We return to Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to check out the Early Morning Magic offering. You may be familiar with a similar event at Magic Kingdom, which I reviewed most recently in this post. It’s worth noting that Magic Kingdom’s version of Early Morning Magic will change beginning December 2nd with Princess Fairytale Hall, it’s a small world, Mad Tea Party, and Journey of the Little Mermaid added to the attraction lineup and the breakfast moved to Cosmic Ray’s from Pinocchio Village Haus. Disney will likely sell a lot more tickets to the “expanded” event, even if the additional attractions aren’t exactly major morning priorities. We’ll check out the effects of the changes come December.
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 ABC Commissary. The “exclusive” Toy Story Land time is available from 7:30am until about 8:45am with breakfast continuing through 10am.
Here’s a few more details:
The website originally secured reservations for the first day of the event, which debuted on September 17th, 2018. But after seeing how many tickets Disney had given away for free to promoters and seeing that the number of tickets Disney was going to offer beginning October 1st was going to be increased significantly, I decided to hold off to see how things would go after the increase. This review is based on our experience from October 1st, 2018. As always, easywdw.com paid for the tickets and experienced the event just like any ordinary guest.
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 March with the likelihood that it will be extended throughout 2019 as we approach the new year.
Erin and I were enjoying a 5-night “staycation” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which meant we were planning on using Disney transportation to get us to Hollywood Studios in time to take advantage of the full event 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. 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. Anyway, buses to the Studios began arriving before 6am. The same should be true from all resorts.
We caught the 6:18am bus, which dropped us off at Hollywood Studios just after 6:30am. This is the scene walking to the entrance at 6:42am.
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 confirmation number if you prefer. Cast were also carrying printed lists.
At that time, you’ll be given a wristband with the Early Morning Magic logo.
Here’s the scene at 6:54am or about a minute before we’ll be let into the Park. It’s a considerable amount of people with no differentiation whatsoever for those that booked at 7am or 7:30am.
At 6:55am, we were on our way up Hollywood Boulevard.
There’s always plenty of friendly cast members to direct you at these morning events as we take a left towards ABC Commissary on Commissary Lane.
If you’re planning on ordering entrees before the event starts, it makes sense to hurry to ABC Commissary to be among the first to order.
We arrived at the quick service at 7:01am to a pretty considerable backup at the registers.
Unlike the first few events, where the food was sitting and waiting for guests to order it, the kitchen had fallen behind early in the morning, resulting in waits of 10+ minutes for some guests to receive their food. With Toy Story Land opening right around 7:25am and the entrance to Slinky Dog about five minutes away from ABC Commissary, there isn’t a tremendous amount of time to eat before the event officially gets underway.
There are two aspects to breakfast – several of these continental buffet stations are located around the quick service for easy grab-and-go access.
Please excuse the quality of some of these photos…ABC Commissary already has lousy lighting and it was still dark out.
To the rear we have Butter Croissants and Multigrain Croissants with Strawberry Half Moons and Raspberry Leafs/Leaves up front.
A few more pastry selections. The quality on these is fine – in the vicinity of your local grocery store. If you have gluten concerns or whatnot 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 probably 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.
Two flavors of yogurt were offered – Greek and Berry – 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.
Your $79 also buys you access to the Citrus Mint Infused Water.
Coffee and Hot Water.
For some tea.
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 ABC Commissary 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 the Commissary 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 Commissary ordering area.
Here’s the last of the five selections.
Children are welcome to order whatever they like, but you’ll find a couple of dedicated options as well. It’s also a good opportunity for interested adults to order a bowl of basic scrambled eggs – you can get them without the Sweet Potato Tots.
Fountain drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages like Chocolate Milk are also available from the counter at no additional charge. You can order as many entrees as you like and head back for more of something at your leisure.
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 Greens and Crostini.”
I think all of the food is probably going to taste better than it looks. 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 7am at ABC Commissary, 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 half of a small 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.
It may be worth noting that nothing really looks like the picture.
Our favorite dish of the morning was the “Mexican Corn Chilaquiles and Eggs Bowl – Fresh Corn, 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 ABC Commissary’s reputation 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 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.
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 Commissary’s usual 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.
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. Over at Magic Kingdom’s version of Early Morning Magic, you’ve got bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and more all for the taking at the buffet. You can easily be in and out of Pinocchio Village Haus in a handful of minutes if you’re in a hurry or take more time to relax if you’d prefer. It was frustrating standing there at the counter for ten minutes waiting for our food to be plated given the fact that we only had 20 minutes total from the time we arrived to the time we needed to leave if we wanted to take advantage of the full Toy Story Land time.
As far as when to eat, it potentially 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 the Commissary right around 7am and need to be on your way by 7:20am to be in Toy Story Land by the 7:25am start. We ended up taking a couple of extra minutes eating before the event started knowing that the 30 minutes it took was largely time that we wouldn’t be able to do anything else given the fact that Toy Story Land wasn’t yet open.
