When the things go well, Hollywood Studios is the best park at Walt Disney World in the mornings. We’ve done Early Entry and rope drop many times here in the last few years, and highly recommend it. This photo report offers a step-by-step look at a perfect experience (and honestly, so lucky I should’ve bought a lotto ticket!) at DHS to start the day.
This is quite the contrast to our last post about morning at DHS: Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Report ~ Tinseltown Breakdowns! The title there pretty much says it all, but it’s nevertheless a good “companion” piece to this. Reading both illustrates the range of outcomes during Early Entry and rope drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s helpful in both setting expectations and showing you how to pivot and make lemonade out of lemons when things don’t go your way to start the day.
As a general matter, we’re enthusiastic about Early Entry. It’s an underrated perk, with many guests dismissing it as “only” 30 minutes. Many guests do it first at Magic Kingdom, which is usually the worst park for Early Entry, and assume it’ll be equally bad at the other 3 parks. But it’s not. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is far and away the best place to do Early Entry, but we’ve gotta warn you, our success here is an extreme outlier, and definitely not representative of an average morning.
To the contrary, this is far and away the best Early Entry and rope drop “run” that I’ve ever had at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and I’ve done EE at DHS more times than I can count at this point. It involved some savvy strategy…but also more than a little dumb luck. I just want to be incredibly transparent about all of this upfront before the complaints roll in about negative experiences with Early Entry or this not being replicable. It’s not replicable in full, that is correct.
There’s no way you will be able to accomplish the same number of attractions during a normal morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is not a “how to” post or an itinerary. Like all of these Early Entry and rope drop recaps, it’s a photo recap of what I did–luck and/or warts and all. With those warnings out of the way, the good news is that you can apply some of the principles and a rough outline of this into your own morning plan for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
We’ve recently updated that with another addendum for Party Season, with is incredibly important for both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. Suffice to say, choosing the “correct” days for DHS and MK can make a huge difference–especially first thing in the morning.
This particular day, crowd levels were 1/10 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That alone might make you inclined to totally disregard this, assuming you won’t visit on a day with this light of attendance. However, in the couple of weeks after this visit to DHS, average wait times actually fell further.
Had I done this same ‘test’ more recently (applying the same principles for choosing the best day to visit), I would’ve encountered average attraction wait times that were 4 to 9 minutes lower. Now, those ultra-low lows definitely are outliers, but the point stands–if you’re visiting during Party Season (now through the week before Christmas during non-holiday weeks), these crowd levels are surprisingly commonplace.
For this Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I stayed at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn–booked for the sake of staying in one of the reimagined rooms (review coming soon). You might notice a trend with these Early Entry at DHS reports, which is staying at Crescent Lake or Skyliner resorts. That’s definitely my preference. It’s easier to arrive early when you’re not relying on a bus.
I got to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 7:13 am, and breezed through bag check. From the Crescent Lake Resorts, you can walk, take a boat, or use the Skyliner to DHS. Those are presented in order of efficiency. I always opt to walk, preferring to be master of my own destiny. If you want to save your steps, use the boat.
Regardless, we recommend arriving to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at least 45 minutes before Early Entry starts. It’s common for DHS to open the turnstiles and attractions prior to the official start of Early Theme Park Entry, so if you show up right when Early Entry starts…you’re late!
Since this is unadvertised, there are no guarantees and the timing can be off by a few minutes, but the park usually starts admitting guests around 30 minutes before Early Entry starts, and it’s best to be at the front of the pack for obvious reasons. On this day, the first guests were admitted at 7:30 am. I was on Hollywood Boulevard by 7:35 am.
The first bit of possibly bad news and why you might not be able to replicate this is because Disney’s Hollywood Studios is currently opening at 9 am, and when I did this, park opening was 8:30 am. That might not seem like much, but it’s a really big blow–a ton more people are able to get out the door of their hotel room and arrive in the span of those 30 minutes. Here’s hoping DHS reverts to 8:30 am openings for more dates during the busier holiday season. Thankfully, hours have already moved forward for the busy fall break!
