I, too, thought we were done with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance coverage for at least a couple of days. But just about everything that we thought we knew about how Disney would open the Park, prior to December 18th, is no longer true.
Over the last two weeks, the website published 28,130 words covering touring strategy in a post-Galaxy’s-Edge age. But Disney threw us a major curve ball on December 18th. From December 5th, the day that Rise of the Resistance opened at Hollywood Studios, through December 17th, Disney began letting guests enter the Park around 6:30am, on average. During those dates, as soon as a guest scanned their MagicBand/ticket, and entered the Park, they were eligible to join a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance. This gave a major advantage to those who were able to arrive early, as they were guaranteed access to Rise of the Resistance and could join one of the first boarding groups that would be called over to experience the ride earlier in the morning. Now, boarding group distribution for Rise of the Resistance begins at official Park open. Disney still lets guests enter the Studios and fill in Hollywood Boulevard around 6:30am with the 7am open, which means everyone who has had an opportunity to scan their tickets/MagicBands before official Park open is eligible to open up the My Disney Experience app and try to join a boarding group at the exact same time,
Also between December 5th and 17th, once Disney began letting guests enter the Park around 6:30am, all of the Studios rides were operating, and guests were allowed to head to the open attraction of their choice at their leisure. This made for an incredibly pleasant, stress-free walk to priority rides like Slinky Dog Dash and Smugglers Run. It also gave those who arrived early an advantage, as they were able to enjoy extra time in the Park with short to nonexistent waits at most attractions. On December 18th, Disney went back to holding everyone on Hollywood Boulevard up until official Park open, and then releasing them all at once. Moving forward, this is the opening procedure that we can expect.
Disney acknowledged the virtual queue boarding system for the first time on December 18th, with the following:
I wrote some initial thoughts about the changes in this post, in case you missed it. I’ll revisit some of those thoughts as we move about our morning, but I’m sure they are all correct.
If your major concern is securing a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, then you no longer need to worry about arriving at bag check more than 20 minutes before the Park officially opens. With a 7am or 8am open, you could cut your arrival closer to ten minutes and still be fine 99.8% of the time. As far as joining a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, the person who arrives at 5am and is the first one to enter the Park at 6:30am will have no advantage over the person who scans in at 6:59am and is the last person to enter before boarding group signups begin.
That means there is no reason to show up at the Studios any earlier than you would if Rise of the Resistance didn’t exist. The attractions that you can actually experience in standby haven’t changed since the end of August, when nobody cared about Smugglers Run or Galaxy’s Edge. For all intents and purposes, the rope drop experience should be the same as before Rise of the Resistance opened – the only difference is that you’ll need to find about 45 minutes to experience Disney’s best new attraction at some point during the day via the boarding group process.
It will be interesting to see if people figure this out. Our visit comes on Thursday December 19th, which is just one day after Disney made the changes to rope drop and the boarding group signup process. Just two days earlier, everyone here at 5:18am would be able to secure one of the first boarding groups of the day, and also head to the attraction of their choice easily after the Park opened between 6:15am and 6:40am. Now, nobody you see in this picture will have an advantage when trying to join a boarding group, and they’ll be held on Hollywood Boulevard until 7am with everyone else. They will have an advantage when it comes to rope dropping their first attraction, however. We’ll see that benefit play out in a couple of hours, after the Park actually opens.
This is 5:30am, or 90 minutes before the Studios opens, and all of the lines to enter the Park are backed up to the ticket booths.
From here on out, the pictures of the crowds from this position close to the entrance touchpoints will basically look the same. This is 5:45am.
— BlogMickey.com (@Blog_Mickey) December 19, 2019
But the crowd continues to build significantly out in front of the ticket booths and stretching back towards security.
Moving forward, I think we can continue to expect Disney to begin letting guests inside the Park at least a half hour before the officially-scheduled open. They’ve been doing that for years – well before Toy Story Land or Galaxy’s Edge opened. I’m not sure how many of you are old enough to remember the rush to grab paper FASTPASSes for Toy Story Mania before riding in standby immediately after, but that was a thing that people arrived 60+ minutes early to do at one point.
