Back on May 4, 2019, Disney announced that Hollywood Studios would host “Extra, Extra Magic Hours” every day from Sunday, September 1st, 2019, through Saturday, November 2nd, 2019, to coincide with the opening of the first part of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. At the Studios, the Extra, Extra Magic Hours are scheduled from 6am to 9am – a full three hours. Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom both host their own morning Extra Magic Hour every day from 7am to 8am through November 2nd as well. It’s an unprecedented offering intended to help mitigate and spread out the expected influx of people arriving at the Vacation Kingdom of the World for the late summer opening of Star Wars.
Since September 1st was the first day of Extra, Extra Magic Hours, and the website doesn’t have anything better to do at 6am on the Sunday after the first Saturday of college football, I was on hand to see how the process of getting guests back to Galaxy’s Edge should look moving forward. Of course, there are some caveats here. Even under the most perfect of conditions, the following will be exactly one data point. And we don’t exactly have the best of conditions here with Hurricane Dorian threatening the east coast as I write this. Orlando International Airport went so far as to announce that they would be closing Monday, only to later recant after the storm looked to be moving out into the ocean. Disney allowed all guests to cancel their upcoming stays without penalty due to the safety concern and it’s likely that many did. After all, there isn’t a whole lot of travel you can do with a closed airport and a hurricane overhead. How much that threat affected Sunday’s rope drop experience remains to be seen, as the hurricane wasn’t yet a threat at that time and it was a bright, sunny day.
On the other hand, the fact that this was the first day of Extra, Extra Magic Hours (occasionally shortened to EEMH) at the Studios likely propped up the number of people in attendance. It’s also a holiday weekend and the opening weekend of the Star Wars Land, both of which point to elevated interest. Both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom had already offered Extra, Extra Magic Hours on three consecutive mornings as an effort to pull resort guests away from Galaxy’s Edge, which officially opened on August 29th. It’s likely that a lot of resort guests avoided the Studios on the first three days that Galaxy’s Edge was open, instead planning to take advantage of their “exclusive” time when it first became available on September 1st.
In the first picture above, the posted wait for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is 160 minutes at 6:45am, or just 45 minutes into the EEMH. The standby line would stretch back virtually to the Land’s entrance. We get things going one picture later, as I approach the Studios’ entrance, as happy as a clam, at 5:23am.
There was virtually no wait for the expanded bag check area and I was through in all of a minute.
Guests of the following resorts are currently eligible for Extra Magic Hours:
- Disney Resort hotels
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
- Shades of Green Resort
- Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando
- Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
- Waldorf Astoria Orlando
The number of guests eligible for EMH has never been higher and it’s quite possible that payments from the various non-Disney resorts is what helped fund the EEMH benefits that all Disney resort guests are currently able to enjoy. Ahead on the left, guests will scan their MagicBands or show their resort IDs to cast members to confirm their EEMH eligibility. If you’re visiting between now and November 2nd and aren’t eligible for EMH, then you’ll likely want to consider a late afternoon/evening arrival to take advantage of lower waits at the end of the night. I’ll cover that strategy separately. By 9am, wait times at most attractions will already be prohibitive. Once you confirm your EMH eligibility before entering the Park, you won’t have to prove that you belong again. There is no scanning of MagicBands or checking of resort identifications at attraction entrances or anything.
Disney opened security and allowed guests to enter the Studios as early as 4:45am on the first day. As I approach at 5:27am, there will be no wait to scan my ticket/MagicBand to enter the Park. I’ve already confirmed my EEMH eligibility and/or sprinted inside.
Yes, Trolley Car Cafe Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard is open and accessible this early.
The holding area on Hollywood Boulevard should look familiar, but we’re actually farther up the street than in the past. Above, you can see how many people have beat me to the Park. Given the hurricane warnings and potential cancellations, I was a little surprised that this many people had arrived this early. I wonder what blogs they read.
Before Galaxy’s Edge opened, where I’m currently standing would be as far as you could have gone up Hollywood Boulevard before being stopped by cast members. It would be just before the right turn onto Sunset Boulevard, where you’ll find Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. The fact that we’ve moved further up the street is probably due to Disney expecting even more people to fill up the additional space. Potentially on the downside, all of the open real estate on the right makes it easy for people who arrive later to cut around and get closer to the front of the pack.
At 5:35am, or 25 minutes before Extra, Extra Magic Hours is set to begin, a large number of people have politely taken up residence behind me.
Ten minutes later, at 5:45am, the crowd has gotten much larger, stretching almost all the way back to the entrance. It’s probably a good thing that Disney has moved us further up Hollywood Boulevard. On the other hand, we’ll also now have to travel further to leave Hollywood Studios.
