We return to Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to check out the Early Morning Magic offering for a second time. You may be familiar with a similar event at Magic Kingdom, which I reviewed most recently in this post, after the attraction lineup was expanded and the breakfast moved to Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. We’re revisiting Early Morning Magic at the Studios for a couple of reasons. First, the breakfast location moved from ABC Commissary to Backlot Express on February 6, 2019. We’ll check to see if the quality of the offerings has changed. I was also curious to see if any of the issues that we experienced with long wait times and poor communication had been rectified since our October visit.
Like the Magic Kingdom edition, Early Morning Magic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a paid event that is completely different from Extra Magic Hours, despite the similar name.
Here’s how Disney describes it:
This outlines what to expect well. For $79 per adult and $69 per child, the event offers early access to the three Toy Story Land attractions, in addition to both Meet and Greets and the breakfast, which currently takes place at Backlot Express. The “exclusive” Toy Story Land time is officially available from 7:30am until about 8:45am with breakfast continuing through 10am.
Here’s a few more details:
For most dates, Early Morning Magic offers two bookable times, either 7am or 7:30am. This is largely a mechanism for Disney to try to spread out the breakfast crowds with those that booked at 7am directed to eat breakfast before the official 7:30am opening of Toy Story Land. Those booking the 7:30am slot are expected to eat breakfast after the exclusive Toy Story Land time at some point between 9am and 10am. In reality, there is no differentiation between the two times. Guests with 7am reservations can just as easily show up later and eat breakfast after the Toy Story Land time and those with 7:30am reservations can show up early and eat breakfast first. We’ll discuss strategy and whether it makes sense to eat early or late as we move through what to expect from the experience.
You can check availability and book Early Morning Magic through Disney’s website here. The event is currently scheduled on most Mondays and Wednesdays through April with the likelihood that the event will be extended into May and throughout the summer as those dates approach.
Disney runs buses from each of their resorts to the Studios beginning before 6am on event mornings, which means you’ll have plenty of time to catch a bus and make it to the Park by 6:50am to take full advantage of the entire time.
During our first visit to Early Morning Magic back on October 1, 2018, Erin and I were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge and decided that we’d rely on Disney to get us to the Studios on time. We found the bus arrival times on the My Disney Experience app to be particularly helpful. While the buses typically arrived a couple of minutes after the initial estimate, we were able to leave our room a few minutes before the bus was expected to pick up guests. I don’t think we ever waited more than five minutes for a bus at the resort during our 5-day stay. Some number of people will tell you that the bus arrival times are “inaccurate” because they change, but anyone that’s been behind the wheel and relied on GPS knows that traffic and unexpected delays change the estimated arrival time. The bus might be scheduled to arrive at Kidani Village at 5:48am and Jambo House at 5:51am, but obviously the Jambo arrival will be delayed if an ECV or two needs to be loaded at the first stop. This early in the morning, delays are much less likely and you may even have the bus to yourself, as we did.
Back to our experience on February 6th, we’re arriving from the parking lot at 6:46am.
You can tell it’s early based on the fact that there is no angle of the sun. A cast member is holding an Early Morning Magic sign on the left.
Plenty of cast members are on hand to check guests into the event – they can scan your MagicBand/ticket to pull up the reservation or you can give them your name or confirmation number if you prefer. Cast were also carrying printed lists. At 6:50am, it looks like there’s less than a hundred people present.
Here’s our wristband with the Early Morning Magic logo.
You’ll also receive a handout with the breakfast location and the directions to Toy Story Land. The map is tilted at such an artistic angle that I have no idea how anyone that’s confused with where things are would be somehow less confused after inspecting this printout.
Now I dabble in podcasting and cartography.
The breakfast menu listed on the back. Amusingly, there’s absolutely nothing about what attractions are open or what the actual hours of the event might be. But hey, at least we know there’s Crostini.
Here’s the scene at 6:56am or about three minutes before we’re allowed to enter the Park. It’s a considerable amount of people with no differentiation whatsoever for those that booked at 7am or 7:30am.
