Our morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios continues on a day with a 7am open and above-average crowds, which is what we can expect to continue into the new year. Currently, the Studios is set to open to everyone at 7am through January 11th, and then 8am for a few weeks after that. Disney has been extending the Studios’ hours with just about a week’s notice since Rise of the Resistance opened on December 5th, 2019, so it’s likely that we’ll see more 7am opens in January announced, with the busy Martin Luther King Jr. weekend coming up from the 18th to the 20th of the month.
We may see a smattering of 8am opens in January and February, with the likelihood that the 7am opens will return during busier times. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Disney commits to 7am opens throughout much of the rest of 2020 given the number of people who are apparently able and willing to arrive at a theme park at 5:30am. At least so long as merchandise and food and beverage sales warrant the extensions.
As always, Disney needs the money, so don’t be shy about picking up that early morning latte or 60″ tall plush Olaf before 9am.
It’s now 9:56am, or just under three hours since the Studios opened. So far, this is what I’ve been able to accomplish:
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run: 7:10am – 7:32am
- Alien Swirling Saucers (with only one of two sides running): 7:36am – 8:12am
- Toy Story Mania: 8:19am – 8:43am
- Slinky Dog Dash with FastPass+: 8:44am – 8:52am
- Meet Chewbacca: 9:05am – 9:14am
- Meet Darth Vader: 9:15am – 9:35am
- Meet BB-8: 9:36am – 9:44am
According to the wait time sign posted outside Hyperion Theater, the combined wait for the four rides that we’ve been on is 245 minutes, which is more than four hours, rather than two hours and forty five minutes. Certainly, that Slinky Dog FastPass+ helped, while waiting almost 35 minutes for Swirling Saucers with only one side operating was bad luck.
I felt kind of bad for poor Fancy Nancy, whose meet and greet line was about as long as the number of people waiting to hear more from me about Hollywood Studios. She, along with Pluto, Vampirina(sp), and Doc McStuffins all meet here in Animation Courtyard beginning around 9:30am, typically to waits of 10 to 15 minutes later in the day. Between 9:30am and 10am, you shouldn’t have trouble meeting all four characters, much like I was able to meet Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and BB-8 over the span of about 40 minutes from 9am to 9:40am.
I’m headed towards Echo Lake for Star Tours with my second FastPass+ of the day. Crowds remain quite manageable.
Boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance are long gone for the day. Part One covered how best to obtain one first thing in the morning, and you can pull up my full rundown of everything to expect at the Studios, including touring plans, wait times, and FastPass+ priorities, here.
There is one more piece to the Studios’ puzzle, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which is officially slated for a March 4th, 2020 opening here in the building that used to house The Great Movie Ride. Originally, the ride was supposed to open last year, ostensibly to help carry the load brought by the opening of (the completed) Galaxy’s Edge. Adding another ride to the Studios’ lineup will certainly help make for the most “complete” day that we’ve seen at this Park in some time. It will also help distribute crowds a little more evenly, and hopefully increase the Park’s overall FastPass+ inventory by adding about 1,000 experiences per hour.
This theater across from Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular should open around the same time as the Railway. It will play host to a variety of Mickey Mouse shorts, including one exclusive to the theme park.
Waits for Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight to our right have basically doubled since Frozen 2 came out last month. That translates to an average wait of around 20 minutes. It currently sits at 25 minutes, perhaps in part due to fewer snowmen situating themselves behind the curtain.
New scenes and characters from The Rise of Skywalker are now a sure thing at Star Tours.
Despite longer standby lines, posted waits remain relatively short – just 15 minutes here at 10am with the crowd winding around outside before heading into the space port.
As the only ride in Tier 2, most people will select Star Tours as one of their three initial FastPass+ selections. If you’re planning on using FastPass+ at another Park, then wait times remain reliably short in the first and last three hours of operation. The hourly capacity is upwards of 2,500 guests, which is a huge number – easily twice what Rise of the Resistance is moving through and about 1.71 times the number of people who can ride Smugglers Run in a given 60-minute window.
