We return, at least via “the numbers,” to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This post, read from the safety of your couch, might actually be considered a safe distance away from the Park. At least for now. With the number of people that will probably be in line for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on opening day, it wouldn’t surprise me if everyone in America is just assumed to be part of it. Like when you’re at Cosmic Ray’s and it looks like there’s a group huddled around the ordering area trying to find something edible on the menu, but you’re not 1000% sure whether they’re in line, so you ask. Then, surprised, they collectively shake their heads, hold up their hands, and say, “Oh no, we’re not in line.” And you wonder why they are so close to the registers when there is clearly nothing edible at Cosmic Ray’s, no matter how close you might find yourself to the menu board.
Galaxy’s Edge opening day is probably going to be a lot like that. You’ll be sitting in your office chair, minding your own business on the 17th floor of your office building, refreshing easywdw.com even though we both know there are no new posts, only for some family to tap you on the shoulder and ask if you if you’re in line for Smugglers Run. You’ll throw up your hands and say, “Oh no, I’m not in line.” Then they’re proceed three steps forward and wonder who is stupid enough to be that close to the line if they’re not a part of it.
At the conclusion of summer last year, the website created some ripples with the post, “Is Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios A Dud?”
Our argument was based on a couple of factors. First, virtually nobody showed up to the Annual Passholder previews.
Like, nobody nobody. You can pull up a look at what that event entailed here.
Of course, a lack of Annual Passholder interest doesn’t offer much insight into the success of a new Land. The Passholders might not show up for new rides based on one of the most beloved franchises of all time, but they will absolutely show up for a 30-minute jump on purple ears or a vanilla cupcake that looks ever-so-slightly different than the one available the day before. But Disney graciously offered a morning Extra Magic Hour at the Studios every day from July 1st through the first week in September. Those were all lightly attended as well, which seems to signal a lack of interest. You can pull up my experience here, where I was able to ride both Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers twice each, in addition to riding Toy Story Mania and meeting Woody/Jessie by 8:15am. Something tells me that none of us will be able to ride both Star Wars rides twice each during a morning Extra Magic Hour anytime during the first ten years that Galaxy’s Edge opens.
Our main focus was on wait times. We compared summer 2017, the year before Toy Story Land opened, to 2018, the first year that it was open.
Almost without exception, wait times outside of Toy Story Land were lower after Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers joined the roster. The average wait at Star Tours dropped 31%, from 29 minutes during the summer of 2017, to 20 minutes during the summer in 2018. That number is on the very far right in both graphs.
That’s the exact opposite trend of what we’ve seen at Animal Kingdom, where Pandora opened in May 2017. The chart above includes five Animal Kingdom attractions – DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Primeval Whirl, and TriceraTop Spin. There’s much more discussion about the chart and what it means in “Walt Disney World Early 2019 Crowd and Wait Time Trends” from earlier this month. It’s a little dense at times, but the second half is pretty funny. But I think most of us would agree that Pandora has been massively successful at increasing attendance over at Animal Kingdom. According to the Themed Entertainment Association, the Park saw an increase of about 1.7 million visitors from 2016 to 2017, and Pandora wasn’t open for the first five months of 2017. We don’t yet have their numbers for 2018, but the report should be available in the middle of May. With that increase in attendance, we have seen a definite increase in wait times as represented by this chart. Waits increase 26.9% from January 2017 to January 2018, the first year that Pandora was open, and then another 21.8% the following year.
We did not see a similar rise in wait times at Hollywood Studios. During the summer of 2017, from July 1st through September 15th, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s overall average wait time was 60 minutes.
The average wait went down 5%, or three minutes, in the summer 2018.
Toy Story Mania’s wait times were also down, summer-over-summer, from a 49-minute average in 2017 to a 45-minute average in 2018. On one hand, you might expect Mania’s wait times to go up given the fact that there should be increased interest in everything Toy Story, in addition to the fact that they moved the entrance to the other side of the building so it would be more convenient. On the other hand, you could argue that people have moved on from the 10+ year old ride and are instead focused on what’s new. That might cause the wait to go down.
Originally, I would have argued for the former – that increased crowds and increased interest would cause wait times at a legacy attraction like this to increase.