There isn’t necessarily a reason why you’d want to be at the front of this group, though being first in line will get you on your way towards the crostini a minute or two earlier.
Disney seemed to be running a minute or two behind as we walk up Hollywood Boulevard at 7:04am.
There’s always plenty of friendly cast members to direct you at these morning events as we take a left towards Backlot Express, which is located to the left of Star Tours.
The big question that pertains to this event is when to sit down and eat breakfast; I think the answer depends on what you’re planning on doing after Toy Story Land. There isn’t a whole lot of time before the event begins to order and eat the entrees. You’ll arrive at Backlot Express between 7am and 7:10am and need to be on your way by 7:15am to be in Toy Story Land by the 7:20am start. If you’re planning on heading to Sunset Boulevard to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror in standby at the conclusion of the exclusive Toy Story time, then I would recommend eating breakfast first, even if it takes you a few minutes past 7:25am. If you’re planning on heading to Sunset Boulevard after Toy Story time without eating breakfast first, then you’re looking at a 15-minute walk from Toy Story Land to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and then a 10-minute walk from that area over to Backlot Express. Eating first will eliminate the need to walk to breakfast and you’ll instead be able to take advantage of short waits at Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster for a full hour from 9am to 10am without worrying that you’re going to miss breakfast. Yes, you may miss five to ten minutes of Toy Story Land time, but you’ll be adding at least two rides on the Sunset Boulevard thrill rides without needing to return to Backlot Express. That’s a good compromise.
If you’re content to use FastPass+ at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, have other plans to experience the rides, or are skipping them altogether, then I’d recommend eating breakfast after you’re done with Toy Story Land. With breakfast served until 10am, it makes sense to arrive at Backlot Express around 9:45am. That would give you enough time to meet Mickey and Minnie and ride Star Tours if you head towards the Meet and Greet beginning around 9am. Meeting Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, and BB-8 in Star Wars Launch Bay would also make some sense. Or you can simply head over to breakfast at your leisure immediately after Toy Story Land. Just keep in mind that wait times will rise as it gets later in the morning and it makes some sense to stop in at a priority attraction or meet and greet on the way over.
At Backlot Express, we were guided towards the side entrance.
Unlike our experience at ABC Commissary, where we waited over ten minutes for our food in a long line, you could walk right up to the counter and order at Backlot Express. The food was waiting to be served.
There are two aspects to breakfast – you’ll see identical pairs of continental breakfast spreads at each of the two fountain beverage stations for easy grab-and-go access.
Seven different pastries are available.
Raspberry Leafs/Leaves and Strawberry Half Moons.
In the middle section we have Cheese Danish, Chocolate Croissants, and Apple Lattice.
And the Mini Cinnamon Danish.
The quality on these is fine – in the vicinity of your local grocery store. If you have gluten concerns or another allergy then a chef will come out and talk about modifications. They have gluten-free pastries, any of the hot entrees can be made gluten-free, and they can do something for vegans etc. as well.
The fruit wasn’t great, as is usually the case with this variety of salad. The melon was on the slimy side and few of the strawberries were ripe.
Three flavors of yogurt are offered – Greek, Berry, and Honeyed – with some add-ins that included Pumpkin Seeds, Granola, and Almonds, in addition to Blueberries and Assorted Dried Fruits.
I appreciated the plump, juicy blueberries that mixed in nicely to the Greek Yogurt – a big improvement over the “Seasonal Fresh Fruit Salad.”
Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops are available along with 2% Milk, Apple Juice, and Orange Juice.
Coffee and Hot Water.
For some tea.
You’ll have your choice of beverage from the various dispensers, which includes fountain drinks, iced tea, and hot cocoa. Short paper cups are provided.
There’s your soda lineup.
Even if you’re planning on eating a more substantial meal after the Toy Story Land time, it makes some amount of sense to stop in at Backlot for a quick pastry and a cup of coffee or other beverage. The space is also air-conditioned/heated. Cast are going to direct everyone towards Backlot Express before 7:15am. At that time, you can begin to crowd outside the Chinese Theater until guests are released towards Toy Story Land around 7:20am.
