It’s happening. Or, at least, it’s about to happen. In this update, I’ll cover two major projects that are finally winding down – the construction of Galaxy’s Edge inside the Park and everything that’s going on outside the entrance as Disney tries to streamline the arrival experience.
We’re just ten days away from the start of cast member previews at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which should continue through the 16th of August. After that, it’s expected that some number of annual passholder previews will be held in front of (part of) the Land’s official opening on August 29th. I offered a few thoughts on what I’m expecting from the (partial) grand opening in last week’s Skyliner update at Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts, but it “feels” like after the first weekend, September may turn out to be just about as quiet as it has been every year for the past 45+.
From September 1st through November 2nd, we’ll enjoy an unprecedented number of Extra Magic Hours and early opens. Every day during that nine-week period, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom will open at 8am. Every day during that period, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom will host a morning Extra Magic Hour from 7am to 8am. And every day during that period, Hollywood Studios will offer morning Extra Magic Hours from 6am to 9am. That’s a total of 315 extra hours of morning operation. During that same time period last year, those Parks would have offered just 36 total hours of morning EMH.
In the foreseeable future, there may never be a better time to be in one of those Parks than the first 30 minutes of one of those morning EMH on a weekday in September, perhaps with the exception of Galaxy’s Edge. But even then, 6am is awfully early in the morning and there’s the potential that Disney will actually open the Park before the stated 6am time.
You might remember last year’s Toy Story Land opening, when Disney offered a one-hour morning Extra Magic Hour from 7am to 8am every day during the long, hot summer.
Virtually nobody showed up for the Toy Story Land morning EMHs, and they were held an hour later in the morning. Expecting heavier crowds than actually showed, Disney also began walking guests back to Toy Story Land beginning around 6:30am, or a full 30 minutes before the morning EMH was scheduled to begin. They do that to increase crowd flow and get as many people through the attractions with as little hassle as possible. At Galaxy’s Edge, we may be on our way before 5:30am with the 6am start. Wouldn’t that be nice? Toy Story Land obviously doesn’t have the expected pull of a Star Wars Land. But then, Star Wars Land may not have the pull that we thought it did, either.
Disneyland and Walt Disney World are obviously very different beasts, but the west coast opening has been a complete bust, at least so far as those of us who were waiting for the walls to come crumbling down. “More than manageable,” and, “unusually low summer crowds,” are obviously good things for the eight or nine people who are apparently willing to travel to California in June, July, and August, and don’t have annual passes that are blocked out. But you’d have to think that the Walt Disney Company expected more guests from out-of-state to make the trip out to listen to Hondo welcome us to Batuu, with day-tickets in-hand, during the first several months of operation. Disneyland built functionality into their app to limit guest flow into Galaxy’s Edge by assigning potential visitors certain boarding groups that would be allowed access throughout the day as crowds in the new Land thinned. That mechanism hasn’t been in use since the first few hours of opening day. And even then, it probably wasn’t necessary as wait times were among the lowest that Walt Disney’s original theme park had seen in years. The average wait for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run has reliably hovered around an hour, oftentimes posting a 35- or 45-minute wait in the afternoon. That’s about a third of what most of us would have predicted, I think.
Looking towards the Florida opening, you’re going to have to question the sanity of anyone, including this website, who finds themselves waiting outside Hollywood Studios overnight on August 28th, considering they could have walked into Disneyland any day over the last month and experienced some of the lowest crowds that the Park has ever seen. September is also the hottest and most uncomfortably humid month of the year in Florida. During the first couple of weeks that Galaxy’s Edge was open in Anaheim, low temperatures were in the 50s with the high rarely eclipsing a comfortable 80 degrees.
While Disneyland didn’t need the systems that it had set up to aid in guest entry, they at least had them in their arsenal. There is no such luck in Florida, where a first-come, first-served system will be in place. Much like the MaxPass system, Disneyland also allows guests to make same-day reservations for Oga’s Cantina and the Lightsaber building experience on the day of, after a guest has the opportunity to enter the Park. Disney World may employ a similar system, but if they are, we haven’t heard anything about it.
But hey, this is still Florida. The situation here may not be as cataclysmic as we
were all hoping for predicted, but at least the first two or three days should provide quality meltdowns, even if it’s more of a scraped knee than Chernobyl. “Not great, not terrible” is about the best you can do at the Studios, after all. Following the first weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s largely business as usual. We’ll consider a few reasons why the demand for Galaxy’s Edge might not be what we first thought as we move through the Park in the following updates. And even better, once the majority of the Disneyland passholders are able to visit again in late August, and the Park is completely overrun, we can forget all of this commentary and feel good about being able to say, “I told you so, didn’t I?”
How you go about your day in Galaxy’s Edge, at least in front of the Rise of the Resistance ride opening on December 5th, depends a lot on whether or not Disney uses a reservation system for the various limited, in-demand experiences. Without reservations, Smugglers Run, the lone ride that will be opening in Florida on August 29th, is going to be the third or fourth priority. That isn’t much of a departure from the original Wizarding World opening at Islands of Adventure, where the Ollivanders wand experience was the top priority for many years. It’s almost like the same guy was behind both plans.
Savi’s Workshop, where an incredibly limited number of people have an opportunity to build a lightsaber over the course of about a half hour, was the top priority at Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland during the previews. With an hourly capacity of around thirty constructed lightsabers, it makes a lot of sense that it would need to be prioritized over a ride that moves through 1,500 people an hour. If a reservation system is put in place, you’d be able to set up a time via the app or other mechanism, which would eliminate any need to visit absolutely first thing to make an appointment in person.
