Our consideration of wait times since Walt Disney World reopened in the middle of July continues with Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We opened with a discussion of Magic Kingdom and some of the overarching changes that we would expect to see across each of the major theme parks. We then moved on to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to see just how much waits have dropped there. Since much of our discussion focused on how low wait times have been since the Parks reopened, and how many resorts Disney has either kept shuttered or pushed back the opening dates for, it’s not too surprising that we now have a new wrinkle.
Beginning September 8th, Disney will be reducing the operating hours at each of its theme parks:
- Animal Kingdom will be open from 9am to 5pm. The hours were originally 8am to 6pm.
- Epcot will be open from 11am to 7pm. The hours were originally 11am to 9pm.
- Hollywood Studios will be open from 10am to 7pm. The hours were originally 10am to 8pm.
- Magic Kingdom will be open from 9am to 6pm. The hours were originally 9am to 7pm.
You can pull up a spreadsheet of the hours, which currently go through October 31st, here. But what you’ll see is exactly what’s listed above. Currently, Disney has only released operating hours through October 31st. Historically, about 6.5 months-worth of hours would be available, back when the 180-day restaurant reservation window was in effect. Now that the restaurant reservation window is 60 days, and there are no FastPass+ available to book, we may not see Disney release operating hours more than about 75 days in advance. It may have been a mistake on Disney’s part to release the operating hours through the end of October in the first place. After all, if the “new” operating hours were what Disney originally released, they wouldn’t now be “reducing” the original set. Those would just be the original, unaltered operating hours.
We’ll have to wait and see what Thanksgiving looks like in November with Christmas following in December. Those are historically two of the busiest times of year, with December 24th to January 2nd as the busiest period of the year, by far.
Theoretically, Park capacity would increase with longer operating hours. You can serve more people if you’re open until 11pm than if you’re open until 5pm. Assuming, of course, that someone shows up after 5pm. As we’ve come to realize, that doesn’t do us a lot of good at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where the vast majority of those guests who will visit over the course of the day arrive before it opens. The fact that Disney is largely cutting hours off of the end of the day also doesn’t bode well for nighttime extensions.
Before the Parks reopened, there was some chatter of the possibility that guests would choose an available arrival time. That has not been the case thus far, but it would be a way for Disney to potentially increase capacity. You could book Hollywood Studios for 8am to 4pm or 4pm to 12am, for example. Potentially, they could also stagger arrival times. You might gain entry to the Park at 8am, 9am, 10am, or 11am, with the assumption that those who arrived earlier would also leave earlier. Either method of trying to control crowds would pose logistical challenges for both Disney and its guests. Assuming demand does increase, Disney will be turning a lot of people away come Christmas time if they don’t manage to significantly increase capacity. It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney miraculously comes to an agreement with the entertainment union just in time for most of those shows to come back the week of Thanksgiving.
Below is the current version of our main chart, which shows the overall average wait across a number of attractions at each of the theme parks that we’ve dived/dove into thus far:
On average, waits have dropped more than 75% since before the extended closure that began in March. That’s even with the shorter operating hours. Disney further reducing the hours, and supply along with it, will likely raise wait times. Of course, as I pointed out in the Animal Kingdom analysis, September is easily Walt Disney World’s least crowded month. Add in all of the uncertainties with travel, and the overall global situation, and we should be lined up for one of the least crowded months of all time (of all time) in the very near future.
So on one hand, the reduction in hours is a bummer. Longer operating hours translate to more access to the rides and shorter waits. Seeing the Parks illuminated at night is also an experience in and of itself. At least as far as September is concerned, the shorter hours shouldn’t be a disastrous change. Should demand improve, Disney can extend the hours again. The problems will start when all of the Parks routinely fill to capacity, even on weekdays, and Disney doesn’t extend the hours or increase capacity. That will be the reality at some point in the future.