Here’s a look back at 5:58am, or right before we began the march back to Galaxy’s Edge. There almost isn’t room for any more people back there, which makes me think that this is around the point that Disney will begin walking guests back to Galaxy’s Edge. My estimation was that the walk back would start closer to 5:40am, putting us back in Galaxy’s Edge just before 6am.
Last summer, when we were experimenting with Toy Story Land touring plans, the Studios offered a morning Extra Magic Hour every day from 7am to 8am. You might remember that virtually nobody showed up and Disney still walked us back to the the new Land a full 30 minutes before the EMH was officially scheduled to begin.
Disney may begin walking guests back before 6am in the future, on days that are expected to see higher attendance, but there probably isn’t any reason to expect it given how early the morning starts.
The opening moments are actually really neat. A short announcement precedes the sound of the Imperial March booming over the speakers and a small company of Stormtroopers arrive to lead the walk back to Galaxy’s Edge.
It’s worth noting that you don’t have to go to Galaxy’s Edge first thing. All of the rides open at 6am:
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Toy Story Mania
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Tower of Terror
- Star Tours
I’ll discuss this strategy separately, but it’s perfectly viable to ignore Smugglers Run first thing and instead start the morning in Toy Story Land, where virtually nobody else will be headed. You could later ride Smugglers Run in single rider or last thing at night. Single rider waits have been under 20 minutes most of the day, and often just a couple of minutes; the actual wait for those who get in line around 9:55pm with a 10pm close should be around 40 minutes, if that.
This sign is pointing in that direction, as is this gentleman.
But there’s all of nine people headed in that direction. And probably even fewer headed down Sunset Boulevard to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. I’m going to get in line for Slinky Dog, after riding Smugglers Run first, at 6:52am, and my actual wait is going to be exactly 15 minutes. Prior to that, the wait would be even shorter with a five-ish minute wait from 6am to 6:30am. After riding Slinky Dog five or six times in an hour, you could then walk right on to Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania before moving on to another attraction. You’ll also avoid what I’m about to go through.
Galaxy’s Edge is located where the Streets of America used to sit, so we’re going to have to walk all the way back past Muppet Vision 3D to get there.
That begins by taking a left.
The Stormtroopers continue their march up ahead, while cast members keep us at a safe distance.
With the sun not rising until after 7am at the moment, the walk back is a bit precarious in the dark. The walkway will constantly get wider and then more narrow and plenty of people will be looking for any way to get ahead of you, creating some unpleasant crowding.
Disney did an admirable job of stationing cast members at a variety of choke points to try to keep guests from tripping and falling.
Largely with success as we pass Backlot Express and Star Tours on our left.
Me screaming, “LOOK, IT’S THE MILLENNIUM FALCON RIDE STRAIGHT AHEAD” didn’t seem convincing enough for anybody to get in line for Star Tours. That was really my entire touring strategy.
None of these people look amused.
You’re going to have a real tough time with an ECV or wheelchair in your party and I would advise against even trying. This guy must have run into more than a dozen people during the walk/ride back, only about half of which were his fault. But with people jumping curbs and trying to inch around others, you’re invariably going to get in someone else’s path.
We’re taking a right at Star Tours.
And then continuing down towards Grand Avenue.
Taking a left at BaseLine Tap House.
It’s then a straight shot to Galaxy’s Edge.
The Stormtroopers politely step aside.
I’m not so lucky.
The short tunnel into Galaxy’s Edge takes us to the right.
And then straight ahead.
And then to the left.
Rise of the Resistance, the Land’s feature attraction, is scheduled to open on December 5th. The ride’s entrance is almost immediately to my left, just inside the Land. When the ride opens, it will assuredly be the Studios’ top morning priority and this is as far as we’ll have to trudge into Galaxy’s Edge as part of this uncomfortable mass of humanity. My walk back started right at 6am and it’s 6:08am at this point, which means I’ve been elbowing children out of the way for a solid eight minutes. What stamina. It’s going to be another ten minutes before I lay eyes on the outside of the Falcon and then another three minutes until I’m in the ride’s physical queue. That means that winding through Galaxy’s Edge to Smugglers Run is going to take longer than it took to walk all the way back here in the first place. But the good news is, at least, that the walk back here will be shorter come December 5th. There will probably also be a lot more people vying for the opportunity, though.
We’re going to be taking the long way to the Smugglers Run entrance.
It was really neat passing by Chewbacca and Rey illuminated in the dark as they worked on a ship.
I’ve seen a number of complaints concerning a lack of characters or energy in the Land, but the arrival experience exceeded my expectations with Stormtroopers keeping track of the crowd from above. The characters help pull your attention away from the humidity and crowding.
We’ll continue forward.
Continuing with the clump.
As usual, I’ve managed to fall behind a bit.
This should help provide a more realistic example of your own experience with kids in tow or if you visit on a busier morning or arrive a little later than you’d like.