You could, and a lot of people did, head over to breakfast after the Toy Story Land time ended. But if you do that, then you’re taking the best half hour of touring outside of Toy Story Land to eat breakfast. If you hurry to Sunset Boulevard for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror before eating breakfast closer to 10am, then you’re spending at least 15 extra minutes walking back and forth and will then miss the second best half hour of touring from 9:30am to 10am when waits remain short at the rides outside of Toy Story.
So if you can stomach it, I’d plan on eating breakfast before the event begins, even if you’re not on your way until closer to 7:30am, particularly if you’re headed to Sunset Boulevard after the Toy Story Land time. If you’re planning on eating breakfast at 9am and then heading to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, then you’re probably not going to be much better off eating a lot before those two rides as opposed to Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers. If you’re intent on eating after the event, then I’d probably key in on arriving at ABC Commissary around 9:40am, which will give you plenty of time to order entrees and enjoy the meal before moving on. If you’re planning on eating closer to 9am, then you might visit the Mickey and Minnie Meet and Greet across from the quick service’s entrance first as waits there are 25+ minutes most of the day. Star Tours is just a minute or two away from ABC Commissary, but actual waits will be under ten minutes through at least 10am.
It’s 7:33am and about 50 people are heading up Hollywood Boulevard towards Toy Story Land, meaning they’ll arrive around the same time that we do. You’re paying an awful lot of money for Early Morning Magic so it makes sense to arrive no later than 7:20am even if you’re planning on eating breakfast later in the morning.
Here we are at 7:34am.
There’s already about seven groups waiting for Buzz.
Here’s the scene inside Toy Story Land at 7:35am or five minutes after the event officially got underway.
Toy Story Mania will be a walk-on for the duration of the event, but it takes about 15 minutes to experience it even with no initial wait. You can ride again if there is nobody waiting to board, but more often than not, you’re looking at exiting the building and making the long walk back out and then back in.
The highest priority in Toy Story Land is the Woody/Jessie Meet and Greet. The line is actually shorter than Buzz at the moment because some number of people see him first and wait in line immediately after arriving. If you’re interested in Buzz, it makes more sense to head back over sometime after 8am as most people will have moved on.
We started with Slinky Dog Dash.
Which is posting a 5-minute wait at 7:38am. Had we arrived earlier, we would probably be on our second ride through right now. With no wait, Slinky’s total experience time is about six minutes from the time you enter the queue to the time you’re back out in front of it.
While none of the extra switchbacks were in operation, the line was backed up nearly to the attraction’s entrance.
We boarded at 7:47am, which means we waited nine minutes.
Under just about any other circumstances, a nine-minute wait for Slinky Dog would be fantastic.
But the event is only 75 minutes long and we’ve spent more than 10% of it in line before accomplishing a single attraction. Here at 7:51am, the posted wait is actually 20 minutes, which seems absurd for an event that costs $80 per person.
We got back in line and ended up waiting eleven minutes before we boarded. So we’ve spent more than 25% of the total event time in line and it’s not even 8am.
Our total experience time on the second ride was 14 minutes.
We got back in line a third time and the line had dissipated quite a bit.
Our third ride only took nine minutes. Still, we’re 45 minutes into the event and we’ve only managed to ride Slinky Dog three times.
Here at 8:16am, there’s almost 15 groups waiting for Woody and Jessie, which means the wait will be at least 15 minutes long and potentially 20 or more. That doesn’t seem great given the cost of the event.
Here’s the scene outside Slinky Dog Dash at the same time.
Alien Swirling Saucers was running both sides, which was nice.
The ride never filled to capacity during the event, meaning you could always walk on to the next cycle.
Because of that, we were able to ride twice without disembarking.
And we could have ridden as many more times as the Shrimp and Grits would have allowed.
At 8:33am, or a little over an hour into the event, we’ve managed to ride Slinky three times and Swirling Saucers twice.
Crowds remain incredibly thin in the Land.
Knowing that the rope drop crowd would be arriving in about 15 minutes, we headed back to Slinky Dog.
At 8:36am, the posted wait is down to 10 minutes.
With Galaxy’s Edge in the distance.
Our fourth ride took 11 minutes, which means we waited about five to board. We could sneak one more ride in at this point.
While Woody’s Lunch Box isn’t open during the event, there is a table with water and coffee nearby.
At 8:51am, the rope drop crowd has arrived.
And the queue is quickly filling.
While the wait isn’t 65 minutes yet, it will be by 9:05am.
Alien Swirling Saucers remains a walk-on until at least 9:15am. Toy Story Mania’s wait is probably about 10 minutes at this point and will be about 20 minutes by 9:15am.
While the Early Morning Magic crowds aren’t substantial enough to have much of an effect on ride wait times come regular opening, the event does increase the line for Woody/Jessie substantially. There’s already about 20 families in line to meet the characters at 8:52am, at least 75% of which attended Early Morning Magic.