The second priority during the Galaxy’s Edge preview in California was Oga’s Cantina, with a stated capacity of 276 guests. Demand was so high that Disney actively limited guests to just 45 minutes inside the bar, requiring them to pay for and tip on their drinks before they were delivered to the table. When the Land opened to everyone in late June, Disneyland instituted a same-day reservation system for Oga’s, too, which means guests can simply select an available time and then show up, rather than needing to head to the lounge first thing in the morning or wait outside for 60+ minutes later in the day for space to open up.
Without a reservation system, guests wanting to build lightsabers and also visit Oga’s Cantina will probably need to visit Savi’s Workshop first thing and then motor it over to Oga’s for breakfast or a look around before getting in line for Smugglers Run. Guests uninterested in a $200 space sword or $76 beer flight should be able to visit Smugglers Run first thing without much trouble, at least so long as you arrive early and are eligible for morning Extra Magic Hour.
Historically, Disney hasn’t used the same-day reservation system in Florida that it employs out in Disneyland. If reservations are going to be available, then we should hopefully hear about it soon. It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t, though. Disney could also potentially use the FastPass+ system to book express access to the Cantina and Savi’s Workshop. That may also be a way to add capacity to the FP+ reservation system once Rise of the Resistance opens. As you’re probably aware, it’s expected that FastPass+ won’t be available for either ride in 2019 with its future availability still unknown.
Fortunately, we do have some clarity on the Skyliner gondola system.
In my old age, I’m not much of a gambler. That’s in large part due to losing all of my money betting on the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series and the Seattle SuperSonics to still be in Seattle. But you wonder what the payout would have been for someone willing to place a parlay bet on both the Skyliner gondola system and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway both not being officially open at any time during the first 30 days of Galaxy’s Edge. Above, we’re looking at the cabins coming in and out of the Studios station on their way to Caribbean Beach Resort. The Skyliner will officially open on September 29th, while Runaway Railway doesn’t have an official opening date beyond the spring of next year. Galaxy’s Edge is first. And despite the fact that it’s opening two months after the same land in Disneyland, we’re also getting Rise of the Resistance over a month before the west-coasters.
It will be interesting to see how much earlier than September 29th we see the plastic wrap removed from the Skyliner sign and at least part of the system put into operation. It seems unlikely that the entire thing will open at the end of September without some soft opens.
Unless you’ve very recently visited the Studios, your arrival experience is probably going to look a lot different. There’s a new tram stop that probably isn’t much further away from bag check than the old spot.
Simply turning around, here’s the current/future setup with bag check just a short walk away from the tram and Skyliner drop-offs. As we’ll see in a moment, the boat still picks up and drops off from the same location, so nothing has changed there. The walk to/from the Skyliner to bag check/the entrance is also short.
Guests taking Disney buses may find themselves walking the farthest. From the last bus stop serviced by a Disney-operated resort, the walk is probably about seven minutes at a leisurely stroll and closer to five minutes if you hustle a bit.
At least the stops are completely covered. A 7-minute walk isn’t too bad when it’s 75 degrees out and sunny, but with July’s brutal heat and with the summer’s propensity to kick the rain into high gear with just a moment’s notice, those long walks at the end of the day can be pretty unpleasant. It’s too bad there wasn’t a way to move the stops closer because they’re just about as far out there as the temporary set of stops that Disney had set up last year during the construction of the new shelters.
There is some good news for those of you being dropped off or picked up because that location has moved almost parallel to the Skyliner station, which means that bag check/the entrance is a short distance away. There’s also some comfortable benches there. Uber/Lyft had been picking up and dropping off guests much further away prior to the move. If you’re relying on Disney transportation otherwise, then you may want to consider Uber/Lyft for the sake of speed and comfort. From the Studios, a ride to the Contemporary or Animal Kingdom Lodge is typically under nine dollars, while the trip to Pop Century, Coronado Springs, or Caribbean Beach would set you back a dollar less. Comfortable seats, powerful air-conditioning, a lack of screaming children that don’t belong to you, and a shorter walk can go a long way to making the end of the day a little more pleasant. Otherwise, there’s always the walk to the bus stop at All-Star Sports. And there’s always Universal.
Signage for the Skyliner is already up, along with arrows pointing to the buses, restrooms, trams, and the least desirable location of all, the Park entrance.
You might also note that the parking lot names have changed, so you can confused yourself over whether you parked in Mickey or Minnie. Or, in the dark, whether you’re looking at Olaf or BB-8.
Bag check is still under construction.
Though plenty of tables are already operational.
It looks like even more bag check space, closer to the boat dock and Skyliner station, is still under construction.
What’s currently being built is just about the extent of the old bag check area, which may give you a better idea about how much things have been expanded. They’re certainly working towards efficiencies. And if Disneyland is any indication, it might actually be enough.
How you’ll leave the Park has also changed a bit with what are currently two main points of exit. This one is closer to the trams.
Here’s a look from the opposite direction. The “Other Exit” would be more convenient if you’re heading to the Skyliner, buses, boat, or the parking lots on that side.
The bathrooms nearest the tram don’t require you to go through security, which may be helpful when you’ve recently eaten at ABC Commissary and time is of the essence. There’s also a new set of bathrooms closer to the bus stops and Skyliner. Note the fence on the far right.
The high fence isn’t of much interest other than the fact that it reminded me of the velociraptor enclosure in Jurassic Park, with guests desperate to leave trying to test the barrier for weaknesses. “Please, I’ll do anything to go to Epcot. Even for just five minutes.”
Circling around, the boat dock is still accessible through that narrow passageway in between the two sets of construction walls. Bag check should be very convenient from over there, though it’s possible that the section will be closed during less crowded times of day/year.
That should catch us up on what’s happening outside the Park. We’ll head inside for what I’m sure are some very exciting construction walls.