Editor’s note: This post is long as we go over a number of scenarios and plot points. Scroll down to “So what have we learned?” if you have two minutes instead of twenty for a synopsis of the key takeaways. I would still read the whole thing though. You don’t have anything better to do.
We continue to adjust to the new boarding group signup procedure for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We’ll check on whether it’s now easier to secure a boarding group from the comfort of your home/All-Star Sports/wherever at 7am compared to when you had to physically go to the Park, scan your admission in-person, and then wait for official Park open before the all-too-brief boarding group process would commence. We’ll also see if we can answer a few questions that have been raised thus far, like whether you can switch out Park Passes on the day-of even after failing to get a Rise boarding group, and how you may want to set up your initial itinerary to get as close to guaranteeing a ride on Rise as possible, in addition to a refresher on some best practices for joining a group.
If you’re unfamiliar with the boarding group signup changes, they’re explained in this post from last week. Basically, the first Rise of the Resistance boarding group signup now begins at exactly 7am, regardless of when Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens. And for the first time, joining a boarding group no longer requires a guest to physically tap their admission at the Park in order to be eligible. In fact, you “literally” can’t enter the Studios before the first boarding groups are released because the parking lot doesn’t even open until after 9am at the moment. You could stand there at 7am and wave your ticket in someone’s general direction if you’d like, but the action is all on your phone. At least while boarding groups are available to book, from about 7am to about 15 seconds after 7am. I would guess if you continue waving your ticket for much longer than that, you’ll eventually be arrested. The 2pm boarding group signup continues as usual and requires the guest to physically tap into the Park.
Since I evidently have nothing going on in my life, I set my alarm for 6:58am this morning to see how the boarding group process would go on the third day of 7am releases:
On the first day, we saw some new glitches in the system. Surprise! Primarily, the Disney World app told hundreds or thousands of guests with valid Park Passes that they didn’t actually have them. And it wouldn’t let any of them continue with the boarding group signup. As usual, Disney managed to patch that problem for day two, probably in turn opening up several more holes for bigger problems down the line. Such is the life of the website/app coder. Fortunately, day three didn’t seem to bring any new problems to the table. That’s probably a good thing, since we’re still dealing with the primary issue, which is that Rise of the Resistance boarding groups fill in a matter of seconds.
@WDWNT @easywdw Thought y’all might find this interesting. I’m at home in Virginia and was able to get a boarding group. Seems the system is definitely not location based. (No one freak out- I immediately canceled it so someone else could grab it.)@WaltDisneyWorld #fixthesystem pic.twitter.com/nKFQUeqqxC
— Rebecca A (@RebeccaManbat) November 5, 2020
A couple of things right off the bat.
Your eligibility to join a boarding group is not based on your present location. The app does not require you to be on Disney WiFi or calculate whether it would be physically possible for you to make it to Hollywood Studios to use your boarding pass based on where the app or your smart device thinks you’re located. Rise of the Resistance signups have never been location-based or required a guest to actually be inside of the Studios at the time of joining a group. Theoretically, you could have tapped your admission at the entrance, checked that it was valid based on the green blinking light, and immediately driven to Cape Canaveral in an attempt to take a rocket ship ride off this planet. Now, the app doesn’t even require you to get out of bed to be eligible to join a group. All you need is a Park Pass for the Studios for that day and some sort of admission attached to your account.
To further complicate things, the person or people trying to sign the group up for Rise don’t actually need to be in the party visiting the Park that day. They would just need to have the members who do want to join a boarding group attached to their account, select them, and then go through the booking process. For example, if my parents were visiting the Studios, but I wasn’t, I could still sign them up for a boarding group because they’re attached to my account. At least as long as Mother hasn’t disowned me after I assured her that Mission: SPACE Orange “would be just fine.” Spoiler: It was not. The app doesn’t require that the primary My Disney Experience accountholder be part of that day’s boarding group party.