Smugglers Run enjoys a relatively robust hourly capacity of around 1,600 riders per hour. And with no FastPass+ offered during Extra Magic Hours, nearly 100% of that capacity is going to go to standby.
As long as you’re among the first 500ish people to arrive at the Falcon, your actual wait should be under 20 minutes.
And you should be moving pretty constantly through an interesting, indoor queue.
While it certainly “feels” like I’m miles away from the ride’s entrance, I’m actually doing relatively well for myself at 6:12am.
Smugglers Run is similar to Flight of Passage in that the queue slows down considerably while just about everyone stops for a moment to take the same three pictures. While this ship is impressive in its own right, it probably isn’t even in the top five photo ops across the Land.
Because Disney hates us, they seem to be unable or unwilling to build a queue that’s long enough to hold more than about 50 minutes-worth of people. The line for Smugglers Run is going to be backed up past where I’m currently standing all morning, and into the afternoon, despite the actual wait only being about 90 minutes from this point if the entire queue was full, which it currently isn’t.
One benefit of being here now is that just about everyone in Galaxy’s Edge is headed in this same direction. If you’re stuck waiting out here later in the day, the Land is going to be full of thousands of more people looking around, invading your space and cutting through parts of the line to get to a variety of destinations.
The experience was made all the more pleasant by hundreds of friendly cast members, smiling and waving along the way. There’s eight smiles on the faces of those immediately in front of me, and then in the distance on the overlook, another dozen inhabitants of Batuu were waving at us as we circled through the queue.
After turning the corner, I can see the ride entrance immediately ahead, but I’ll continue to wind around to the right.
Here’s that photo op.
They’re going to walk us all the way around through this dead-end corner.
At this point, they aren’t even sending people through the extended queue.
We’re going to walk right inside.
As a thousand or more people continue to file in behind me.
At the moment, rope dropping Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is similar to Flight of Passage, in that it’s easily the Park’s highest priority, with a wait time that will quickly climb. That early in the morning, all other attractions will have short waits for at least a half hour, with most seeing waits of 15 minutes or less for at least an hour into operation. If you’re running late, you likely want to abandon plans of going to Smugglers Run first thing, or you’ll end up waiting well over an hour as waits climb everywhere else.
From 8am to 9am, the actual wait for Smugglers Run will be lower than it is from 6:15am – 7:30am. If you don’t arrive until 6am or later, then you likely want to start your morning in Toy Story Land with Slinky Dog Dash, where you’ll be able to walk right on that and every other ride in the Park for at least an hour. Come back to Smugglers Run later in the day – either around 8:30am or at the very end of the night. Single Rider is also a viable alternative, particularly early in the morning, though it may not be available first thing. In single rider, you may end up in a different flight crew than the rest of your party, but that may be worth saving a hundred minutes or more in line, particularly if you’ve ridden before.
I arrived at the physical entrance to Smugglers Run at 6:18am, or about 50 minutes after I arrived at the Park’s main entrance, to a posted 120-minute wait. Two hours may be accurate if you were to get in the back of the line right now, but I’m going to be in the pre-show in under 15 minutes. For there to be a two-hour wait, more than 3,000 people would have had to get in front of me. I’m slow, but I’m not that slow.
Overall, Galaxy’s Edge rope drop is about what you would expect – an extended version of the Slinky Dog Dash…dash. For whatever reason, people seemed more relaxed heading back to Falcon than Slinky. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was 6am in the morning instead of 9am. Even my elbows took a little extra time to get going. But the walk back is a bit precarious, and, at the moment, dark. It’s certainly not the worst rope drop experience that I’ve ever had, but it’s probably the longest. The current humidity levels don’t help.
The 6am start to Extra, Extra Magic Hours will be in your favor moving forward should you be able to arrive by 5:25am to get a good position. It’s simply too early for most people. The first Disney buses should arrive at the resorts between 4:30am and 4:45am, making an arrival that early possible if you are relying on Disney transportation. You may also check on the Uber/Lyft situation and see if there are vehicles close by. The ride should cost under ten dollars from anywhere on property.
Moving forward, I don’t expect my experience to be far off from the norm. If more people do end up arriving early in the future, then you’d just need to move your arrival up ten or so minutes to be in the same position that I found myself.
While crowds rise and fall throughout the year, most of that variance comes from the number of off-site guests visiting the Parks. Disney’s resort occupancy is consistently above 90% with occupancy that’s actually at its highest levels of the year in September and October, thanks to discounts and the popularity of all of the fall events. That means a similar number of people will have access to Extra, Extra Magic Hours regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday in September or a Saturday in October. Those visiting in September are typically among the savviest visitors, so it will be interesting to see what wait times look like during the EEMH over the next couple of months.
In the next Part, we’ll ride Smugglers Run and see what crowds and wait times look like at Slinky Dog Dash and the rest of Toy Story Land. You can find that post here.