An assortment of entrees, none of which sound particularly appetizing at 7am, are available from the regular Backlot Express ordering area. Children are welcome to order whatever they like, but you’ll find a couple of dedicated options as well. The Kids’ lineup is also a good opportunity for interested adults to order a bowl of basic scrambled eggs – you can get them without the Sweet Potato Tots. Entrees are limitless, so you can order two or more if you’d like at any point before the 10am cutoff.
Here’s a look at the ordering area at 9:32am – you can still walk right up with no wait whatsoever during the busiest breakfast time of the morning.
We begin with the “Breakfast Charcuterie Platter – Smoked Salmon, Chopped Hard Boiled Egg, Whipped Cream Cheese, Pickled Red Onions, Capers, Debreziner Sausage, Cured Salami and Capicola Ham with Seasonal Dressed Greens and Crostini’s [sic].”
The Salmon had a nice smoky quality to it, silky with a firm texture and a lot of salt. It was a little fishy for the early morning at Backlot Express but I’m not sure how much can be done about that. The salmon is mixed in with the egg, capers, and red onion, but it’s pretty easy to push some of that to the side if it’s not your thing.
I would have preferred a softer bagel to the crostini, but the crackers had a nice buttery quality to them with some other herbs and spices baked in.
The meats were just fine too – the sausage, known as a Hungarian Wiener in the United States, was a little unexpected with a heavy paprika flavor along with a little bit of garlic and marjoram. The Capocollo was appropriately meaty with a delicate flavor and a fatty texture. You’ve also got a couple bites of lettuce tossed in a light vinaigrette to round out the offering. This is a good way to get a lot of protein without “feeling” like you’re going to be weighed down for a while.
Next up is the only vegetarian dish in the “Smashed Avocado Toast and Egg Plate – Smashed Seasoned Avocado with Crostini, Oven Roasted Egg, and Seasonal Dressed Greens.” About half of the plate is what we just saw in the Crostini and Greens, this time accompanied by what is basically guacamole, a few slices of tomato, and the egg.
The Avocado/Guac was creamy, cold, and refreshing, though I thought the heavy sprinkle of pepper and spices on the Crostini overwhelmed the taste a bit. I was expecting a little runniness to the egg yolk, but it turned out to be a very firm couple of bites that tasted like egg. What you see is basically what you get here.
Our favorite dish of the morning was the “Mexican Corn Chilaquiles and Eggs Bowl – Fresh Corn, Black Beans, Caramelized Onions, Poblano Peppers, Chorizo and Rancho Sauce with House Fried Tortillas, Pico de Gallo, Avocado, Queso Fresco topped with Scrambled Eggs and Cilantro Cream.”
There’s obviously a lot going on here, but it all seems to work in tandem with the cool Avocado and Rancho Sauce helping to ease some heat from the Peppers and Chorizo. Really flavorful and satisfying without being overwhelmingly heavy.
Fast food Shrimp and Grits is always a bit dicey and I’m not sure the history of the Studios’ quick service landscape helps to ease any fears, but here we are with “Creamy Cheddar Cheese White Corn Grits, Sauteed Shrimp, Yellow, Red and Green Bell Peppers, Onions, and Andouille Sausage.”
I think we can all agree that this doesn’t look particularly appetizing. But it wasn’t necessarily that bad. The Grits were clumpy and I’m guessing the pooling liquid is probably not supposed to be there, but the shrimp had a nice snap to them and the grits were tasty and comforting, despite the clumpy forkfuls. The dish was seasoned pretty well too with a generous portion of the spicy sausage and peppers. There’s almost no part of me that wants anything to do with this at 7:15 in the morning, but if you’re planning on eating closer to 9:45am, then you may be able to stomach it. Even if it does taste considerably better than it looks, one does wonder about the intelligence of the offering given the prospect of such early morning consumption.
Here’s the version we were served at ABC Commissary. The Shrimp were considerably plumper.
