Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance officially opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on December 5th, 2019.
Which means our first visit will come the following day, on December 6th. Opening days, even for much lesser attractions, are never a good indication about how things will actually progress during normal operation. I usually point to the 2+ hour wait just to enter Toy Story Land back when it debuted at Hollywood Studios during the summer of 2018. If you visited that day, then you might expect that there would always be a wait just to see inside Andy’s Backyard. Of course, there has never been a wait to enter Toy Story Land in the 18ish months since it debuted.
Likewise, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened, in part, back in August 2019, with people arriving before 3am to be among the first to enter. Disney used a virtual queuing system on opening day for a few hours, and has never needed to use that system since. If you had visited opening day, then you might expect that a virtual queuing system to enter the Land was always being used. We obviously won’t be able to get all of the answers about how Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will fit into our day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but we can hopefully begin to understand a little bit about how things will work moving forward.
Disney surprised many of us by instituting a virtual queue system for the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride on opening day. This should not be confused with the virtual queuing system that guests had to rely on just to enter the Land back in August. That still has not been necessary and it very likely won’t be outside of December 23rd through January 1st or so.
So how does the virtual queuing system for a single attraction work?
Basically, once you scan your ticket or MagicBand at the entrance and enter the Park, you are eligible to sign up for a boarding group to ride Rise of the Resistance at some point later in the day. Currently, there is no standby line for Rise of the Resistance and the attraction does not currently offer FastPass+. The only way to be eligible to ride is to sign up for a boarding group. As we’re about to see, you’re probably going to want to do that early in the morning, and probably arrive a couple of hours before the Park is even scheduled to open to guarantee access.
Above, I’m arriving at bag check at 6:09am, or a little less than three hours before the Park is officially scheduled to open on December 6th. As with the Galaxy’s Edge opening back in August, Disney is staffed to the gills. I count more than twenty security cast members just on this side of bag check. There’s another side around to the left that’s used mostly by people taking the tram or walking in from the parking lots on that side. You’d find 20 more security personnel over there.
On Friday, December 6th, Disney started letting guests enter the Park just after 6am, which wasn’t necessarily that surprising considering a few hundred people had already amassed.
When you open the My Disney Experience app, you should see the following home screen, even if you’re doing so from home. That’s what I’m doing here at 5:28am on the morning of my visit:
This screen was not available until the morning of December 5th, when Rise of the Resistance officially opened.
Disney never alluded to the fact that such a process existed or that there would be no opportunity to simply wait in line for their newest ride, as is theme park tradition. This could be due in part to the fact that the virtual queue is a temporary system with no identifiable end date. I won’t provide any spoilers for Rise of the Resistance, other than to say that it’s a tricky ride system where one of about a million things can go wrong. The virtual queue system, and assigning guests a number rather than a time, will help Disney control the number of people that are arriving at the ride’s entrance at any given time. It also protects them from having to dump a queue of thousands should technical problems arise.
The boarding groups don’t work on a set time, where the next group is called every ‘x’ number of minutes. Instead, somebody decides when more people can be accommodated and the next boarding group is called. We’ll see how that goes once we receive our assignment. With FastPass+, you assign a certain number of people to arrive per hour with no ability to hold them off should things become backed up, other than to cancel their FP+. The date that the virtual queue is phased out and FastPass+ takes over will likely depend on the new ride’s reliability. So far, it hasn’t been great.
Signing up for the virtual queue is easy. After you’ve scanned your ticket/MagicBand, the red “Join Boarding Group” button will become illuminated.
The next screen will look just like the one that you’ve seen when you book FastPass+ experiences for your group. Select the people you would like to assign a boarding group and confirm the selection at the bottom.
And yes, the system does know if you’ve scanned in or not. If anything, it may be a good way to confirm if you can expect your favorite Disney villain/blogger to accompany you on your day. If you select anyone who hasn’t scanned in, then you’ll see this screen and need to remove those who haven’t yet entered the Park before continuing.
