We’ll analyze how well Disney’s Hollywood Studios is faring these days after taking an in-depth look at how Magic Kingdom crowds and wait times have ebbed and flowed since the Parks reopened in July of 2020. The Magic Kingdom post offers a lot more background into the changes Disney has implemented over the past year, including ranking each week so far by wait time, so you may want to check that out if you missed it and compare how well you did versus other weeks. Or see if your usual week was “crazy crowded” or you managed to visit over that first summer, when it very much was not. Since we’re talking about Hollywood Studios, the answer to our first question is obviously “not well,” so if you have something else to do, that will be the main takeaway by the time this post ends.
While we have the average overall wait across all attractions for every day since the Studios reopened, we’ll largely be focusing on wait times from this year. There are a number of reasons for that that we’ll get to in a moment.
Here’s the full chart of weekly average waits for Disney’s Hollywood Studios since the Park reopened on July 15th, 2020:
The chart’s movement doesn’t necessarily differentiate itself that greatly from the Magic Kingdom chart, which we see below:
They’re fairly similar. If you eliminated the the titles and daily averages, I’m not necessarily sure I could tell you which was which. The main giveaway is that there’s more weekly variance in wait times at Magic Kingdom than Hollywood Studios.
We did look at Magic Kingdom as having about eight distinct periods where wait time averages were around the same number for at least a couple of weeks in a row before moving higher or lower:
We open with low wait times during the first summer of operation in 2020 and end with longer waits for spring break this year in 2021. Back during the first full week after reopening, the Park’s average attraction wait was just 10.3 minutes. Spring break this year has seen waits more than double and occasionally more than triple.
Looking over the Studios’ chart, there’s less week-to-week variance during the middle months:
Scientifically speaking, there’s likely a better mathematical model to break up the average wait times from the week of about September 13th through the week of December 20th, when the average waits are so close to each other. We could talk standard deviations or find something more confusing, post a bunch of graphs, and then come to the exact wrong conclusions. But that sounds like a lot of work better suited for other sites.
As we take a look at the chart, average weekly waits range from 39 minutes to open September and peak at 48 minutes during Christmas and then again during Presidents Day Weekend. That’s less than a ten minute difference in averages from what is historically the least crowded time of year to some of the busiest weeks of the year. From September through about December 2020, there’s only about a two or three minute difference from week to week. The maximum difference of 8.9 minutes, from the mid-September low to the December high, is a relatively meager 21.1%. Obviously we don’t want to wait an extra nine minutes per ride, but it would be far worse without the Park Pass system limiting crowds. Waits around Christmas are typically at least twice as long as September, and often run even higher.
During the same period at Magic Kingdom, the average wait ranged from 20.8 minutes to 37.0 minutes, or a maximum difference of 16.2 minutes. That’s a 78% increase in waits, which is more than three times the variance we see at the Studios. For days, weeks, and months, we said that it didn’t really matter which day you visited the Studios because Park Passes were likely to be sold out no matter what, and wait times would be similar given a similar number of people at the Park. That looks to be largely the case before waits drop with overall demand in January, and then begin to increase again heading into Presidents Day Weekend in February and then spring break in March.
We just don’t see a whole lot of wavering there in the middle, after the initial eight or nine weeks of short waits. Like Magic Kingdom, we then see the a similar drop in waits in January before they rise again heading into spring break. Ranking the Studios weeks from highest to lowest waits, we’d be looking at this:
From a pure wait time perspective, you can see how well you did if you’ve also enjoyed visiting the Studios since last July. As far as “crowds” are concerned, the posted wait times don’t offer as much insight as we’d probably like because of how many modifications Disney has made to the queues and how many people they load into the ride vehicles, whether they’ve been modified in some way or not. For example, below is what we saw at Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway after Disney started loading every row in November 2020, about three months after the Park reopened, from “Walt Disney World Christmas Crowds About What You Would Expect Given Capacity Constraints:”
Crowds obviously didn’t drop in half along with the 45% drop in waits basically overnight. Back in November, Park Passes for the Studios were notoriously difficult to get because so few were available. That made the Studios both “the most popular Park” and the one with the lowest attendance. If both things can be true at the same time. But it’s pretty obvious how much of a difference loading a ride at full capacity makes as we look at a 30-minute drop.
