Visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios seems to be a mistake right now for the average guest. In this post, we’ll talk about why we suggest you don’t visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now until Disney gets a better handle on operations and the overall guest experience.
Just like anything overwhelmingly positive or negative about the current state of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, our argument stems from Rise of the Resistance. Even though Rise of the Resistance seems to be the problem, it’s not just limited to guests who want to take on the First Order.
Let’s be clear from the beginning of this post, Rise of the Resistance is an excellent experience and has set a new high bar for what Imagineering can do with an attraction. For guests who are able to get a boarding group, they will be treated to a complete, immersive experience that doesn’t blend the lines of fantasy and reality, it completely removes them. You are stepping into a Star Wars movie from the moment Rey recruits you to the second the experience is over. It’s a phenomenal attraction that deserves every bit of hype that it is receiving.
If you could wait 1-3 hours to experience it like guests do on a daily basis with Flight of Passage in Pandora – The World of Avatar, this post wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are guests who are spending thousands of dollars on a Disney vacation for what amounts to a lottery for a chance to ride Disney’s latest and greatest attraction. After visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios more over the past few months than any other park, we can plainly see one thing – this isn’t working.
The Stress – Boarding Groups
We’ll start at the beginning of the day at any Disney Park – rope drop. Thankfully, guests aren’t required to get up at some unbelievably early hour like they had to do when Rise of the Resistance first opened and boarding groups were handed out on a first come, first served basis. While we argued that the first come, first served system was better than the lottery that Disney went with, the point is moot and Disney has made up their mind.
With the lottery system in place, Disney had to try and find some amount of normalcy with the park opening time. Over the busy Christmas season, that was 6am. Then it moved to 7am for January. Then, in early February, Disney moved to an 8am opening. It doesn’t seem like a substantial change, but the move to 8am created a massive change to the competitiveness of the boarding group process. It looks like an 8am opening is much more “do-able” for families on vacation, and guests are packing into the park by the 10’s of thousands before it even opens. With an 8am opening, boarding groups are harder than ever to obtain, and the data backs that up.
With all boarding groups (backup included) being fully distributed within minutes, if not seconds, the stress of securing a boarding group is at an all-time high right now. While we’ve visited the park a lot over the past few months, we don’t often grab a boarding group for ourselves. Instead, we observe the process and the reactions of elation and disappointment are visible every single morning. It’s not uncommon for a family of four to do everything right and still not get a boarding group simply because of how fast the boarding groups are distributed.
Today, February 27th, all boarding groups (backup included) were fully distributed within 90 seconds. This is insane. Asking guests to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation to hope that the My Disney Experience app works for them perfectly in 90 seconds is insane. It’s a Thursday in February and the majority of guests who visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios aren’t able to ride an attraction that opened nearly 3 months ago.
At this point, we’re not recommending family or friends visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now if they want to get a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, but it doesn’t stop there.
The Crowds – Early Morning Masses
As a result of the 10’s of thousands of guests we talked about above packing into Disney’s Hollywood Studios before park open to try and secure a boarding group, there are more people physically in the park at rope drop on an average day than in years past. Typically, families would be able to roll out of bed around 8 or 9am to grab breakfast at the resort and make their way to the park around 10 or 11am. This is how people use to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They simply can’t afford to do that anymore.
As seen in the graph below from thrill-data.com, we can see just how many more people are in the park at opening than in February 2019. The red line represents February 2020 and the blue line represents February 2019.
So, even if you don’t care about Rise of the Resistance at all, it’s still way more crowded in the park at rope drop than what you likely remember from previous visits. It’s not uncommon to see triple digit wait times for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash. Crowds are so high that Disney had to change the rope drop procedure for guests looking to ride Slinky Dog Dash.
Here’s a look at what rope drop looks like, on a daily basis, for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and Sunset Boulevard respectively.
These crowds are huge, and with Mickey and Minnie’s Runway Railway set to open in a week, it doesn’t look like it’ll be dying down anytime soon.
The Crowds Stick Around
Going back to the graph comparing February 2019 to 2020, we can see that the crowds largely stick around throughout the day, creating higher wait times until the end of park hours.
This is likely because guests are sticking around in the park until their Rise of the Resistance boarding group is called. With the majority of boarding groups handed out on any given day being backup groups, guests will likely stay in Disney’s Hollywood Studios until their boarding group is called.
We saw a similar trend for January, year over year.
Is all of Walt Disney World seeing this dramatic of an increase? No.
