This past Saturday, we took a look at rope drop touring at Epcot from the International Gateway and beginning with Frozen Ever After. Today, we’ll visit Hollywood Studios to see what we can accomplish on a busy spring break Monday starting with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.
Hollywood Studios is perhaps the most time-sensitive of the theme park rope drops, though your first planned destination certainly has some bearing on those rankings. Certainly Frozen Ever After at Epcot, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, and once it opens, Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom, are also incredibly high priorities, but there is perhaps nothing as high-stakes as the rush to Jedi Training Academy for those that have kids that want to sign up.
This is the scene at 8:23am with the regular 9am open.
The Annual Passholder tapstiles are down on the far right, while the tapstiles used for early breakfasts remain on the left, which is where I filled in.
Those planning on signing up for Jedi Training Academy want to plan to be at bag check no later than 8:10am as does anyone not wanting to deal with the frustration of standing behind a family that can’t seem to remember which one of their toes they used at the scanner last time. If you arrive late, you may want to hang around the breakfast tapstiles, which will convert to regular tapstiles a minute or two before everyone is let in. Because the breakfast tapstile area is kept clear, you can usually sneak up to the front of the line if you’re ready to move quickly.
On this particular morning, a family that wasn’t quite sure what a dining reservation was or whether or not they had one rolled up right at 8:30am and clogged up the breakfast line, so I opted to stay put.
With each line backed up past the ticket booths already.
According to the Spring 2017 version of the Studios Cheat Sheet, this is what we’re expecting to happen at rope drop.
And that’s exactly what happened as I was inside the Park at 8:34am with Daisy and Donald meeting guests separately just inside the entrance on the left. They will meet throughout the day to 10-15 minute waits, so it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to stop now. If your first stop is a lower priority like Star Tours, Starbucks, Great Movie Ride, or something, then you could spend a few minutes here first thing.
The main holding area is ahead just past Trolley Car Cafe Starbucks while those desiring to sign up for Jedi Training Academy need to take the participating child(ren) immediately to sign up just past 50’s Prime Time Cafe at the Indiana Jones store.
You may need to see the larger image to grasp just how many people are already in line for Jedi Training at 8:35am. And this isn’t even the end of the line.
So if you have Jedi Training on your mind, you want to be here early and then haul it to sign ups. Those with pre-opening breakfasts at Hollywood & Vine should have an opportunity to sign up the kids before breakfast, which is a distinct advantage.
But with guests arriving at the rope as early as 8:32am, the breakfast probably won’t offer much touring advantage elsewhere unless you really race through it. This is the crowd at 8:36am.
If you don’t want to deal with the main mass of humanity on Hollywood Boulevard, Disney does hold guests over here across from Hollywood & Vine.
To get here, you would take a left towards Jedi Training signups and then almost an immediate right after that. This would put you at a small disadvantage to Toy Story Mania or a bigger disadvantage to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster/Tower of Terror versus being at the front of the pack, but the comfort of not being amassed with 2,000+ people may be worth waiting a few more minutes in line somewhere.
This is the crowd behind me at 8:56am, which stretches back to the entrance.
And a considerable number of people in front of me. I’ve gotten a number of questions about whether or not this is “worse than usual,” and the answer is a little bit. It is spring break with an overall crowd level of “8” along with the Studios’ non-recommended status. To compare, most of the summer should be 6s and 7s this year.
Even with the crowds and the backup, we weren’t released until 8:56am as I head down Sunset Boulevard.
Those wanting to do both Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror absolutely want to head to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster first, where wait times build much quicker and peak much higher.
Maybe 15% of the rope drop crowd will head to Tower first.
But most of us are taking a left into the Courtyard.
I move at an average speed and coupled with my propensity to take a picture every ten feet, probably arrive at about the time you could expect to arrive. There are already a lot of people ahead of me as I arrived at the main entrance about ten minutes later than was smart. And in turn, I’ll wait ten minutes longer here.
But those arriving later than me are already much worse off. This is 9:06am and the standby queue fills the regular queue, the extended queue, and spills outside the entrance.
It’s kind of hard to tell, but there are people in line outside of the courtyard.
Most of you won’t be shocked to find that the pre-show video is not yet being shown with as many guests as possible heading straight to the loading area.
