Early Entry at Hollywood Studios: Excellent Individual Lightning Lane Alternative

Early Theme Park Entry is now available for on-site resort guests at Walt Disney World, and we’ve taken advantage of the perk several times. This Hollywood Studios photo report offers a step-by-step look at what we accomplished during the morning Extra Magic Hours replacement, strategy & tips, and how it worked out as an alternative to Individual Lightning Lanes.

For this day in DHS, we stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and I left for the main Disney Skyliner gondola station at around 7:50 am. Our room was in building 45, which is one of our go-to locations at CBR–see Best Rooms & Locations at Caribbean Beach Resort for our building/room request recommendations.

Since the Skyliner started operating at 7:30 am, my plan was to get out the hotel room door by 7:40 am. That didn’t quite work out as I tried to juggle Genie+ and get ready. In any case, there was no line whatsoever for the gondola and I was at DHS shortly after 8 am for the official 8:30 am start of Early Theme Park Entry. We strongly recommend arriving by then–or earlier, if at all possible.

Again, my goal was to arrive even earlier, as Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been opening the turnstiles and attractions prior to the 8:30 official start of Early Theme Park Entry. There’s really no consistency to this–but Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has started operating as early as 7:45 am on some days.

We’d strongly recommend planning for an unofficial opening prior to the 8:30 am start, and arriving accordingly. This will be easiest from the Crescent Lake and Skyliner resorts, but even those visiting via bus or car should be able to get to DHS roughly 45 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry officially starts.

(Since first doing this via a Skyliner resort, we’ve done it again when arriving via bus. Our experience went flawlessly, but that was in large part because we arrived to the bus stop at crack of dawn. It’s definitely smoother and more predictable when using the Skyliner or driving. But that’s pretty much always true of rope dropping Walt Disney World.)

After breezing through bag check, there are Cast Members with signs (above left) directing resort guests to spots where they’re MagicBands or room keys will be checked to verify they’re eligible for Early Entry.

Off-site guests are held off to the far right, where there were already lengthy lines. It’s a complete waste of time to arrive so far in advance if staying off-site, but to each their own, I guess.

Once verified, on-site guests can then proceed through the turnstiles and have full access to the park.

If you’ve read our Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom Photo Report, you might’ve noticed it’s done differently there. Magic Kingdom is the exception–everywhere else does it this way.

While walking down Hollywood Boulevard, there are tons of Cast Members holding signs directing guests in different directions. One to the left for early breakfast reservations, one to the right for Savi’s Workshop, and others for attractions.

There’s even a sign pointing in the direction of Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. This makes sense, because if you got up at the crack of dawn to rope drop that, you’re probably pretty clueless.

Naturally, the vast majority of guests are heading to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Now that the “new ride smell” has worn off Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Toy Story Land is once again the second-most popular destination.

I was slightly surprised to enjoy a leisurely walk to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It was actually quite pleasant with the crisp morning air and lack of crowds. Both times we’ve done Early Entry at DHS, we’ve arrived after they’ve already opened up the land, so I’ve yet to see crowds backed up here.

I’m good with that. Got more than my fill in the first few months of last year as we rope dropped Disney’s Hollywood Studios at least once per week back then. One of the few things from before all of this happened that I don’t miss!

I arrived back at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to find no crowd whatsoever. However, there was a steady stream of guests snaking their way through the outdoor standby queue.

The standby line for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was posting a 25 minute wait as of 8:07 am. Closer to opening and closing, posted waits are least accurate, so I was actually bracing myself for something longer.

That was pretty far from the case. While there was a constant flow of guests entering the queue, there were no backups whatsoever. Additionally, the Lightning Lane is not yet in use during Early Entry, meaning that 100% of guests are pulled from the standby line.

From the time I entered the queue until getting to the first briefing room, the line never stopped moving. Definitely not a walk-on, but it was pretty close. My total wait time was only 17 minutes.