With Disney running five or six of the simulators, the actual wait should be about 20 minutes given a line of this length.
With FastPass+, I should be standing in front of my spaceship, ready to board, about five minutes after scanning my ticket/MagicBand. These droids do serious work to make sure all goes to plan.
They may also be in charge of fixing the many problems with My Disney Experience:
I arrived at 10am, and was back out front at 10:19am, for a total experience time of less than 20 minutes. With FastPass+, that’s a minute or two below average with what is now a posted, and probably-actual, 25-minute wait.
Crowds have picked up a bit on Grand Avenue, but it’s still a straight shot through the tunnel, and into space world, as we walk down Grand Avenue. While Magic Kingdom managed to close to some guests on December 31st, Galaxy’s Edge never filled to capacity over the busy week of Christmas, so that shouldn’t be a concern moving forward. Not that it was a very big concern to begin with after the lackluster summer crowds.
I’ve used two of my initial three FastPass+ experiences, leaving just Muppet*Vision 3D to scan before I’m eligible for a fourth FastPass+. From the last Part, you might remember that we’re unable to use our third FastPass+ anywhere until 10am at the earliest, as that’s when the first Tier 2 shows start. And even then, we only have two 10am options to choose from in Muppet*Vision and Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
I had run into a couple of problems already, including Slinky Dog Dash being down at opening and Alien Swirling Saucers running at half capacity. It’s hard to say if finding Muppet*Vision closed for technical trouble when I was ready to watch it was “good” or “bad.”
I had received a notification from the My Disney Experience app a few minutes prior that the show had gone down:
Along with a notification that my boarding group for Rise of the Resistance had just been called. In unrelated news, if you need any further proof that I am really from the Pacific Northwest, you might also note my delivery of The Postal Service’s “Give Up” on vinyl.
When an attraction goes down during your FastPass+ return window, you’ll receive a “Multiple Experiences FastPass,” which is good for use after that attraction is back up, or for use immediately at a selection of the other attractions:
None of these are particularly desirable replacements, but it includes all of the shows, including the nighttime performance of Fantasmic!
But, there’s more:
The Multiple Experiences FastPass+ is also good for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Using FP+ at either will save at least 45 minutes in line, compared to the zero minutes that I was about to save at Muppet*Vision.
Which attractions are available as replacements depends on the quality of your initial FP+. A couple of years ago, the replacement options were incredibly specific – now it “feels” like Disney tries to spread the people out among as many experiences as possible. My Muppets FP+ won’t get me into a Toy Story Land attraction, though, and also won’t work at either Galaxy’s Edge attraction.
Since my third FP+ for The Muppets became unavailable, I’m eligible to book another, and still hold on to the Multiple Experiences FP+:
The smaller your party, the more FP+ availability that you’ll always see. Disney doesn’t split the time difference with you, so if Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has the following FastPass+ return times available:
- 5 people at 10:45am
- 2 people at 11:10am
- 3 people at 1:15pm
- 8 people at 3:30pm
- 1 person at 4:45pm
- 4 people at 6:30pm
A party of one will see all of these return times available on the app. A party of two would see all of the return times other than the 4:45pm, since there’s only one spot available at that time. A party of three would see all times except for 11:10am and 4:45pm, since only one or two slots are available during those hour-long windows. A party of four would see all except for 11:10am, 1:15pm, and 4:45pm. With five people, you’d only see the 10:45am and 3:30pm slots.
If your group consists of more than than a couple of people, then you might consider complicating things by breaking the group up into smaller parties when you’re booking FastPass+. To still ride together, you can seek out overlapping return windows.
In our example above, a group of six people, broken down into three parties of two, could book two sets of people at 10:45am, and a third set of two people at 11:10am. The group could then ride together as early as 11:05am, since the actual FP+ return window for most attractions is up to five minutes before the stated time, and up to 15 minutes after.
Breaking the group down and seeking out FP+ availability in smaller groups may be more work than you want to do, but it would certainly benefit you in our example, as the group could ride around 11am, instead of having to book the 3:30pm time, which is the only available option with a group of more than five people.