Probably, most people don’t have some far-off relative in on the boarding group signup action. But if you do, Disney now pre-selects the attached members of your party who have Park Passes at the “Create Your Party” screen. It would behoove you to have that far-off person also have a Park Pass, so they can quickly click “Join” without having to manually select each group member from the list, and then remove themselves. For example, if I was trying to sign up my parents for a boarding group, but didn’t have a Park Pass myself, I would have to manually deselect myself on the “Create Your Party” screen and then scroll down to find my parents on my huge list of friends because I am very popular and definitely have lots of friends, and then manually check the boxes next to their names. If we all had Park Passes for the Studios that day, we should all be selected by default, and all I would have to do is click “Join” at the bottom of the screen. This is important because there may not be enough time to make all of those clicks before boarding groups fill. I would then cancel my Park Pass and my Rise boarding group if I wouldn’t be attending the Park that day. This is probably on the scummy side of things, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And we’re just about there. And as far as scummy goes, we’re just about on the “no harm, no foul” side of things. Someone else would take the Park Pass for that day and be delighted that it became available, and someone else would still be in my seat at Rise.
Potentially, the easiest way to do this is to simply give a trusted family member/friend your My Disney Experience login information so they can also try to book you from afar. For months, people debated whether being on the in-Park WiFi was better than mobile data, or where speeds might be faster, so you could get that boarding group request through as quickly as possible. The secret was probably always having a friend with your password standing outside Google’s data center.
This may be helpful information if you don’t want to set an alarm for 6:58am on vacation and know someone who is somehow both awake and perky at that early hour. But as we’ll see shortly, Rise boarding groups still fill in the matter of about 15 seconds. Depending on how important Rise is, and how upset you’ll be if you don’t get it, you may want that person outside the data center to be more of a failsafe than the primary booker. Even if they do everything “right,” they could potentially be shut out. That’s why we’re trying to throw as many darts as possible.
I actually recommend turning off the Disney World app’s access to location services specifically when you’re signing up for a boarding group. A lot more people will likely give the app access to their location now because it is actually required to complete mobile check-in at restaurants, among other things. But you can change the location setting at your convenience or the next time Disney actually requires access:
While Disney doesn’t require your location during the boarding group signup process, the app still runs a scan to see where you are if it has been granted access. This can take precious seconds, and delay the loading of two important screens, particularly if you happen to be in a location with poor service. Like most of Wilderness Lodge, for example.
Back when you had to physically go to the Studios to be eligible to join a boarding group, Disney could at least be assured that you were around. They didn’t need to verify your location and I’m not sure if they had any reason to care if you tried to book your boarding group from just inside the Studios entrance, while holding your phone up at a 42-degree angle while standing on your left foot in the back corner of Animation Courtyard, or in line for Smugglers Run.
The fact that you can now join a boarding group from Wichita with no plans to head to Florida potentially opens up the process to abuse. But the number of people who are going to take the time to add admission to their account, book Park Passes for the day, wake up before 7am EST, and get on their phone to try to join a boarding group for a ride that they can’t actually experience should be on the low to nonexistent side. At least one would hope that isn’t how most people elect to spend their time. We’ll likely see more reports about it than usual as people make this “discovery” over the coming days, but I feel like Wichita will fall in line pretty quickly.
Disney also releases backup boarding groups and calls them over to ride as space allows. If some nerd in Milwaukee is booking a Rise boarding pass every morning and then not actually riding, it should only mean that more members of the backup boarding groups who are actually in the Park are called over to ride. Theoretically, Disney knows who did and didn’t use their Rise boarding pass. They could adjust the number of boarding groups by adding one or two to account for the general malfeasance of the Milwaukeeans that we’re currently blaming. The chances that Disney would ban an account because they’re booking and not using multiple Rise passes seems incredibly unlikely, but it’s the sort of thing that could be threatened in the terms of service if it isn’t already specifically laid out.
It is possible that Disney will require access to your location at some point in the future, but with the problems that the app already has, people using virtual private networks and proxies to access the internet, limitations with GPS accuracy on older phones or tablets, etc. I don’t see Disney adding another layer of potential problems to the mix. There are also a lot of international travelers who could run into problems with their devices and the app if Disney added a location requirement. Certainly, we would address that change should it happen. But it seems unlikely.