Last up is the “Fried Chicken and Cinnamon-Sugar French Donut Bowl – Crispy Chicken Tenderloins paired with Sweet Potato Barrels, Cinnamon-Sugar French Donuts, and Maple Glaze.” I feel like the description is probably over-selling this a bit. It’s “literally” the usual Backlot Express Chicken Fingers with some maple syrup poured over the top along with a miniature version of the croissant doughnut that’s available at Epcot and some Sweet Potato Tots.
The “Chicken Tenderloins” are fine – the syrup does eliminate a little bit of their crispy quality, but the sugar balances out the saltiness of the breading nicely. You might elect to order them without the glaze and instead just dip them into the little tubs of syrup that are available at the counter.
The Sweet Potato Tots were prepared nicely – plump and crispy with a satisfying bite and the little doughnut was fresh and chewy with a pleasant cinnamon-sugar taste.
Here’s the Kids’ Scrambled Eggs and Sweet Potato Tots.
Their version of the Chicken and Waffles is just one tender instead of two and one croissant doughnut pulled apart to make three pieces. Anyone is welcome to order the smaller portions and you can ask about a bowl of just chicken or just tots or just eggs etc.
Overall, I was largely impressed with the flavors of the offerings, but none of them exactly scream “7am before riding a roller coaster ten times.” There’s nothing wrong with offering Shrimp and Grits, but you’d think that pancakes, French toast, Mickey waffles, or something like that would be standard as well. Apparently Disney disagrees as they brought the exact same menu from ABC Commissary over to Backlot.
Freshness was a bit of an issue. To basically eliminate waits, everything is continuously made and sits out until someone orders it, not unlike the McDonald’s of the early 90s. That’s probably better than standing there and waiting ten minutes for your chicken to be plated, but they didn’t seem to quite have the timing down. Given the fact that it was the first day, I would imagine that things will improve on that front. I did appreciate not having to wait.
We ate the above breakfast after the Toy Story Land time, so we’re rewinding a bit to 7:15am as we head towards Toy Story Land after grabbing a Diet Coke and a pastry.
It may be unfortunate that Disney offers the 7:30am time slot. If you’re at the entrance at 7:30am, technically in time for the start of the event, then you’re not going to be back to Toy Story Land until at least 7:37am. The first guests of the day will be riding Slinky Dog Dash at 7:22am or eight minutes before the official start and 15 minutes before those just arriving will be able to ride. Even if you’re planning on eating breakfast after, be sure to arrive by 7:10am to take full advantage of the event.
You’re paying nearly a dollar a minute, after all.
This certainly beats the rope drop rush that I had experienced just four days earlier with the regular opening procedure.
Here’s what that looked like.
This during Early Morning Magic.
Versus this during regular rope drop. The above is with a 7:45am arrival. You’re even worse off if you arrive later. For a full rundown on what to expect from a regular opening, and what you’ll be bypassing if you attend Early Morning Magic, see this post.
It’s 7:21am and the last Slinky Dog test ride is underway.
There they go at 7:22am, which means we’re going to have Toy Story Land to ourselves for about 90 minutes, through 8:52am or thereabouts. An extra eight minutes before the 7:30am start and an extra seven minutes after the official 7:45am end is greatly appreciated.
Toy Story Mania will basically be a walk-on for the duration of the event, though each ride takes about 15 minutes with the long walk through the queue and then out the exit. Cast will let you ride again if there’s nobody waiting to take your place in the vehicle, which is more likely earlier in the morning. At 7:20am, these two gentlemen are probably just about the only ones headed through.
We left breakfast early enough that we have a jump start to the morning with just one person in view and they’re actually not even headed to the entrance. She’s going to wait for the rest of her family at the exit.
Bienvenidos a Slinky Dog Dash!
Most of the queue is empty.
But we’re far from alone.
One other nice thing about Early Morning Magic, other than the cooler early morning temperatures, is the sunrise over Galaxy’s Edge.
Our first ride on Slinky took exactly ten minutes, which is about four minutes longer than the absolute minimum experience time.
We got back in line.
And while the line was a little longer.
Our total experience time was again ten minutes.
