Worst Case Scenario Waits on a Capacity Day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
We’ll take a quick look at what is currently the worst case scenario at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in terms of wait times. I’ll follow this up with a larger analysis of what wait times have looked like at what may or may not be Disney’s most popular theme park since it reopened in the middle of July. Hollywood Studios is certainly the most difficult theme park to book via the Disney Park Pass system, thanks in large part to what is presumed to be the lowest capacity.
This past Saturday, August 8th, 2020, was one of the first days that the Studios completely sold out of Disney Park Pass availability for all three ticket types – Theme Park Tickets Guests, Disney Resort Guests, and Annual Passholders. That means the Studios’ (current) capacity was reached and attendance and wait times should have been just about as high as possible.
Here’s a look at the wait time chart for the day:
Despite capacity crowds, this was a solid day for theme park operations. There was no downtime for lightning in the area until the last half hour of the day, which is why we see Slinky Dog close from 7:30pm on. The lack of rain/lightning earlier in the day is rare in the summer, when we typically see at least 30 minutes of downtime at outdoor attractions in the afternoon for inclement weather. No rides look to have undergone significant technical difficulties with no major, unaccounted for spikes in wait times. Since the Studios reopened, we’ve seen the usual technical trouble at Tower of Terror, which occasionally doubles wait times with only one elevator shaft in operation. That phenomenon can impact the overall average wait across the Park given that there are relatively few other attractions to help balance out the higher average.
The distribution of wait times also backs up our hypothesis that the Studios is busiest in the morning with wait times that generally decrease as it gets later in the day. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will rarely post a wait longer than it does in the first 30 minutes of operation. It’s 90 minutes here at 10am, which is about twice the average for a given day.
Here’s the same information in the chart above presented in a different way:
The wait time distribution is not a straight line with the absolute longest waits right off the bat followed by a perfectly linear decline. The average wait bounces around a bit during the first few hours of operation, occasionally going higher and then lower. We do see the dotted trend line start around a 37-minute average and end at about 18 minutes. But even if you take a casual glance at the chart, it’s instantly obvious that the average wait is higher on the left half of the graph than the right half. Since the left half of the graph is earlier in the day, and the right half is later, that means waits are shorter during the last half of the day.
The Park’s average wait hits its peak just 30 minutes into operation and then the average wait stays above 30 minutes through 1:45pm. The fact that we see waits drop at that point in the day probably isn’t a coincidence. A big part of that is likely due to the 2pm Rise of the Resistance boarding group signup. As you’ll recall, the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance opens at 10am and again at 2pm. If people are unable to join a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, they’re more likely to leave. Those guests awarded at least a backup group are more likely to stick around and continue to get in line for this or that until their boarding group is hopefully called.
With about 80% of the guests who will visit the Studios inside the Park before the 10am open, 2pm is also the time when a lot of people will begin to tire. That’s particularly true here in Florida in August in a face mask.
If you’re interested in how things look on the ground, you can read exactly how I went about my day in this set of posts:
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop and Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rope Drop to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Return
- Backlot Express Hummus and Afternoon Touring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Reopening
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios Toy Story Land Touring After Reopening
As usual, it’s not a short series, but it covers just about everything going on at the Studios, from safety protocols, to what’s open/closed, to wait times, to touring strategies. We’ll be back for some late arrival touring this week to see how that goes.
A later arrival makes a lot of sense, since wait times are reliably shorter during the last half of the day. The exception to that sensibility is that pesky Rise of the Resistance boarding group signup. For the best, and potentially only chance at obtaining a virtual queue spot, you need to be inside the Park before it opens. Virtual boarding group spots will fill in about 30 seconds at 10am and in about 15 seconds at 2pm, if that. If you’re unfamiliar with the burden of signing up for the Rise boarding group, see the first post linked above.
One issue we all have at the Studios is what to do during those first few hours of operation:
We like to start at Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It’s the closest attraction to the main entrance, which makes it a shorter walk. It also puts us much closer to the Sunset Boulevard thrillers than if we started way back in Toy Story Land with Slinky Dog Dash or in Galaxy’s Edge for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. Another viable start would be Slinky Dog to Toy Story Mania to Alien Swirling Saucers, or Smugglers Run to Alien Swirling Saucers to Toy Story Mania.
With either of those plans, you’d still be skipping over three of the Park’s highest priorities in the Runaway Railway, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror. It’s also not possible to ride Slinky Dog and Smugglers Run back to back with short waits given how many people are headed to both first thing. In the chart above, you can see that Slinky and Falcon both post 60-minute waits at 10:15am. For the most part, waits at both attractions decrease as it gets later in the day.
Alien Swirling Saucers and Toy Story Mania now have the two shortest average waits of the rides, so they are far from the priorities that they once were. In fact, Toy Story Mania routinely posts a wait of 15 minutes or less from around 1pm through close, which basically indicates that it’s a walk-on. Saucers averages about 18 minutes, and is typically a walk-on from 3:30pm onward. Most people will want to visit Toy Story Land later in the afternoon. By 5pm, you’re looking at a 25- to 35-minute wait for Slinky Dog. That’s a little on the long side, but it beats the 90-minute average that we used to see during the first two months of the year. The later you visit those attractions, the less you’ll typically wait.