On the next screen, you’ll see your assigned boarding group number. Here, I’m in Group 18, with the potential that the system starts assigning the first group as “10” for whatever reason. Disney is probably not above cooking the books and we may all feel better if they’re on group 12, even if it’s technically the third group of the day rather than the twelfth.
On this screen, I can see who is in my group, see a very general time of day that Disney expects me to ride, and be able to remove guests should they have other plans. Once your boarding group is called, you have a full two hours to return to the ride’s entrance. While you wait for your boarding group number, you can do whatever you want, whether it be trying to find something to do at Hollywood Studios, heading to another Park, going back to the resort, slamming beers at BaseLine Tap House, or what have you. Once you’re in the virtual queue, you’re in the virtual queue. Theoretically, you’ll receive a push notification on your phone when your boarding group comes up, but I wouldn’t bet on receiving it, so you’ll want to check the app periodically to see how things are progressing.
As your boarding time approaches, the green bars underneath the droid will fill as it scampers back and forth above the line on the screen.
If you don’t have the app or don’t want to deal with it, then there are guest services cast members immediately inside the entrance who can scan your ticket/MagicBands and set it up for you. The Guest Experience team members, at their various kiosks, can also help answer questions and sign you up for a boarding group should space be available. Since time is of the essence, you’ll want to immediately join a boarding group, either on the app or via a cast member at the entrance.
There are two more keys to pay attention to on the above screen. The first is that “Capacity is limited.”
Not only that, but capacity is very limited. Frequent readers know that I don’t throw around the word “very.” This is serious.
On the second day of operation, the virtual queue was filled to capacity before 8:15am. Remember, this is a day when the Park was not even supposed to open until 9am. If you arrived after 8:15am, you would have no opportunity to ride Rise of the Resistance. There is no standby queue. Once the virtual queue is full, that’s it.
The virtual queue system makes it difficult to future-proof our plans. As it stands, Rise of the Resistance doesn’t really alter our morning touring plan too much. Even if we get the very first boarding group, we have a full two hours to enjoy short waits elsewhere before we have to get over there. With a two-hour window, we can easily fit shows, meals, or just about anything else around the return time later in the day. We don’t have to worry about FastPass+ because the ride doesn’t currently offer it. We don’t have to worry about rushing over to get in the standby line first thing because the ride doesn’t offer one. All we have to do is arrive before the boarding groups are all assigned.
You might remember that Hollywood Studios offered Extra Extra Magic Hours, from 6am to 9am, every day from September 1st through November 2nd. That was in anticipation of massive Galaxy’s Edge crowds that never materialized. You might also remember my experiences attending in September here, and then a second time, here. Those were some of the easiest rope drops of all time (of all time) because so few people were willing and able to arrive for a 6am open, even if it meant being able to walk on almost any attraction for three full hours.
With the opening of Rise of the Resistance on the horizon all summer and into the fall, Disney did nothing to extend the Studios’ operating hours to accommodate larger crowds before the attraction opened on December 5th, other than moving that specific day’s open to 8am. On December 6th, Disney ended up moving the Park’s opening to 8am every day* from Monday, December 9th, through Saturday, January 4th.
*There are exceptions, as the Studios is still scheduled to open at 9am on Sundays, when the Park hosts a morning Extra Magic Hour from 8am to 9am.
Changes are still being made. On the morning of December 7th, Disney moved Hollywood Studios’ opening to 8am the very next day, extended morning Extra Magic Hours to two hours instead of one, and changed the opening time to 8am instead of 9am. It’s worth noting that Rise of the Resistance is not officially available as part of Extra Magic Hours and may not be operational at that time. The boarding group process may not begin until regular Park open.
Here’s the Studios current operating hours:
We’ve got December 5th with the original 8am open, then 9am opens on Friday and Satuday, and then a slew of 8am opens – again, with the exception of the days with morning Extra Magic Hours after December 8th.
My expectation is that Disney will move the Sunday openings to 8am, and extend morning Extra Magic Hours to two hours on those days. Additional Extra Magic Hour days around Christmas also seems likely. On one hand, Disney is reacting to the crowds and demand quickly. On the other hand, we’re seeing less than a day’s notice of the Park opening two hours earlier than anticipated.