Here’s a look at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom wait times in February 2019 vs 2020. We can see modest increases, but nothing as dramatic as we’re seeing at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Looking at the graphs above, an argument could be made that it would be safe to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios after 3 or 4pm as the delta between year over year wait times gets closer to the resort average, but why would you visit a theme park that has as much to do as Disney’s Hollywood Studios has in 2020 for just a few hours before park close? We still wouldn’t recommend a visit for the “lower” afternoon to evening hours.
No End in Sight
Until Disney modifies the operating procedure at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there really is no end in sight for this madness. Like we said earlier, Mickey and Minnie’s Runway Railway is opening in a week. We probably won’t see a huge influx of crowds right away for the attraction (with the exception of the opening day or two), but if the attraction receives positive press from the start like Rise of the Resistance did, we might see even more crowds start to book trips for a Runaway Railway/Rise of the Resistance combo that might have been putting trips off.
Also, don’t forget the normal ebbs and flows of crowds at Spring Break comes in around mid-March and continue through Easter. This summer is shaping up to be a very busy one at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
What Can Disney Do?
Well, we’d be silly to think that we know better than Disney. They employ experts that are supposed to know the data forward and backward. They have the distinct advantage of knowing how many guests will visit the park each day, and they can adjust on the fly. All we can do is combine the data available to us with on-the-ground observations.
From a data standpoint, a 7am opening creates a much better experience for those guests who are able to show up that early. We wrote an entire article showing how much more difficult the process has become with an 8am opening, and we won’t rewrite it all here.
Yes, 7am is too early for some families. There’s no denying that. There are still some losers in this scenario. That said, for the guests who are actually in the park, the backup boarding groups last longer, raising the percentage of guests in the park who experience some amount of success each day. That doesn’t necessarily solve the crowding problem, but might tip the scale in our recommendation simply because you can plan a bit better and not have to rely 95% on luck like you’d have to do today.
Another aspect of this is the reliability of Rise of the Resistance. Until Rise of the Resistance can operate reliably, Disney will be stuck with the boarding group process.
Let’s consider the alternative – a standby line. First and foremost, the Rise of the Resistance queue isn’t built to handle 4 hour waits, or more. Perhaps the longest queue in use today at Walt Disney World is the Flight of Passage queue, which is built for about 2 hours worth of guests. We don’t have a good benchmark for how long of a standby line Rise of the Resistance would demand, but there’s little doubt that it would be more than Flight of Passage. There simply isn’t the physical space in the queue to hold 3, 4, 5, or more hours of guests. The line would likely have to be cut at some point during the day as Cast Members estimate how long the line is, how many hours are left in the day, and how much downtime the attraction will experience. If Disney should have to dump the queue, a process that has happened before during extended downtime, how would you ensure those guests who were in line will be able to reenter the line in the same spot? It’s just not possible. Thus, Disney is stuck with the boarding group process until the attraction becomes more reliable. Even then, it’s hard to imagine a day when Rise of the Resistance will not be the hottest ticket in town. We don’t think that Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will surpass it, and until something does (or enough time passes) it will continue to be a huge draw.
Simply put – don’t visit. Our opinion for this article stems from the same opinion we form when putting out food reviews or any other reviews – would we tell our friends and family to spend hard-earned money on it.
As it stands right now, the product of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is too frustrating to recommend. From the Rise of the Resistance boarding groups to the 10’s of thousands of guests in a park earlier than ever, a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the very real potential to be frustrating from start to finish.
Of course, there is always the person who just loves standing in line for whatever reason and can brush off a two hour line at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a two hour wait at Slinky Dog Dash, and hour-long waits pretty much across the board from there. We’re not really speaking to that person. We’re speaking to the family that has a day or two to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and expects to be able to get it all done. Right now, operations just doesn’t allow for that.
Hollywood Studios has seen an increase in crowds that is not in proportion with the rest of the resort. Disney has created the a boarding group process that demands planning and a lot of luck for a ride that many delayed vacations for until it opened. The expectations are high, but the reality is that you’ll likely be let down by the process. Unless you have three or more days to devote to the park and are willing to roll the dice, we think that you shouldn’t visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now.
We want to hear from you!
What do you think about the Rise of the Resistance boarding group process and the impact it has on crowds and your ability to put together an effective touring plan for Disney’s Hollywood Studios? If you’ve visited since late-January, what did you think about your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Reach out to us on our Facebook Page or Twitter to let us know!