Today we’ll take a look at how the website’s 1-day cheat sheet touring plan works in practice. I have some drafts of the new versions of the cheat sheets for each Park in this forum thread if you have interest, though there are some changes that need to be made. The purpose of the cheat sheets is to boil down what you need to know about touring each Park into just a couple of pages. You’ll find color-coded maps based on the best time to visit attractions, rope drop procedures, general touring philosophies, touring plans, tips on seeing the nighttime entertainment, and wait times based on crowd level, among other things. They should prove handy even if you have a good idea about what you’re trying to accomplish.
Above is the scene outside the main entrance upon my arrival at 8:06am on Tuesday December 1st – the same day that Star Wars Launch Bay, Path of the Jedi, Jedi Training Academy, etc. debuted. If you missed the post covering tips on how to experience those additions, see this post: https://www.easywdw.com/uncategorized/new-jedi-training-academy-trials-of-the-temple-signup-star-wars-launch-bay-strategy-chewbacca-and-vader-meet-and-greets-path-of-the-jedi-new-food-options-at-backlot-express-royal-guard-burger-and/.
I arrived early enough that it didn’t really matter which tapsile I lined up in front of.
If you arrive a little later, you may want to scope out where they’re admitting breakfast guests prior to opening.
Closer to when they let people inside the Park, they’ll open these lines to the general public and those closest have the opportunity to shuffle over to find a much shorter line at a previously vacant Mickey reader.
Back in July, I went from 25+ people back in line to just four without any more effort than it took to walk five or six steps over to the left. Keep that in mind if you show up late to Animal Kingdom, Epcot, or here at the Studios. The picture immediately above and the two above that are from July, but this is the morning scene regardless of what day you visit.
Back to December, by 8:30am, the lines stretch back past the ticket windows. Otherwise, the earlier you can get here, the better. I think the sweet spot is around 8:15am with a regular 9am open. That way you’re not arriving needlessly early just to stand around, but you’re still beating the vast majority of the people that are going to arrive before regular open. With the breakfast line trick, you should find yourself among the first people entering the Park. With Disney transportation, that can be a lot easier said than done as you don’t know how long it’s going to take for your bus to arrive. I suggest being at the bus stop no later than 7:30am. That way, even if it takes 25 minutes to load and depart for the Studios, you still arrive by 8:15am. Earlier is always better as we’ll find out what a difference just a couple of minutes makes shortly.
The thing about rope drop is that there’s a similar number of people present on some of the least crowded days of the year and some of the most crowded days of the year. That might seem counter-intuitive, but the difference between a “low crowd day” and a “high crowd day” is really what you can expect to do come 11am after the majority of people have rolled in. The morning goes similarly regardless of whether you’re visiting on a random Tuesday in January, Easter Sunday, July 26th, September 15th, Thanksgiving, December 1st, or Christmas Day. That’s particularly true with the Studios moving its opening to 8am on legitimately busy days.
One of the unfortunate consequences of FastPass+ is that relatively low wait times no longer necessarily line up with less crowded days. With the maximum number of people arriving with FastPass+ priority at the majority of attractions every single day of the year, standby waits are in turn pushed up even with half as many people in the Park here on December 1st than you’d find on July 18th. You may remember in our Pirates of the Caribbean example that every 100 people in standby increases the standby wait time by ten minutes, thanks to 70%+ of an attraction’s capacity given to FP+. And that’s at a ride with a monster capacity. At a ride like Toy Story Mania, you would wait over three hours with just 1,000 people waiting in standby. And average attendance at the Studios is well over 25,000 people a day.
FastPass+ availability continues to get worse every day as more and more people become familiar with how to use it. Disney recently added this blurb to every single FastPass+-enabled attraction on its website:
Add to that all the email reminders, mailings, Texas-based copycats that appeal to the lowest possible common denominator, and word-of-mouth, and you have far more people than ever before at a minimum educated enough to select something as their FP+ selections. Here at Soarin’, Disney even recommends one of the better FastPass+ choices in Spaceship Earth. So when you show up at The Seas with Nemo at 11am to what is now a 35-minute standby wait, you’ll have a better idea as to why. I really cannot overemphasize how much this is not an attendance thing.
The good news is that it’s not all bad news. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got going:
The strategy behinds the plans hasn’t changed much over the years, even after the introduction of FastPass+. This was the original cheat sheet plan, written nearly three years ago in the legacy FASTPASS days:
The steps are nearly identical, though the timing has required some adjustments in the FastPass+ age. Even visiting Toy Story immediately in the morning, you still have people using FP+ there with priority first thing, though it doesn’t bog us down that much. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster offers a similar predicament – in the good old days, it required about 15 minutes to ride. Now, the cheat sheet allots 25 minutes just in case. We also need to rely on FastPass+ earlier in the day to get through Tower of Terror and then Star Tours. But you may notice that under both plans, we expect to be done with the first three rides at the exact same point in the morning – 10:10am.
