Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has been open for about a week, and we’re finally starting to see its opening procedures normalize, even as Disney continues to make changes.
It’s 6:08am on the morning of Monday, December 9th, 2019. We’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as we find ourselves amidst a rather large number of people waiting to enter a Park that doesn’t officially open for nearly two hours. This is the website’s second recorded rope drop since Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened less than a week ago, on Thursday, December 5th. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping up to date with the happenings, but you can pull up Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of the original series covering my first visit at those highlighted links.
At this point, it “feels” like the opening procedure that we’re going to see for at least the next few weeks has normalized for the most part. Each of the last three days, the Studios was officially scheduled to open at 8am. And on each of those days, the Park actually opened right around 6:30am. I think the 6:30am open is what we should go in expecting over the next couple of weeks. Once December 22nd arrives, and the crowds really roll in, the actual opening may move a half hour earlier, depending on how many more people are showing up this early.
Even so, Disney continues to make major changes to the operating schedule, extending hours, moving the official Park openings earlier and earlier, and they’ve even started changing morning Extra Magic Hours to evening Extra Magic Hours on Sundays in December and January.
First, here’s the current operating schedule for the rest of December:
As recently as the day Rise of the Resistance debuted, the Studios was scheduled to officially open at 9am on nearly every one of these dates. A couple of days ago, Disney moved the official openings from 9am to 8am, and made last Sunday’s set of morning Extra Magic Hours two hours instead of the usual one hour. Now, on December 11th, Disney has moved the Park’s official open up another hour, to 7am, over the next ten days. Since crowds will be even larger beginning December 22nd, it’s likely that Disney will move the opens from then, until the end of the year, to either 6am or 7am.
They also changed the morning Extra Magic Hours that were originally scheduled to evening Extra Magic Hours on Sundays. As we’ve previously covered, for whatever reason, Rise of the Resistance seems to become more reliable as the day goes on. Rise of the Resistance was not part of the morning Extra Magic Hour offerings, but we may see it run during evening Extra Magic Hours. Disney probably also doesn’t want to call in any more cast members than they have to before 4am to deal with the crowds that would inevitably show up with a 5am or 6am start to morning EMH.
Here’s a look at January’s current operating schedule, with the first 11 days of February also included:
The 8am opens continue into January, with the potential that they’ll officially move to 7am on at least some dates when Disney updates the operating schedule again. In January, we also see the original morning Extra Magic Hours scheduled on Sundays changed to evening Extra Magic Hours. Disney has not yet made any changes to February 2020, but we will certainly see changes as those dates approach. The original 9am to 8pm operating hours, and the 8am to 9am morning Extra Magic Hours on Sundays, are still intact.
Rewinding slightly, it’s 5:49am on Monday, December 9th, as I approach bag check.
Most days moving forward, 5:45am should be right around the time that you’ll want to arrive for a comfortable spot to wait relatively close to one of the entrance tapstiles. On busier days, like those that you’ll encounter from December 22nd through January 2nd, you’d likely want to arrive a half an hour earlier than that, around 5:15am, in order to be around the same spot that I’ll find myself in today.
These phone pictures didn’t come out very well, but I’ll be switching over to my regular camera in a moment. You can sort of make out the number of people who have beat me to the punch, arriving before this photo was taken at 5:50am. This is already as many lines as I’ve ever seen poised to open in front of rope drop.
I’d probably be about 25 people back in any of these middle lines. To Disney’s credit, they did a great job of keeping everyone organized. You almost always see people much more clumped together, not necessarily realizing that each set of touchpoints has two sides. Cast member walked up and down each line, answering questions, passing out maps and documentation, and keeping everything civil.
At 5:52am, just a minute after I initially arrived, even more lines opened down to the far right.
I proceeded over there. Here before 6am, one key point is that there is still space in front of the ticket booths to stand in a well-defined line.
15 minutes later, that’s no longer going to be true as people are backed up farther and father in front of the ticket booths. From back there, you’re basically in one big clump that’s going to sort of ooze forward. You may not want to be part of that ooze.
Moving forward, I’d expect Disney’s Hollywood Studios to open between 6am and 6:30am. Disney has moved the official opens over the next ten days to 7am to better reflect the Park opening that early.
