Edit: Disney has confirmed that the changes we saw instituted on December 18th and described below will be the normal operating procedure moving forward. You can pull up that post on the Disney Parks Blog here, which also includes the official word from the company. I’ve edited the post below to reflect Disney’s confirmation.
We have some major changes to how Disney is opening Hollywood Studios in the morning, and how they are distributing Rise of the Resistance boarding groups.
First, on December 18th, 2019, Disney did not begin distributing Rise of the Resistance boarding group passes until official Park open, which was 7am. From now on, this should prove to be normal operating procedure, with boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance becoming available at the scheduled Park open, even if Disney allows guests onto Hollywood Boulevard earlier. Previously, they had opened up boarding groups as soon as they began letting guests enter the Park, which was typically between 6:20am and 6:40am. Below is a screenshot of what I see after I’m inside the Park at 6:35am on December 18th, with the “Join Boarding Group” button grayed out:
This was a planned change as Disney played a recorded announcement letting guests know that the boarding groups wouldn’t be available until 7am.
There are some positives and negatives to this change:
- The guest who arrives very early no longer holds any advantage when signing up for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding groups. Before today, boarding groups were available to join immediately after a guest entered the Park. Thus, those who arrived earlier, and were closer to the front of the line, were able to scan in earlier, and get a lower-number boarding group that would be called over to ride earlier in the day. Someone at Disney probably realized that people are going to continue arriving at Disney’s Hollywood Studios earlier and earlier in order to secure a boarding group. This costs Disney a considerable amount of money, as they need to schedule cast members to do everything from answer questions and control the crowds to check bags and pick up trash. Holding all boarding group signups until official Park open deters guests from arriving unnecessarily early. The guest who arrives at 5:30am and the guest who arrives at 6:45am will be attempting to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group at the same time, provided they’re both able to enter the Park before the scheduled Park open.
- The fact that there is no advantage to arriving early hurts those of us who were planning to arrive early for this very reason.
- All sorts of problems can arise with the My Disney Experience app, and the fact that thousands of people will be trying to access Disney’s databases and join a boarding group at once does not seem particularly positive given Disney’s track record with technology.
- Guests who are proficient with the My Disney Experience app, and have a fast phone and a fast internet connection, will have the advantage in joining an earlier boarding group. If the My Disney Experience app crashes during the signup process, then you’re liable to be put 30, 40, or 50 boarding groups behind other people by the time you can open the app back up, based solely on bad luck. If the app were to crash on you during the signup process with the prior rope drop process, then perhaps a hundred more people would have had an opportunity to enter the Park, and potentially book a boarding group ahead of you. That might result in being assigned boarding group 13 instead of 12.
- It also puts guests who need to rely on a Disney cast member to process their boarding group request at a major disadvantage. Guest Services and Guest Experience Team Cast Members are on hand to help guests set up their boarding groups, but they’re going to be absolutely swamped at official Park open, with the potential that hundreds of guests will require assistance at one time. If each boarding group contains around 150 people, then the boarding group numbers will increase every few seconds as thousands of people compete for spots all at once. If you’re the seventh party to speak to a cast member about joining a Rise of the Resistance boarding group after the Park opens, then just about everyone using the app will have already booked. (Barring technical difficulties.) When boarding groups were available immediately after the Park allowed guests inside, a dozen cast members were free at any given time to help with the process.
- The number of people waiting to talk to Guest Relations Cast Members will grow to the thousands if and when the boarding group system on the app doesn’t come online right at Park open. At least once a month, Disney’s entire reservation system goes down, making it impossible to book dining reservations, resort reservations, etc. Inevitably, the boarding group process for Rise of the Resistance will not work at Park open, and it will be pretty close to chaos. I’m throwing pretend-elbows here at my desk just thinking about it.
While waiting outside the Park with thousands of people isn’t our favorite pastime, the controlled entry slows down the number of people who are able to scan their tickets and enter the Park at one time. This controlled process allowed for a relatively stress-free experience heading inside, with a hundred-or-so people trying to join a boarding group as soon as they had an opportunity to enter. With the boarding group signup process not beginning until official Park open, you’ve got a digital free-for-all on your hands.
I’ve got a couple of tips on signing up for boarding groups. First, make sure that everyone is properly connected in My Disney Experience:
Go to the FastPass+ Select Party Screen here and verify that everyone who you’re going to be signing up for a boarding group is on this list. When you sign up for a boarding group on the day of your visit, the screen will look almost identical, with the same people available to select. If you don’t see them on the list, go to the “Add Guest” page on DisneyWorld.com here and get yourselves connected.