Moving forward, there are two obvious questions:
- What time will Disney’s Hollywood Studios actually open?
- What time do I need to arrive to be guaranteed a decent boarding group, and probably also to either rope drop Slinky Dog Dash or Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run?
To have a better idea about the first question, we’re going to have to wait for the first official 8am open on Monday, December 9th.
To a point, the answer doesn’t necessarily matter. If our intention is to arrive early enough to procure one of the earlier boarding groups and beat all of the people who arrive later to our first attraction, then we’re going to have to arrive before a certain time, whether the Park is open and we can enjoy ourselves, or if we’re standing there out in front of the Park or on Hollywood Boulevard waiting for it to open for an hour longer than we’d like. Starting Monday, with the regular 8am opens, the arrival target should probably be between 6:30am and 7am – earlier if you want to be among the first to experience Rise of the Resistance, and towards the end of the half hour if a boarding group that will result in a late morning or early afternoon return is okay.
But even that will only sort of take us until December 22nd or so, when some of the heaviest crowds of the year descend on the most popular collection of theme parks in the world. From December 22nd through January 3rd, I think the 6:15am opens that we’re seeing now are plausible, given the number of people that Disney is going to have to move through. Arriving between 6am and 6:30am around Christmas will likely be necessary in order to experience short waits and acquire one of the first several boarding groups.
As far as what’s happened so far, the Studios opened at 6:40am on the Saturday, December 7th, the third day that Rise of the Resistance was open. The first guests, with boarding group “10,” were called over close to 7:15am. All boarding groups were full again before regular Park open at 9am. During the virtual queue period, with an indefinite end date, we’ll have to assume that all boarding groups will be full by 9am at the absolute latest. With the 8am open, more people are going to arrive earlier; as word about the virtual queue spreads, demand will increase, and the boarding groups will go even faster.
The only downside to signing up for a boarding group is the loss of sleep. It doesn’t affect your ability to secure more FastPass+ or do anything else with your day.
Moving into January, I think we’ll need to keep that 6:30am to 7am arrival in mind, though we may be able to arrive later given lower overall crowds. Still, the number of virtual queue spots is severely limited. And even if the number of people in the Park is lower in late January, if the guests who are there tend to be a little savvier, then the 6:30am to 7am arrival may still be in the cards.
With Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the arrival time recommendation was originally 7am to 7:30am with a regular 9am open, for the first two years or so that the Park was open. A full two-and-a-half years later, we’re able to push that closer to a 7:30am to 7:45am arrival, and still be among the first people to arrive. Fast forward three years and maybe we’ll be able to say the same thing about Hollywood Studios and Rise of the Resistance. You only have to arrive 90 minutes before the Park opens to find success! What a life.
On the plus side, the virtual queuing system reduces what will eventually end up being an incredibly mad dash to the ride first thing.
As we learned from our first venture out to Galaxy’s Edge during Extra Extra Magic Hours, it’s a long walk back there, with the path constantly widening and narrowing, making for a rather arduous, uncomfortable journey.
If this is what the rush to Slinky Dog Dash used to look like, then Rise of the Resistance will be an even higher-stakes game, with even more people, now moving through much narrower paths. FastPass+ for Slinky Dog Dash are also typically unavailable 63+ days in the future. Once it’s offered, demand for Rise of the Resistance FastPass+ will be even higher. Potentially, only those guests staying on-property for 5+ days will be able to book FP+ for the attraction and only on the last day of their visit.
If you’re visiting over the next month, then I’d be prepared to arrive at Hollywood Studios before 7am to secure an early boarding group. Arrive closer to 6:15am to be among the first to arrive. Those times may move earlier or later in the morning depending on people’s propensities to wake up. On Saturday, December 7th, far more than a thousand people had arrived before 6:30am, but that isn’t necessarily an indication of the future, given the fact that it’s the first weekend morning that the ride has been (semi-) operational.
We’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities to see how things shake out. We’ll consider our touring plan and how we might sculpt our plans as we move about my morning. Pull up the next part in this series here.