We’ll rope drop Disney’s Hollywood Studios from the Crescent Lake area, where you’ll find the Beach Club, Yacht Club, BoardWalk, Swan, and Dolphin resorts.
A few days ago, I recommended taking advantage of an early breakfast at Trattoria al Forno on the BoardWalk, or Ale & Compass at the Yacht Club, if you’re planning on rope dropping the Studios from elsewhere on- or off-property. Doing so will put you in more control over your morning as you’re able to walk to Hollywood Studios after, and potentially be among the first guests of the day to enter the Park.
With morning crowds rising to new highs on what “feels” like a daily basis, enjoying a head start of 15 to 45 minutes can provide a significant advantage when it comes to getting in line early for a priority attraction. The guest who arrives at the Park at 9am will wait closer to five minutes for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway first thing. The guest who arrives at 9:45am or later will wait 75+ minutes. Just wait until you see the end of the line at 10am. Disembarking your first attraction earlier will also allow you to get to your next stop faster, when waits will also be shorter than if you were to arrive a half hour later.
When we pass by the Disney buses on our walk over to the Park, there will “literally” be nobody coming in from the bus stop area. Not a single soul. With the limited number of buses from the resorts now starting to transport guests later in the morning, and restricting the number of people who fit on each bus given physical-distancing mandates, you may arrive at the Studios later than you’d like, even if you’re up and ready to go at a time that would historically be early enough to put you ahead of the curve.
Back before the March closures, Disney buses started picking guests up at the resorts around 6am in order to drop them off at the Parks for a variety of tours, special events, and other functions. With basically none of those offerings currently available, the first bus of the day will likely arrive one hour before official Park open, if you’re lucky. In most scenarios, taking the bus will put you behind most of those arriving in their own vehicles, the Skyliner, or walking over from Crescent Lake.
Obviously, if you’re already staying at the BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan, or Dolphin Resorts, then you’ll already be over here. The breakfast review and morning overview may still prove helpful. If not, please continue to slowly scroll through the post. You might also take the opportunity to whitelist this website on your AdBlocker. I have no money.
From elsewhere on property, an Uber/Lyft should cost between $8 and $12, depending on where you’re coming from and which service you’re using. You may have a preference between Lyft and Uber, but I typically check pricing and availability on both and choose whichever is cheaper and has more vehicles available. You can also schedule a ride in advance. A lot of drivers use both, so you may be just as likely to get Blair from Milwaukee whether you’re using Lyft or Uber.
It’s not unlike Disney restaurants. You may have sworn one off in the past based on a bad experience, but you could just as easily run into that same server, manager, or chef after they’ve moved to another restaurant. People will occasionally ask me, “What’s better? Narcoossee’s? Flying Fish? Yachtsman?” At the risk of going out of business, every review you’ve ever read about anything Disney-food-related is basically irrelevant, no matter how many exclamation points you add to the end of each sentence. You never know who’s in the kitchen or what’s coming out. And most people’s tastes are different. Pointing this out as we embark on a dining review may be poor timing. But for the most part, it’s all Disney, so it’s not like Narcoossee’s has a secret treasure trove of fish and steak that none of the other restaurants, also operated by Disney, have access to order. I still wouldn’t go to Narcoossee’s though, and I was there two nights ago.
You could also drive to the resort and park yourself should you have the means. The internet loves to argue about whether or not you’re “allowed” to go to a Park after breakfast should your vehicle remain stationed at said resort. Officially, the answer is basically no. Given the fact that the main BoardWalk and Beach Club Resorts are still closed, there will be hundreds of parking spots that would otherwise be empty since the rooms are unavailable. Your own moral compass may point elsewhere. Reenter the Lyft or Uber option. In my experience, most of those who ardently post online against parking at a resort, and then going to a Park after, are the same ones who go to the greatest lengths to do exactly that. They just don’t want you to do the same so that they still can.