I arrived at Roller Coaster’s entrance at 8:58am and was here just in front of the loading area at 9:12am. That seems pretty good.
Virtually nobody is headed to single rider first thing, which may be a smart alternative if you do arrive a little later than you’d like and don’t mind spending around 87 seconds of your day apart from your group. I would never leave your side for that long so I am in the regular line.
I was back out front at 9:21am to find a 60-minute posted wait with the standby line now just a little outside of the entrance. That wait is probably about accurate though more and more FastPass+ returners will arrive with priority as the morning progresses, in turn pushing standby waits higher as more and more capacity goes to those with FP+ priority.
Looking at March wait times:
Given average to above average waits for most of the month, posted waits immediately take off here with no posted wait lower than 30 minutes at 9:15am and an average of 77 minutes at 10am. That means riding twice in standby with short waits on both trips through is all but impossible and those attempting to ride Toy Story Mania first and then head over here to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror in standby are in for some long waits as well. You might remember rope drop posts like this from “back in the day” when it was possible to do just that and have multiple paper FASTPASSes to use later in the day. But for a number of reasons, including an increase in the number of people present at rope drop and FastPass+ returners bogging down standby lines immediately at open, that’s no longer the reality and you’ll want to be prepared for it if you’re visiting during an objectively busier time.
Here’s February with low crowds to open the month before wait times increase significantly heading into Presidents Day Weekend:
Earlier in the month, two standby rides at rope drop would be more viable with a posted wait of just 15-20 minutes at 9:15am and often not more than 30 minutes at 9:30am. And while it’s just one attraction, it is a good example of just how much less crowded the “good” times to visit truly are. Those 30-40 minute averages over the first couple of weeks are significantly better than the 80+ minute average waits you see later in the month and into March.
Tower of Terror is just around the corner.
After the initial rush, relatively few people arrive between 9:15am and 9:45am. This is the scene on Sunset Boulevard at 9:23am.
Compared to 9:51am.
Over at Tower, technical difficulties are going to be a lot more worrisome than a lightning strike, at least as far as our touring plan is concerned.
Fortunately, everything seemed to be going well with a 10-minute posted wait at 9:25am.
And enjoying the pre-show just eight minutes later.
Short waits are of course a benefit of getting to the Park early. By arriving at 8:20am and waiting about 35 minutes for the Park to open, I’ve only spent about 15 minutes in line over the course of these two attractions.
With a 9am arrival, I’d be looking at a 60+ minute wait just for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. And that’s during prime morning touring time rather than before the Park opens, when our time isn’t better spent anywhere other than perhaps bed.
I was back out front at 9:49am for a total experience time of 24 minutes, which is about the minimum amount of time that this ride takes. We’ll revisit with FastPass+ later in the afternoon.
The standby line had spilled outside and was winding around back towards the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster courtyard, making my relatively short wait all the more sweet.
Looking over March wait times while we’re here:
Downtime/capacity problems are relatively obvious with the random increases to 100+ minutes here and there. Like with the Roller Coaster waits, you can also glean just how busy that peak spring break week was from the 10th to 17th. Also note the 30-minute averages to open the month versus the longer waits later.
Not so bad.
Great Movie Ride is best saved for a 4th FastPass+ opportunity, where experiences should be widely available even given larger party sizes. The queue is already backed up here less than an hour after opening, indicating an actual wait of 30+ minutes. This is an everyday occurrence for the most part, so you may want to make other plans than riding in standby after a headliner or two.
Moana continues to meet at One Man’s Dream, perhaps for another month before Guardians of the Galaxy takes over. Waits typically peak around 30 minutes and they have a pager system when longer lines demand it.
While the Beauty and the Beast preview continues, Disney pulled the dress and rose props out on March 28th.
Dick Tracy props, including a dress worn by Madonna (not pictured), are now found in its place.
I knew it wasn’t particularly intelligent, but my plan was to ride Toy Story Mania in standby regardless of the posted wait, so that’s what I did.
A 65-minute posted wait with the line outside the door just before 10am.
