Hello darkness, my old friend. We try to get away once again. Because boarding groups were released early. Got us up while we were sleeping. And the image of them sold out in my brain. Still remains. Within the groan of paid FASTPASS. “The Sound of Silence” – alternate lyrics.
Given higher summer wait times, changing attraction capacities, and increased Park Pass distribution, we return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to re-analyze wait time trends and see if we can figure out some way to minimize the time we spend in line (unlikely, but you never know). We’ll check out the easiest way to arrive before 99% of the other people (until 1% more people do it, bringing our gains down to 98%), see if there’s a day with reliably shorter waits (there probably isn’t, but maybe it will “feel” like there is if we mess with the y-axis), reorder the attractions by priority (good luck), and consider what it means for October 1st and beyond (bad, but maybe good), when eligible guests will be able to enter the Park at least 30 minutes early (good if you’re rich and/or staying at the Holiday Inn).
I’ll quickly pull up wait times at 10am this morning, or just one hour into official operation:
And the five priority attractions are already hitting an average wait of 57 minutes, which actually isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things, as we’ll see shortly. But first, we better see if our previous predictions about Magic Kingdom came to fruition. You’re talking to a guy who has been sleeping on his king size mattress in the wrong direction for the last 16 months, which is not the sort of person I would trust my *checks watch* million dollar vacation to. Should Disney move to a version of paid FastPass+, where the cost to jump the line at Alien Swirling Saucers will probably be 49 Euro per person or some sort of indentured servitude related to All-Star Sports, this website will cease offering touring advice and just post credit card signup offers. Because you’re going to need them. And I’ll make enough money in affiliate revenue to actually be able to afford to ride something in the vicinity of Mad Tea Party.
In case you missed the full Magic Kingdom recap, you can pull it up from last week, here. It also includes broader thoughts on what to expect with the 50th anniversary starting on October 1st, and what it should mean for the future. A big takeaway from that post was this chart, which tracks the weekly average across 17 attractions at the most trafficked theme park in the world:
From last time:
So what does it mean? It wouldn’t surprise me if last week was the busiest week until the last week in September and moving into October, with waits gradually falling back to where they were in June as school picks up. Present conditions in Florida, and the reintroduction of the indoor mask mandate, don’t make a visit during the hottest time of the year make a lot of sense, especially with the new shows and offerings arriving October 1st for what should be 18 months of anniversary celebration.
We’ve since added a full week, so we can check if waits are indeed trending down. Try to use your imagination for the column labels, which start with Sunday on the left and go through Saturday on the right, before the weekly average in bold:
And, of course, they are trending down, or I wouldn’t be mentioning any of this. Waits last week were still basically longer than any week prior to July 2021, including the holiday week containing Independence Day. That may be surprising given July 4th week is typically among the busiest of the summer, but Disney has raised theme park capacity substantially over the last few weeks. During August 12th’s earnings call, Disney said that they expect to be fully staffed and potentially at full capacity by the end of the calendar year if guest demand is. That means there will be Park Passes for a lot more people in front of you in line.
Given demand meets the higher number of Park Passes distributed, we’re looking at wait times of 50+ minutes like we saw during the week of July 25th. And the number of Park Passes is likely to go up again with Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage reopening on August 15th, which will increase the Park’s theoretical capacity by several thousand guests. We’re still waiting on reworked versions of other shows, and of course, all meet and greets. Disney’s official list of unavailable entertainment reads like this:
- BB-8 Astromech on Duty
- Celebrity Spotlight
- Citizens of Hollywood
- Disney Junior Dance Party
- Disney Movie Magic
- Green Army Drum Corps
- Green Army Patrol
- Fireworks & Nighttime Spectaculars
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple
- Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
- Meet the Incredibles at Pixar Place
- Meet Disney Junior Pals in the Animation Courtyard
- Meet Sully at Walt Disney Presents
- Meet the Toys in Toy Story Land
- Mickey and Minnie Starring in Red Carpet Dreams
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
- Star Wars Launch Bay: Encounter Darth Vader
- Star Wars Launch Bay: Meet Chewbacca
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
The company theoretically updates the list at DisneyWorld.com, here. Of course, a couple of the listings are seasonal shows, but if Fantasmic, the Star Wars/Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM Fireworks, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Jedi Training, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid get re-added, we’re looking at 10+ thousand additional Park Passes becoming available. Of course, the additional entertainment will occupy some of those guests throughout the day, but you can bet that most, if not all, will be interested in experiencing the new attractions, which will push up wait times, particularly in the morning. And make securing a Rise of the Resistance boarding group all the more difficult, as it’s not like the attraction is magically going to move through more people per hour, even if there are 10,000 more people who want to ride every day.