Back when you could Park Hop…earlier this year…I would occasionally stop at the Studios to tap in to be eligible to join a boarding group before heading to Epcot for a much more pleasant rope drop there. The Studios was almost always busiest during those first few hours of operation after Rise opened and Disney required guests to visit the Park to be eligible to join a boarding group. In reality, very few people would go to the Studios, tap in, and then leave. I would be making the number up, but at least 99% of the people headed to the Studios for Rise of the Resistance signups were going to be inside the Park when it and the boarding groups opened.
Yesterday, I wrote a post about how much, if any, we could expect the change to the boarding group process to affect crowd flow moving forward. The obvious takeaway being that it’s too early to tell what the tourists will do. The above chart shows the posted wait time at each of the Studios’ attractions on November 4th, the second day of the 7am boarding group releases, and a day with below-average waits compared to the last six weeks. You can see that the wait times are still front-loaded, with an average wait of more than 40 minutes materializing within 15 minutes of Park open.
By 10:45am, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is at 70 minutes and Tower of Terror is posting 65 minutes. Those waits are climbing as guests move on from the super-headliners to the priority attractions. Between 10am and 10:45am, waits actually go down at the Studios’ most popular two rides that post wait times. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway goes from 105 minutes to 80 minutes, while Slinky drops from 80 minutes to 70 minutes. That’s not unusual as guests first file into the highest priorities, pushing up wait times. Guests arriving later then see those long wait times and elect to do something else, which is part of what pushes up waits at surrounding attractions. If Slinky was a walk-on at 11am, Toy Story Mania wouldn’t be posting 50 minutes and Swirling Saucers wouldn’t be at 40 minutes at the same time. Those are people’s second and third choices in Toy Story Land. Likewise, people see 105 minutes for the Runaway Railway at 10am and head elsewhere instead, in turn increasing wait times at other attractions too.
I’m not expecting the switch to the 7am boarding group signup to have a major impact on morning waits or the number of people who arrive before Park open. Certainly, a small number of people who are aware that wait times are longest during the first three hours of operation will hold off until the early afternoon, but the vast majority of guests visiting the Parks are there on vacation, paying the full cost to visit, and they’ve been told that wait times are lower in the morning. We’re also seeing relatively short operating hours, which doesn’t give people much time to spread out over nine hours. There is a lot more on that line of thinking in this post.
With the exception of Magic Kingdom, wait times aren’t typically lower in the morning anymore. Here’s Animal Kingdom’s wait time chart for November 4th:
This may or may not be a color-coding hack job along the bottom, which shows the average wait across these attractions every 15 minutes. I have up to 18 minutes as green, 19 to 23 minutes as yellow, and anything 24 minutes or above as red. It’s not a great example because yesterday’s waits were about 40% lower than the average for the past three weeks. But I count 16 red cells, indicating the longest waits of the day. Twelve of them, or 75%, come during the first 3.5 hours of operation. Avatar Flight of Passage posted a 43-minute average for the day, as shown in the far right column. The posted wait was longer than that at every point through 12:30pm. After that, it was always shorter than the average. Wait times are lower during the second half of the day, even with no boarding group procedure to worry about. Epcot follows a similar pattern.
Back to Rise of the Resistance, the signup process in the app is the same as before, even if it’s earlier and you’ll likely still be horizontal in bed instead of standing in a 90-minute line for something at Hollywood Studios:
And it all revolves around that “Join” button illuminating in blue right at 7am. There are a number of strategies put forth on how to best join a boarding group. And with multiple people in your party, you can try several different techniques all bright and early at 7am, and then potentially again in-Park at 2pm.