Unfortunately, this is the same company that pulled back considerably during the best of times at the beginning of this year. Now that we’re in the worst of times, it’s unlikely that Disney is going to throw us too many bones.
look at these hours from the same weekend from 2016. hollywood studios WAS OPEN LONGER with DOUBLE THE FANTASMICS. magic kingdom was open from 8am to 1am with TWO nighttime parades. ANIMAL KINGDOM OPENED AT FREAKING 8AM YEARS BEFORE AVATAR EVEN OPENED. now 9am. WITH RECORD CROWDS pic.twitter.com/83apDsBNby
— josh (@easywdw) February 15, 2020
The content of this angry tweet illustrates that. We’re all familiar with the current popularity of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, given the fact that it’s where you’ll find several of Disney’s newest rides, including Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Rise of the Resistance, Smugglers Run, and Slinky Dog Dash. Even with those additions, the Studios was actually open fewer hours this year than it was two years ago, long before Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge opened. This was also at the same time that securing a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance meant having one shot and about 15 seconds to push the right sequence of buttons on your phone. Thousands upon thousands of guests routinely arrived before 7am. The Park now opens at 10am.
Reducing the hours at the Studios means guests will have even less access to experience Rise of the Resistance by reducing the ride’s capacity by however many people can currently ride in that last hour. That’s probably around 500 guests with cast seating just one party per vehicle. That puts the ride’s capacity around 50% of what it could be, probably at best.
Since we’re allegedly focusing on the Studios, here’s the average daily wait at the Park since it reopened on July 15th:
Or as more of a line chart, should you prefer:
Theoretically, the Studios is where wait times should be the most consistent. Via the Disney Park Pass system, there is always no day-of availability for annual passholders outside of cancellations. That means there shouldn’t be an influx of locals on the weekends, unless they’re willing to book a resort stay or purchase a separate ticket. Most passholders couldn’t go to the Studios in the near term if we wanted to because there’s no availability.
Guests using day tickets can book the Studios in advance, but rarely on the day of. Here’s a look at Park Pass availability on the evening of Friday, August 7th:
Both Friday and Saturday show no availability, while all other dates remain available. As of August 10th, guests with regular tickets can book any Park on any date moving forward. By August 13th or so, I would expect there to be little to no availability for Disney’s Hollywood Studios for regular ticket-holders for August 14th and 15th.
This past weekend, the Studios had no availability for Disney Resort guests on Saturday, either:
All other Parks remained available. Once the Studios, or any other Park, fills to capacity, waits at the other Parks will increase as attendance rises. It’s hard to imagine that Hollywood Studios would be anybody’s first choice of where they want to spend their day, but once you take that option off the table, people will pick a different Park to attend. That’s part of why we see longer waits at the other Parks on Saturdays. You fill up one bowl of candy and you’re going to have to start putting pieces in another jar.
Passholders remain out of luck:
Considering how much physical space Epcot has, and how low crowds have been, it’s hard to imagine that Disney would deny passholders access on the weekends. But even that’s currently out for the next couple of weeks. Disney may be trying to force local visitors with annual passes to stay at its resorts to have any access to the Parks. That increases resort occupancy and guest spending.
If you are a passholder with more foresight, then availability improves drastically as you look further into the future. Here’s October:
As you can see, the Studios is still already filling on weekends.
So far, the overall average wait for the Studios is 24 minutes. Let’s take a look at the chart from a few days ago, on August 5th, when the average wait was 23.3 minutes. That’s within a minute of the average:
The wait time distribution mirrors what we would expect and what we’ve witnessed ourselves. With the 10am release of Rise of the Resistance virtual boarding groups, just about anyone who wants a shot at riding will be inside the Park prior to it opening. The virtual queue for Rise typically fills in about 15 seconds. Since the mornings are when the most people are in the Park, it’s also when waits are highest.