I would also suggest having at least two people in the party attempt to sign everyone up for a boarding group:
Here after 7am, boarding groups are available, which is indicated by the fact that the “Join Boarding Group” button is now an orange-ish red. If several people are actively trying to secure a boarding group for the entire party, then an app crash or some mild confusion on one person’s part will slow down the signup process much less. Once someone gets a boarding group assigned to the party, everyone else can exit out of the screen and congratulate the person with the quickest fingers.
Our bad luck doesn’t stop there. On December 18th, Disney also held all guests on Hollywood Boulevard until official Park open, and then released thousands of people to basically two destinations at once – the long walk back to Galaxy’s Edge, or the long walk back to Slinky Dog Dash. This should also be standard operating procedure moving forward.
One thing that actually made the early opens pleasant was our prior ability to head wherever we wanted once the Park opened around 6:30am.
We were free to head to Slinky Dog Dash, Smugglers Run, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, or wherever else we wanted at our leisure.
When everyone is released at once, this is what things look like – we’re shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow, with thousands of people jostling for position. It’s not particularly pleasant. Above is what you can expect to see when everyone is released at once.
This is what things previously looked like around the same area. We still have the same number of people heading to Galaxy’s Edge first thing, but there aren’t thousands of us walking over as one large group. The tapstiles and entry process slow the number of people who can enter at any given time, and allows for plenty of available space.
The Park actually opening when it’s officially scheduled to also puts us at a disadvantage at the attractions. Disney only distributes FastPass+ experiences during official Park hours. With the Park actually opening much earlier, it gave us an opportunity to visit a couple of priority attractions before FastPass+ came online. This is key because all of an attraction’s capacity goes to standby when FastPass+ isn’t available. When FastPass+ comes online, 60- to 70-percent of an attraction’s capacity is going to go to FastPass+, which grinds standby lines to a halt, and significantly raises wait times.
Nothing like a calm, low key Tuesday morning here at Disney’s Hollywood Studios 🤗 pic.twitter.com/KdzLUkJWnD
— Mickey Views (@MickeyViews) December 17, 2019
Since I’m usually much closer to the front, I don’t have an opportunity to show you exactly what you’re dealing with from the back of the mass of humanity that will have formed prior to 7am. But this is the number of people that are on hand at 6:30am, for a 7am open, on a Tuesday well before Christmas. With Disney holding all of these guests on Hollywood Boulevard until official Park open, you’ll now see all of these people inside, trying to jam their way towards Galaxy’s Edge or Slinky Dog Dash first thing. This is also the number of people that will be trying to access Disney’s boarding group signup process at the same time.
It’s not a surprise that Disney would want to dissuade guests from arriving earlier and earlier to join boarding groups. Disney resort buses don’t ordinarily come online early enough to get guests to the Studios by 5:30am. Even now, the Disney Skyliner doesn’t come online until right at 6:45am, which is way too late to get over to the Studios before thousands and thousands of people have already arrived.
Allowing everyone to join a boarding group at official Park open levels the playing field in a way. By definition, this makes it worse for some people. And in this situation, those people are mostly us, since we know how to take advantage of the systems that are in place.
At some point, Disney will move away from this virtual queue system and over to the usual standby/FastPass+ setup. If the company feels like the virtual queue is placing an unnecessary burden on operations, and costing a lot of money, then we may see its departure sooner rather than later, even if Rise of the Resistance hasn’t hit capacity or reliability goals.
At this point, an early arrival – 5:30am or earlier – remains essential if you want to be closer to the front of the group headed into Hollywood Studios. The early arrival will still put you ahead of thousands of people on the way to your first attraction, as it does at the other Parks every day of the year. In most of those cases, that means arriving around 8:15am for a 9am open, rather than 5:30am for a 7am open.
Moving forward an early arrival, and the ability to stay flexible will be your best bets moving forward. I think having multiple people trying to sign the group up for Rise of the Resistance boarding groups will be helpful. If one person can’t figure it out, or runs into technical problems, then someone else in the group should be able to power through the process.
We’re also going to have to reassess what we’re able to do in the morning, which will be much less. By 7am, more people will have an opportunity to arrive, and FastPass+ will be online. Both of these things dramatically increase wait times.
I’m doing everything in my power not to end these posts with, “May the Force Be With You.” So instead, I’ll leave you with my personal mantra, “Sharp Elbows. Big Smiles.”