Changes are apparently coming to the FastPass+ Tiers at Hollywood Studios beginning August 29th, which is not coincidentally the same day that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. While 99.9% of us are unable to book FastPass+ for dates that far in the future, certain Club Level guests have the opportunity to pay for 90-day FastPass+ booking. Those guests are seeing the above, which moves Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror into Tier 1. That means most guests will only be able to book FastPass+ for one of these rides in advance of their visit. Up to two additional selections may be booked in advance from Tier 2, which includes the shows and Star Tours.
The move isn’t particularly surprising. Prior to Toy Story Land opening, Toy Story Mania and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster were both Tier 1, while Tower of Terror remained in Tier 2. After Toy Story Land opened back in June 2018, Alien Swirling Saucers, Slinky Dog Dash, and Toy Story Mania comprised Tier One, while Disney moved Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster to Tier Two. Considering Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster sees higher wait times and more FastPass+ demand than either Alien Swirling Saucers or Toy Story Mania, the decision to downgrade the Aerosmith ride was a bit perplexing. Indeed, in the 6+ years that FastPass+ has been around, guests will have only been able to book Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in advance for about 14 of those months before the option is taken away from them again on August 29th.
Currently, if you were to check FastPass+ availability at the Studios for four people for the following day, you would most likely see no availability for any of these five rides. Here is what my search turned up for a party of four people for June 9th. I conducted the search at 1:02pm on June 8th:
Already, there is no day-of or day-before availability for any of these rides, all of which will be in Tier 1 come August 29th. For most people, the perfect FastPass+ lineup would be Slinky Dog Dash, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror. Come August 29th, you’ll have to pick just one of those.
The change makes a lot of sense from Disney’s perspective. The purpose of the FastPass+ Tiers is primarily to ration experiences.
At Animal Kingdom, you can’t book both Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey in advance. We all know how difficult it is to secure Flight of Passage FastPass+, which are typically unavailable for any size party less than 60 days in the future. Na’vi River Journey is typically available until a couple of days before a given date. If those who booked Flight of Passage 60+ days in advance could also book Na’vi River Journey at the same time, then you’d expect that most of them would. If that were the case, then there would be no availability for either Pandora ride for most guests even 59 days in advance of a given date. FastPass+ rationing is what makes Na’vi River Journey available and, because it’s available, guests are more satisfied with the booking process. At least until they experience the ride.
At Hollywood Studios, Slinky Dog Dash is easily the highest priority FastPass+. Even 62 or 63 days in advance, there is typically no availability. If those who booked Slinky Dog 64+ days in advance could also book Toy Story Mania, then you can probably bet that most would. Since they can’t, Toy Story Mania, along with Alien Swirling Saucers, stay available for others to book closer to a given date.
At Epcot, you can’t book Frozen Ever After, Soarin’, and Test Track in advance because they’re all in Tier 1. If you could, then everybody who is eligible to book early would do so and there would be no availability for any of those attractions for the rest of us once we’re eligible to select our experiences 30 days out. By Disney only allowing guests to book one Tier 1 priority ride in advance, it opens up availability for the rest of us to book something down the line.
While we don’t know how much attendance will be increased after Galaxy’s Edge initially opens, or how much of an additional bump we’ll see after Rise of the Resistance joins the ranks sometime down the line, a conservative estimate seems to be something like a 35% attendance increase. If current attendance is around 32,000 guests per day, then we’ll be looking at almost 42,000 guests per day, on average, once Star Wars opens. If the bump is closer to 50%, we’re looking at 48,000 people visiting the Studios each day with even more during peak periods like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. For some perspective, Magic Kingdom sees about 58,000 guests per day, on average. Imagine how many more attractions and how much more there is to do there than at Hollywood Studios.
According to the Themed Entertainment Association, in the last ten years, Studios’ attendance has risen from 9,608,000 in 2008 to 11,258,000 in 2018. That’s an increase of 17.2%. In ten years. We’re looking at an increase of more than twice that in one day, from August 28th to August 29th.
Back to the FastPass+ situation, the point is that with increased attendance, Disney will have to ration the available experiences even more. Remember, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will not increase the Studios’ FastPass+ inventory when it opens as Disney has already announced that Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will not open with FastPass+. And Rise of the Resistance will not open at all.
This is not the first time that Disney has messed with the FastPass+ Tiers at Hollywood Studios. Back on June 16th, 2004, this was the FastPass+ lineup:
Looking back at this now, just about exactly five years later, it’s almost unbelievable. Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage was a Tier 1 attraction. Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and The American Idol Experience were things that existed. Plus, the layout is virtually unrecognizable from what we see now. I used to get so much satisfaction from clicking the little check mark. Back then, just about every attraction had availability on the day-of with far fewer people being familiar with the FP+ system and taking the time to book in advance. Many guests weren’t even eligible to book in advance. And if you wanted to book a 4th FastPass+, you had to visit a physical kiosk. Disney does such a good job of making people aware of FP+ nowadays that usage rates are more than double what they were back in 2014. We’ve come a long way, for better or worse.