Anyway, there isn’t much use dwelling on the past, but I thought it was worth pointing out that the first few steps really haven’t changed much. If you’re interested in Jedi Training Academy, be sure to read the Star Wars post from a couple of days ago.
The rope drop holding areas are back with a vengeance at the Studios:
Guests are typically allowed into the Park 15 to 30 minutes before official open and are then held back in the areas marked with orange lines.
There isn’t much use in heading in the direction of Star Tours and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular first thing if you’re not headed to Jedi Training Academy signups. Star Tours doesn’t see appreciable waits for at least an hour and there aren’t any other priorities over here.
Those headed to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror have the most straightforward holding area and a relatively wide walkway on Sunset Boulevard, just past Sweet Spells.
Those headed toward Toy Story Mania and now Star Wars Launch Bay now look forward to enjoying quite the clustercuss.
Perhaps out of necessity, there’s a holding area in front of Hollywood Brown Derby. I don’t think using this holding area provides any advantage over the main one, though there’s less opportunity for people that arrive after you to push in front of you because the walkway is so narrow, which is good if you’re in the very front and less good if you’re in the very back.
We were originally let into the Park at exactly 8:45am and after checking on how Jedi Training was going among other things, I approached the Toy Story/Launch Bay holding area at 8:52am.
There’s already a couple hundred people waiting, which is why I don’t advocate trying to sign up for Jedi Training and then doing Toy Story Mania on the same morning. This is as early as you would possibly hope to arrive after signing up for Jedi Training. I confirmed that they were indeed signing kids up early and then headed over here. Even if you ran to Jedi Training and ended up ten groups back, you’d arrive even later and be even further back.
This is around where you’d be if you arrived at the main entrance at 8:30am instead of 8am.
This is where things started to take a turn for the worse. I’ve railed against being held at rope drop for years – it’s extremely unpleasant to be massed together into a large clump of people that all want to get in front of you on their way to the same place you’re headed. It’s not unlike Black Friday without the sales.
These poor fellows arrived on stage at 8:57am purporting to be members of the 100% fake “Wookiee’s World Podcast.” Their job is basically to let you know that you can buy $6 cupcakes at 400 different places around the Park, that Star Wars Launch Bay exists, and if you want to sign up for Jedi Training Academy that you’re in entirely the wrong place. If you’re wondering why people are holding up a single finger, it’s not because we’re all exclaiming that “easywdw #1.” We’re pretending that our fingers are lightsabers. Even the red-headed kid is over it. If there’s one thing Americans don’t like doing, it’s participating. And if there’s a second thing Americans don’t like doing, it’s anything before 9am. This combines both into what amounts to be just about the worst possible way to start your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
I will give you $100,000 if you can find anybody smiling in this picture. Note that Wookiee’s World is just getting started and this doesn’t even capture all the people lined up further down Hollywood Boulevard that I can assure you are no happier.
This is not a Launch Bay thing, or a busy day thing, or anything else – this is what heading to Toy Story Mania or Star Wars Launch Bay will look like every day of the year. We have people converging from three different areas all headed to those archways ahead.
The walkway down to the left is blocked off by cast and ropes.
I suggest heading through the middle, wider arch. Most people will try to cram through the very narrow arch closer to Toy Story, which takes significantly longer.
The slow march to Toy Story.
We’re stopped here as several hundred people now attempt to cram into an even narrower queue single file while cast members yell at everyone to keep up. KEEP UP WITH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU. KEEP UP WITH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU. KEEP UP WITH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU. KEEP UP WITH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU.
9:07am with a 35-minute posted wait already. This is about 12 minutes later than we would like to arrive, but there’s no way around it with the fake podcasters occupying so much time.
I may be living under a rock, but I don’t remember hearing about Mr. Potato Head being removed from the queue. The queue nearest where he used to be is dark.
It looks to be a permanent removal – perhaps he is headed over to the new queue and this entrance will end up being used solely for FastPass+.