Alien Swirling Saucers will be a walk-on for the duration of the event with each ride taking about seven minutes. If there’s nobody waiting to board your alien, cast will let you ride again without having to circle back around.
Feels crowded at 7:45am.
During the event, the longest wait, by far, will be the Woody and Jessie Meet and Greet. At 7:45am, there’s at least a dozen groups in line, which means the wait time will be 15 to 20 minutes. From here, the wait will be at least this long, so it makes some sense to get in line as early in the morning as possible. The characters come out right at 7:30am, so you could come over here after a quick first ride on Slinky. The line is also among the easiest to save spots, so if you have a non-rider, you might have them wait in line for Woody and Jessie while others do something else. You’ll see a lot of that going on.
Knowing that we could wait about 15 minutes now to meet the characters, we elected to ride Slinky Dog Dash again with plans to return to the Meet and Greet towards the close of the event to see how long we’ll wait then.
The line is still short.
We were on-board in about five minutes.
And again, our total experience time was just ten minutes with the 10-minute posted wait.
There’s more people filing in, which may raise the experience time closer to 12 minutes. I WAS TOLD THIS WOULD BE A LOW CROWD TIME.
We thought we’d give Alien Swirling Saucers a shot.
Coffee and water are available near Woody’s Lunch Box with the quick service’s two registers closed during the event. It would be really nice to see breakfast offered here, but it’s never going to happen with the limited space/number of tables and the fact that Disney wants to sell breakfast to others from regular open.
Saucers is a 5-minute posted wait.
About half of the Aliens are spinning empty.
We were on-board in about three minutes. Getting this shot with Slinky in the background was harder than it looks with no real payoff.
Our first ride took about seven minutes as we dizzily returned to the entrance.
While we could have stayed on, we elected to see how long it would take to ride again.
The answer: About seven minutes.
After making fun of people on Twitter for a few minutes, which is code for a bathroom break, we’re back in the saddle at 8:14am. You’re looking at an experience time of around 12 minutes at Slinky.
As expected, the line for Woody and Jessie is even longer – probably 25 minutes at this point.
Early in the morning, the Buzz Meet and Greet moves outside the Land in order to get out of the way of the Slinky Dog Dash rope drop crowd.
We also have an opportunity to take a picture with Woody and the Toy Story Land sign in the background without anyone else around. There’s a PhotoPass photographer stationed there as well as in front of the Alien outside Swirling Saucers, which is nice.
In part due to his location, which isn’t obvious at all to anyone inside the Land, there’s only one group waiting.
If you’re happy with pictures from either Buzz or Woody/Jessie then you’ll want to make it Buzz. With the short line, the characters also spend a few extra moments with each party.
Meeting him took all of three minutes, from 8:15am to 8:18am.
Next up, we dropped by Toy Story Mania.
We’ve got a 5-minute posted wait.
And we were on-board five minutes later.
With the long walk in and out, our total experience time was 13 minutes, which is just about the minimum.
It’s still 25 minutes for Woody and Jessie.
Alien Swirling Saucers is still a walk-on at 8:34am if you wanted to do that a few more times. We’ve got just under 20 minutes of exclusive time left.
We thought we’d check out Slinky Dog Dash again, since that’s most of what we’re paying to experience. The average wait during the day is about 75 minutes.
This is about the same number of people in line that we’ve seen all morning.
And we were still on-board in less than five minutes:
We were back out front in just nine minutes. At this point, we could sneak one or possibly two more rides in before the rope drop crowd arrives around 8:53am.
For the sake of completion, and to see how long it would take to meet Woody and Jessie towards the end of the event, we elected to get in line. It looked to be a 25ish minute wait.
The calm before the storm.
HERE COMES THE CROWD 😱😱😱 pic.twitter.com/F1vttWkfxF
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) February 6, 2019
This is 8:52am or seven minutes after our exclusive time officially ends.
Well over a thousand people are headed this way.
As we know, the Slinky Dog Dash line continues to stretch back past the entrance to the Land.