There is one potential positive from the change in FP+ tiers. Back in the day, The Great Movie Ride was an easy 4th FastPass+ to acquire because very few people chose it in advance over Toy Story Mania or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. If The Great Movie Ride was in Tier 2, far more people would have selected it in advance alongside Tower of Terror or Star Tours, making it more difficult to get on the day-of.
Here is an approximation of how many FP+ experiences each attraction distributes over a 12-hour day:
That comes out to a little more than 50,000 total FastPass+ experiences distributed over the course of your standard 9am to 9pm day, or about 4,200 FastPass+ distributed per hour. With the likelihood that the Studios will be open until 10pm, 11pm, or 12am most days after Galaxy’s Edge opens, you could add as many as 12,000+ more FP+ to the inventory. The 50,000 FP+ per day is probably not a coincidence, since our attendance estimates are for between 42,000 and 48,000 people to be visiting the Studios, on average.
But not everyone will book FastPass+ in advance, which means that each of these attractions, probably with the exception of Slinky Dog Dash, should be available on the day-of as a 4th selection. We see a similar phenomenon at Epcot, where Frozen, Soarin’, and Test Track are all Tier 1. Acquiring a 4th FP+ for one of those attractions is relatively easy most days. When people can only choose one high-priority attraction in advance, they’re also more likely to change their mind, in turn opening up availability for other attractions. The point here is that just because you can’t book two Tier 1 attractions in advance doesn’t mean you won’t be able to book two or more Tier 1 FP+ over the course of the day.
The change in Tier structure will also likely make Slinky Dog Dash an easier FP+ to acquire. At the moment, it’s a no-brainer as it’s up against Toy Story Mania, an attraction that most people visiting have experienced and one that now enjoys a fairly hefty capacity, and Alien Swirling Saucers, which makes Na’vi River Journey look like a ride that we might actually want to experience. Now that Slinky is up against the likes of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, some number of people are going to select one of the thrill rides instead of Slinky Dog. That will increase Slinky’s availability as fewer people will select it 60+ days in advance.
As far as access to the rides is concerned, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is going to open things up considerably with the vast majority of people heading to the new Land first thing. Those of you relatively uninterested in Star Wars should have the other Lands virtually to yourself during at least the first hour of operation. With the Extra, Extra Magic Hours scheduled every day from September 1st through November 2nd, from 6am to 9am, those who choose to head anywhere other than Galaxy’s Edge should be in business.
Moving forward, I think the smartest touring strategy will be to arrive just before the Park opens and head straight for Toy Story Land and then Sunset Boulevard for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. After a lengthy afternoon break, return in the evening to visit Galaxy’s Edge in the last couple hours of Park operation. Of course, there are certain experiences in Galaxy’s Edge that may require an earlier arrival, such as signing up to build a Lightsaber or trying to get into Oga’s Cantina.
You may find yourself visiting Hollywood Studios twice on your trip – once to spend several hours in Galaxy’s Edge and another to do everything else. Since FastPass+ is unavailable at Galaxy’s Edge to start, you could even book your FastPass+ experiences at another Park. Visit the Studios, and Galaxy’s Edge, from 6am to 10am, then hop over to Animal Kingdom to ride Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest with pre-booked FP+. On your second day at the Studios, you could probably also skip using FastPass+ at all. Arrive for the Extra, Extra Magic Hours, visit the attractions outside of Galaxy’s Edge, then hop elsewhere to use your pre-booked FastPass+. Of course, things will be more complicated for those ineligible or unable to make the Extra Magic Hours. And things will be different come November 2nd, when Disney will likely make changes to the Extra Magic Hours schedule.
As far as FastPass+ priority is concerned come August 29th, this is what we should be looking at:
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Tower of Terror
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Toy Story Mania
- Alien Swirling Saucers
Once Tower of Terror returns to operating at full capacity, it will likely move down to the third spot. At the moment, you could argue that Tower of Terror is the Park’s number one FastPass+ priority.
Here a look at posted wait times there over the last month:
Tower of Terror is currently under refurbishment and running at something around half capacity, leading to incredibly long waits. That’s a 97-minute overall average with the posted wait at Park close still over an hour. Just 15 minutes into the day, at 9:15am, the ride posts a 75-minute average wait that then climbs to over 100 minutes just an hour later. If you’re planning on riding in standby, then you’ll want to make it your top priority, riding before Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. That’s a departure from the standard advice, which is to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and then Tower of Terror.
Here’s Slinky Dog Dash during the same dates:
Slinky’s overall average wait is 78 minutes, which is almost 20 minutes shorter than Tower of Terror’s current average. On the other hand, Slinky’s average wait at 9:15am is 23 minutes higher than Tower’s, though Tower peaks higher and waits stay that way longer. We could certainly make the argument that Tower of Terror is the highest FastPass+ priority at the moment, though listing it that way would likely confuse the masses for years to come. Keep that in mind if you’re interested in riding Tower of Terror over the next few months. As far as I know, there is no end date for the refurbishment, which began in late April.