If you take Uber/Lyft to the resort that houses your breakfast restaurant choice, even if you have your own vehicle, you can then use Disney transportation to return back to your resort after your day concludes. At Hollywood Studios, that may be about three minutes after stepping inside. Not parking at a resort would save you from having to make what will likely “feel” like a much longer walk back to your car at the end of the day. As we’ll see later, the Uber/Lyft pickup/drop-off area at the Studios is just about as convenient as it gets, so you could also hail a ride there if you’re staying off-property or don’t want to rely on Disney.
Of course, Crescent Lake is beautiful at night, and offers additional dining options that aren’t at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Those are both good things. With the Studios closing at 7pm on most days at the moment, you may want to get in line for a priority attraction there around 6:58pm, and then make a dining reservation for around 8:30pm at Ale & Compass, Beaches and Cream, or one of the Swan/Dolphin restaurants. While I like Trattoria for breakfast, it would be low on my list for dinner. You could also rock the Skyliner over to the Riviera Resort for Topolino’s Terrace or one of the quick service options there. Primo Piatto, a quick service at the resort that offers mobile order, is a surprisingly solid choice. You’d also have an opportunity to enjoy looking around Disney’s newest resort as the sun sets. And the Skyliner ride is fun in its own right.
Please be impressed that I’m up this early pic.twitter.com/ajbDZfM8x0
— josh (@easywdw) September 16, 2020
Onto the morning at hand, we have the opportunity to enjoy the calm sounds and beautiful sights as I stand outside the BoardWalk at 7:25am. Despite (poorly) running a Disney World blog, with an emphasis on arriving early and touring hard during the first couple hours of operation, I am about as far away from a morning person as there is. But I would do anything for Hollywood Studios. So here we are.
I opted for a Trattoria breakfast, though Ale & Compass is almost as close to the walkway over to the Studios as the BoardWalk. It might even be closer for that matter. But I don’t think anybody has ever taken a look at me and thought, “Yeah, this guy is yacht and country club material.” Trattoria accepts reservations beginning at 7:30am each morning, while Ale & Compass opens at 7am.
Here’s a look inside the BoardWalk Inn at the moment, where only the DVC wing is open in the direction that we’re facing. Disney knows more about demand than I do, but it’s surprising to see such a large number of amenities available for relatively few people. The pool, store, front desk, valet, security, and more are all staffed, though obviously not with as many people as you’d see with the whole resort open. It still costs Disney as much to keep the lights on and the place air-conditioned.
For Trattoria, you’ll want to set the BoardWalk Inn as your destination. For Ale & Compass, it’s the Yacht Club. There are probably more options inside the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, but the checks they send me to promote their restaurants always bounce, so you’re on your own there. If you’re driving yourself, you’ll also have to pay to park. Nobody has ever told me that I “have” to try any particular breakfast item at either the Swan or Dolphin, but they do offer some great dinner alternatives, like Shula’s Steakhouse, which is better than Yachtsman, and Il Mulino, which is better than Trattoria. Despite those being my opinions, they are also undeniable facts. That’s why they gave me the blog instead of you.
Here is a bit of context about where we are without actually showing the restaurant that we’re going to. The website does run on a limited budget. If you want to bypass the BoardWalk lobby altogether, you can use the stairs to the right of the sliding doors leading into the resort. If you do go inside, you’ll continue through the lobby and then head down the stairs and end up in the same place.
Since posting the last picture, the website has received an infusion of capital. There’s Trattoria to the left of AbracadaBar. While the restaurant does offer limited outdoor seating, it’s not currently being used.
If you are out of shape, the early morning is also a good opportunity to feel bad about yourself, as people willingly run around Crescent Lake at 7am before then heading to the Parks. Just thinking about stairs makes me short of breath.
Hopefully there is some intrigue as to who that second person on the reservation is, though we can probably both guess that it’s Tom Corless. We can check in for our reservation as many as 20 minutes early, which means we have exactly one minute until the “Start Check-In” button will be illuminated. This is good practice for the Rise of the Resistance boarding group signup.