One way to do it is to have someone watch the US Navy’s Master Clock, or the equivalent, as it counts down the seconds to 7am. About two seconds before 7am, click that join button and the request should go through. Other people recommend opening up the app fresh about ten seconds before the boarding group signups start, which would put your request in at about the same time after you click join, assuming you’re not still on an iPhone 3G. Then you may need 20 seconds or want to rely on the app already being open. Others will tell you to refresh the app consistently by swiping down from the top of the home screen. Right at 7:00am, the button should illuminate on the home screen after that swipe.
If you’re going through the motions and you see the following, you’ll want to hit the blue back button at the top as fast as possible:
And click “Join” again on the previous screen. You’ll note that the time is 6:59am, so we are too early.
My preferred method to sign up is by going through the “Check Status Screen,” which will force an app refresh and bring you here:
It will still need to be 7am before you’ll be able to join. I hit “Join Virtual Queue,” then the back button if I’m too early, and then “Join Virtual Queue” again for about a minute running up to the boarding group drop time:
And right at 7:00am, there is the “Join” button properly illuminated.
Click “Join” and it should bring you to the “Create Your Party” screen:
The app should automatically select everyone in your party who has a Hollywood Studios Park Pass for that day, so all you have to do on this screen is hit “Join” as quickly as possible on the bottom. If it doesn’t automatically pick your party members, you want to very, very, very quickly click on each person. If the app returns an error, like someone in the group doesn’t have a Park Pass or is for some reason ineligible, remove them from the party and have the rest of the group join. You won’t even have enough time to ask out loud what the problem could be before boarding groups fill.
Once you arrive at the Park, visit guest services or the guest experience team and they should be able to fix the problem and add the additional person to your boarding group. If they ask, tell them you only had one person trying to sign the group up. There are few things guest services enjoys more than blaming any boarding group issues on multiple people in the same party trying to sign the whole group up. But trust me when I tell you that you absolutely do not want all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to boarding group signups. It’s all hands on deck. With how good kids are with technology these days, Ralphie Jr. might even be the one to get through on grandpa’s PalmPilot, besting our friend outside the data center. You never know.
And within a few seconds, boarding groups are filled. Note that it’s still 7:00am with the notice on the bottom:
In the time it took to take two screenshots, or about 15 seconds, boarding groups for the 7am drop were full.
At 7:01am, we have further confirmation that thousands of people were up at 7am to secure boarding groups in the matter of seconds. The Park would officially open in two hours and fifty-nine minutes.
The next question then becomes how many people are going to cancel their Hollywood Studios Park Passes and elect to try to book another Park for that date if they get shut out of Rise at 7am. After all, if you’re going to Hollywood Studios, you’d probably prefer to do so on a day when you can get as close to guaranteeing a ride on Rise of the Resistance as possible. How possible changing your Park Pass will be will depend on the date of your visit and your ticket type. This is what Disney is currently showing for Park Pass availability in November, after replenishing availability again within the past 24 hours:
At the moment, Resort Guests largely have full reign in November. Every yellow day you see is one when just the Studios has run out of Park Passes. The one exception is Thanksgiving, when only Magic Kingdom is currently full. Very wholesome. I feel like I should go on a cookie stroll at Epcot and collect some gingerbread people. On green dates, every Park is currently available to book.
Currently, Disney Resort Guests see far less availability for Hollywood Studios in December. All of these yellow dates should indicate no current Park Pass availability for the Studios:
This is not necessarily because demand is higher, but Disney has simply not added more spots yet. They will almost assuredly do so as December approaches. And also throughout December.
Here’s the Passholder calendar for November:
Annual Passholders, particularly on Saturdays, will have more trouble switching out their Studios Park Pass because the other Parks don’t have availability.
If you’re a Disney Resort Guest or Theme Park Ticket Guest, and planning on switching out the Studios for another Park if you’re unable to get a 7am boarding group, then I would book multiple days at the Studios in advance, since it’s the Park most likely to run out of availability. You’ll also need the Studios Park Pass to potentially join the boarding group that morning. How many days at the Studios you want to book in advance depends on the length of your stay and how likely it will be that you can easily switch out the Studios for something else.