(A lot of attention is rightfully paid to Magic Kingdom closing too early or now opening at 9 am on most MNSSHP dates. Walt Disney World cutting hours at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is just as big of a deal–and one that has flown under the radar. It’s really unfortunate and we hope it changes for the busier holiday season.)
On this morning, I arrived to the entrance of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at 7:41 am. In reviewing the DTB Archives, that’s actually a few minutes behind my best pace–looks like I need to lay off the burgers a bit!
Fortunately, it was the smoothest sailing I’ve experienced at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in ages. Even though there were probably a few hundred people in front of me, the attraction was a near walk-on. Not only that, but upon exiting transport, the secondary queue was also totally empty. No stoppages whatsoever–probably the fastest start to finish experience I’ve ever had on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. I was off just after 8 am, right as Early Entry officially started.
Upon exiting, the wait time for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance had jumped to 40 minutes. This actually is not nearly as bad as normal. Again, looking at the DTB Archives, the norm for 8 am on past Early Entry days I’ve done is 75 to 130 minutes. Huge difference.
In any case, my intended next stop was Slinky Dog Dash. I was feeling pretty good both about my pace after finishing RotR and crowd levels, so figured I could knock it out in under 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, Slinky Dog Dash was experiencing the dreaded delayed opening. This was the 3rd time for this out of my last 4 attempts doing Early Entry at DHS. In part, that’s bad luck on my part–but it does happen a lot.
Not just at DHS with Slinky Dog Dash, but here, EPCOT, and Magic Kingdom with headliners. Never mind that supposed $60 billion on theme park expansion over the next decade–how about upping the maintenance budgets at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland for existing attractions?!
Anyway, I pivoted to Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. I’ve resisted doing this in the past because MFSR is a longer duration attraction, which can make it tough to knock out more attractions during Early Entry and rope drop. But I’ve received some (totally fair!) criticism for all of my backtracking during Early Entry, so I opted for the path of least resistance.
This was the right call, so thanks to those of you who have complained at me. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was a walk-on, and I was off it by 8:15 am. Part of this was really good timing, as I entered the pre-show right as it was starting and had almost no wait whatsoever between being assigned a role and boarding the Millennium Falcon.
On an amusing note, our ship was piloted by two small children–and let’s just say they won’t get getting their pilot licenses anytime soon. Their mom was absolutely mortified by their navigation prowess, but crashing into any and everything was the most fun I’ve had on that ride in ages!
Sticking with the path of least resistance, I bounced to Toy Story Land next. In part, my hope was to get lucky with Slinky Dog Dash opening and pouncing on that, but Cast Members were turning guests away from even lining up.
Instead, I did Toy Story Mania. Another walk-on, and I was off by 8:35 am.
My big dilemma at this point was Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (continued path of least resistance) or heading to Sunset Boulevard to knock out both the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Sorry, but I opted for the latter.
As I headed this way, it was interesting to see guests flooding into Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This is common–regardless of arrival time, mostguests are prioritizing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. Meanwhile, Sunset Boulevard was quiet–only a handful of other guests heading this way.
I opted to start with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, assuming that would be the faster experience. To my surprise, the pre-show was actually running (quite often, you can walk through this before 9 am). Even more surprising was that the Cast Member in charge of the merge point was being quite aggressive with commanding guests to fill in all available space.
Frankly, it was a bit ridiculous. The Cast Member indicated they could see guests on their video monitor and wouldn’t open the doors until everyone moved all the way forward to the line, and repeatedly made such remarks. This got my blood boiling at first…it was both bad show and courtesy, and actually did absolutely nothing to improve efficiency.
Then I started about what easyWDW (a great site) Josh would’ve said were he there. None of my feeble attempts at humor would match his actual snark, but the imagined caustic comments he might’ve had nevertheless helped cut the tension and the absurdity of the whole situation put an awkward smile on my face–just as he always used to do.