That brings us to another point – wait times at the new attractions aren’t particularly long. The average wait at Alien Swirling Saucers is under 40 minutes. That’s less than any ride at the Studios outside of Star Tours, which posts a 25-minute average wait, due in large part to its monster capacity. It’s less than Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for crying out loud. The fact that people aren’t willing to wait 40 minutes for Disney’s second-newest attraction doesn’t point to an overwhelming amount of success. Granted, it’s Alien Swirling Saucers, but still. The relatively short waits are particularly surprising given the ride’s miserable capacity. It only moves through about 750 people an hour, or about third of Star Tours’ maximum real-world output.
Slinky Dog Dash is another beast of course, proving popular with guests and posting much longer waits. Even so, the roller coaster’s average wait is “just” 85 minutes so far in 2019, which is a solid 20 minutes less than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a ride with similar scope and one that will be five years old on May 28th. Obviously, it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison given the fact that they’re in two completely different theme parks. You would think that the Studios’ lack of rides – currently six across the entire Park – would offset the fact that Magic Kingdom’s daily attendance is about twice that of the Studios.
Back to the Studios specifically, Slinky Dog’s increased average this year does put it narrowly above Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s average wait. Even if by just four minutes. Over the summer of 2018, the first year that Slinky was open, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s average wait was actually longer.
Here’s a look at Slinky Dog Dash’s wait times so far in March:
As we’ve learned from numerous rope drop attempts, most recently with this miserable experience, Slinky Dog is far and away the Studios’ most popular first stop with wait times that take off virtually immediately after the Park opens. The average posted wait at 9:15am is already 113 minutes, which is one hour and 53 minutes rather than one hour and 13 minutes. The only attraction with waits that build faster is Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom. Slinky’s 98-minute average is also now higher than Na’vi River Journey, which averaged 78 minutes in March. You might remember that River Journey’s waits have dropped about 25% year over year. Last summer, the alien boat ride’s waits were higher than the outdoor toy coaster.
Here’s a look at Alien Swirling Saucers’ want times in March:
Wait times remain much shorter, averaging less than 45 minutes and with an average of “just” 23 minutes at 9:15am. Toy Story Mania is actually a higher priority than Saucers. Mania sees worse FastPass+ availability and a higher average wait.
Visiting Toy Story Land in the last 60 to 90 minutes of Park operation is your best bet – a strategy that’s discussed in depth in this post.
Since much of our coverage has centered increasing wait times during the “off-season,” we’ll take a look at the Studios’ average wait during the month of January over the last five years. The chart below shows the average wait across Star Tours, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania. I didn’t include The Great Movie Ride since it was closed in 2018 and 2019. I also didn’t include the new Toy Story Land rides because 2019’s number would go up significantly with Slinky Dog Dash pushing the average higher. Basically, this should give us some idea about what waits look like outside of the new attractions:
Unfortunately, this chart doesn’t tell us a whole lot. The biggest issue is Toy Story Mania, which saw a 50% increase in capacity between 2016 and 2017 with the installation of the third track. That’s largely why the average wait went down from 48.5 minutes in 2016 to 44.8 minutes in 2017. Toy Story’s own average went down 36 minutes, or 44.4 %, during that time. Then in 2018, Disney reduced Toy Story Mania’s capacity early in the year as they moved the entrance from what was Pixar Place to what is now Toy Story Land. That caused Toy Story Mania’s average wait to more than double from January 2017 to January 2018. In January 2019, the big change is obviously the opening of Toy Story Land, but Toy Story Mania is also running at the same capacity as it was in 2017. But a whole lot has happened since then. Interestingly, none of these numbers include a time when Backlot Tour was still operating. It closed all the way back in September 2014. Galaxy’s Edge will open almost exactly five years later.
In the chart above, 2019’s average is 55 minutes, but it might be interesting that only one day in January 2019 sees an average wait in the 50s and that’s January 17th. High wait times during the first week of the month, coupled with higher waits over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, pull the month’s average up considerably. Over half of the days in January see an average of 45 minutes or less.