On a seven-day trip, you could potentially book the Studios for the first three days. If you get Rise on day one, and complete what you want to do, switch out days two and three for other Parks. If you don’t get Rise, cancel the first day’s Park Pass at the Studios and book a different Park. Typically, Epcot has the most Park Pass availability. The one exception is usually Saturday, when Animal Kingdom may have more availability. So you could potentially book the Studios on the day you want to go to the Studios, and then on the day(s) that you’re planning on going to Epcot during the week. If your first planned day at the Studios works out, switch the second to Epcot. If the first planned day at the Studios doesn’t work out, and you don’t get the 7am boarding group, switch it out and visit Epcot on day one instead.
You can pull up a fairly live version of Disney’s Park Pass availability calendar here. If you’re considering changing your plans at the last minute, watch availability to make sure it’s possible. On busy days, it will be more difficult to switch out of the Studios, particularly if others are trying to do the same. Park Passes work similarly to FastPass+ in that cancellations/changes become available for others to book. So even if you don’t initially see availability for a Park, it may eventually become available after someone else also decides to do something else with their day.
And yes, you can do this. Here I am at 7:15am cancelling my Studios Park Pass for the same day:
You can cancel the Park Pass in the app where it says “Disney Park Pass” and then clicking “My Plans.” Then scroll down to the Pass you want to cancel and click on it. You can also click on the hamburger button on the lower right and then click “My Plans” to pull up the same screen. You can also cancel at DisneyWorld.com under My Plans. Currently, to book a new Park Pass, you’ll need to do so in a browser window here with a longer explanation of what Park Pass is and how it works here. At DisneyWorld.com, the Park Pass signup is accessible from the “My Disney Experience” pulldown menu on the far right along with “My Plans.”
There did not seem to be a deluge of Passholders changing their plans. I was only able to book the Studios for the day because I lucked into somebody else’s cancellation. It was otherwise full for Passholders heading in:
At 7:18am, I’m showing no Park Pass availability. That means an overwhelming number of Passholders didn’t immediately change their plans, or there would be spots available.
But the Park does become available again:
I could rebook my Park Pass for the same day.
And then the other Parks have plenty of availability, even for Passholders. The name of the Park changes in the following screenshots:
So I would have no problem changing my plans on this particular weekday during a less-crowded week. That won’t always be the case. But if Park Passes are available, it doesn’t matter if you’ve already booked and canceled one or not. It’s all fair game. This is true even after failing to secure a boarding group.
Of course, I could continue with my plans to go to Hollywood Studios and hope that the 2pm boarding group comes through. The question would then potentially be when I want to arrive. It’s either try to brave opening and some of the highest waits of the day, or hold off a bit until waits aren’t quite as bad. It may depend on your itinerary and what you’d like to do. You can always take things easier in the morning after your first ride, see some shows like Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, Vacation Fun at the Mickey Shorts Theater, Muppet*Vision 3D, and the Frozen Sing-Along, and then add a leisurely lunch. Or you could plan on arriving around 1pm, after the longest waits and heaviest crowds of the day have dissipated a bit. On a longer trip, you may want to book two days at the Studios and plan on arriving in the early afternoon on both days. That would be a luxury.
One other potential issue is that the boarding group signup is still on the day-of. And if you are lucky enough to be assigned one at 7am, it could be boarding group two, which would be called by 10am as long as the ride is operating correctly at open. You could also be assigned group 40, which would be called over around 1pm if the ride is functioning well. If the ride isn’t functioning well, then they could still be on boarding group two at noon and not make it to group 40 until 4pm. There is no telling what group you’ll be assigned or how reliable Rise will be on a specific day.
You’ll want to remain as flexible as possible on Studios day. That may include only planning quick service meals, just in case your group is called during your sit-down reservation time. You officially have one hour after your boarding group is called to return to the ride. Disney is typically lenient on late arrivals, but it’s always easier if you don’t have to have the conversation. If you arrive late for your reservation at Hollywood Brown Derby or another restaurant, they should also be able to work with you, cancelling any no-show fee and seating you as soon as possible. But again, it’s easier if that conversation doesn’t need to happen.