Meeting Woody and Jessie took just over 35 minutes, which is much longer than I like to stand in a slow-moving line. You really do want to get in line between 7:25am and 7:45am to minimize waits.
It’s not yet 9:20am and the line for Toy Story Mania already extends outside the building.
Slinky Dog Dash is looking better with the line “just” backed up out to here with a 60-minute posted wait
At 9:30am, Alien Swirling Saucers will post a 40-minute wait, Slinky Dog Dash will come in at 55 minutes, and Toy Story Mania will carry a 35-minute wait. That’s more than two hours in line for one ride on each attraction.
The wait for Buzz is about 20 minutes, while Woody and Jessie are closer to 60 minutes. Add those to the ride total and we’re looking at 3.5 hours in line to experience each of the Toy Story Land attractions a single time.
With Early Morning Magic, I was able to accomplish:
- Slinky Dog Dash: 7:22am – 7:32pam
- Slinky Dog Dash: 7:32am – 7:42am
- Slinky Dog Dash: 7:44am – 7:54am
- Alien Swirling Saucers: 7:56am – 8:03am
- Alien Swirling Saucers: 8:03am – 8:10am
- Buzz Lightyear Meet: 8:15am – 8:18am
- Toy Story Mania: 8:20am – 8:33am
- Slinky Dog Dash: 8:34am – 8:43am
- Meet Woody and Jessie: 8:45am – 9:21am
I could have fit at least one more ride on Slinky Dog Dash in before the rope drop crowd arrived with the potential for a second. I also could have ridden Alien Swirling Saucers a couple of more times without disembarking. But that’s a pretty solid lineup – ten experiences in 90 minutes – with no wait for anything other than Woody/Jessie exceeding five minutes.
As with the other Early Morning Magic and After Hours events, your money pays for increased convenience and lower stress. I was coming off a very unpleasant rope drop experience just four days prior. If you had told me, as I stood there, that for $80 I could beam myself away from the clump, eat as much breakfast as I wanted, and ride Slinky Dog Dash five times, ride Alien Swirling Saucers three times, ride Toy Story Mania, meet Woody/Jessie, and meet Buzz with no hassle whatsoever, then I would have jumped at the chance.
On the other hand, on a less busy day or one without a lot of technical problems, I would have been able to ride Swirling Saucers in standby without issue. But with Toy Story Mania already seeing 30+ minute actual waits before 9:15am, experiencing all three Toy Story Land rides in standby first thing can easily take 75+ minutes even if you’re in the first wave of people arriving at Slinky Dog. That also comes with the 60-minute wait before the Park opens to achieve that position. If you don’t want to spring for the cost of the event, then I’d highly recommend considering the evening approach to touring with Toy Story Land waits dropping considerably during the last hour of operation. I cover the start of that touring strategy in this post with the arrival in Toy Story Land in this post.
With Slinky Dog Dash more popular than ever and with the low crowds of the summer well behind us, I would say that Early Morning Magic is worth the money if you’re willing to spend it to have the easiest experience possible. That’s really what these upcharge events are all about. Obviously, with a family of four or five, you’re looking at spending $300+ for 90 extra minutes in the Park. That may not be in the budget, which is why the website covers the alternatives in such detail.
On the breakfast front, the food was surprisingly good overall, but the location is inconvenient and the meal is time-consuming. You’re either going to have to rush through it prior to Toy Story Land opening or take precious morning touring time trying to stuff down Shrimp and Grits between 9am and 10am. If you attribute $20 towards the breakfast – the cost of a pastry, entree, and drink at a resort or theme park quick service – then the amount that goes towards the Toy Story Land time is about $60 per person. For that money, I could experience nine rides and two meet and greets without appreciable crowds, at least until the rope drop clump arrived.
If you’re more of a night owl or don’t want to purchase theme park tickets for the day, in addition to the cost of Early Morning Magic, then you might consider Disney After Hours, which I review here. It’s more expensive and doesn’t include a full meal, but it’s also a 3-hour event with more attractions open.
I’ll cover what you can expect to see and do after Early Morning Magic next.