And there it is. While not quite as exciting as securing boarding group one for Rise, we’ll take whatever illumination we can get at this early hour. As with other restaurants, you can still check in at the podium inside the restaurant and ask about any modifications there. I needed to add a third person to the reservation, and had no trouble doing so in person, since it was too late to change anything in the app.
You can pull up Trattoria’s main page at DisneyWorld.com here, along with the reservation search. I had purposefully arrived a bit early to enjoy the morning ambiance, and saw exactly one other party heading into Trattoria over the course of a half hour, so it shouldn’t be a difficult reservation to get once they start serving breakfast at 7:30am.
Breakfast at Trattoria had under-performed for years, causing Disney to transform it into what became the very popular Bon Voyage breakfast a few years ago. That included tableside visits from Rapunzel, Flynn, Ariel, and Eric. I reviewed that experience, which is currently not offered, here. While it was a fun character meal, the fixed price component made for a spendy bill, and one where you’d likely want to visit only if meeting the characters instilled joy rather than fear. Disney quietly offered Trattoria’s much less expensive a la carte menu in the back room and outside during the Bon Voyage days.
Here’s Trattoria’s current breakfast menu:
The saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” comes from a 1944 Grape Nuts advertisement from the same guy who thought eating cereal would improve America’s health and decrease their desire to engage in promiscuity. Where Captain Crunch comes into play on either front may have been unforeseen at the time. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the fact that breakfast is almost always the least expensive meal at Disney restaurants.
For the most part, these prices are lower than quick service lunch and dinner entrees, and we’re enjoying the atmosphere of a pleasant sit-down restaurant that isn’t at Hollywood Studios. You might remember that the pile of fatty ribs at ABC Commissary, a Studios’ quick service, costs $18.29. That’s more costly than anything here outside of the Steak & Eggs. And even that entree is within three bucks.
The menu is also virtually identical to what the restaurant offered during the Bon Voyage breakfast, so you’re getting similar food for about $25/person less, on average. If the family still wants to meet Rapunzel, I’m happy to put on my dress and come over. I can’t promise that I’ll shave.
Here’s the view from our table at 8:43am as we were the only guests seated in this half of the restaurant for the majority of our time there. It’s probably a smart call as I would also not place anyone next to me unless absolutely necessary. You have no idea how many cereal facts I can spout off. And you don’t want to. Given “the circumstances,” it was nice that we basically had the place to ourselves for the majority of our time there. Earlier, one other table was occupied.
Further back, it looks like guests occupy three other tables, all significantly distanced.
There would be less of a need for an early breakfast advantage for an Epcot rope drop because crowds and wait times don’t build nearly as fast as at the Studios, but the restaurant does accept breakfast reservations through 11:30am. Epcot currently opens at 11am and will open at 12pm beginning on November 27th for the Festival of the Holidays. We can assume that they’ll go back to 11am in January. You could theoretically start out with breakfast on Crescent Lake and then walk over to Epcot after should you prefer. That Park is also a shorter walk away than the Studios – about five minutes instead of fifteen. When the Ratatouille ride opens in France, entering from the International Gateway next door to the Pavilion will provide an advantage over coming in from the main entrance should that ride be your first planned stop.
If you’re wondering what orange juice, coffee, and skim milk look like, here is confirmation.
We start with the $15 “Buttermilk Pancakes – Seasonal Compote with Bacon or Sausage.” The pancakes were appropriately fluffy, and the strawberry compote adds a natural, sweet, fruity element. There’s also at least one more pancake in the stack than one person could reasonably expect to consume. They’re thick. The side of bacon was crispy and plentiful. They’ll bring a side of maple syrup upon request. Two people could probably share this at a cost of $7.50 per person, though you may want to add a side of something.
The $14 Avocado Toast is the plant-based option with “Grilled House-made Ciabatta, Avocado, Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, Chickpea Scramble, Basil-Balsamic Vinaigrette.”
This was a solid dish. The crispy, toasted ciabatta served as a nice base for the pile of toppings, with plenty of arugula hiding the Chickpea Scramble underneath.