Of course, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a lengthy, multi-phase attraction, so the total entrance-to-exit time was much longer.

Nevertheless, I was exiting the attraction by 8:45 am. Only 15 minutes after the official start time of Early Entry!

Unsurprisingly, the wait time for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance had jumped significantly.

Most guests don’t realize that there’s an unofficial start to Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–or they underestimate how long Walt Disney World transportation will take. Consequently, most on-site guests are arriving from 8:30 am to 9 am, and still heading directly to Galaxy’s Edge. They’re arguably “too late” at that point, and would be objectively better doing something different first.

The dilemma at this point was whether to head to Toy Story Land or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

If I were not using Genie+, I would’ve done TSL and Slinky Dog Dash.

Since I had purchased Genie+ and already made a SDD ride reservation, I opted to knock out Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Additionally, I would not be doing Individual Lightning Lanes for the park’s two newest attractions. All of this made MMRR an easy choice for me.

I walked over to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at a leisurely pace, and found it was posting a 35 minute standby wait time.

Again, I was preparing myself for something longer with the possibility that maybe posted waits hadn’t yet caught up to crowds.

My actual wait time ended up being 18 minutes.

While not as lengthy as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, this is another longer attraction with a pre-show before another line and the ride itself. I’m not complaining about that in the least–to the contrary, I love longer rides. Just noting it since I wasn’t totally finished until 9:19 am.

At this point, Disney’s Hollywood Studios had been open for 20 minutes to the general public, but so many guests continue piling onto the crowds in Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land that Sunset Boulevard wasn’t too bad.

I had hoped to knock out both Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror with minimal waits, but was only able to accomplish the former. This is the point where My Day at Hollywood Studios Using Genie+ picks up–you can continue reading there.

Turning to strategy, the big thing is to arrive well before 8:30 am if you want to take full advantage of Early Theme Park Hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There are no guarantees as to when it’ll officially start–it could be 8:30 am on the dot again tomorrow–but it usually begins almost 30 minutes early. Additionally, not all attractions start running simultaneously; assuming it has no downtime issues, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will most likely start running before everything else.

Speaking of which, if you intend on doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, it is imperative that you’re in line before 8:30 am. Even if the line doesn’t look long later, the Lightning Lane guests will slow down the flow tremendously once DHS officially opens.

While I didn’t do it, Early Entry is a great time for Slinky Dog Dash. You could potentially do SDD multiple times depending upon when you arrive.

Not only is Slinky Dog Dash a very popular headliner with high average wait times, but the total time commitment is short–it doesn’t have any pre-shows or the like. I’m guessing I could’ve done Slinky Dog Dash 3 times before 9:30 am. That’s not something I would want to do, but it would’ve been objectively better from a strict time-savings perspective.

Ultimately, it was an incredibly satisfying morning in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, accomplishing more than I anticipated during Early Theme Park Entry. Knocking out both Individual Lightning Lane attractions was huge, and not something I expected.

That alone would save a family of 4 a significant amount of money or time. If you value the Individual Lightning Lanes and would purchase them otherwise (I personally wouldn’t have), that ends up being up to $25 per person. That’s potentially enough to justify Pop Century or another on-site resort as opposed to off-site.

With that said, Early Theme Entry is still relatively new, word is still getting out about how it works, and the procedures will continue to evolve. If it becomes common knowledge that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is unofficially opening at 8 am–or if DHS stops opening around 8 am–the advantage won’t be as pronounced.

Just things to keep in mind before you go planning on replicating this strategy during peak season dates or this summer. If one thing is certain about Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s that nothing is certain. That park has seen more operational and strategy changes in the last few years than all of the others combined. For now, if you want additional preliminary strategy for the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Have you experienced this new jumpstart to the day at DHS? If so, what time did you arrive and what time did attractions start operating? What’s your preferred approach to early entry? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


35 Responses to “Early Entry at Hollywood Studios: Excellent Individual Lightning Lane Alternative”
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