Here’s the same information presented in a different way:
Again, I’m not sure we can take much away from this, given the fact that it’s based on just four rides and Toy Story Mania’s capacity changes are largely what’s driving the average wait.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster may offer some insight into how wait times have progressed through the years. The ride has decent uptime, is never closed for refurbishment, and typically pushes through a similar number of people per hour with the same number of ride vehicles on the track.
Here’s a look at the average wait there in January each of the last five years:
According to the Themed Entertainment Association, attendance at the Studios actually went down about a half of a percent each year from 2015 to 2017, so it makes some sense that wait times are relatively flat during that span. We do see a jump similar to that at Animal Kingdom from 2017 to 2018, where there was a 26.9% increase. At Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the jump is 14.3%. Animal Kingdom waits times rose another 21.8% from January 2018 to January 2019, the first full year that Pandora was open. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster sees just a 6.9% increase in the first year Toy Story Land opened. That seems to support our hypothesis that Toy Story Land hasn’t done much to push the needle for the Park. If a lot more people were visiting the Studios, then you would expect them to also visit the other headlining attractions.
Now focusing on 2019 thus far, here’s a look at how wait times have progressed over the first three months of 2019. The daily average wait here takes seven attractions into account, including all of the Toy Story Land rides: Alien Swirling Saucers, Muppet Vision 3D, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Slinky Dog Dash, Star Tours, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania. The chart is also color-coded based on how much Disney changes for a one day ticket. We’re calling Green, “Value.” Yellow is “Regular.” Orange is now “Regular-Plus” and Red is “Peak:”
As expected, the spring-break-heavy month of March sees longer waits than January or February. The first week of the year is what pulls up January’s average so much. The average wait for the last week of January is “just” 43 minutes. In March, there’s only one day with an average wait under 50 minutes and that falls on the first day of the month.
One of our major hypotheses is that Disney’s own ticket price chart is the best indicator of crowds. The more expensive the ticket, the higher the wait times will end up being. Let’s check out that breakdown for the Studios so far this year:
That pattern continues at the Studios with an increase of about ten minutes from price season to price season. See “Walt Disney World Early 2019 Crowd and Wait Time Trends” for a lot more on that calendar and what it represents. It also includes the calendar for the rest of 2019, so you can check your dates and see what pricing looks like. The more green days, the better, perhaps with the exception of the Studios in September, given the fact that Star Wars officially opens on August 29th.
Overall, it’s interesting that Toy Story Land actually seems to be catching on a bit. Rope dropping Slinky Dog Dash is considerably more unpleasant now than it was over the summer, with far more people arriving early and rushing over. The dog coaster is also the hardest FastPass+ to acquire, beating out Flight of Passage and its much longer wait times. A lot of that is due to capacity – Slinky Dog moves through about 1,050 people per hour, versus 1,400 at Flight of Passage. That means fewer Slinky Dog FP+ are available per hour. But with sluggish wait times at the attractions outside of Toy Story, it still “feels” like the new Land has failed to be the stop gap before Galaxy’s Edge that Disney must have intended. Certainly, Toy Story Land was marketed heavily as a major addition. On the other hand, it’s possible that maintaining the same attendance and wait times during a time with so much closed and so many things on the horizon can be considered successful. I think I would argue that some last minute additions, like The Incredibles getting shoehorned into the old Pixar Place, is an indication that Disney realized they needed to do more at the last minute.
You can hear much more about my thoughts on how Toy Story Land fits into Walt Disney World as a whole and what makes it so different from Pandora in the podcast that I share:
Walt Loved Comparing Pandora to Toy Story Land!
Two different lands, two different parks, one company: We discuss Pandora vs Toy Story Land
— Walt Loved Podcasting (@WaltLoved) March 8, 2019
It’s the March 7th episode. Still relevant!
My assumption is that in five years’ time, Toy Story Land will be seen as a proficient addition – a minor land with three rides that the Park desperately needs. Once Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway open, in addition to the Skyliner, we probably won’t be spending much time talking about the lack of shade or the fact that Woody’s Lunch Box operates with just two registers. I’ll still be talking about it, of course. But as usual, I may be the only one.
We’ll see if there’s anything else we can do with this data.