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.
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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!
Tom, what time does the parking lot open for resort guests who opt to drive their car for early entry? Let’s say I arrive to HS in my car at 7:15am or 7:30am to do early entry, will the lot be open?
Hi Tom – I am also wondering what time the parking lots open at DHS for resort guests? Seems like driving would be less stressful than dealing with a bus.
Thanks for your very helpful observation that there aren’t any ILL riders slowing down the standby queue during early entry. This is the key that will help me convince my family to get. in. the. car. around 7:30 am in August!
Will we have any issues driving our car from the resort for early entry? It’s easier in our car with little ones. Since they don’t allow you to park too early.
Hoping to do this in May. I appreciate your advice, because I do have a family of 4 and this will save us a lot of $. I’ve always used the extra morning hours, way back when too. I know some want to sleep in on their vacation, but they’re missing out on a lot by doing so. Thanks again for your advice!
We are staying on-site at Disney, but our check-in date is the same as the date we are visiting Hollywood Studios. Will we still be able to take advantage of early entry? Thanks for the help!
Today (10/26) we were in line at Rise at 0810. The ride “opened” at 0815, but at that point the line was already snaking back and forth under the entrance tunnel.
We waited in Line until 8:30, but it still hadn’t moved forward- so we opted to jump out and ride Millenium Falcon twice. At 9am, the posted wait was 120”. As a note – today was a “bonus” park registration day for AP holders.
You linked to the Caribbean Beach Best Rooms & Locations post but it hasn’t been updated since Riviera/2nd Skyliner station opened. Are the recommendations the same? Also wanted to clarify, since you wrote middle ground was best of both worlds for the Skyliner – do the stations have different routes? Like is one non-stop to Epcot and the other to HS? Thanks for clarifying!
We stayed at pop century this past Saturday 10/23/21 and we’re on skyline by 715am. Arrived at DHS and finished rise tower of terror riock n roller and millennium falcon by 9am. We were even pilots on MF. I highly recommend early entry if at resorts. We did not purchase any lighting lane passed or genie. The longest wait was 60 min wait on slinky dog. Repeat ride on rise was 25 min evening. Loved early entry.
Tom, I’ve seen you make multiple comments about feeling it is a waste of time to show up “too early” and just wanted to offer an alternative perspective.
Your own, consistent advice for rope dropping parks is to arrive at least half an hour early AND to budget extra time for transportation. It seems you feel there is a point before official opening (be it for Early Entry or off-site guests) where you’ve already lost the advantage, and people who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to visit often would probably rather be on the “too early” than the “too late” side. I don’t think they are all trying to avoid *any* waiting, they just want to avoid waiting during operating hours so they can squeeze more in.
It’s no different conceptually from your suggestion of hoping in line for an attraction right before park closing. Yes, the line is shorter than other times of day, but also you have moved any wait you do have outside of park operating hours and thus freed up time during the middle of the day to do something else.
I understand the point about shifting waits, but this is not that–it’s essentially a point of diminishing (or nonexistent) returns.
For off-site guests, the difference in time-saved in arriving an hour or 5 minutes before official park opening time is going to be less than 5 minutes–literally. Once the rest of the turnstiles switch over to day guests, they’re cycling people through in no time, and the lines are already built up everywhere else throughout the park.
We were just at Disney last week and did early entry to DHS on Friday. We stayed at the Dolphin but due to some delays we didn’t get to DHS until 8:30. We went straight to ROR and the q-line was moving right along…until we were the very next group to go into the first briefing room when the ride shut down and was down for about 75 minutes! By the time we got through the ride it was 10:15 which really through off the rest of our morning. We had purchased the Genie+ for everyone so we still were able to ride everything we wanted to during the day…just some longer waits for some of the rides. For example, we were planning to go directly to Slinky after ROR but the wait was too long and my daughters already had us scheduled for Toy Story Mania. We did get on Slinky later in the day though. I think the longest line I was in all day was the one to get my wife’s souvenir bucket of popcorn refilled (just kidding but not by much)! Overall it was a great week last week…perfect weather and I didn’t think the crowds were all that bad. Went to Boo Bash on Tuesday night and had a lot of fun…went as Maui but with the wig a lot a people thought I was Howard Stern imitating Maui. As always, your advice was a great help throughout the week. Keep up the good work!
“…a lot a people thought I was Howard Stern imitating Maui.”
That sounds like an incredible costume.
The problem with Rise of the Resistance–or even Seven Dwarfs Mine Train–is its propensity for downtime. Delayed openings or breakdowns can really throw a monkey wrench into plans. RotR is much more reliable than it used to be, but it’s still pretty far from 100%. Unfortunately, that’s probably always going to be the case, making the standby line for it always a risk.
Hi and Good Day to you!!
We are arrive in Orlando on December 17, making 18th and 19th our Disney days. I have a couple of question. We are going to Epcot on 18th – Candlelight processional – look like a no go for the 18th – do you think that will change?? Second question, if not able to attend the candlelight should we go ahead and select a good place to eat for harmonious?? or stand??
19th Hollywood – we are going here mainly to see star wars – what do you recommend?? genie + or waiting in line. We are not stay at a disney resort.
We are also considering purchases the Magic Kindgom afterhours ?? An suggestion on this???
Candlelight Processional will definitely happen on December 18.
The other questions are largely a matter of personal preference, but we have a variety of articles that should help you answer each. Good luck!
Everything you have been posting lately is about those fortunate to be staying at Disney Resorts. How about a strategy for those who are unable to stay on-site.
any word on them adding back these extra hour perks to more of the good neighbor hotels?
We went to HS on two days the week of 10/11, and arrived well before the start of Early Park Entry. Both days, they kept guests outside the entrance of Toy Story Land and did not start walking guests to the queue for Slinky Dog Dash until 8:30, not a minute earlier.
Tom, I’m wondering when all is said and done, will you have two “ideal” one-day itineraries for each park, one with Genie+ and one without?
So appreciate all your efforts to help us with vacation planning. You are a giver!
You are providing a super valuable service. Thanks! Question though-another site is claiming you can’t change or modify a LL reservation once it’s been made. Is this accurate?
This article is perfect timing for us, thanks for doing the leg work!
We’ll be arriving tomorrow at the CBR and had already requested a room in Jamaica to be close to the Skyliner. Good to know you recommend that area.
Have to say you cracked me up with this
“ 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.”
Hi Tom ,
Have you heard anything about any NYE events for this year ?
We were there last week for Early Entry. We arrived at the park right around 7:30 – we were one of the first parties on the Skyliner from CBR. We walked right in and decided to forego RotR this trip (We’ve ridden it many times before) and headed to MMRR, figuring it would be less hectic. They didn’t start running the ride until 8:30, but we were one of the groups on the first train. After that we were able to knock out TSM and Aliens by 9, and then hit RnRC with maybe a 10 minute wait. We had finished all 4 attractions by 9:15. By that points crowds had started to build up pretty much everywhere, but we felt it was a pretty successful Early Entry morning.
Tom, do you know whether railway and/or slinky opens before 830 unoffically as well? I have read elsewhere about rise early early open but have not heard of it for the other e tickets? Thanks in advance for all your help always!