Looking over waits from March:
Riding with FastPass+ would make some sense with a FastPass+ return time of 9:15am-10:15am or so, which would give you some leeway just in case you run into some capacity problems at Tower of Terror. As always, you can return up to five minutes before your return time or up to 15 minutes after, so the “real” return window with that FastPass+ would be 9:10am-10:30am. It would potentially make more sense to spend some time here meeting a character in Animation Courtyard or Star Wars Launch Bay and holding off on using FP+ for a little while longer. There isn’t necessarily a hurry to get to an attraction with FP+ outside of the ability to book a 4th FastPass+ earlier when there’s potentially more availability.
But I waited…
About 45 minutes before the merge point with FastPass+.
With the third theater, wait times continue to be much lower than before May 2017.
Looking at February of this year for a better idea about what waits look like given different crowd levels:
Given lower crowds, riding in standby around 10am is viable as waits are in the 20 to 30 minute range, which is reasonable. But the smart money is riding in the last hour of operation, particularly on nights with the Star Wars Fireworks and Fantasmic scheduled. Those shows pull something like 75% of the people in the Park and the crowd in front of Great Movie Ride helps siphon off people from Pixar Place. I’ve visited Toy Story about a half hour before Park close on numerous occasions over the last few months and the wait varies from literally seeing nobody else in line to around three minutes.
All in all, Toy Story took an hour, which is about how long it would take if I got in line at any point over the next several hours. But with standby waits already long at the other rides and most shows not scheduled until 11am-12pm anyway, there aren’t a ton of smarter places to be. Character meet and greets, Disney Jr. Live on Stage, or Voyage of the Little Mermaid would all be viable though.
50 minutes for Buzz and Woody.
I’ll cover construction and other happenings in a separate update.
Speaking of Mermaid, the extended queue is already full just after 11am, which indicates an actual wait of 15-35 minutes.
You might remember that this is how FastPass+ stacks up here:
Star Tours and Little Mermaid are sort of a toss-up and it may be prudent to move the Star Wars ride above Little Mermaid again as increased interest in Star Wars has increased waits there and decreased FastPass+ availability.
These are the selections I made the day before:
That gives me enough time to make it through the three headliners in standby before moving over to Star Tours.
Sofia’s popularity in particular has dropped significantly with just about a five-minute wait. Jake and Pluto would have similar waits while Doc McStuffins is typically closer to 15 minutes, perhaps due to her location next to the Disney Jr. queue.
At 11:10am, the queue for Movie Ride is even longer.
We’ll use an easy-to-get 4th FastPass+ a little later.
Over at Star Tours, I had flashbacks to this time last year when I rode each of the Studios’ five rides in standby. The end of the queue is visible in this picture on the left.
The back of the FastPass+ line.
Which isn’t really a big deal – backups are rarely because the entire FP+ queue is full, but rather due to some confusion/protest from a tourist that was just hoping their Muppet Vision 3D would somehow show up as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster when scanned.
At Star Tours, they also hold the line while the Jedi Training Academy kids enter and exit the stage area.
I arrived at 11:18am and was standing in front of a simulator at 11:23am. You don’t typically want to abandon a scheduled FastPass+ experience because of the appearance of a long return line.
I was back out front at 11:39am for a total experience time of 21 minutes. According to the Star Tours attraction page, the average total experience time with FastPass+ is 20 minutes, which is just about what I experienced if you don’t count the minute or two it took to get back out in front of the entrance.
I wrote an extensive review/look around PizzeRizzo shortly after it opened back in November, but there was one item on the menu that I had been wanting to order for some time.
Nothing about the menu has changed since opening though it may be worth noting that the operating hours are typically just 11am-4pm. If you’re looking for a reheated frozen pizza after that, you can always try Catalina Eddie’s, which is part of Sunset Ranch Market.
I ordered the Mini Chicken Sub – includes Applesauce, Carrot Sticks and choice of small Lowfat Milk or Dasani Water as a Mickey Check Meal or with Minute Maid Juice Box, small Nesquik Chocolate Milk, or Cookie if you don’t care about your child’s health or are a Disney blogger.
I thought the meal looked pretty presh, but apparently the mini sub is not particularly photogenic.
I liked the flavor on the sub – the roll was fresh, light, and chewy and the meatballs offered just a touch of spice underneath a lot of melted provolone and a pretty basic marinara sauce. As a 30+ year old adult male, sucking the applesauce out of the GoGo Squeeze fit in with the awkwardness of the rest of the scene. The carrots are pretty lame and you might want to ask about substituting them out for another selection. The small chocolate milk adds 150 calories and eight grams of protein. All in all, it’s a good value for six dollars and would serve as a nice meal for the kids, a light meal for an adult, or a more substantial snack than your typical pretzel and cheese sauce, which would run you the same money.