It may not look like the most appetizing thing going, but the chickpeas are packed with protein and arrived with notes of turmeric, ginger, and cumin, for a light, filling meal. It may be a little like a vegetarian breakfast pizza in the style of those Red Baron French Bread Pepperoni Pizzas from your grocery’s frozen food aisle. I realize this may not be the most apt comparison for a vegan breakfast dish. But if you have also lived alone for 15 years, you know what I’m talking about with those Red Barons. Why shame and deliciousness have to go together so frequently I’ll never know.
I was waffling between the “Open-faced Italian Omelet” and “Poached Eggs,” and asked our server for a recommendation. She asked if I had tried polenta before, and I confirmed that I had been to the Italy booth during each of the last 47 Festivals, so I have 47 previous experiences with polenta. She thought Trattoria’s was very good, so I went in that direction, not real sure if that meant I had ordered the Omelet or the Poached Eggs. It turned out to be the latter, consisting of “Fennel Sausage, Sunday Gravy, Parmesan Cheese, Creamy Polenta, and Toasted Focaccia.”
While the plating makes for another unappetizing picture – it was a little early to work my photography magic – the dish was great. I was a little weary of the texture at first, with the softness of the gooey poached eggs potentially combining with the creaminess of the polenta to make for a mushy mouthfeel, but the plentiful sausage added a nice chew to each bite, and the spices complemented the cheese and marinara sauce nicely.
The Focaccia was great too, toasted to a nice crispy texture and with enough salt and butter that Cap’n Crunch is probably looking like a healthy way to start the day. For $13, it was an absolute steal.
It’s still hot and humid here in sunny Florida, though things have cooled off a little this week. The condensation on my lens in this picture may be proof of the continuing humidity.
To be among the first people to arrive at temperature/bag check at Hollywood Studios, you’ll want to leave the restaurant/resort about 80 minutes before the Park is set to open. That’s 8:40am with the current 10am open. The walk over to the Studios from the BoardWalk is about 15 minutes long.
I went back and forth on whether I wanted to arrive super early to show off the breakfast advantage, or at a time closer to when the majority of people would be able to arrive. I ultimately landed on a later arrival because I was interested in seeing if it would now take longer to move through the morning priorities with significantly longer posted wait times than we saw in July and August. You may be familiar with our news and wait times updates that now come out several times each week that document these changes. You can pull up the most recent version of that style of post here.
From that post, here’s the chart of the average wait time across the Studios’ rides and Muppet*Vision 3D since the Park reopened on July 15th. The day of my visit is underlined:
The far right column shows the average wait for that week, while the bottom row shows the average wait for that particular day. Not to beat a dead towel, but you can clearly see that posted waits have more than doubled from the first week the Park opened, from 19.2 minutes to 39.8 minutes. We also see a 67% increase in waits from just two weeks ago. So whatever you read about crowds or wait times over the last ten weeks may have been true at the time, but what we’re seeing now is a significant departure from the low wait times of the first couple of months of operation. The day of my visit was the busiest Wednesday yet, with waits that easily eclipsed reopening day back on July 15th.
It’s 9:02am as I join the group headed along the path to Hollywood Studios. “There’s no turning back now,” as they say. The thought did occur to me.
I count about 25 people heading over now with even more having already made the trek.
Fortunately, with the water right there, everyone that I’ve elbowed out of the way has an opportunity to cool off in front of their arrival.
Actually, I think I’m just really slow and everyone made it out of frame as I inched forward.
The Studios looks deceptively pleasant from a distance. Don’t be fooled.
Back to our potential transportation woes, you can see that there are no buses currently dropping off guests.
And at 9:17am, there’s “literally” nobody coming in from the bus stop area. If you have recent experience trying to take the bus to the Studios before Park open, you’re welcome to add a comment with your level of success. The fact that we don’t see anybody coming in from the buses certainly makes it look like few people have had an opportunity to get over here via that mode of transportation.