I was back out front at exactly 9:30am to a 105-minute wait and the line backed up out the door. This is an every day occurence, whether you’re visiting on July 4th, September 13th, or December 1st. Looking over wait times over the last 30ish days with waits at 9:30am highlighted:
The average posted wait come 9:30am is 87 minutes and it doesn’t really go down as the day progresses into the afternoon. Before FastPass+, it was relatively easy to sneak in a second ride in standby with an early arrival, but FastPass+ returners are already going to be returning with priority right at 9am and with Disney walking everybody over here at rope drop, even people that have no idea where they’re headed arrive here. I remember my first rope drop after New Fantasyland officially opened and I asked the other people around me at Enchanted Tales with Belle why they went there first, expecting them to say they saw something on the DIS or heard about it on a real podcast. Literally every single person said they just followed somebody else and had no idea where they were. The current rope drop procedure exacerbates that effect.
When it comes to avoiding the slow, unpleasant procession to Toy Story, you have a few options:
The first and most obvious is to avoid it altogether. If you’re happy with one ride on Toy Story via FastPass+ or you can visit at the very end of the night when waits are reliably short, you can start with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror instead. Waits don’t build as fast over there, so you should be able to ride standby on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster twice and Tower of Terror once before waits become prohibitively long.
The second is to arrive as I did, plenty early, and head straight up to the holding area to the right of the stage. It doesn’t really matter what’s going on behind you if you’re ahead of it. There may still be some nudging along the way and somebody is probably going to want it more than you and will push ahead, but it will be a much more pleasant experience if you’re leading the race.
The third is to avoid the whole ordeal altogether. You could still arrive early and do the signup for Jedi Training, but instead of dealing with the crowd, hang back and head to Great Movie Ride or Star Tours after everyone else is released. Both are reasonable priorities. You could also wait a minute or two for everyone else to hurry ahead and then visit Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster first thing for an easy first ride with a reliably short wait.
With a late arrival, you can FastPass+ three attractions in advance and then tour in reverse, hitting the anytime attractions in between FastPass+ experiences and saving the headliners for the last two hours of operation. Ideally, you’d do Star Tours -> Great Movie Ride -> Tower of Terror -> Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster -> Toy Story Mania as that’s typically the order in which waits drop off as closing time approaches. Remember that you can get in line for any operating attraction right up until a minute before official close and ride, regardless of the posted wait. Keep in mind that with the Star Wars fireworks beginning nightly on December 18th, that Toy Story Mania and Great Movie Ride will likely close early.
I popped into Animation Courtyard to check on Launch Bay wait times and see how long the lines were for the Disney Jr. characters before they started appearing. For a while, Sofia the First saw some relatively long lines, but those seem to have eased. I watched as Sofia regally strutted out to her spot for her first meet of the day and there were only two groups waiting – same with Jake, Minnie, and Doc McStuffins further up, which is good news for those interested in meeting them.
There aren’t a lot of people willing to wait 30 to 75 minutes to meet the characters and it seems like Launch Bay will occupy much of their morning time, easing waits elsewhere. It’s yet another reason to do Launch Bay as late in the evening as possible. Vader and Chewbacca meet from Park open to Park close, while other characters end their meets beginning around 4:30pm. This trend will continue as we’ll run into “literally” nobody in line at Sorcerer Mickey and Mike and Sulley.
Not a lot of people heading in at 9:35am. The various Star Wars popcorn buckets and drinking vessels caused some long lines at Disneyland, but they’re available in so many locations here that I didn’t notice any longer lines than usual.
Next up is Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster down Sunset Boulevard.
Passing by Tower of Terror, where we plan to use FastPass+ after.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is already posted at 30 minutes at 9:40am.
The actual wait here is somewhat easy to gauge as the queue is mostly outdoors. If this ramp leading up to the ride entrance is empty or short, you’re looking at an actual wait under ten minutes.
Looking over wait times over the last 30ish days, a 20- to 30-minute posted wait is what you can expect:
30 minutes is a little below average, though this also takes into account higher waits over Thanksgiving week.
As it stands, with the 30-minute posted wait I got in line at 9:40am and was in the pre-show at 9:47am.
And on the ride less than five minutes later.
Single rider is certainly viable this early and should result in a slightly shorter wait. Single rider is otherwise not exactly an original idea later in the day when the wait is 60+ minutes, which funnels more and more people into single rider and pushes up actual waits with no way to know how many people are in line in front of you until you make it this far. I don’t usually recommend single rider here because of that. The majority of parties are going to be two or four people, which means few single riders are placed. Over at Expedition Everest, you can quickly see how many people are in line and decide whether it’s worthwhile. At Test Track, a single rider will be seated with parties of two and two single riders will be placed with parties of four, so the line typically moves faster over there.