So why is everyone here, standing in the dark, before the sun even has an opportunity to grace us with its presence high above the greatest theme park on earth? It’s to join the earliest boarding group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as possible:
I went over how to join a boarding group in detail in Part One of our original series, which you can pull up here.
- A Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group is currently required in order to experience the ride. There is no standby line for those without a valid boarding group.
- To be eligible to join a boarding group, you must have scanned your valid ticket/MagicBand at the Park entrance. This is true for all members of a party who plan to join a boarding group. One person can’t go to the Park, scan in, and sign everyone in their party up for a boarding group if the other members are back in the room sleeping. Or even if they’re just farther back in line and haven’t yet scanned.
- To join a boarding group, you either press the “Join Boarding Group” button on the first screen that opens on the My Disney Experience app, or see one of the Guest Experience Team/Guest Services cast members, who will be standing just inside the Park.
- In the week since Rise of the Resistance opened, all boarding group spots have filled before 9am every day.
Here’s a chart that shows the actual time Hollywood Studios opened, the scheduled time it was supposed to open, and the time that all boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance filled:
As more and more people become privy to the fact that a boarding group is required to ride Rise of the Resistance, and more and more people arrive even earlier in the day, it’s likely that the boarding groups will fill earlier. That may be what we’re already seeing, with all boarding groups filled almost an hour earlier on Wednesday than they were on Tuesday.
To guarantee being able to sign up for a boarding group, you’ll want to arrive no later than 7:15am, and that time may continue to creep up even earlier. If you had shown up at 7:15am on Wednesday, December 11th, your boarding group would have been well out into the evening anyway. That’s fine if you’re planning on hanging around, or don’t mind coming back around 7pm, but it also puts you at risk that your boarding group number will be high enough that it isn’t called during the day.
You’ll see that disclaimer at the bottom of this in-park screen, in addition to a number of places on the app:
So far, Disney has been generous with those who hold high-number boarding group passes that aren’t called by the end of the day. They’ve given them a digital FastPass+ to return the next day to ride Rise of the Resistance without needing to sign up for another boarding group, in addition to giving them 1-day Park Hopper tickets in order to return to the Park in case they don’t have another valid day of admission. While generous, a return visit may not fit into your plans if you’re short on time or have other things going on. Arriving earlier will result in a lower-number boarding group, which will be called earlier in the day.
Immediately after all members of your group have scanned in and entered the Park, you’ll want to open up the My Disney Experience app and click the “Join Boarding Group” button. It will be lit up red if it’s possible to sign up. If it’s grey, then boarding groups aren’t yet available. Sometimes, there is a short delay in the boarding group system coming online, and you may need to wait a minute or two to refresh the page and see the red button. One person in the party can sign everyone up for a boarding group, so long as they’re connected in the My Disney Experience app. The boarding group sign-up screen looks just like the FastPass+ booking screen, so if they show up for FastPass+, then they’ll show up for the boarding group signup as well. You can also sign up individually if you prefer.
Remember, you’ll have two hours to return to Rise of the Resistance to ride after your boarding group is called. So if some of the people who you’d like to ride with are in group 15, and others are in boarding groups 17 and 21, you’ll still be able to ride together once boarding group 21 is called.
On the day of my visit, the Park opened at 6:25am, we scanned our tickets at 6:29am, and we secured boarding group 17 via the app a minute or two later:
We’ve found that it’s best if you start the boarding group signup process after everyone that you’re signing up has scanned their tickets/MagicBands. If you pull up the Join Boarding Group screen before then, and try to add someone who hasn’t yet scanned their ticket, then you’ll have to exit out of the signup screen and reenter it after that person has scanned in, which will take more time. This is due to the app showing an error that someone in the party isn’t eligible to join a boarding group, and needs to be removed.
Here at 6:29am, just about everyone has their phone out, bracing to sign up for a boarding group just inside the Park entrance.