Here’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s posted waits over the same period:
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s 75-minute overall average rivals Slinky Dog Dash’s, coming in just three minutes lower. That goes back to my point that Slinky Dog Dash FP+ should be much easier to acquire come August 29th, should these Tiers officially go into effect for everyone. Riding either roller coaster will save you about the same amount of time in line – 60 to 90 minutes.
Here’s Toy Story Mania over the last month:
There’s a big drop in priority here at Toy Story Mania. The 50-minute average wait is respectable, no doubt, but it’s a far cry from the 75+ minutes we see from the top three choices.
And because it’s on the list, and thus, we have to pay attention to it, here’s the Saucers:
Despite the fact that the whip-around-ride distributes the fewest FastPass+ experiences per hour, waits remain short, averaging just 34 minutes. With few people booking it in advance, Saucers will likely be the easiest 4th FastPass+ to acquire. Considering it will save about 40 minutes in line, it’s not necessarily a terrible grab.
Granted, you will have to ride Alien Swirling Saucers to save the time.
What we’ve just seen isn’t much of a departure from what we already know. Currently, it makes the most sense to book Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as your three initial FastPass+. Beginning August 29th, it looks like you’ll be able to select just one of those in advance with any of the three making a lot of sense depending on how you’re crafting your day. We’ll certainly try a number of strategies in a post-Galaxy’s-Edge world to see how to move about the Park with the most efficiency and the lowest waits.
That leaves the following attractions as Tier 2 selections, presented in what I expect the priority to be:
- Star Tours
- Frozen Sing-Along
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Disney Junior Dance Party
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- Muppet Vision 3D
Star Tours is the only ride that stays in Tier 2, making it an easy selection as it will actually save you some time. The problem with FastPass+ at the shows is that you typically need to arrive at least 25 minutes before showtime to see any priority seating advantage. Those arriving for showtimes 25 minutes in advance in standby should continue to find similar seats. Because the quality of your experience may depend on the height of the person in front of you and whether or not the person next to you has decided to FaceTime their sister-in-law during the show, you can often do just as well or better in standby.
Here’s a look at posted waits for Star Tours:
The 21-minute average is one of the lowest of any attraction in any Disney World theme park. Amusingly, the new FastPass+ Tiers will actually make the space simulator one of the most difficult FP+ to secure as most people will book it in advance as soon as they are able. It’s the clear choice from Tier 2. The ride distributes a plethora of experiences – theoretically, the number could be as high as 1,800 an hour, which is almost twice as many as most of the Studios’ other rides. But over 12 hours, that’s still “just” 21,600 experiences. If our attendance estimations are correct, that’s one FP+ for every two people in the Park, meaning half won’t be able to acquire one.
One potential issue moving forward is the number of people that will book at least one “throwaway” FastPass+ so that they can book a fourth FastPass+ sooner. In order to book that fourth FP+, which for most people will be a second Tier 1 FastPass+, you either need to use or let expire your first three selections. It may make the most sense to book Star Tours and MuppetVision 3D for as early in the day as possible. You could book Slinky Dog Dash for 9am to 10am, Star Tours, for 10am to 11am, and MuppetVision for 11am to 12pm.
After using the FastPass+ for Star Tours, you could move MuppetVision 3D to the earliest possible time, which is probably for just about immediate use, then scan there as quickly as possible. For example, let’s say you used the Slinky Dog Dash FP+ at 9:30am and the Star Tours FP+ at 10am. Right after scanning at Star Tours, you can open up the My Disney Experience app or the website and move the MuppetVision time forward. Because the ride distributes so many FP+ and is the least popular to book in advance, there are probably return times as early as 10:10am or 10:15am at 10am. After you’re done with Star Tours around 10:20am, scan at MuppetVision and then you’d be eligible to book a 4th FP+ with as much available inventory as possible. You don’t even necessarily need to stay for MuppetVision if you don’t want to. It’s still a classy move to walk into the building before making a u-turn and walking back out.
But it’s likely that more FastPass+ experiences for shows will go unused. Theoretically, you could let FP+ for shows expire while you’re planning on being in Galaxy’s Edge, at breakfast, or what have you, in order to book a 4th FastPass+ that you actually want to use earlier in the day.
Potentially, the good news is that just because you can only book one priority ride in advance, doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to book additional FastPass+ for those same rides on the day-of with a little bit of effort. The bad news is that there will be a lot of people potentially vying for those same experiences. With Galaxy’s Edge pulling so many people, there will probably be no better time than the Extra, Extra Magic Hours from September 1st through November 2nd to experience the Studios’ other attractions. I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t be able to walk right on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror (at least after it’s running at full capacity) over and over and over again before 7:30am. Of course, you may be pulled towards Galaxy’s Edge yourself. At least Alien Swirling Saucers should remain viable.
We’ll see what strategies work best come September 1st. Until then, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to speculate.