Trolley Car Cafe Starbucks, on the right side of Hollywood Boulevard, will be open once Disney begins letting guests inside. The stores may also be open, but I’m not sure why you would want to do much shopping. If you’re there early to get to the front of the holding area and be among the first to arrive at one of the priority rides, then you won’t want to dilly dally in Mickey’s of Hollywood looking at the same Donald plush that are available at a hundred other locations. If you’re there early enough to have a lot of time to shop, without a priority attraction in mind, then you probably should have set your alarm clock back. But if it’s raining or hot, then there’s somewhere for some number of people to hide out.
And there are plenty of Donald plush to look at I’m sure. This time of year, you’ll want to be mindful of the low temperatures. Disney does brisk business selling $60 hoodies before 10am and after 6pm. You don’t want to find yourself at Hollywood Studios at 6:36am, buying a $60 2019-dated Donald Duck sweatshirt that’s ready to head to the outlets and get marked down to about tree fiddy.
Jedi Training Academy signups are not available until official Park open, though I would reiterate that there is no big hurry to get over to the signup location in between 50’s Prime Time Cafe and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. When I left the Park on this particular day around 2pm, spots were still available for the show. If signing up a child for Jedi Training Academy is important, then I’d still try to be over here by 10:30am, but it isn’t the sort of thing that fills up in an hour anymore, even with renewed interest in Star Wars. Cast members are keeping people from cutting through into the Echo Lake area here.
The start of the holding area, as identified by this festive green line, is farther up than we’ve ever seen in the past. Prior to the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, we were usually held before the right turn onto Sunset Boulevard, which is around where I’m standing in this picture.
The holding area for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard is also much closer to the attractions, as Disney will use this space for overflow guests once Hollywood Boulevard fills, closer to official open.
Up ahead is where we’ll stand and wait for official Park open, as cast members block the walkway off to the right, which runs by Hollywood Brown Derby.
A small wrench is going to be thrown into our plans, as Slinky Dog Dash will be down for technical trouble at Park open. On colder days, the outdoor attractions, and particularly the roller coasters, are liable to open late. If Toy Story Land is your first destination, then you want to stay to the right of the crowd. This is 6:36am.
For Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll want to stick to the left of the cluster.
Hollywood Boulevard will fill in quickly behind us. This is 6:45am.
Here’s a look at the massive crowd behind me at 6:59am, or about a minute before the Rise of the Resistance boarding groups would open, and two minutes before we’ll be on our way. This is where our early arrival continues to come into play. We may not have an advantage when it comes to signing up for a boarding group, but you can bet that we’re going to wait a lot less for the first attraction that we arrive at, compared to the people in the back of this crowd. I also appreciate how much less awkward it is to turn around and take these photos when everyone is busy staring at their phones, hoping Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding groups open earlier.
Speaking of boarding groups, the signup process itself hasn’t changed – only when it begins:
Here at 6:35am, I’m inside the Park. Prior to December 18th, I would have been able to join a boarding group by pressing the button. But as expected, the “Join Boarding Group” button is grayed out, which means they’re not yet available.
If you click “My Status” before boarding groups are issued, then you’ll see this screen.
You’ll want to hit the “Find Out More” button from the main My Disney Experience app screen to be taken to the boarding group page. Sometimes, I “feel” like the boarding group information refreshes faster if I click the back button to go back to this screen, and then hit “Find Out More” to reload everything.
The Park is officially opening at 7am, and as expected, at 6:59am, boarding groups are still unavailable.
Disney may be able to fix this in the future, but it appears as though some people are granted access to join a boarding group before others, perhaps because it takes the app some time to verify who and who hasn’t scanned a ticket/MagicBand to enter Hollywood Studios and is eligible to join a boarding group. On past visits, I heard verbal warnings from cast members that it could take between two and five minutes for the boarding group button to become active. This was semi-acceptable during the previous process, where being delayed by two minutes would result in being assigned boarding group 15 instead of 13. But with several thousand people all trying to access Disney’s databases and join boarding groups at once, every second counts. Boarding groups are initially going to increase every five or ten seconds, if it even takes that long to fill one.
At 7am, some number of people in the crowd began to cheer, as they were evidently able to join boarding groups. Others around me clicked around in confusion, unable to join a boarding group. My app froze on the “Create Your Party” screen:
And I don’t even have any friends, so it’s not like it’s trying to load Duchess Kate’s avatar here.