Here is a poor representation of our previous chart, which lists the Studios’ average wait by week from highest to lowest. You sort of have to follow the legend at the bottom because I am apparently bad at Excel:
To what you would think would be nobody’s surprise, the week of December 27th saw the longest waits yet. In reality, the average that week was only longer because Tower of Terror was having more mechanical trouble than usual, pushing up wait times there and affecting the Park’s overall daily average with only a handful of other attractions posting a wait time. The highest week’s average, from December 27th through January 2nd, was within four minutes of ten other weeks. In other words, Disney’s Park Pass system limiting the number of guests allowed inside keeps waits relatively constant with a similar number of people in the Park. When Disney raises the Park’s capacity again, we’ll see another jump, potentially over 50 minutes unless shows or other entertainment open along with the capacity increase.
Of the six weeks with the highest average waits so far, four occurred this year, while two weeks in October of 2020 follow. Did Christmas and October see similar attendance? No, the December and other 2021 dates would have seen higher attendance as the Studios’ Park Passes have become much easier. With the doubled capacity at many attractions, in addition to the opening of additional quick services, limited shows, and holding areas, Disney is able to let a lot more people into the Park and get those wait times back up to where they were in September and October, even without adding any real additional entertainment other than reopening the Frozen Sing-Along, which now sees a drastically reduced capacity per show with every other row blocked off and three seats for every four marked as unavailable to keep guests six feet apart.
If you had visited in late September of 2020, your average wait would have only been five minutes shorter per attraction than during Christmas Week. That’s a difference of about 10% as the Park’s capacity is controlled by the supply of Park Passes issued by Disney rather than guest demand. It goes back to the main point we made for months – just about any day at Hollywood Studios is as bad as any other day. Or every day is equally magical. Or whatever people say.
Disney will likely jump on the CDC’s “three feet is plenty” “recommendation” once they announce it’s “safe” in other indoor and outdoor environments, like they recently announced with schools. You’ll note that Disney doesn’t list the specific amount of space in between stickers, saying something like, “Please keep six feet between parties.” It will be real easy to slide another sticker half-way in between the 6-footers. You know they can’t wait.
A recommendation of three feet between parties will also mean increased space in theaters, whether it means keeping one or two seats empty between parties instead of three. It would also increase capacity on a lot of rides, where Disney could load another row on something like “it’s a small world” and still be able to say they’re within government guidelines and without spending any money on vehicle modifications.
For our purposes, attraction capacity is largely what interests us because it’s the primary driver of wait times. And as capacity continues to change at individual attractions, we need to be ready to adjust what would be our normal plans. If Rise of the Resistance moved through 10,000 guests per hour instead of 1,000, we, and Disney, would have far fewer problems. That’s obviously an extreme example, but it’s true at any attraction with a variable capacity.
Here in the midst of spring break, we can take a look at waits during a peak day on Thursday, April 1st, 2021, or just a few days before Easter Sunday:
The operating hours of 9am to 8pm look to be the norm now as Disney has extended them that far out into the middle of June. The longer operating hours are another reason why our Studios’ numbers don’t offer an apples-to-apples comparison as the Park was open from just 10am to 7pm earlier in the year and most of last year.
The ~43-minute averages that we see over spring break are both good and bad. They’re longer than some weeks last September, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect, but also not wildly higher even as potential demand increases. But a ~40 minute average per attraction looks to be what Disney considers acceptable, even if it means a 50-minute peak for Muppet*Vision or 110 minutes at Slinky Dog.
We also see some of that mechanical trouble at Tower of Terror, where the peak wait is 145 minutes at 3:15pm. It drops to 45 minutes by 4:30pm, with few people taking on a wait that almost touches 2.5 hours. Once that second set of elevators comes online, they’re in far better shape with the doubled capacity. Muppet*Vision’s average wait is 29 minutes, with an actual wait that could be even longer as you wait through multiple shows with few people inside the theater. Toy Story Mania, which saw no modifications to its loading procedure from day one, actually shows the same 29-minute average. Star Tours and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway average 34 minutes, which is just five minutes longer. Swirling Saucers posts the shortest average in the Park, even if its 50-minute peak is the same as Muppet*Vision and Toy Story Mania.
Amusingly(?), I wrote an article back in August titled “Worst Case Scenario Waits on a Capacity Day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios” with the following chart:
At the time, back in August, this was as “bad” as wait times got, with Park Passes sold out for the day and what was the maximum number of people allowed inside. Between August 2020 and now, waits are 15 minutes, or more than 50%, longer. That makes sense since Disney publicly acknowledged they had increased attendance by 40% in the fall of last year. We’ll likely see another capacity increase this summer as Disney is already relaxing mask requirements.