We can pull up the rest of the month’s Park Pass availability here:
And we see a change in the previous trends. With Park Pass distribution increased so much at the other Parks, we only see Magic Kingdom unavailable in the very near-term. Since the 9th and 10th have now passed, the chart is completely green for the rest of August, indicating availability at every Park every day for resort guests or guests with regular theme park tickets. That’s in line with Disney’s August 12th announcement that they’ve been actively increasing Park Pass distribution.
Interestingly, Magic Kingdom was sold out of Park Passes on both the Monday with longer hours, and the Tuesday with the first Boo Bash After Hours Party of the year. We’ll take a look at wait times and see if Boo Bash days are like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party days, which were historically less-crowded during the day. Boo Bash days may prove similarly crowded, since the Park stays open later and offers day guests the opportunity to see the evening fireworks. During historical Halloween/Christmas Party dates, Magic Kingdom would have closed at 6pm with no opportunity for day guests to see any nighttime fireworks unless they sprung for tickets to the add-on event. That in turn pushed many guests to visit on a day when they could see the fireworks and “enjoy” longer hours, even if crippling crowds meant much longer waits and far more people in the Park.
Back to the Studios, here’s a chart of the Park’s weekly average wait across its eight rides that post a wait time, along with Muppet*Vision:
A day at the Studios was difficult just three months ago, when waits hovered around an average of 34 minutes, though they had been as long as 48 minutes or so earlier in the year, with far fewer people in the Park.
We treasure our long charts, so below is the Studios’ average wait listed every day since the Park reopened in July 2020. Last July and August are certainly looking positive, along with a big drop in January when Disney began to increase capacity. Disney got even more aggressive with expanding capacity in May of this year, resulting in another drop in waits, before they shot up with Disney increasing the number of Park Passes available, and in turn, daily attendance:
I have August 1st highlighted because it was the first day that the “Wonderful World of Animation” returned to the Park with small bursts of fireworks accompanying, along with extended hours.
Here’s the chart for Wednesday, August 4th, which was the day with the longest waits last week with the current hours and offerings:
As is often the case with days with longer wait times, attraction downtime and capacity reductions due to technical trouble are largely what plague us. The Studios has so few alternative options that Slinky Dog Dash and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway going down at the same time combine to push waits up at nearby attractions, with the likelihood that Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror were running at limited capacities around the same time. But the 56.1-minute average is still just a few minutes longer than the days around it. Like we saw with Magic Kingdom, wait times are actually longer during the week than on the weekend – here by a fairly substantial amount. This past Saturday saw the lowest wait since the week containing July 4th.
Here’s this past Saturday for a more hopeful assessment with “just” a 42.1-minute average, which is lower than the weekly averages since the end of June:
With the official 9am open, Hollywood Studios actually opens right around 8:30am for everyone at the moment, with guests either held outside the gates or on Hollywood Boulevard until that time, depending on crowds and procedures. Guests may also be held a second time outside the various Lands or in line for the various attractions. I’ve seen it each of those ways over the last couple weeks.
The trick to accomplishing as much as you can in the morning remains arriving before the majority of guests by using the walkway from the Crescent Lake area. That’s made up of the Beach Club, Yacht Club, BoardWalk, Swan, and Dolphin Resorts, via the walkway that connects it with the Studios. You’ll want to arrive no later than 65 minutes before official open to beat guests arriving via Disney transportation or the parking lot opening to those driving. This is easy if you’re staying at one of those resorts because you’ll simply need to leave your room 80 to 90 minutes before open depending on how fast you walk. Also, the BoardWalk/Swan/Dolphin are closer than the Yacht Club and Beach Club, and will in turn cut a couple minutes off the trek.
