February 4th Update: Star Wars Weekend Dates are now official. See this post for details.
As I have said in the past, I am not a big rumors guy. Rumors, guesses, and unfounded reports based on “something I’m saying I heard even though I didn’t really hear it, but someone probably said it” are really not my cup of tea. With that being said, it looks like Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are set for May 20 – 22, May 27 – 29, June 3 – 5, and June 10 – 12. The official dates will likely not be announced until January and information about which celebrities will be in attendance will trickle down from there.
Here is the Basis for My Thinking
If we look at the Disney World operating hours for May 2011, we can see that beginning the week of May 15th, Hollywood Studios’ morning Extra Magic Hour moves from Saturday to Wednesday and the operating hours on Saturday are extended from 9am to 8pm from 9am to 7pm. The same is true for the following week, where Hollywood Studios again has morning Extra Magic Hour on Wednesday rather than Saturday. The Animal Kingdom takes over the morning Extra Magic Hour on both Saturdays. This is important because Hollywood Studios has an Extra Magic Hour on Saturday just about every week throughout the year, save for the occasional major holiday week or weekend like Christmas or Easter. In fact, the only Saturdays without morning Extra Magic Hour at Hollywood Studios in 2011 thus far are New Year’s Day and the two Saturdays surrounding Easter. As we know, Extra Magic Hours increase crowds, and the Saturday morning Extra Magic Hour would increase crowds at Hollywood Studios on a Saturday that doesn’t need the crowd level to be raised – because of Star Wars Weekend. History is also on our side. Last year, the dates for Star Wars Weekends were very similar, with the first Weekend scheduled from May 21st to 23rd.
Disney can always change their mind and the theme park hours will definitely change between now and May and June of 2011. However, all signs point to the third weekend in May as being the first Star Wars Weekend. If you want to be sure that your vacation includes Star Wars Weekend, you probably want to plan for your vacation to include the first weekend in June. June 2nd through 9th is a good week because you’re missing the Memorial Day crowds and many schools have not let out for summer vacation. You’re also almost guaranteed that Star Wars Weekend will be scheduled on June 3rd through 5th. At least Hollywood Studios has hosted Star Wars Weekend on the first weekend in June for each of the last five years.
How Star Wars Weekend Affects Touring and Crowds
Star Wars Weekends are an annual event that take place inside of the Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World during regular theme park hours. The cost to attend is included in your admission to the Park (which is the same as any other day). The festivities only take place in Hollywood Studios and don’t officially change anything at the other three major theme parks. Hollywood Studios will be noticeably more crowded during these weekends because of their popularity with the out-of-town Star Wars community and locals who are interested in participating in the festivities. The expected reopening of Star Tours on May 16th will only exacerbate this popularity, causing Hollywood Studios to be much busier than during the week. If you have no interest in Star Wars and don’t want to take part in or see any of the events, you will want to avoid Hollywood Studios on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of any Star Wars Weekend, regardless of when they are scheduled. Officially on the Crowd Calendar, Hollywood Studios will be a Park to avoid during Star Wars Weekend because the Studios will be significantly more crowded. If your intention is to see the attractions with the shortest wait possible, Star Wars Weekend is not for you. However, if you enjoy Star Wars or would like to participate in the festivities, you may want to spend at least part of your day at the Studios. Friday is usually the least crowded because many people use it to travel or are still at work. Saturday is the busiest day and Sunday is also busy, especially because the Studios usually has Fantasmic! scheduled in the evening as well.
Each weekend, there are usually three Star Wars “celebrities” of varying levels of popularity. They will be announced much closer to the start of the event as scheduling concerns with the more popular actors need to be hashed out. It’s unlikely Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, or Carrie Fisher will be in attendance, but past guests have included the actors who played Lando Calrissian, Darth Maul, Boba Feet, Anakin Skywalker, and Chewbacca, as well as set designers, assistant-directors, and others working behind the scenes. In addition, there will be a lot of character meet and greets with people dressed up like famous Star Wars characters, including Mickey Mouse as a Jedi and Minnie Mouse as Princess Leia. You’ll also see Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, and other classics, including my favorite, Goofy as Darth Vader. Luckily, Jar Jar Binks usually skips the event due to the amount of violence commonly directed towards him. Disney is family friendly after all. There will also be a Star Wars motorcade parade, question and answer sessions, prize giveaways, autograph opportunities, trivia challenges, dance parties, and limited edition merchandise.
If you want a particular autograph, you will likely need to arrive at the Studios gate by 5am to get in line for a FASTPASS from a machine that will be situated outside the front gate. Autograph sessions are very limited and only those with FASTPASSes will be granted access to the celebrity signing. You will also want to arrive very early for the first Friday of Star Wars Weekend if the limited edition merchandise is of interest. If autographs aren’t important and you just want to be on hand for the other events, I would still recommend arriving by 8am in order to get a FASTPASS for Star Tours or Toy Story Mania. They will go fast and it won’t take long for the FASTPASS return times to be well into the evening. Consider scheduling a relaxing sit-down lunch in the middle of the day to get off your feet and relax a bit. It will be very hot and almost all of the activities take place outside. If you would like to have a sit-down meal during Star Wars Weekend, you will want to make your dining reservations as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that many of the usual character opportunities will be replaced by Star Wars characters during Star Wars Weekends. If your child is easily frightened, they may also be scared by the number of “bad guys” walking around for the event. There will be plenty of Storm Troopers, Darth Vaders, and other villains milling about and they can be intimidating if you and your kids are not expecting it. During weekdays (Monday – Thursday), everything at Hollywood Studios goes back to “normal.”
Star Wars Weekends are a lot of fun for everyone with even a casual interest in Star Wars. If your time is limited and you care more about the rides, you’ll want to visit the Studios on a weekday – preferably one without Extra Magic Hours or Fantasmic. If you have some time to spare and enjoy Star Wars, consider visiting the Studios during a Weekend.