Over the course of ten attractions, you could expect to wait two-and-a-half additional hours in line now than you would have eight months ago. Between August and now, I think Disney reopened ABC Commissary in October 2020 along with the Frozen Sing-Along. A couple of other small outlets and stores also reopened, along with large theaters like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, even if the space is being used as a relaxation station instead of the set of a stage show. Other than that, the capacity increases have largely come from Disney loading every row at several attractions and trying to increase capacity elsewhere, like building plastic-box-things around the seats at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in order to get more parties inside each cockpit, raise capacity, and either lower wait times or give Disney an opportunity to let more people in so wait times are back to the 45 to 60 minutes that’s apparently acceptable.
We can take a look at a long chart of daily averages since the Park reopened in July. One thing to note if you’re not just scrolling right by is that wait times over the last seven weeks have all been over 40 minutes. We saw eight straight weeks of 40+ minute averages back from late September to early November. Even in November, average waits were about two minutes away from pushing 40 minutes. The reason they went down in November is due to the increase in capacity at the Runaway Railway:
People are always concerned with the “best” day of the week to visit the Studios and other Parks. On average, your best days are Friday, Sunday, and Thursday, in that order, but the averages every day are nearly within two minutes of each other. But most of the day-to-day differences can again be explained by attraction downtime with Park Passes sold out every day this week across each of the ticket segments. Waits on Saturdays might be a few seconds longer than other days, but weekends remain a decent bet for the Studios with bigger wait time jumps on the weekends at the other Parks. At Magic Kingdom, there was a 33%+ increase in waits from Wednesday, the best day of the week to visit, and Saturday, the busiest. At the Studios, the difference is just a few seconds.
We’re largely interested in what’s going on this year, after the majority of attraction capacity increases, Park Pass increases, and other changes have already happened. Here’s January 3rd onward:
It’s not a major difference, with the averages for each day of the week again coming within two minutes of each other. Friday remains the “best” day of the week to visit by a few seconds. Saturdays and Sundays are actually the next two “least” crowded days, which makes them your best choice for the weekends since the Park isn’t demonstrably worse than a weekday. On average, it’s actually better with Monday and Tuesday seeing slightly longer waits, on average.
But averages don’t tell us the whole story, particularly at a Park that nearly always sells out. Looking over this past week, Friday’s average for the year might be the lowest, but the wait for that specific week is also longer than three other days that week. And again, most of those differences can be explained by attraction downtime pushing up waits by a minute or two.
It will be interesting to see what happens after spring break concludes. Disney can ramp down their operation and normalize ~40ish minute waits even with far fewer people in the Park if fewer cast members are working and fewer vehicles are on the track, in turn reducing capacity and increasing waits. Or if demand stays reasonably high, what we see now could be the norm for a while. It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone say “unprecedented,” but we don’t have a tremendous amount of previous data to make any concrete predictions about the future.
With limited capacities at some attractions, and others running at full tilt, we see some differences in average wait times at the attractions compared to the ordinary with Tower of Terror and Slinky Dog typically leading the pack, depending on the day:
Tower of Terror remains on top with the longest average wait, thanks to Disney loading about 25% of the maximum number of people who could potentially ride into each elevator. Slinky Dog Dash and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run aren’t too far behind, and will likely maintain those long averages once capacity reaches closer to “normal.” There’s then a decent drop-off to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster of about 17 minutes. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Star Tours, and Toy Story Mania all come in around a half hour each, with Muppet*Vision and Swirling Saucers picking up the slack. Combined, the average wait for these nine attractions comes to 388 minutes, or 6.5 hours on your feet in line. Generally, at least half of that wait is outdoors and uncovered with social-distancing in place. If you’re lucky enough to grab a Rise boarding group, you’re looking at 20 to 30 more minutes of standing, so we’ll call it an even seven hours in line for your average guest across the nine attractions. Add loading/unloading time, actual attraction experience time, and walking from attraction to attraction, and that’s another two hours with some amount of backtracking. So we’re at nine hours, out of eleven total hours of operation, or an average of an hour per attraction to get each done.
That doesn’t leave much time for other attractions, like Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, the Frozen Sing-Along, or Vacation Fun in the Mickey Shorts Theater, which would add another 35 to 60+ minutes each, or two meals, which could add anywhere from an hour to two or three hours depending on where and how you dine.
Of course, our averages don’t take into account the fact that the Studios routinely opens 30 to 45 minutes early. Those precious minutes are the only time when waits are significantly shorter. I go over how to arrive early enough to take the most advantage of that early opening in this post. With the current 9am opens, you don’t really have time for a legitimate breakfast, but you can still be dropped off at the Swan Resort with no hassle and a walk that will probably be shorter than trying to schmooze your way past your friendly BoardWalk parking attendant/Rambo depending on the day of your visit. We’ll go over doing just that in the coming days.