How quickly the boarding groups are called can vary wildly. Downtime at Rise of the Resistance is common, with the ride intermittently closing for about a half hour at a time, a few times per day. That’s likely why Disney is using the boarding group system instead of standby or FastPass+. They can control the number of people arriving based on when they call the next boarding group. If problems arise, they stop calling additional boarding groups, and those people who haven’t yet been called can continue to enjoy(?) doing other things. With the virtual queue system, if problems persist, then they only have to dump a queue full of a few hundred people, or the equivalent of three or four boarding groups. If standby was offered, there might be 5,000 people waiting. If the ride went down, Disney would either need to send those five thousand people packing, or they’d have to wait through several bouts of downtime in a never-ending line.
Perhaps just like “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried,” the virtual queue is the worst way to get people on Rise of Resistance, except for all of the other ways that Disney could set it up.
The virtual queue means that there is no uncomfortable race over to the attraction entrance first thing. There is no standby line to enter and you can literally do whatever else you want up until the time your boarding group is called, at which point the wait to ride should be under a half hour. If the ride goes down during that wait, there’s an easy process to get to return later, either with a digital FastPass+ or a paper FASTPASS. The virtual queue, which is only available on the day-of, means that nobody has a FastPass+ booking advantage by being able to book at 60+ days out. The virtual queue system is perfectly fair for everyone who is able to arrive at a theme park absurdly early.
On the downside, it makes late arrivals impossible. With Rise of the Resistance currently running out of boarding group availability before 9am, even an “early” arrival may be way too late. It also means that there’s no opportunity to get in the standby line last thing at night (or any other time) and simply wait your turn to ride.
We also don’t know how long the virtual queue system will be place. Eventually, and as early as the first week in January, we could see Disney move to the standard FastPass+/standby line situation that virtually every other ride offers. When that happens, it will be almost impossible to book Rise of the Resistance FastPass+, unless you’re staying at a resort where you’re eligible to book 60 days out, and staying for five or more days.
Currently, Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+ are still routinely unavailable 62+ days out. Demand for Rise of the Resistance FastPass+ will be even greater. The rush over to ride Rise of the Resistance first thing is also unlikely to be a pleasant experience, with even more people, and long pathways that constantly widen and narrow. Riding last thing at night may also not be viable if Disney cuts off the line early, so that the last guest of the day rides around Park closing. Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is now Walt Disney World’s second most popular attraction. While the average wait there still hovers around two-and-a-half hours, you can routinely wait about 45 minutes if you get in line at the very end of the night. That may not be possible at Rise of the Resistance if there are still 5,000 people in line with three hours until close.
Of course, we’ll continue to monitor the situation as things unfold, keeping a watchful eye on when the Park actually opens and how early boarding groups are filled. These are the Skyliner’s official operating hours from Monday, when the Studios officially opened at 8am, and the Skyliner officially came online at 7:30am. In order to be at the Park by 5:45am, you obviously can’t rely on transportation that may not be coming online for another hour or more. With Disney capitulating, and moving the official open to 7am, you would think that Disney buses and the Skyliner would come online much earlier. If you have access to your own vehicle, then I’d plan on driving to the Park if you’re heading over before 6am.
If you don’t, then Uber/Lyft/Mears is your best bet. Area drivers are now familiar with how much demand there is over there, so there’s typically more availability in the resort area. I’d still pull up your favorite ride sharing app well before you’re ready to leave to see how many available vehicles there are in the area. If the approximate wait is going to be 10 or 12 minutes, then you’ll want to put in for a ride earlier than if the wait is expected to be just a few minutes and there are plenty of drivers around.
Just to reiterate, in order to feel a little more comfortable about your spot in line, I’d arrive at bag check between 5:45am and 6am. You can push it back to 6:30am if you’re less concerned about joining an earlier boarding group. By 7am, you may begin to risk either being shut out of a boarding group altogether, or getting one that’s so late in the evening that there’s a chance that it won’t get called.
The good news, as we’ll see, is that after you manage to arrive early, enter the Park, and sign up for your boarding group, you can then enjoy an easy morning moving through the Studios’ most popular attractions. On the day of my visit, I’m going to be able to experience all of the Studios’ rides, including Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, before 10:30am. It’s hard to beat that, even if the early arrival probably isn’t what most people have in mind when they’re “on vacation.” You can always sleep at your desk back at work.
In the next part, we’ll get going in Galaxy’s Edge. Pull up that post here.