Here’s the rope drop crowd heading into Toy Story Land at 8:53am. If you’re wondering how the regular rope drop process works, and how easy it is to experience the three Toy Story Land attractions first thing, see this post. It should take less than an hour to ride all three in standby and you can save substantially more time by using FastPass+ at Toy Story Mania or Slinky Dog Dash.
Overall, this is what we accomplished:
- Breakfast: 7:01am – 7:32am
- Slinky Dog Dash: 7:38am – 7:51am
- Slinky Dog Dash: 7:51am – 8:05am
- Slinky Dog Dash: 8:05am – 8:14am
- Alien Swirling Saucers: 8:22am – 8:27am
- Alien Swirling Saucers: 8:27am – 8:31am
- Slinky Dog Dash: 8:36am – 8:47am
For the $79/adult and $69/child ask, I thought the waits for Slinky Dog Dash were too long. From a touring strategy perspective, we could have reduced the wait by riding Toy Story Mania and Alien Swirling Saucers before moving on to Slinky Dog after 8am. But like just about everyone else, we were there primarily to experience Slinky Dog.
It’s possible that my opinions are affected by the free Annual Passholder event that I attended, which I reviewed here. There isn’t much of a point in comparing the two given the fact that the Passholder Play Time is no longer scheduled, but there were far fewer people in attendance, no waits for Slinky, and the duration was closer to two hours than 75 minutes.
But I think six rides for $79 is a rough value proposition, particularly when about half of the time spent at the event was waiting in line. If we attribute $20 towards breakfast, bringing the cost of the exclusive Toy Story Land time down to $59, then it’s still about $10 per person per ride. Without a whole lot of effort, I could have experienced Slinky Dog Dash once and Alien Swirling Saucers twice without much trouble from the regular rope drop position in about a half hour. So my $79 is really paying for three extra rides on Slinky Dog, plus the breakfast.
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.
To maximize your time, I suggest eating breakfast first – a pastry, cup of coffee, and charcuterie platter is probably easiest on the tummy. Slinky Dog Dash waits should be around 10 minutes from 7:35am – 8:15am. After that, they’ll be closer to five minutes. Start with the Woody/Jessie meet if you’re interested and if you’re planning on riding Toy Story Mania and/or Alien Swirling Saucers, do that first before moving on to Slinky. If you have little interest in the other stuff, you’re going to need to grin and bear the ten minute waits. It seems whiny to complain about waiting ten minutes for Disney World’s newest major attraction, but the wait means that 67% of your time is spent in line during a high-priced event.
Of course, one unadvertised aspect of Early Morning Magic is the jump that it offers to the Park’s other attractions. At Magic Kingdom, those that attend Early Morning Magic and have already been able to do Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh can head to the priority attractions of their choice outside of Fantasyland and experience much shorter waits than those that have to spend regular Park time trying to ride the three Fantasyland priorities before moving on. Above is the Early Morning Magic crowd heading to breakfast at ABC Commissary at 8:55am.
The crowd heading towards Toy Story Land as they enter the Park.
Few people begin their day on Sunset Boulevard these days.
Tower of Terror is a walk-on.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is posted at 5 minutes at 9:02am.
They weren’t even running the pre-show.
You could walk straight into the loading area with virtually no wait. We rode twice in 20 minutes as people are beginning to arrive in heavier numbers.
A look at Sunset Boulevard, which is now filling with people.
Tower of Terror is posting a 5-minute wait.
We walked right on twice:
Two rides took 32 minutes, which is as short as the experience times get here. The posted wait is up to 10 minutes just before 10am, which is probably about accurate.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is posted at 30 minutes at 9:57am, which is probably about accurate. Early Morning Magic allowed us to ride twice in just 20 minutes earlier in the morning, which is a definite advantage of attending the event.
Overall, I’m not quite as high on the Toy Story Land version of Early Morning Magic as I was initially with the event at Magic Kingdom. At MK, we walked right on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train over and over and over again with no waits at Peter Pan’s Flight or Winnie the Pooh either. At the Studios, we were looking at ten minute waits at Slinky for the majority of the event – that’s too long with such little time. We could have done other things during the first 45 minutes, but that’s sort of like saying we could do it’s a small world and the Carrousel at Magic Kingdom while we wait for Mine Train waits to drop. It’s just not what anyone is there for.
For those with money to spend, Early Morning Magic is the easiest way to experience Toy Story Land with low crowds and relatively short waits. It also puts you in the best possible position to enjoy short waits elsewhere. We were able to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror twice each in the span of an hour, on top of the four rides on Slinky and two on Saucers, thanks to the event. It’s a shame that the breakfast can’t take place at Woody’s Lunch Box, which would be far more convenient and offer food that’s a little bit more breakfast-y. Policing the space would be difficult and Disney obviously wants to sell people breakfast from that location during the first hour the Park is open.
That’s what you can expect from Early Morning Magic at Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We’ll see what’s next.