Previously, I wrote about using a breakfast reservation for an easy drop-off at the BoardWalk for Trattoria al Forno via Uber/Lyft in this series. Officially, you’re not supposed to park at a resort you’re not staying at and then continue using that space throughout the day as you continue on to a theme park. Obviously, not everyone out there is going to be able to eat at one of the couple of breakfast restaurants in the area. And with the Studios now opening at 8:30am, and wanting to be there no later than 7:55am, actually spending the time to eat at a restaurant is probably out if your priority is an early theme park arrival.
Instead, we’re going to rock the Swan drop-off for a more foolproof arrival.
There are several advantages to this operation. First, there is no security guard to sweet talk your way past. If you’re being dropped off, the driver will simply pull up to the resort’s front doors and let you out. There is no gate, no guard, and no additional cost.
The second potential benefit is that the Swan offers paid parking should you be driving your own vehicle. The self-parking cost is $10 more than parking at the Studios if you’re staying off-site, or obviously another $35 should you also be paying for parking at a Disney resort. But you’ll have the peace of mind of having more control over your arrival and departure. The cost to take an Uber/Lyft from an on-property location to the Swan would ordinarily be $12 or less, but you’ll often run into surge pricing and limited availability in the early morning, even if you’ve scheduled a pickup in the app. That $12 ride could easily turn into $25 or more depending on availability/timing, and you may wait 15 or more minutes for that vehicle to actually arrive. So you may want to check pricing and availability in the app(s) and then decide if you want to rely on a rideshare or pay to park on the day of your visit, if both are options. The other benefit of the Uber pickup/drop-off at the Swan, in addition to the first ride potentially being cheaper than parking, is that you can then rely on “free” Disney transportation back to your resort, or take another Uber/Lyft from the pickup/drop-off area at the Park, and walk about 15 minutes less than struggling all the way back to the Swan at the end of the night.
Walking from the Swan to the Studios is easy. You’ll continue straight through the lobby. If you’re hungry or want to grab a coffee, there are some quick service options to the left.
Just outside on the right, you’ll see the bridge over to the BoardWalk side and the walkway to Hollywood Studios.
Those staying at the Dolphin can use the same bridge – they’ll just have to walk past the fountain a little ways.
The Swan Reserve, a new hotel that is not yet open, is located across the street and adjacent to Fantasia Gardens & Miniature Golf. Most of those guests interested in getting a jump on crowds at Epcot or Hollywood Studios will cross the street and benefit from using the same path.
Looking ahead, there’s the walkway. We won’t be heading through any other resorts. We’ll just take a right after crossing the bridge and before arriving at the entrances to Atlantic Dance Hall or Jellyrolls.
Looking back in the opposite direction, the boat that docks in between the Swan and Dolphin doesn’t operate early enough to get us to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios as early as we’d like.
And here we are with a sad panorama that should place us in context.
And we’re walking.
As you pass underneath the bridge, there may or may not be a guy hemming and hawing over graphs and charts while trying to sell you a “Rolex” for $30. Ignore him, he’s (mostly) harmless.
Unfortunately for those relying on Uber/Lyft with a direct drop-off at Hollywood Studios, you’ll be stuck waiting at the auto plaza with everyone planning to park. At Magic Kingdom, you’ll remember that guest drop-off is at the Transportation and Ticket Center, and the area opens before the parking lot, giving those guests an advantage as they don’t have to wait. At the Studios, the lot should open about an hour before the Park, or 8am with a 9am open. That can make timing the Uber/Lyft with a direct drop-off a little awkward, as you all sit there in the vehicle for an extra 15 minutes with an arrival at the auto plaza 75 minutes before Park open. Disney has also moved the pickup/drop-off area for rideshares back behind most of the bus stops, which is farther from the entrance than the previous spot, where you’d be dropped off even with the Skyliner entrance/exit. Still, those using Uber/Lyft and arriving early enough should be able to beat most of the people parking as the walk and drive are still both shorter than heading to the end of one of the long rows. A Swan drop-off, followed by a relatively short walk, remains the better bet.
Our intention is to arrive before guests parking, arriving on buses, or deploying via the Skyliner. With a 9am open, that means being at the Studios bag check, or as close as you can get, no later than 70 minutes before Park open to play it safe.