I recommend the outdoor balcony seating on the top floor for some interesting views down below. With how easy it is to order, plus the expansive seating areas, you may want to consider Rizzo even if the food isn’t going to change your life. It will fill you up for the least amount of hassle and is one of the more enjoyable overall quick service experiences in any Disney theme park. At least when the food isn’t considered. If you brought something from home, it’s also a good spot to enjoy it.
Star Tours at 12:23pm.
Olaf Meet and Greet times remain incredibly low – posted at just ten minutes here in the heart of the afternoon.
Sunset Boulevard at 12:48pm.
While I walked right up to a register at PizzeRizzo, there must be a hundred or more people in line at Rosie’s All American Cafe. Hence, my recommendation.
40 minutes at Tower of Terror at 1pm.
FastPass+ was again backed up outside the entrance, which is not actually visible in this picture.
But it’s still going to be a straight shot to the library pre-show.
More or less.
Within ten minutes I was watching the pre-show and I was here on the ride at 1:23pm.
And back out front at 1:29pm for a total experience time that was five minutes longer than what standby took first thing. You’ll want to budget 30-35 minutes to ride with FastPass+.
55 minutes at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at 1:32pm.
Amusingly, I actually did these two attractions backwards as my Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FP+ was scheduled before Tower of Terror, but the cast member let me through with a smile, probably because I looked that confused.
Into the pre-show seven minutes later.
I rode with a single rider who said she had been in line for under 15 minutes.
65 minutes posted at 1:50pm, which means a total experience time of 18 minutes. According to the attraction page, we were budgeting 25 minutes, so this was above average.
With the amount of merch coming out for Stitch, you’d think it was the franchise with four sequels in the works rather than Avatar.
I pulled up FastPass+ availability via the My Disney Experience app. If the app isn’t cooperating, you can also book via disneyworld.com or via an in-park kiosk. At 1:36pm, this is what it offered with Rock n’ Roller Coaster listed at the top with an 8pm return time. If one of these times looks good, you want to immediately click on it and book.
If none do, try clicking on the attraction. Once here, swipe right or left to refresh all of the available times.
After refreshing, a number of convenient times came up, including one just nine minutes in the future, so I grabbed it.
Those booking for smaller parties will see the most availability, so as a party of one, I am seeing every single possible time. So while I was in line for Movie Ride, I opened the app back up and searched availability for a party of four. Unsurprisingly, no times for Toy Story or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster were initially available, while Movie Ride had a 3pm advertised.
But after refreshing just one time, a 2:15pm for Movie Ride came up, which would mean a party of four could book the FastPass+ to use immediately.
After refreshing a couple more times, a 4:10pm for Toy Story appeared, which isn’t that terrible considering it’s 2:10pm. You could also book something for after a break. Those that refresh availability the most will find the best times and attractions.
Otherwise, I arrived at 1:03pm to what I think is the most people we’ve seen yet and a 35-minute posted wait:
On-ride at 1:14pm for a wait of just about ten minutes:
And back out front at 2:35pm for a total experience time of 32 minutes. According to the attraction page, we were budgeting 35 minutes.
Overall, the day went pretty well given my 8:20am arrival. Given above average crowds, it would be smarter to use FastPass+ at Toy Story Mania than wait in standby. You could always try booking it for 9:45am-10:45am and if the standby wait is short upon arrival, ride in standby first and then use the FastPass+ after.
I was able to accomplish:
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 8:58am-9:21am
- Tower of Terror: 9:24am-9:49am
- Toy Story Mania (dumb): 9:57am-11:01am
- Star Tours with FastPass+: 11:17am-11:39am
- Lunch/break: 11:47am-12:40pm
- Tower of Terror with FastPass+: 1:01pm-1:29pm
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with FastPass+: 1:32pm-1:50pm
- Great Movie Ride with FastPass+: 2:03pm-2:35pm
At this point, I could mix in some characters, shows, and available FastPass+ experiences, or take a break for a few hours and return for the evening entertainment.
We’ll get back to Magic Kingdom next.