Fortunately, my technical issues were short-lived, and I managed to secure Boarding Group 48. Under the previous opening procedure, where I would be eligible to join a boarding group as soon as I entered the Park, I would have been closer to Boarding Group 15 or 20, even after the technical issues.
Depending on your plans for the day, your boarding group number is somewhat inconsequential, as long as you’re able to secure one. If you’re planning on spending at least six hours at the Studios, from 7am or 8am until 1pm or 2pm, then you should be just fine with boarding group signups, even if it takes you five or more minutes to get everything figured out on the app, and you end up with boarding group 60, 70, or higher. Before December 19th, Disney had been calling about ten boarding groups per hour, on average. So if you were boarding group 70, you could expect it to take about seven hours until you’d be called over. With a 7am open, that’s 2pm. Over the past couple of days, Disney has been calling over boarding groups more quickly, at an average of about 13 groups per hour. I was placed in boarding group 48, and I was eligible to go over and experience Rise of the Resistance as early as 10:41am, or less than four hours after the Park opened.
Below, we have information for Group 56 as well:
They’re obviously eight boarding groups after me, but they were also called just 38 minutes later, and are eligible to return any time between 10:41am and 12:41pm.
As has been the case from the start, you have up to two hours from when your boarding group is initially called to make it over to the attraction entrance.
Because wait times typically increase at attractions with standby/FastPass+ lines as it gets later in the day, we probably want to ride Rise of the Resistance between 11am and 5pm, when waits have peaked elsewhere. If we get in line for Rise of the Resistance, where we’re guaranteed the same 20- to 30-minute wait most of the day (barring technical difficulties), at 8am, then we’re only going to disembark the attraction to longer waits everywhere else once we’re done with the attraction around 8:45am.
Assuming Disney moves through 12 boarding groups per hour, then boarding group 60 will be called by noon, and group 100 will be called around 3:30pm. Certainly, there will be occasion where an early (or late) boarding group is necessary, but you might plan on being in or around the area on the day that you plan to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. If it’s important to you, don’t plan it on the day that you’re flying out at 1:30pm.
Once you’ve acquired your boarding group pass, you’re free to leave the Studios and do whatever else that you wish. You’ll still maintain your spot. Theoretically, you could scan your ticket at the entrance to Hollywood Studios, immediately turn around, and head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to rope drop Flight of Passage.
If Disney continues to move through boarding groups as quickly as they are now, then more backup boarding groups will also be called. Currently, Disney looks to more or less guarantee access to the first 106 boarding groups of the day. After that, backup groups are issued with the above warning. On the day of my visit, Disney made it to group 144, which means 38 backup groups had an opportunity to ride.
Right at 7am, we were released, with most guests headed for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. Ahead, we’re passing by Star Tours.
This is what I was able to do over the course of the day:
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run: 7:10am – 7:32am
- Alien Swirling Saucers (with only one of two sides running): 7:36am – 8:12am
- Toy Story Mania: 8:19am – 8:43am
- Slinky Dog Dash with FastPass+: 8:44am – 8:52am
- Meet Chewbacca: 9:05am – 9:14am
- Meet Darth Vader: 9:15am – 9:35am
- Meet BB-8: 9:36am – 9:44am
- Star Tours with FastPass+: 10am – 10:19am
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (without FastPass+): 10:41am – 11:12am
- Tower of Terror with FastPass+: 11:14am – 11:36am
- Rise of the Resistance with Boarding Group: 12pm – 12:45pm
- Slinky Dog Dash with FastPass+: 12:59pm – 1:12pm
- Docking Bay 7 Lunch: 1:15pm – 1:40pm
Moving forward, hopefully people will begin to arrive at the Studios later, and we’ll see crowds that are closer to what we saw before Rise of the Resistance opened, with the first guests of the day arriving about an hour before the Park is scheduled to open, instead of three. The good news is that we can still get quite a bit done, even with the stricter official Park opening.
We’ll move through my day in a couple of future posts, so you can get a better idea about crowds, wait times, and what kinds of touring strategy decisions you might want to make. Of course, Disney will eventually move the Park open to 8am, at which point we’ll have to reassess what we’re able to do. And eventually, it will be a mad dash to the Rise of the Resistance standby entrance first thing in the morning.