So what have we learned?
- The first Rise of the Resistance boarding groups fill as quickly under the new process as they did under the previous one. The fact that you have to wake up early may offset the fact that everyone with a Park Pass for the Studios is now eligible to join a boarding group at 7am. Or it’s possible that there are now actually more people vying for the first boarding groups given the fact that you can join one without getting out of bed. I’ve seen plenty of people rushing to the Studios’ entrance over the last year trying to scan into the Park with only moments to spare before both the Park and boarding groups opened. Previously, if they didn’t make it, you wouldn’t be competing against them during the signup process because they wouldn’t be eligible. Now, if they can set an alarm for 6:58am and stay awake for three minutes, they’re in the mix.
- Your location does not currently matter when it comes to joining a boarding group. Whether you’re in Pennsylvania or the Grand Floridian, Disney makes no differentiation when it comes to eligibility.
- Turning off the Disney World app’s access to your location during the signup process should continue to shave off a few seconds. If you’re particularly paranoid, you can certainly let them know where you are by leaving access on. Ordinarily, if you’re paranoid, you’re probably doing exactly the opposite. But unless you’re there on the unlikely day that Disney first requires guests to verify that they’re within a certain distance of the resort to join a boarding group, you’re better off if the app doesn’t try to find you before moving along with the signup process.
- Based on availability, you can cancel your current Park Pass and change it to a different Park Pass, even on the day-of, and even after failing to join a boarding group at 7am. That will be true up until the moment you actually tap into a Park. You would be locked in at that point. There is no Park Hopping at the moment, so you can’t go to the Studios, end up not getting the 2pm boarding group either, and then try to cancel your Park Pass and book another Park. Because that would essentially be Park Hopping, which Disney does not currently allow, and also charges more money to do so under ordinary circumstances.
- You probably want to decide on your plan for Rise in advance and whether you’re still going to go to the Studios if you get shut out at 7am. There is still the 2pm drop. If you’d prefer not to go until you successfully join a boarding group at 7am, then you’ll likely want to book more days at the Studios in advance.
- Park Pass cancellations become available for others to book, so keep trying if a Park doesn’t immediately show availability.
- We haven’t seen much of a change in crowd flow or wait times yet.
- Stay as flexible as you can.
So the more things change, potentially the more they either stay the same or get worse. I’m not terribly keen on setting my alarm for 6:58am on Studios day when the Park won’t officially open for three hours. On the other hand, if I’m going to get shut out of the initial boarding group release, perhaps I would prefer to know at 7:01am when I can potentially change my plans instead of 10:01am, when I’m locked into the Studios and among the heaviest crowds of the day. Back when the boarding groups opened with the Park, we had usually been standing around the Park for at least an hour anyway.
As far as arriving for opening in front of as many people as possible, if you’re driving yourself or relying on Uber/Lyft, you want to be at the auto plaza/toll booth 70 to 75 minutes before official Park open. If you’re coming in on another mode of transportation, you’ll want to arrive as early as that mode allows, which is typically 50 to 60 minutes before open. With the current 10am opens, that would be 8:45am if you’re driving, or as close to 9am as possible if you’re walking, bussing, or using the Skyliner. The easiest way to arrive early if you can’t drive yourself is to walk over from the Crescent Lake area, as described in this post, which includes a breakfast review of Trattoria al Forno’s current menu.
We’ll certainly keep an eye on wait times and crowd distribution across the day to see if anything changes. Otherwise, the 7am boarding group signup doesn’t afford a better opportunity at joining a group, and may even make it more difficult as “literally” everyone with a Park Pass for that day is now eligible without having to do anything but wake up at 6:58am. The big decision is likely whether you still want to go to the Studios without a low-number boarding group for Rise already in-hand, or switch Parks for that day and try again on another morning. Personally, I’d probably book more Studios days in advance and go on the day that I was able to get a boarding group at 7am. On the other hand, not going means fewer opportunities for the 2pm drop, when you might be more successful.
So many options. And all of them involve Hollywood Studios.