From 10:15am to noon, the Studios’ average wait is 29 minutes. From 12:15pm to 2pm, the average wait actually drops to 25 minutes. That’s a departure from the other three Parks, where waits increase in the early afternoon as more people arrive. In the last two hours of operation, the average wait at the Studios is just 18 minutes. That’s even with inflated waits posted at Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and other attractions. At 7:45pm, with the current 8pm close, you should be able to get in line for any attraction with a standby queue and wait 15 minutes or less, even if it’s posted at 30+ minutes.
We’ve done that plenty of times.
We’re also interested in seeing which attractions now have higher wait times given physical-distancing measures and loading procedures. In our Magic Kingdom analysis, we calculated the average wait at each attraction and came away with a couple of surprises:
The top few attractions are what you would historically expect. But seeing Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise with longer average waits than Peter Pan’s Flight or Space Mountain is probably more surprising. Peter Pan’s Flight hasn’t seen a reduction in capacity, since cast fill every pirate ship and multiple parties never shared the same vehicle. Pirates of the Caribbean, on the other hand, has seen a drastic cut in capacity. You’ll now typically find just two of the five rows filled on each boat. Disney also doesn’t pair parties together in the same row as they have in the past. That means Pirates is running at around 40% of its potential capacity, assuming cast are loading boats on both docks. Thus, waits are higher, even if demand is lower.
Here’s what we’re looking at with Hollywood Studios:
This list may not be terribly surprising.
At least on my biased Twitter poll, more people chose Tower of Terror:
Most people still did get it wrong, though, which makes me right.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Walt Disney World’s newest attraction, sees the highest wait. With Disney seating guests in every other row and not seating different parties together in the same row, it also sees a heavily-reduced capacity.
Seeing Tower of Terror with the second-highest average wait is a little more surprising. With technical trouble already marring the attraction, and its capacity severely limited with just the front and back rows loaded, it narrowly beats out Slinky Dog Dash.
Slinky’s 32.2-minute overall average is 48.8 minutes lower than the ride’s overall average since it debuted in June 2018. We might not be too keen on waiting about a half hour for Slink in the afternoon, but it does beat an 81-minute wait. Cast typically load every other row with parties of four taking up their own section of the slinky.
Smugglers Run and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s average waits are within a minute of each other, and the only other two attractions that you really need to worry about. With average waits of about 26 minutes each, each attraction is more forgiving in the morning and evening.
You can follow along with my recommended morning touring plan in this series of posts:
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop and Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Return
- Backlot Express Hummus and Afternoon Touring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Reopening
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Toy Story Land Touring After Reopening
We start with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and then take care of the two thrillers on Sunset Boulevard in Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. That takes care of three of the Park’s most popular attractions in about an hour. After that, we’re heading for the anytime attractions and lunch for a couple of hours, giving the Park an opportunity to clear out a bit.
Toy Story Mania has seen incredibly-low wait times since reopening. I’ve been seated with another party in the seats on the opposite side of the same vehicle just as often as before the extended closure. Even if Disney isn’t running the third track, capacity is relatively decent there without other modifications.
Star Tours is a walk-on for at least the first two and last two hours of operation. You might wait up to 20 minutes if you time things particularly poorly.
Muppet*Vision typically posts either a 10- or 15-minute wait, so the 12-minute average is what you would expect there. Even with every other row roped off, and three empty seats left between each party, potential viewers should be able to get into the next show most of the time. That’s less true before 2pm, when you may need to wait through a show before it’s your turn to enter the theater.
Alien Swirling Saucers rounds things out, also with few modifications in the loading procedure. Cast can load all or most of the aliens, which means the low capacity from before is still the low capacity. Take away FastPass+ priority and standby waits have seen a significant drop.
We’ve been interested in seeing if there are any trends in the distribution of wait times over the course of the week. Ideally, there would be identifiable days with lower waits and each Park would be less crowded on a different day. Our hypothesis was that Saturday would be a better day for the Studios because it’s the most likely to be filled to capacity other days of the week.