I mention this because I’m seeing the most FastPass+ availability possible as a party of one:
And I’m fortunate enough to be able to book a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FP+ with a return time that’s immediate. That Multiple Experiences FP+ is the replacement for Muppet*Vision. I could use it for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but we’re not trying to rely on unusual circumstances to complete our touring plan.
Still, continuing to refresh FP+ availability, and book additional FP+ experiences, is the best way to enjoy as many attractions in the Park as possible. Immediately after I scan my ticket/MagicBand at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, I’ll be eligible to book another FastPass+.
Originally, my plan was to head over to Sunset Boulevard with a 4th FastPass+ for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. After scanning in at the attraction entrance there, I’d try to search for a Tower of Terror FP+ with the earliest return time possible. That’s my plan in large part due to how inconvenient it is to walk all the way up and down Sunset Boulevard for one attraction or the other. It would be a hassle to do this twice, once for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and again for Tower of Terror, unless we were also interested in doing something else along there, like Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, or Fantasmic!, among other things like Sunset Ranch Market or some shopping.
Star Wars, A Galaxy Far, Far Away is still a thing on the mobile stage in front of the Chinese Theater at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. You can pull up showtimes for a particular date here, with shows typically beginning at 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:30pm, and 5:30pm. Later in the year, the 10:30am show is typically replaced with a 6:30pm show.
The show is easy enough to see casually in the back, though shoulder kids are always an issue once the shorter droids begin appearing. For a front row spot, arrive 20 to 30 minutes before showtime, but most people probably catch the show by accident, or roll up a minute or two before it begins. It’s a good opportunity to see a number of characters who don’t otherwise appear, including Darth Maul and Boba Fett. Most people probably watch about two minutes before moving on, but the show does demand a decent crowd most of the time.
The Citizens of Hollywood are typically on hand from 9am to 5:30pm, usually on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.
They may be selling MagicBands that “fell off the truck.”
It looks like he’s reading a fresh copy of my guidebook, “The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020.”
We’re heading down Sunset Boulevard at 10:36am to relatively light crowds.
Tower of Terror is posted at 65 minutes, which is right around average for this time of day.
Rise of the Resistance seems to be having more good days than bad, with Disney moving through about ten boarding groups per hour, on average. For whatever reason, the first boarding group that’s assigned each morning is rarely or never “1,” instead starting with boarding group 8 or thereabouts. About 3.5 hours into operation, 55 boarding groups are already eligible to return. Over the past few weeks, about 160 boarding groups are called on your average 7am to 10pm day, with Disney calling more than 200 boarding groups on December 31st, in large part due to the 12am close. Even with the extra couple hours, I’m sure Disney appreciated the ride doing well on the busiest day of the year across property.
We continue to do well for ourselves. I was able to meet all three Star Wars Launch Bay characters in about 40 minutes. The combined wait is now more than double that. Muppet*Vision still looks to be down.
We’ve had to reevaluate what we’re able to accomplish with Disney now holding all guests on Hollywood Boulevard until official Park open. During the first week or so after Rise of the Resistance debuted, Disney casually opened the Park around 6:20am, and allowed anyone present to freely head to the ride of their choice without any barriers. During those first couple of visits, we were able to make it over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror before considerable standby waits had an opportunity to develop. Here at Aerosmith, I mentioned a couple of times that as long as the walkway up to the left is clear, that the actual wait to ride should be under ten minutes. That’s truer earlier in the day, when far fewer FastPass+ returners have had an opportunity to arrive with priority boarding, but I thought we would test our theory since there were so few people in the standby line when I arrived at 10:40am.
I could have used the FastPass+ I had booked, and I would have if the actual standby line was any longer:
Instead, I opened up FastPass+ availability to check for Tower of Terror:
Options are plentiful. Since you can check for 4th or subsequent FP+ availability after scanning your third FP+ at the entrance touchpoint, you can spend your time in line or in the pre-show(s) refreshing. With the way the app now works, I can continuously click on “11:00 AM” on the top of the screen to refresh what’s available. You’ll want to factor in the amount of time that it will take to experience your current attraction when factoring in the return time for your next one. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster takes about 20 minutes, even with FastPass+ priority and the ride’s 90 second duration. If I scan my Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FP+ at 10:50am, then I should be over to Tower of Terror around 11:15am.