Overhead, you’ll notice that the Skyliner is in full swing. No pun intended. If you’re coming from the Caribbean Beach Resort station, with direct access to the Studios, you’ll be better off than most with the 9am start. The ride over here is only a few minutes long and will set you down as early as 9:05am, which is well ahead of anyone trying to park their own vehicles or arriving via Uber/Lyft. It’s also likely earlier than just about any bus would arrive.
From the Pop Century/Art of Animation station, you can expect it to take between 15 and 45 minutes to get over here depending on how early you arrive at the station and how many people are ahead of you. They only fill each gondola cabin with one party, which is both pleasant and time-consuming in the morning. If you’re staying at the Riviera Resort, you may want to walk over to the Caribbean Beach Station so you don’t have to rely on the Skyliner also working properly at the DVC resort.
You do run a relatively low risk that the Skyliner won’t be operational right at the stated 9am open. The Studios’ parking lot typically opens between 9:10am and 9:15am, so if you arrive on the Skyliner after that, you’ll potentially be behind those arriving via their own automobiles or Uber/Lyft. Depending on how convenient it is from your building, you may want to see if the Skyliner is cycling gondolas at 8:40am. If they’re not, there’s a good chance that there may be a delayed opening. If that happens, Disney will offer bus transportation, but it may get you over to the Park later than you’d like to arrive. You may want to bust out your phone and do Uber/Lyft or make a run for your own vehicle.
It’s sort of hard to tell, but on the right, you can see a hundred or more people beginning to file in from the recently-opened parking lot. Where that Sheriff vehicle is sitting is also in the Uber/Lyft pickup/drop-off area, which is right across from the Skyliner station, or only about a minute away from the entrance. You couldn’t get much closer.
First up is temperature check, which is located underneath the white tents ahead.
With Disney installing the fancy scanners that we first saw at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, most people can walk right through security without needing to unzip bags or show off your belongings. If you have anything that’s metal and heavy, I’d still suggest taking it out of your bag and holding it out in front of you as you walk through. When I leave my camera in my backpack, as originally instructed, I’m usually sent to the secondary screening area, where a security cast member will give a quick look over my stuff and figure out what large metal object likely set off the scanner. When I hold my camera out in front of me, it’s not a problem. They will tell you to hold umbrellas and large metal water bottles out in front of you as well.
At 9:20am, there are a couple hundred cars full of people ahead of me. While this picture is taken to the left, that’s also where most of the people coming in from the parking lot will go through security.
This early, temperature check and bag check take a combined two or three minutes. After we get through those obstacles, we can enter the Park, where there shouldn’t be a backup of more than a couple of people at the touchpoints.
Despite few buses arriving, and the parking lot opening just about ten minutes before, there are already quite a few people heading up Hollywood Boulevard. We would be in front of all of them if we had left breakfast earlier. We may return as one of the first guests of the day to arrive, but our slightly later arrival will give us a better idea about what to expect from your average day.
Trolley Car Cafe Starbucks will be open for your caffeine and morning cupcake needs.
As we’ll see after Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, waits build at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror a lot faster as people opt to skip the heavy crowds and long waits at the other attractions and head down Sunset Boulevard for the thrillers instead. Not to spoil the future, but we’ll both be waiting at the end of the line for Tower of Terror, which will circle through the old FastPass+ area for Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and see the end of the line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, as it stretches outside of its own courtyard and onto Sunset Boulevard. That will all happen less than 30 minutes after the Park opens.
The Guest Experience Team on Hollywood Boulevard was already out to assist guests. The day before my visit, a My Disney Experience app glitch caused thousands of people to show as not being scanned into the Park, which makes you ineligible to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group at 10am. This has happened one time in the last 10+ weeks, so it’s likely not cause for concern. If you are particularly worried, you could have a member of your party stop and ask the people in the blue shirts near the blue umbrella if everyone in your party is properly registered as being there. Just make sure that whoever you ask doesn’t work at Best Buy instead.
In the next Part, we’ll get going with our day at Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and try to do every attraction that posts a wait time in the Park, plus a couple of extras.