And back out front at 9:59am, for a total experience time of 19 minutes. The cheat sheet plan allows for 25 minutes here, but also assumes you’ll arrive 15 minutes earlier. If rope drop continues to be delayed with the fake podcast, some slight adjustments will need to be made as your arrivals at the various attractions will in turn be pushed back.
Tower of Terror is posting a 30-minute wait as well.
This line is harder to gauge because the queue can be extended further up. Standby is currently backed up to the entrance, which can result in actual waits of 20 to 30 minutes or 120 to 180 depending on how much queue is opened up.
Using FastPass+ here is ideal for a few reasons. Namely, it allows us to get through quickly regardless of how long the line has already become. So if you get delayed at Toy Story or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster for whatever reason, you can still breeze through Terror. The ride also has a lot of technical problems and it’s not unusual for it to be running at half capacity, which in turn causes actual standby waits to skyrocket. The other reason for using FastPass+ is it will allow us to get a Great Movie Ride FP+ as a fourth selection earlier in the day, which will result in more availability.
Looking over morning waits over the last 30ish days:
Capacity problems look to be largely in check at the moment, though you can expect to see a 30-minute wait at 10am.
With FastPass+, I’ll basically walk into the library pre-show. I arrived at 10:01am and arrived here at 10:05am.
Your wait in the boiler room will be an additional 5 to 15 minutes.
And on my way to the gift shop at 10:19am, for a total experience time of 18 minutes. Here’s how it stands:
18 minutes is exactly what the cheat sheet allows, which in turn might make you think I’ve done this before. Unfortunately, the fake podcast has put me behind schedule by nine minutes.
Sunset Boulevard heading towards Little Mermaid.
In the opposite direction.
Under ordinary conditions, it’d be 15 minutes earlier in the morning and it wouldn’t be such a rush over here, but I did still make it, albeit barely. I may make a note that if you’re running behind to first use your Toy Story FP+ and then double back here. Voyage of the Little Mermaid should also be available as a 4th or 5th FP+ selection.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid is a little scarier than some parents are expecting with the giant octopus and the various lighting and sound effects. Those with anxious youngsters may want to skip it, particularly if other similarly dark attractions are problematic. It’s not It’s-Tough-To-Be-A-Bug-scary, but it’s going to be more intense than Finding Nemo or Lion King.
Something tells me their first stop isn’t going to be the coffee house.
Remember when “rumors” suggested they were going to tear this down only for Disney to replace the marquee with a new one the week after?
This is why we’re relying on a 4th FastPass+ at Great Movie Ride. This is about as dead as the Studios gets and standby is already almost filling the entire extended queue at 10:45am. That’s the reality of how FP+ priority works – very few standby riders are admitted given so many returning with FP+ priority.
As previously reported, Sorcerer Mickey has taken over another temporary space where The Legend of Jack Sparrow used to be located and the Prince Caspian thing before that.
I stopped in to check on the wait and was surprised to find literally nobody there. This out-of-the-way location is significantly less popular than the Animation Building meet because it’s not at all obvious. Zoomed in, it’s a great backdrop and Mickey’s outfit is terrific.
You may want to pop in sometime between 10am-7pm to meet him.
This more or less concludes the time sensitive portion of the morning. We’re planning to use FastPass+ at Toy Story and then Star Tours, but it’s not exactly a huge rush to get to either as actual waits will be similar regardless of whether we arrive at 10:50am or 11:15am. Of course, you do need to be mindful of the return window.
After a brief consultation with the Big Cheese, it’s on to Toy Story with FP+.
Luckily, FastPass+ return wasn’t backed up very far, but the line moves fast even when it is.
With FastPass+ my total experience time was just 15 minutes. Which is why standby is 95 minutes. The cheat sheet allows for 20 minutes.
Watto’s Grotto remains open in the old Studio Backlot exit area/AFI exhibit space.
Along that path on this side is also where you’ll find Mike and Sulley, who currently have just one or two groups in line at 11:20am.
I spent about 15 minutes photographing mostly Her Universe merchandise, the spoils of which you can see here, along with 100+ photos around Star Wars Launch Bay.
By this time, there’s only one group meeting. Thank the out-of-the-way location.
Phineas and Ferb lines continue to be extremely short all day.
Now it’s time to ride Star Tours with FastPass+. I arrived at 11:45am and the line was “backed out all the way to here.”
Even so, I was past the FastPass+/standby merge point less than five minutes later.
And in the gift shop at 12:05pm for a total experience time of 20 minutes.