Of course, we’ll see a dramatic change beginning October 1st, and potentially continuing for more than a year as Disney resort guests and those staying at other select resorts will have a 30-minute jump on ineligible guests staying elsewhere. That includes most Passholders and obviously most guests staying off-site. Outside of Disney’s official resorts, these resorts are currently included in the Early Entry program:
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
- Shades of Green on Walt Disney World Resort
- Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
- Waldorf Astoria Orlando
- B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando
- Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando
You can check the full list, and see if there are any updates, at DisneyWorld.com, here. All in all, that means well over a hundred thousand guests every day will be eligible for early entry, with those staying at the Grand Floridian for $900/night receiving the same perk as guests down the street at the Holiday Inn Orlando, which I’m hoping costs considerably less.
Guests staying at the Disney Deluxe and DVC resorts, along with a limited number of other resorts, also participate in Extended Evening Theme Park Hours beginning October 1st:
But it’s unlikely that Hollywood Studios will offer extended hours, given the fact that Disney axed evening Extra Magic Hours before the March 2020 closure because the Park couldn’t handle a nightly influx of guests. And that was with better staffing and potentially a lot more entertainment opportunities. You can pull up the current extended hours/parks/dates/eligible resorts at DisneyWorld.com, here.
We can take a look at wait times from August 10th to make sure we’re caught up with current crowd levels:
While everyone with tickets and Park Passes is currently eligible to enter the Park at the same time now, ineligible guests beginning October 1st will be looking at wait times similar to the above during regular hours with the sheer number of eligible guests enter before them. And even if eligible guests enter the Park at 8:58am, they’ll still have the jump on any ineligible guest, even if the ineligible guest arrived at the Park much earlier.
Ineligible guests will simply be held off to the side somewhere until official Park open, watching guest after guest pass by. Then, by about 9:45am, or just 45 minutes into the official day, everyone is looking at waiting 45 minutes to an hour per ride with a very limited number of “anytime attractions” available. On the anytime front, you’ve got Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, Muppet*Vision 3D, Vacation Fun Mickey Shorts, Frozen Sing-Along, Character Cavalcades, and shortly, a modified version of Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage.
From a priority order standpoint, with Disney filling every row and most seats, you’re looking at average waits of:
- Slinky Dog Dash – 80 minutes
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run – 65 minutes
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – 55 minutes
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – 55 minutes
- Tower of Terror – 50 minutes
- Toy Story Mania: 40 minutes
- Alien Swirling Saucers – 30 minutes
- Star Tours – 20 minutes
- Muppet*Vision 3D: 10 minutes
- Other shows – generally arrive 5 to 20 minutes before showtime. If you get shut out of one, return a little earlier for a later showing.
Just among those nine attractions, the combined average wait is 415 minutes, which is not four hours and fifteen minutes in line, but a lovely 6.9 hours. Add about 1.5 hours to experience those attractions and we’re up to about 8.5 hours spent doing nine things. If you’re lucky enough to acquire a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, add another 45 minutes to the day, and we’re up to 9.25 hours. Add the Sing-Along, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, the Racing Academy, and Vacation Fun, and we’re up over eleven hours to accomplish those things. Currently, the Park operates for 12 hours a day, and we’re not factoring in breaks, meals, attraction downtime, walking from place to place, or the time you’ll spend reflecting on the mistake you’ve made by visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Certainly, if you’re among the first to arrive, you can scramble to Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Mania, Alien Swirling Saucers, and Smugglers Run, and wait less than average. But by that time, above-average waits will have formed elsewhere, and waits will continue to be prohibitive for at least several hours. Fortunately(?), we don’t run into the capacity troubles of earlier in the year, when Disney would only fill every other row and leave three seats in between each party of up to four guests at shows. That actually made Muppet*Vision a surprising priority, as actual waits continuously hit 40 minutes most of the day, and the show is unavailable in the final hour. At the moment, you should be able to get into the next Muppet*Vision show, putting it squarely back in “anytime” territory.
So how do we go about our day? Ideally, you’ll make Hollywood Studios a 2-day Park, “literally” because there is so little to do there. That seems counterintuitive. But with the number of people on hand hoping to get a Rise of the Resistance boarding group during the 1pm drop, and the fact that the Park plays host to many of Disney’s newest lands and attractions, demand remains high, even among those who know how miserable afternoon wait times get.
