Visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Since I only know how to do things in alphabetical and/or chronological order, our consideration of the reopening of Walt Disney World continues for those visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios in summer 2020, and potentially beyond. We started at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which included a broader look at some of the bigger changes that we’re going to “enjoy” in the near term. We then moved on to Epcot to consider touring there, among other things.
Under some amount of duress, I would admit that visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios this summer has me a bit befuddled. The current operating hours for every day between now and the end of October are 10am to 8pm:
The 10am open is problematic. It’s late enough in the morning that just about anyone who wants to be there will have the ability to be there that early. That’s a little less true with a 7am or 8am open. You might want to be there, but it’s going to be more difficult, particularly with kids or grumpy adults. We’ve always enjoyed a better overall day with earlier opens. There are simply fewer people with lower waits.
Back in February, or roughly 45 years ago, the crowd looked like this outside the gates………..at 6:30am. Those visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios were perfectly happy to arrive that early for merely a shot at experiencing Rise of the Resistance.
At 7:30am, the crowd headed towards Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a relatively low-priority attraction in the grand scheme of things, looked like this. The end of the line extends around the corner, past Star Tours, and back towards the Hyperion Theater. This was the scene virtually every day this year up until the extended Park closure began in March.
By now, we are familiar with the Park Pass system. Disney is requiring guests to use it in order to visit a theme park between July 11th and potentially September 26th of 2021. That’s next year:
You can pull up a live version of this calendar at DisneyWorld.com at your convenience here.
One potentially interesting aspect of the system is that there are three “buckets” of availability that all operate individually. Disney is apparently willing to allow so many Annual Passholders, so many Disney Resort Guests, and so many Theme Park Tickets Guests on any given date. But one person holding one type of ticket may see different availability than another person with a different kind of ticket. As an annual passholder without a Disney resort reservation, I should be able to hold three days’ worth of Park Pass reservations at any given time. Things can get more complicated from there, and very likely can/will be, depending on your ticket type. And for that matter, whether you were even able to manage to order tickets or passes, considering Disney is not currently selling them for 2020 dates.
I don’t want to get too much into Park Passes. The good news is that if you’re a Disney resort guest, every park on every date is basically available from July 19th on. Even if you want to go to Magic Kingdom on Christmas day, it’s available. Again, considering Disney is not currently selling tickets or resort packages for 2020 dates, it makes some sense that there would be availability. There’s currently no way to make a new reservation for those dates.
Here’s what December 2020 looks like for annual passholders. The green is good news:
Even as an annual passholder, I can book Christmas Day at the Park of my choice . Again, that makes sense since a lot of annual passes are blocked out come Christmas. Since I can only have three reservations, mine are all currently booked for the first week that the Parks are open. Obviously, my situation is a little different than most. Still, most passholders are probably keying in on dates closer rather than further out:
The point I’m trying to make is that yes, Disney is capping capacity at some number for each Park. And Disney’s Hollywood Studios appears to have both the lowest capacity and/or the highest demand. That makes it the least likely to be available.
The attendance cap is obviously a good thing. It ideally guarantees manageable crowds, even with physical distancing measures in place.
Wait times may not be so manageable though. Here at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, it’s likely that cast members will seat only one party per cockpit. At most, they could potentially put a party of two in the front seats and a party in the back seats. Currently, the plan is one party per vehicle.
Likewise, cast will only seat one party per vehicle on Rise of the Resistance. That means a ride with massive demand will likely be operating at 50% capacity, at best. If they are really going to seat me alone, that means only one out of eight seats are filled. That reduces capacity to just 12.5%. From spending about a thousand days in theme parks over the last ten years, I can tell you that the majority of parties are either two or four people. That potentially puts Rise of the Resistance at around 33% of its original capacity, which wasn’t all that great to start with.
At Star Tours, three seats between parties will need to be left open, and only every other row will be utilized. Add extra load time, extra cleaning time after each cycle, and take away the majority of the seats, and you’re looking at a pretty miserable operation. These are only a couple of examples, but you can probably extrapolate the idea to other attractions. Expect every other row to be filled with at least six feet between parties.
For those visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios this summer, we’re also looking at a number of closures, including:
- Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
- Citizens of Hollywood
- For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along
- Disney Junior Live on Stage
- Green Army Patrol
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Jedi Training Academy
- Meet ______________
- Star Wars Launch Bay
- Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Fireworks
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- Wonderful World of Animation Projection Show/The Other Projection Show
That’s basically all of the stage shows, nighttime spectaculars, and meet and greets. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it means that those visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios this summer won’t have the opportunity to see the shows. It also means that these shows won’t help absorb crowds.
Earlier this year, you might remember when we attempted to rope drop Smugglers Run and then went straight to Toy Story Land to see what we could get done there. That’s a 60-minute wait for Alien Swirling Saucers at 8:34am.