Now is the time to select a 4th FastPass+ experience with the nearest kiosk next to Muppet Vision 3D. With nobody in line, you have some time at the kiosk to run through the available options. I usually recommend booking something quickly and then using the My Disney Experience app on your phone to modify the selection to exactly what you want. The touchscreens at the kiosk are finicky and it’s usually easier to use the app. With all the time in the world, you may opt to hunt and peck at the kiosk.
Remember that smaller party sizes will see more FastPass+ availability. This is an oversimplification, but let’s say your party size is four and Great Movie Ride has the following availability at 12:10pm:
- 1 slot for 12:15pm – 1:15pm
- 3 slots for 12:30pm to 1:30pm
- 2 slots for 12:45pm – 1:45pm
- 4 slots for 12:55pm – 1:55pm
- 2 slots for 1:15pm – 2:15pm
- 3 slots for 1:30pm – 2:30pm
With a party size of four, the only available FP+ time shown will be the 12:55pm – 1:55pm slot. Disney does not see one slot at 12:15pm and 3 slots at 12:30pm and split the difference with you and offer a 12:25pm slot, for example. This isn’t so important with Great Movie Ride, but if you’re hunting down a cancellation at Toy Story Mania or hoping for an earlier time at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, it can be worthwhile to split your group up into smaller parties and try to find overlapping return times. For example, you could book 1 slot at 12:15pm and 3 slots at 12:30pm and have everyone return at 12:30pm. Of course, this is a time-consuming hassle in its own right, but the payoff can be high if you’re able to secure a 4th FP+ selection for Toy Story Mania with overlapping times and in turn have the ability to experience the ride again without the 90+ minute wait. Somebody that’s always on their phone anyway may want to intermittently check on availability as other people’s cancellations will show back up as available.
Even as a party of one, there is absolutely no availability for Toy Story Mania and limited availability at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Given heavier crowds, availability will be even worse.
Lunch, which I would prefer not to relive.
That’s about as far as our tour takes us. At this point, you’d want to begin working in the Studios’ high capacity attractions and shows, in addition to whatever additional FastPass+ options you can secure.
We get it, Darth. You vape.
I caught Jedi Training Academy.
Checked on lines at the Disney Jr. characters, which were still reasonable.
Did Launch Bay.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid’s high FastPass+ priority may be surprising. This is how it stacks up:
In the picture above, if you got in line now, you’d be waiting 30 to 45 minutes in a boring line. Star Tours has a lot more opportunities to ride with short waits later in the day. And the Star Tours queue is more interesting and largely indoors and air-conditioned, so if you end up waiting 15 minutes it’s not going to be anywhere near as boring.
So what did we learn?
After the initial hassle of the rope drop itself, it’s relatively easy sailing from there on out. I could have walked over to Great Movie Ride and by 1pm experienced all five of the Studios rides with minimal waits. Even with the website’s current doom and gloom outlook, that’s not bad at all and we’ve still got 7+ hours of operation to take in the shows etc.
Odds and Ends
Dubbed a “flex theater,” Sunset Showcase officially opened on December 5th next to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
To get there, head left at Tower of Terror.
And through the gates to the right.
The space is currently being used as a dance party of sorts, running most of the day from 10am – Park close.
There’s a DJ.
You can spend $14 on corn dog nuggets.
Kids have an opportunity to digitally paint on a variety of screenz.
The main event is the dance floor, where Chip, Dale, Goofy, Donald, Mickey, Minnie, and friends dance with kids in their regular outfits. It remains to be seen how busy it is, but it’s a huge space and thus far, attendance has been slim. I’d head over sometime in the afternoon for some air-conditioning. There are a variety of areas for parents to sit down while the kids play, in addition to phone charging stations and restrooms.
Awnings and Food
Disney has extended awnings over the various Sunset Ranch Market eateries to shield guests from rain while they order and walk to the seating areas. These are over Rosie’s All American Cafe and Catalina Eddie’s.
With additional walls leading up to Fairfax Fare, though the eatery remains open. With Flame Tree Barbecue going down for months, in part to install similar covers, one wonders what Disney was thinking with the recent Harambe Market, where there’s no protection from the elements during ordering.
Cataline Eddie’s subbed out its Hot Italian Sandwich for a Chicken Pesto Flatbread. There’s some chatter that Pizza Planet will close for an extended period of time next year, so those looking for Digiorno-quality frozen pizzas may find themselves here instead.
The hot dogs are no longer available at Fairfax Fare:
We may see them return. The menus here have been changing as different locations temporarily close for construction.
One of Disney’s best holiday shows, The Hollywood Glee Club.
There’s no amount of editing that can be done to make this tree appear straight.
That’s what’s going on at the Studios.