’s Edge, even if you’re not a huge Star Wars fan. If you ride Smugglers Run first, then every minute you spend looking around the Land afterwards will only result in longer waits elsewhere. You can certainly hurry through Smugglers Run and return to Galaxy’s Edge later in the day, but it’s located in the far corner of the Park, which likely means a good deal of walking will be necessary to get back there.
Fourth, Smugglers Run doesn’t currently offer FastPass+, which means virtually all of the attraction’s capacity goes to standby. And because of that, the line moves relatively quickly, unlike Slinky Dog Dash, where 70% of the ride’s capacity goes to FP+, and the standby line barely inches along. There’s also a lot to see in the Smugglers queue and the views of Galaxy’s Edge are typically good as you wind your way through the line. So if you have to wait an hour somewhere, it might as well be in the interesting line, that steadily moves, and is largely covered and mostly air-conditioned. Visiting Slinky Dog Dash first will also put us close to two other priority rides in Alien Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania.
Over the next month, you could certainly still ride Smugglers Run first thing. If the hourly capacity is around 1,800 guests, then you’ll need to be among the first six hundred or so people to arrive to wait under 20 minutes. That’s pretty doable. And if you do elect to ride Smugglers Run first, then heading in the same direction after Rise of the Resistance opens will be old hat. We’ll see about rope dropping Smugglers Run first thing over the next month, if for no other reason than to map out our course for December 5th. Keep in mind that should you ride Smugglers Run first thing, and you’re off the ride at about 9:20am, that you’re looking at a 70ish minute wait at Slinky Dog Dash come 9:25am, with a 15-minute actual wait at Swirling Saucers and 20ish minutes at Toy Story Mania. By visiting Slinky Dog Dash first, I’ll be done with all three Toy Story Land rides by 10am, which is pretty good.
Since I was near the front of the pack, it’s hard to say exactly what percent of the people at rope drop headed to Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land first thing. It “felt” like 60- to 70-percent of the crowd was headed to Smugglers Run. My walk over to Slinky Dog was easily the most pleasant of my 9am rope drops since the Land opened about 16 months ago. Crowding wasn’t nearly as bad and my waits at Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania were shorter than my visits before Smugglers Run opened.
That potentially makes some sense. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that in June of this year, 2,000 people were on hand for rope drop at the Studios. About 90% of those people are going to be headed to Slinky Dog Dash. That’s 1,800 people. Now let’s say that Galaxy’s Edge increased the number of people present at rope drop by 50%, up to 3,000 people, for our November visit. But now, only 40% of the people on hand are headed to Slinky Dog Dash first thing. That’s “just” 1,200 people, or a third fewer than were headed that way back in our June example. So even with more people behind me at rope drop, I’m actually now competing against fewer people to Slinky Dog Dash. Unfortunately, it also means running into a lot more people later in the day.
If Star Wars doesn’t do anything for you, then the Land’s opening may still be good news for your visit to Hollywood Studios. My estimation is that even more people will be headed to Galaxy’s Edge after Rise of the Resistance opens, which will open up other areas of the Park even more early in the morning. Currently, multiple rides on Slinky Dog first thing aren’t possible, but that may change come December 5th.
Here’s a look at the front of the rope drop crowd to Galaxy’s Edge making their first left turn. They’ll head through Echo Lake, take a right at Backlot Express, and then continue through Grand Avenue into Star Wars Land. There, they’ll take the long way around to the right, eventually arriving at Smugglers Run.
In the next part, we’ll head to Toy Story Land to ride Slinky Dog Dash first thing and then see how the rest of our day shapes up. You can pull that post up here.