“How will the reopening of Star Tours affect wait times at Hollywood Studios? Will it help pull people away from Toy Story Mania in the morning?”
First, a quick note about Hollywood Studios and Toy Story Mania for those unfamiliar. Toy Story Midway Mania almost always has the longest wait of any Disney World attraction, pretty much regardless of day and time. That means you’ll find a longer wait at Toy Story Mania than any other attraction at any Disney World theme park. There are exceptions, namely Soarin’ in the afternoon when Epcot is hosting evening Extra Magic Hours, but you can pretty much bet that Toy Story Mania will hit at least a 60 minute wait in the afternoon and wait times of 100+ minutes aren’t uncommon. Today, for example, Tory Story Mania’s wait hit 140 minutes and was over 100 minutes for most of the day. Yes, you could just about watch Toy Story 3 (and at times Toy Story 1 and 2) in the amount of time it would take you to wait for Toy Story Mania. While Toy Story Mania is undeniably popular, the wait times have more to do with its lousy capacity and turnover rate. Because wait times for Toy Story Mania are so long and FASTPASSes routinely run out before 11am, Hollywood Studios is the most important “rope drop” to make it to in the morning. By rope drop, I mean arriving at least 15 minutes prior to opening so that you are among the first people to enter the Park. In fact, you would really need to arrive about 45 minutes early to be at the front of the crowd headed to Toy Story Mania at Park opening. Some people seem to be hoping that Star Tours will take some of the pressure off Toy Story Mania, especially in the first two hours. But will it?
The short answer to this question is, no, Star Tours’ reopening will likely not have much of an effect on Toy Story Midway Mania wait times. While we don’t know the particulars of Star Tours 3D, we do know that its previous iteration had six individual ride vehicles/theaters that each had a capacity of 40 people. With a ride length of about five minutes, plus three minutes to change audiences, the attraction could theoretically move through about 1,800 people per hour if necessary. Usually, fewer theaters/ride vehicles were operating at any given time, but the capacity was available when needed. To compare, Toy Story Mania moves through less than 1,000 people per hour (and closer to about 850). We know that Disney is cognizant of the absurd wait times at Toy Story Mania, so we have to assume that they will maintain a high capacity at the “newly re-imagined” Star Tours come May 20, 2011 when it reopens. Because of its significantly higher capacity and faster turnover rate, wait times shouldn’t be longer than 30-45 minutes in the afternoon, at least after Star Wars Weekends end in mid-June. We may see longer afternoon waits in the first month of reopening, especially on weekends (due to Star Wars Weekends), but peak waits longer than 45 minutes are unlikely on recommended days come July, even with heavy summer crowds.
So When Will Be The Best Time to Ride?
It’s extremely unlikely that it will be necessary to head to Star Tours before riding Toy Story Mania in the morning. Currently, the general advice is to head straight for Toy Story Mania after Park opening to ride and/or FASTPASS and then head to Sunset Boulevard to ride Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror in the standby lines. That should still be the ideal morning itinerary after Star Tours reopens. At that point, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to head over to the Echo Lake area for Star Tours to ride in the standby line or wait to collect FASTPASSes when you’re eligible. With the significantly higher capacity (compared to Toy Story Mania), FASTPASSes for Star Tours should be available through at least mid-afternoon, if not later.
The First Month
New rides are always more popular in the first month of operation, as theme park enthusiasts and locals descend on the attraction. As I’ve mentioned throughout this article, Star Tours’ reopening coincides with Star Wars Weekends at the Studios (May 20-22, 27-29, June 3-5, June 12-12). This event brings thousands upon thousands of Star Wars fans to the greater Orlando area and many of them will be intent on riding Star Tours. During Star Wars Weekends and the days surrounding it, we can expect more people than usual to be headed to Star Tours first. While it will certainly be helpful to those headed to Toy Story Mania and Sunset Boulevard, it shouldn’t have a substantial impact on initial wait times. If anything, the increased overall crowd level for Star Wars Weekends will make waits at Toy Story Mania considerably longer than they would be otherwise.
Multiple Variations of the “Same” Ride
This is the wildcard in all of this. Disney has teased that there will be 50+ “variations” of Star Tours, meaning that the video and simulation will be different from one ride to the next. However, we don’t know how different each ride will be. It seems like it would be impossible to make each ride that different, but there are multiple planets to visit and at least part of the ride will be unique in some respect. Expect lines to be longer if it turns out that each simulation is radically different because it will give people even more incentive to ride multiple times.
Will Star Tours Have A Soft Opening?
While nothing has been announced or confirmed, we can expect Star Tours to open for longer and longer stretches of time as we get closer to May 20th. Disney announced that the reopening of Star Tours would be May 20th rather than May 17th (the previous official opening) at a major press event in January, probably to bring attention to Star Wars Weekends and Star Tours when they had the eyes and ears of hundreds of national reporters. It’s likely that Star Tours will be open for most of the day on May 17th, 18th, and 19th, and likely for much or at least part of the day from May 9th onward (if not earlier). Major attractions like this have a lot of “kinks” that need to be worked out and Disney will definitely not want to leave anything to chance once the Star Wars enthusiasts arrive for the official reopening on May 20th. I will make updates about Star Tours and its soft openings as information becomes available.
Effect on Jedi Training Academy
As you may be aware from reading the Hollywood Studios Touring Plan Overview, Jedi Training Academy is a fun stage show with a Star Wars theme that takes place near the entrance to Star Tours. About twelve kids participate in each of the eight shows throughout the day and it’s necessary to head to the show’s sign up area immediately after Park opening if you want to guarantee your child a spot in one of the first few shows. It’s not uncommon for all shows to fill up before 11am (if not earlier). While we don’t know whether Jedi Training Academy will continue to operate in the same manner as it currently does, we have to assume that more people will be headed to the Star Tours area at rope drop once the attractions reopens. This means it will be even harder to get signed up to participate in the show and it will be necessary to head straight to the sign-up location after the Studios opens in the morning. While Star Tours’ reopening isn’t expected to have a substantial impact on Toy Story Mania’s wait times, you can bet that at least a few hundred people will make it their first attraction of the day. Many of these people (some of which probably had no idea Jedi Training Academy existed before walking by the stage), will be looking to sign their child up to participate.
All of This is Based on Preliminary Information
Keep in mind that this is all based on preliminary information that’s subject to change. We’ll know more about the attraction as we get closer to May. As it stands, don’t expect Star Tours to have a significant impact on Toy Story Mania wait times.