Here’s the chart for the last two hours of operation:
Anyone who can return to Toy Story Land in the last 90 minutes of operation and then get in line for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway a couple of minutes before close will be in the best shape. Even if you end up waiting longer during the day for any of those attractions, you can still return in the evening to experience them again with a shorter wait. Disney does not typically post a shorter wait for the Runaway Railway at the end of the night to dissuade guests from getting in line. Actual waits should be under 15 minutes for those getting in line around 7:50pm with the 8pm close. That’s true even if the posted wait is 45+ minutes, as it usually is.
With “capacity” crowds come a lot of people:
The temperature check line coming from buses and Skyliner is crazy long pic.twitter.com/uGqgVTh3wC
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) August 8, 2020
This is around 9:45am, or 15 minutes before the Studios officially opens. The crowd is not surprising given the fact that Disney doesn’t begin transporting guests to the Studios via its buses until around 9am. Before that, the same buses transport guests to Animal Kingdom for the current 8am opens there and then to Magic Kingdom for the 9am opens there. In other words, even if you manage to get on the first bus from your resort to the Studios, you’ll likely arrive between 9:15am and 9:30am. Disney also opens the Studios’ parking lot around 9:15am, which means most people driving themselves will be getting in the temperature check lines between 9:20am and 9:45am, too. The good news is that this line moves quickly.
Then once you’re in the Park, you’re going to see a lot of people in the morning:
The Tower of Terror queue is all over the place pic.twitter.com/Lalkw6nNgF
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) August 8, 2020
Physical distancing may not always be on point during the morning when crowds are heaviest. I may start bringing my own dots to toss on the ground, further and further away from where I’m standing.
Here’s a look at the lines for Toy Story Mania (left) and Slinky Dog Dash (right) at park open pic.twitter.com/95NKTPJjr3
— BlogMickey.com (@Blog_Mickey) August 8, 2020
Here’s a look at Toy Story Land on the same morning.
Here’s an expanded look at what the Studios offers with the anytime attractions highlighted in green:
This chart may or may not make any sense. What I’ve done is included what are basically all of the Studios attractions. Green attractions are as close to “anytime” attractions as you’ll see at the Studios. You’ll want to focus on these during the busiest time of the day, which is currently most of the morning. I’ve also placed an “X” to indicate the starting times of the two new shows that Disney has added in the last couple of weeks.
Yellow attractions are moderate priorities that can safely be experienced in the late morning or afternoon with largely reasonable waits. The longer you push those attractions off, the less you’ll wait. The red attractions are then the priorities with the highest average waits. Along the bottom, I have the average wait for each 15-minute block also color-coded. When you see green on the bottom, it’s a good time to hit a red attraction. When you see red, which we do from 10:30am to 1:45pm, focusing on the green attractions highlighted above is your best bet.
Again, August 8th was a Saturday and a capacity day, so wait times are basically as high as they can get at the moment. On weekdays, when crowds are slightly lower because fewer Disney Resort Guests and Theme Park Tickets Guests visit, the morning will be a little more forgiving, and the evening will clear out a bit more. You might plan on experiencing what you see above and then potentially be able to squeeze in an extra ride or two in the morning and in the evening. The key to happiness is always to set low expectations. There may be no place on earth where that is more true than Hollywood Studios.
You may have noticed a relatively new addition to the lineup in the chart above. At the Beauty and the Beast Theater, you can now listen to the Disney Society Orchestra play songs from “Beauty and the Beast” while some of the costumed characters jump around at the end of the 18-minute show:
While the choreography may leave a little something to be desired, the show is an easy way to fill 20 to 30 minutes in relative comfort. It’s also easy to see, making it a quality filler in my book. With that and Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy on Sunset Boulevard, you can spend about 35 minutes off your feet without much effort. While the first Society Orchestra show at 11:15am would have been “late in the day” with the 7am and 8am opens that we saw earlier this year, it’s only 75 minutes into the day with the current 10am opens. You could reasonably expect to do the Runaway Railway, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, and then the Orchestra show before stopping for lunch.
Lastly, despite the Studios routinely running out of Disney Park Pass availability for all ticket holders on the weekends, and for Annual Passholders every day for the next several months, Disney has still elected to cut the hours beginning in September:
This shows the transition in operating hours from September 7th to September 8th. Instead of the 8pm closes that we currently enjoy, the Studios will close an hour earlier, at 7pm. The September 8th hours then continue through the end of October. You can pull up the full chart here.
The shorter hours should result in longer waits, and obviously, less access to the attractions. Considering Disney is already having a terrible time getting people on Rise of the Resistance, knocking an hour off of its operation, and allowing 500 to 750 fewer people to ride each day, “feels” like a slap in the face. People will always point out that the cost of tickets doesn’t change.
We’ll certainly see how shorter hours affects wait times come September. Theoretically, demand will drop during what is easily Disney World’s least popular time to visit. But demand may not drop enough at the Studios that the Park doesn’t continue to fill to capacity, particularly on weekends. Since Disney already opened the Park Pass system through September of next year, it’s unlikely that they lowered capacity at the Parks in tandem with the shorter operating hours. A reduction in supply is rarely a good thing for the consumer.
The good news is that the Studios is still doable in a day, particularly with the lack of shows and character meet and greets. Wait times are about half of what they were during the first two months of the year, even on the busiest days since the Park reopened. With a 9am to 9:15am arrival and an intelligent touring plan, you can do very well, particularly if you can also tour in the last few hours of operation. Avoid the headliners between 10:30am and 2pm in particular and you’ll be in the best shape.