I was off Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster by 8:55 am, which was slightly longer than I expected that ride to take. Next stop was Tower of Terror, which was still posting a 13-minute wait–meaning it was a walk-on.
Unlike RnRC, my timing here was perfect, and I was off Tower of Terror at 9:15 am. Slinky Dog Dash had yet to open for the day, so I headed to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
There was actually a bit of queue outside for this, which I figured would mean a longer wait. It really didn’t. The line moved quickly and continuously, leading me to wonder whether maybe Genie+ sales have slowed down?
In any case, this was my longest wait of the morning thus far, but that’s to be expected as the park opens and lines start to fill. I was still done by around 9:40 am. (Not sure of the precise time on this one.)
Then came the ultimate stroke of luck. As I was refreshing the My Disney Experience app trying to plot my next move, I saw Slinky Dog Dash’s status change from ‘temporarily closed’ to posting a wait time. I don’t remember what that wait time was, as I immediately bolted for Toy Story Land at a pace that the target demo for Slinky Dog Dash could almost certainly not maintain.
But then again, nothing about doing Slinky Dog Dash at around 10 am with an actual wait time of ~15 minutes is replicable. I don’t care if it’s the slowest day of the year in the doldrums of September or January, you’re not going to have that short of a wait for Slinky Dog Dash…unless you use a Lightning Lane. Aside from this entry, this morning at DHS is doable with lower crowds and efficiency in moving from ride to ride.
I usually skip Star Tours: The Adventures Continue on these mornings because it doesn’t require much strategizing if you visit on a below-peak day. However, I opted to do it for the sake of completion just so I could say I did every ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios this morning.
Every time I do Star Tours, I’m reminded of how good it is. I love Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and think it’s a better overall experience from start to finish, but the ride portion of Star Tours blows it away. Imagine how great MFSR could be if it combined the settings of Star Tours with the interactivity and complete package of the Millennium Falcon? Instead, we get the Star Wars equivalent of working for UPS. (For those who enjoy deliveryman simulators, might I suggest Death Stranding?)
I don’t recall what time I finished Star Tours, but it was well before 11 am, thereby accomplishing my goal of every ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios! Or so I thought. Like a total dum bass, I forgot about A.S.S. (I would apologize for the foul language, but I’m not in charge of Disney’s acronyms.)
In looking back at posted wait times, it appears that Alien Swirling Saucers would’ve been 20-30 minutes at that point. If that were accurate and I did it, I wouldn’t have finished everything by 11 am. If the wait time were inflated (as most rides are), it would’ve been a closer call.
Ultimately, this might sound like a fantastic morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but again, you should remove Slinky Dog Dash or the Sunset Boulevard thrill rides from the list, at minimum. And that’s assuming you visit during the off-season. If not, you should probably knock off a lot more than that, as we normally hit a wall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios by 10 am even on moderately busy days.
The good news is that accomplishing a lot is possible in the morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the off-season, especially if you choose the right day and arrive early or stay late. (I didn’t try it, but I wonder whether I could’ve accomplished as much or even more during the last few hours of this same day.) We’re also huge fans of doing both, with a long midday break in between (perfect for pool time or Park Hopping to EPCOT and doing World Showcase). Although it can be very useful during other times of year, this should also underscore why Genie+ is unnecessary during the slower seasons at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
With all of that said, if you are thinking about visiting Walt Disney World during the fall off-season, you should additionally study the above photo before making that decision. Stare into it like one of those weird 3D Magic Eye images from the 90s until your skin gets sticky and you start sweating. That photo just feels hot and humid, but still doesn’t begin to compare to how bad this day actually was, with triple-digit feels like temperatures by mid-morning. But like Bob Iger, I live for those two shower days!
Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Have you experienced a great start to the day at DHS? If so, which attractions did you knock out and what was your experience with crowds and other wait times as a result? 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!