Right now, and for eligible guests come October 1st, I’d rock the drop-off/parking trick for the Swan in order to be among the first guests to arrive. Then you’ll want to head directly to Slinky Dog Dash, and either double back to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and hope for the best on Sunset Boulevard at Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, or complete Toy Story Land and then visit Smugglers Run and Star Tours. Then it’s either long lines or anytime attractions, probably starting with Muppet*Vision, for as long into the afternoon as you can take it, which will likely be around noon. Then plan to leave or schedule lunch in the Park before heading out. Then plan on returning around 5pm for the Cavalcades, additional anytime attractions, and whatever else you can accomplish given shorter evening waits.
If you arrive later than you’d like because you’d prefer to park at Hollywood Studios, are relying on Disney transportation, or if you’re ineligible for the extra time beginning October 1st, you’ll likely want to hone in on secondary attractions to begin the day – Slinky Dog and Runaway Railway may already be out with 60+ minute waits, but Toy Story Mania, Alien Swirling Saucers, Star Tours, and potentially the thrillers on Sunset Boulevard will be doable. But even if you head right to Toy Story Mania, you can expect the total experience time to come in around a half hour. And if you look at the chart above, you can see how quickly waits climb. Even if actual waits are 65% of what’s posted, waiting 30 minutes for Swirling Saucers at 9:45am isn’t much better than 45 minutes. And the wait could easily be longer than that, particularly if one of the sides goes down for technical trouble, which is often the case.
To avoid the morning frustration, guests with the opportunity may instead want to plan on two late arrivals a few days apart. That will give you the option to sleep in or begin your day elsewhere before Park Hopping over to the Studios. An EPCOT morning probably makes the most sense, considering the Skyliner will take you right over to the Studios. There are also the same breakfast options in the area, where you can actually sit and enjoy your meal without having to spend the morning looking at your watch and wondering aloud how long it could possible take to scramble an egg. With just one day to visit, you’re looking at a lot of time in line. With a late arrival, or if you’re ineligible for the extra 30 morning minutes, I wouldn’t recommend visiting any of the top five priorities above until the last two hours of operation, with the likelihood that you won’t be able to do all five in those two hours.
Fortunately, waits should drop over the next six weeks or so, until they pick up again at the end of September, and potentially explode into October with the 50th anniversary and the popularity of the fall, combined with the number of guests rescheduling their summer plans amidst so much uncertainty. While we haven’t spent much time this summer in the Parks, we’ll certainly hit the ground hard come October, trying to figure out the best way to go about this stuff. The Studios, even given its limited roster of attractions, should continue to prove the most perplexing. There just isn’t anywhere to hide as early as 10:30am.
The length of this post is getting out of hand, but we’ll take a look at the average wait by day of week to see if there’s one that’s reliably better. First, here’s the chart that includes the daily wait every day since the Park reopened:
As we’ve seen before, there isn’t much of a difference, with Sundays and Fridays proving to be the least busy with a 38.2-minute average, and 38.3-minute average, respectively. But those averages are within 2.5 minutes of the worst days, which fall on Monday and Tuesday. In the Magic Kingdom overview, we surmised that Wednesdays may be busiest day there because people are starting their trips with the newest attractions at Hollywood Studios and trying to guarantee a Rise of the Resistance boarding group early in their vacation. The “data” seems to back that theory up, since Monday and Tuesday are the busiest days.
But we can make the difference in waits look far more substantial simply by changing the formatting on the y-axis. Here are the exact same numbers with the y-axis starting at 37 minutes:
With just a quick glance, Sunday looks overwhelmingly better than Monday. Monday’s bar looks almost three times as long. But it’s still really just a 2.5-minute difference.
The following chart includes the averages from July 2021 through last week, with the y-axis starting at zero. That should give us a better idea about current trends:
The conclusion is similar – Sunday still posts the shortest waits, but Saturday sneaks in before Friday with its 48.0-minute wait. The difference in waits is more prevalent, though. We’re not talking about a 2.5 minute difference between Sunday and Wednesday – it’s closer to 7.5 minutes. But with Disney poised to begin selling Annual Passes before October, and with temperatures cooling(?) this fall, we can expect the trend to flip again, with weekends overtaking weekday crowds.
We’ll see what the 50th brings with it. Next up is the Boo Bash followed by the rest of the Food and Wine Festival Marketplaces that open before October 1st. Hopefully those will be done by the time the next set opens and the Festival is halfway over.