You know why I’m here pic.twitter.com/w1DmYJuptO
— josh (@easywdw) February 25, 2020
Theoretically, Alien Swirling Saucers is perhaps one of few attractions that will see minimal disruption given physical distancing protocols.
The issue that would arise would be where you stand before finding your alien. With the current setup, people basically stand on top of each other as they wait their turn to board. It would be easy enough to reconfigure that part of the attraction, but we’ll have to wait and see what Disney does. Disney never paired groups together on Alien Swirling Saucers as you probably don’t want me crashing into you with 30 pounds of Canon camera equipment. Sony equipment? Fine. Nikon? If it has to be. Canon? No.
But even back in February, well after the Presidents Day holiday crowds evaporated, I waited over 45 minutes to ride Toy Story Mania at 8:35am.
I chalked up the long waits, in large part, due to the unprecedented number of people willing to arrive before 8am in hopes of securing a boarding pass for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. At the same time, Disney reduced character meet and greet hours. They also didn’t add any shows to help offset the crippling crowd levels early in the morning. The fact that there is no FastPass+ priority will help move standby lines along. But if 30% of a ride’s capacity went to standby before the closure, and a ride is operating at 30% to 50% of its overall capacity, we may not notice much difference in wait times.
This should be what we’re looking at when the Studios reopens:
If you’re thinking that it looks like a lot of red, first hour attractions, then the answer is yes, it is. Previously, if the wait for Alien Swirling Saucers is going to be over an hour just 30 minutes into Park operation, it either has to be a priority, has to skipped, has to be experienced with FastPass+, or saved until the end of the night. We don’t want to wait 40 minutes much more than we want to wait 60 minutes.
That brings us back to the 10am open. Even if overall attendance is capped, it doesn’t do us a lot of good if most or all of those people are present at Park open. And that’s likely going to be the case with demand for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and Slinky Dog Dash, not going anywhere. Disney may yet surprise us with some sort of virtual queue system. Officially, none will be in place.
As I mentioned in my Animal Kingdom post, it would make sense to make a couple of attractions virtual-queue-only and either assign or allow people to choose their return times in advance. That would help disperse crowds out among other attractions. If people visiting knew that they could get on Slinky and Rise of the Resistance later in the afternoon with minimal waits, they’d head elsewhere first thing. Going to Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, or Smugglers Run would potentially all make sense as first destinations.
If Rise really opens with no virtual queue, thousands of people will be headed there first thing . The last person to arrive will wait multiple hours in line. After that, they’ll likely wait over an hour for every subsequent attraction. That doesn’t sound like a great day, particularly in July, August, or September. It also means we may have to arrive a lot earlier than we want to in order to be in front of that crowd.
Back in December, shortly after Rise of the Resistance opened, Disney officially opened Hollywood Studios at 7am. In reality, they began letting guests in as early as 6am with all of the major rides operating. This reduced crowds and wait times immensely for about a week. Once word got out, people started arriving earlier. Disney then moved the open to 8am and held everyone in one of several holding areas until official open. The attractions then opened at 8am, 90+ minutes later than they had in early December.
It’s possible that with the stated 10am open, Disney will actually open the Park and operate the rides earlier. In these glorious days of social media, word on that front will get out immediately. Beginning on day two and beyond, people will simply start arriving even earlier. Those who arrive closer to official Park open will be unamused to find that waits are already prohibitive, even if they were there “on time.”
At Hollywood Studios, we’re expecting a number of quick services and restaurants to remain closed:
- ABC Commissary
- Catalina Eddie’s
- Dockside Diner
- Epic Eats
- Fairfax Fare
- Hollywood Scoops
- Hollywood & Vine
- Kat Saka’s Kettle
- KRNR The Rock Station
- Market Kiosk (near Toy Story Land’s entrance)
- Neighborhood Bakery
- Oga’s Cantina
- Tune-In Lounge
- Woody’s Lunch Box
You can pull up Disney’s official list of what’s reopening here. I think it’s a little easier to list what isn’t going to open, so you know what’s off the table. Dining at Hollywood Studios probably isn’t a big part of most people’s visits, but it’s worth noting that ABC Commissary, Hollywood & Vine, most of Sunset Ranch Market, Tune-In Lounge, and the two registers at Woody’s Lunch Box likely won’t open with the Park on July 15th. The other outlets are largely kiosks. The bad news is that any closures will reduce physical distancing and increase waits. People will obviously need to visit one of the limited number of quick services/restaurants operating. Like seeing Pizzafari closed at Animal Kingdom, seeing ABC Commissary on the list is a little surprising, given its large size and outdoor seating.