A couple of FastPass+ refreshes later, Tower of Terror for 10:55am is available:
That’s at the same time that availability for Alien Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania has gotten worse than when we first started checking availability. Even if you’re searching for a Tower of Terror FP+ for a larger party, you still shouldn’t have much trouble finding something within an hour of the current time. “Just keep refreshing.” – Dory, probably.
As I’ve said before, the current tier system actually makes it easier to book Tier 1 FastPass+ attractions as your 4th FP+:
While availability is plentiful for all Tier 1 attractions other than Slinky Dog Dash, there isn’t any availability whatsoever for Star Tours, since so many people have chosen it in advance. Since Star Tours is the lone ride in Tier 2, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to cancel/change it unless you decide you don’t want to ride.
I could book Toy Story Mania for immediate use:
And additional, convenient times continue showing up for Tower of Terror.
After a couple more minutes of refreshing, Slinky Dog Dash has multiple return times available.
Even more Slinky Dog Dashes become available with more refreshing.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was posted at 50 minutes, but as you can see, the walkway leading inside is completely empty as I head through the standby line.
Even with only about 30 people in front of me in standby, if that, it still took 12 minutes for me to find myself inside the pre-show. That’s about eight minutes longer than it would have taken with FastPass+. FP+ grinds standby lines to a near-halt, which is why we’re unable to reliably get to Sunset Boulevard for the thrill rides before legitimately long waits develop at those rides.
While we like to see short posted waits, sometimes they can actually work against us, as more people are likely to get in line if they’re expecting to walk right on. If you’re among the first to enter the line when the posted wait is short, then your wait likely will be. But sometimes, you’ll be the last person to enter when the posted wait is short, and the actual wait will end up being much longer, and the posted wait will eventually go up to match reality.
The reverse is also true, with fewer people likely to get in a line that’s posted as 50+ minutes. With few people then entering the standby line, the actual wait has an opportunity to drop. That’s what we’re seeing here. If Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster were posted at 15 minutes instead of 50, there would be quite the rush over here, and the actual wait would likely be much longer than what I experienced.
I ran into even more bad luck, as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster went down as I was just about to board. That means I get yet another Multiple Experiences FastPass+:
For Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, every attraction that offers FastPass+, with the exception of Slinky Dog Dash, is a viable replacement. That means I could immediately head to any of those attractions and use my Multiple Experiences FP+ there. Disney is probably hoping a lot of people choose to do that, in order to keep waits and crowds lower at the attractions that are actually operating,
I took my Tower of Terror FastPass+ over to the attraction, where the wait is posted at 65 minutes.
Attraction downtime is a big reason why standby and FastPass+ return lines get longer. Even if Tower of Terror sees 100% uptime during the day, it still has to contend with an unexpected number of people arriving with replacement FP+ for the likes of Muppet*Vision. With Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster down, Tower of Terror is the obvious replacement, and anyone who was in line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster when it went down could head over here after being dumped from the now-closed queue. Tower of Terror standby is backed up nearly to the entrance, even with all of the switchbacks ahead open.
With FastPass+ priority, it should be about five minutes until I’m in the library pre-show.
I have spoken:
While I was riding, things have deteriorated outside, as the line for Tower of Terror now stretches back down outside of the entrance and onto Sunset Boulevard. With FP+, I arrived at 11:14am and was back out front at 11:36am, for a total experience time of 22 minutes, which is right around average. The actual standby wait at this point is 90+ minutes, due almost entirely to the downtime elsewhere.
I’ve now collected two “Multiple Experiences FastPass+,” and managed to book another for Slinky Dog Dash for use after I’m done with Rise of the Resistance.
In the next Part, we’ll head in that direction.