Instead of beginning the day with the Railway, which had been our modus operandi when it sported the longest average wait prior to November 2020, it likely makes more sense to start the day with Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. We’d knock out two of the four rides with the longest averages and then hopefully wait about half the average for Slinky or Falcon. Ideally, we could then return at the end of the night for the other when waits have had an opportunity to go down.
We’ll pull up the day’s waits for April 5th:
Here, Slinky Dog clearly has the longest wait with Tower of Terror second and Smugglers Run just a minute shy of that. So you’ve basically got two plans of attack if you can make the full early ~8:15am arrival. Go straight to Slinky and potentially the other Toy Story Land attractions before moving to Smugglers Run by official opening. But with an average wait of an hour across the attractions just 30 minutes into operation, or 9:30am, we don’t have too many choices. If you can get in at 8:15am, visit two or three major attractions with a short wait and a couple of attractions with nominal waits, you may want to go hit breakfast either in the Crescent Lake area at Trattoria al Forno or Ale & Compass or give Topolino’s Terrace at Riviera a shot. Your time may also be better spent at the resort pool or relaxing with a cocktail elsewhere. There is no magical place to be with a short wait at 10am with a 68-minute average.
By 10am, you’re likely waiting through a full Muppet*Vision show, for an actual wait of ~20 or more minutes with your only options with short waits as the Racing Academy or Vacation Fun. Your other option is to simply wait at the moderate priorities later in the morning, where the wait for Toy Story or Star Tours may “just” be 25 to 45 minutes, but could be on the longer end with mechanical trouble. Either ride should more or less be a walk-on after 5pm, so spending 90 minutes in line in the afternoon is both something to do and largely a waste of time. But for those more unfamiliar with Disney World, you may not want to go galivanting around property, trying to figure out where the heck Topolino’s is and find your way back to the Park. In that case, you could feasibly take a break from 10am or 11am to 3pm or 4pm and lounge by the pool. With Park Hopping not coming online until 2pm, it’s unfortunate that we can’t rope drop both the Studios and Epcot on the same day as we could do some damage moving over to Epcot by 10:30am. Hopefully the 2pm minimum goes away sooner rather than later.
As we can see from the wait times above, the Studios doesn’t see a big bump in waits after 2pm, when anyone with a Park Pass and Hopper ticket who has scanned in at their first Park is eligible to head over. Average waits stay above 40 minutes until after 5pm, but we saw that before Park Hopping too.
So What Have We Learned?
- Not a lot has changed at the Studios since the middle of September, and especially the middle of November. Average waits now are basically the same as they were since September of 2020 and sometimes higher as Disney raises capacity in tandem with the number of Park Passes issued. Waits are only short when the Park isn’t officially open in the morning during those first 30 to 45 minutes and again drop in the evening.
- Any day at the Studios is as “good” as any other day. The Park fills to capacity every day during busier times of the year and the reason for the small changes in wait times from day to day largely come down to attraction downtime. Anyone recommending the Studios on a certain day is simply trying to up their pageviews. Even with all of our averages, there’s no clear “best day.”
- With longer waits at the other Parks on the weekends compared to weekdays, it makes more sense to visit the Studios on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The Park will still be sold out with the same number of guests as a weekday, so there is no disadvantage. Of course, that also means there’s not much advantage. During less busy times, assuming there are some in the near future, local Passholders will increase waits across the board, making all the Parks busier than during the workweek.
- Disney has increased capacity at the Park so waits are similar to what they were in the fall, even if attraction capacity is now higher.
- With few anytime attractions, there isn’t much to do at the Studios in the late morning to late afternoon without waiting 30 to 75+ minutes. You can only watch Vacation Fun and get your picture with a fake potato so many times. Trust me. I’ve got a lot of potato pictures.
- We may see things ease up in a couple of weeks as spring break winds down, but the Studios still offers a limited number of Park Passes and attractions. The likelihood that it will sell out of Passes each day, and the maximum number of people will be inside, remains high.
We’re still waiting to see what Disney does with their promise to let resort guests enter the Park every day a half hour early – something we’ve all enjoyed for months. My estimation is Disney will simply do what they’re doing now, by opening the Park 30 to 45 minutes before the stated opening, but restrict the extra morning time to resort guests and hold off-site visitors in some sort of “tank.” It will take some amount of cost to check phones/wristbands/implanted RFID chips and Disney will also have to figure out where to put people staying off-site in a “safe” area. Disney doesn’t seem to be having much trouble filling the resorts that are open as it is, so additional on-site perks may be a ways off. Or they may start enforcing new rules tomorrow. How exciting.
We’ll reconsider big picture touring at Animal Kingdom and EPCOT and then go battle the crowds and see what we can get done.