Here’s a look at the Studios’ average wait by day:
While Saturdays don’t see the lowest waits of the week, they are lower than several weekdays, including Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Here’s the chart for Animal Kingdom:
Every week since the Park reopened, Saturdays have seen the highest wait of that week. This past Saturday was also the busiest day since the Park reopened.
Here’s Magic Kingdom:
Again, Saturdays are clearly the busiest day with this past Saturday also seeing the highest average wait since the Park reopened.
Somewhat interestingly, while waits over this past weekend were the highest they’ve been at both Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom, the average for the week went down compared to the previous week at both Parks. That may be an indication that local demand is increasing. Disney has been marketing heavily to Florida residents, in addition to offering discounts on rooms and tickets. If you’re coming from out of state, the fact that wait times during the week aren’t increasing astronomically is good news. August 11th was also the last day that passholders could receive refunds under a complicated system of choices. It’s possible that some of them were getting in one last visit before waiting on hold for several hours to try to cancel and/or get hung up on. We’re also nearing the return to some semblance of school.
As always, how you go about your day is more important than which day you visit. I could probably do better on a day with a 30+ minute average wait and an intelligent touring plan than trying to go about things inefficiently on a day with a 20-minute average wait. It doesn’t help that the Studios is easily the least forgiving Park in the morning given that it sees peak crowds right off the bat. That can make for a day that “feels” a lot more stressful. Because of that, you may not want to make the Studios the first stop on your trip unless you’re a frequent and familiar visitor.
At the other Parks, the buildup is slower as people inevitably arrive late. It seems like the one thing that’s universally understood is that you need to be at the Studios before it opens for the best shot at a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. People seem less swayed by the prospect of short standby waits at the likes of Flight of Passage or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train early in the morning.
Depending on the length of your trip, and how important Rise of the Resistance and the other Studios attractions are, you may want to book two days at the Studios to start. If you’re arriving on Sunday, then Tuesday would be a good first day, followed by Saturday. If you can do Rise, and feel like you’ve experienced everything that the Studios has to offer, then you can change your Park Pass for later in the week to another Park. It will be much easier to switch out the Studios for Epcot than vice versa. If you arrive on Sunday, and book the Studios for Saturday before returning home the following day, then you’ve only got the one shot for Rise and some of the other priorities. You can get real unlucky and have Rise get struck by lightning, knocking the ride offline all day.
As far as which days to book which Parks, it looks like Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday are all good days for Animal Kingdom. Magic Kingdom typically sees the lowest waits on Wednesdays, Sundays, and Thursdays. It then makes sense to visit Magic Kingdom on Sunday, Animal Kingdom on Monday, and the Studios or Epcot on Tuesday, followed by a second day at Magic Kingdom on Wednesday. At the Studios, you might find slightly shorter waits on a Monday or Tuesday than a Saturday, but we’re only talking about a five- or ten-percent reduction. Or, about a minute, on average.
So, if you can avoid the weekends, you’ll avoid most of the longest waits. If you “have” to go somewhere on a Saturday, then the Studios makes the most sense, since wait times aren’t wildly higher, like they are at the other Parks. If you’re planning a down day, then Saturday is likely your best bet. I would also advise against visiting Disney Springs to “get away from the crowds.” With the early closures at the Parks, it can get pretty nutty over there in the evening.
Potentially, you could start your day at the Studios by arriving before Park open to try to sign up for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group. After that, you could leave for Disney Springs, when the Studios will be at its busiest, and the Springs would be at its least crowded. Back when Park Hopping existed, we liked to hit the Studios for a shot at Rise first, and then ride the Skyliner over to Epcot for an easy rope drop there. That’s currently off the table unless you’re willing to purchase two separate tickets. That’s probably an unlikely scenario.
Overall, things are probably falling into place. We’ll take a closer look at wait times at Epcot and continue to monitor waits at the other Parks to see when and if they increase.