Disney is also expected to keep a number of stores closed, at least initially:
- Beverly Sunset Boutique
- Black Spire Outfitters
- Creature Stall
- Disney Studio Store
- First Order Cargo
- Frozen Fractal Gifts
- It’s a Wonderful Shop
- Keystone Clothiers
- Launch Bay Cargo
- Oscar’s Super Service
- Resistance Supply
- Savi’s Workshop
- Stage 1 Company Store
- Sunset Ranch Pins and Souvenirs
- Toydarian Toymaker
Somewhat surprisingly, a lot of what Disney is closing is in Galaxy’s Edge, where you’d think demand would be high.
It’s also possible that with social distancing measures in place, that there “literally” isn’t enough room for people to both try to shop, and for people to try to move through the area. Shops with doors, like Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, will open. It may or may not be a coincidence that you’ll find the most expensive items there.
Unlike Animal Kingdom, where the main stores heading into the Park will be closed, it looks like the Studios will keep theirs open. Mickey’s of Hollywood and Celebrity 5 & 10 look to be opening, while somehow Keystone Clothiers, the next shop in the line on the left side of Hollywood Studios, won’t open. It’s worth noting that Disney’s internal information doesn’t always jive with what they have listed on a variety of different publicly-accessible lists. For example, Toydarian Toymaker makes no mention of being “temporarily unavailable.” But it’s also not on the rundown of reopening stores on the official list. It’s also slightly strange that Droid Depot would open and Savi’s Workshop would not. Even if the Workshop cut capacity to 50%, you’re still talking about $200/person for the experience. It’s possible that with the close quarters, there isn’t an opportunity for your guide to maintain a safe distance.
As far as touring strategy, those able to come back to Rise of the Resistance at the end of the night should have the best luck. But even then, Slinky Dog Dash proved its longevity earlier this year, with at least half of the rope drop crowd choosing it over Smugglers Run. Of course, waiting for Rise of the Resistance wasn’t an option with the virtual queue.
If Rise absorbs a large part of the opening crowd, it would open up other attractions for us to enjoy. We would have a problem if Disney cuts the line for Rise earlier in the evening based on the length of the line. They’ve done that at attractions like Flight of Passage. It saw incredible demand early on before “maturing” into the standard 180-minute wait. Word on the street is that a variety of attractions are running into technical trouble after the downtime. I personally fear that I won’t be able to remember what finger I used last time to enter the Park. That assumes finger scanning will even be in place.
We’ll study wait times over the first couple of days and base our plan of attack around it. Like Animal Kingdom, and every other Disney theme park at the moment, the Studios is set to be open for exactly ten hours, with the 8pm close. That may make an extended break difficult. It will likely take about three hours to get 90 minutes of actual break time in. With so many shows closed, it does eliminate a lot of opportunities to sit down for 30 to 45 minutes, sometimes in pleasant air-conditioning and cushy chairs. We can always watch the Mickey Short six or seven times in a row and see if they’ll let us sit inside BaseLine Tap House.
My other fear is that waits will be problematic from shortly after the Studios opens through Park close. We used to be able to take advantage of the last hour of operation, in part, because Fantasmic and the Star Wars Fireworks pulled well over ten thousand people away from the attractions. With neither show scheduled, that won’t be in the cards. It’s possible that a similar number of people will have just given up by then. Those visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios this summer are probably in it for the long haul.
At the moment, I’m hoping that an early start in Toy Story Land with relatively short waits is still in the cards. We’ll likely plan on saving Galaxy’s Edge for the end of the night. Hopefully, getting in line for Smugglers Run 90 minutes before the Park closes, and then following that up with Rise of the Resistance, will be possible. We could also start with Rise and end with Toy Story Land. With no FastPass+ priority, but also very limited capacities at most attractions, we may be in for some long waits, even with relatively few people in the Park. There just aren’t the shows, character meet and greets, and other entertainment to pull people away. The rides are basically it.
As with the other Parks, I am “looking forward” to helping you figure things out. With The Hole at Epcot, and so many things closed in World Showcase, it may make sense to plan two days at Hollywood Studios instead. You could visit from 10am to 2pm, take a break until 5pm, and return around 6pm for a couple more hours of touring. Do that twice, and you should be able to cover most or all of the rides without too much hassle.
As with the other Parks, it’s going to depend entirely on how many people show up. With most days at the Studios likely to fill to capacity, we’re looking at the potential for some long waits. Disney will increase that capacity as they’re willing or able to open additional shows or increase ride capacity.
We’ll certainly have a better idea about what to expect in about two weeks. For now, I’d try to book two days at the Studios, whether you plan on making them both half or two-thirds days or trying to push through. It is possible that with such a limited number of people in the Park that wait times will be reasonable after the initial rush. Based on our past history with the Studios, that may be wishful thinking.
I’m hoping for the best for anyone visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But mostly, for me.
We’ll check out Magic Kingdom next.