Hollywood Studios Afternoon Arrival Strategy

We’re back at Hollywood Studios to share new tips for afternoon arrivals staying through park closing and not using Genie+ or Lightning Lanes. In this Walt Disney World photo report, we’ll run through our step-by-step half-day at DHS, posted v. actual wait times, doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Toy Story Land, and what went wrong.

For a while, we’ve been emphasizing that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the most frustrating park at Walt Disney World. This was true even pre-closure, but it’s been exacerbated more recently because the park still doesn’t have all of its stage shows, atmospheric entertainment, or nighttime spectaculars (Fantasmic or the Star Wars fireworks). There’s also the top-heavy and limited ride lineup, which makes DHS a recipe for headaches right now.

But this also presents an opportunity. Because of that aforementioned top-heavy and limited ride roster plus the lack of compelling nighttime spectaculars, wait times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios peak earlier in the day than any other park. By the evening hours, many attractions have short lines and low waits–even less than what the posted times might suggest.

Of course, many people won’t want have Park Hopper tickets and wasting the first half of the day may not be the most desirable approach. If you’re staying on-site and can arrive early, check out our report on Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Actually, you might want to wait on that–I’m working on a new DHS Early Entry report from a mid-May visit that’s likely more relevant to those visiting in Summer 2022.

One goal of this afternoon arrival strategy guide and the aforementioned Early Entry report is reiterating that even though DHS is frustrating, there are ways to successfully outsmart the crowds. That you can do this without buying Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes and while having a more pleasant, less frustrating experience is a nice little bonus, too.

If you want to know which of those (and other) approaches is best for every park, see our new Genie+ v. Savvy Standby Strategy at Walt Disney World, which details the best and worst ways to save time in lines. (We’ve plugged this post a lot, but it’s really useful if you’re overwhelmed and don’t want to read a dozen others!)

It’s pretty easy to pair Early Entry with this afternoon arrival strategy, and there are a number of ways to make that work. Some don’t even require leaving the park, like doing a “culinary tour” of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with early lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater followed by dinner at 50’s Prime Time Cafe (okay, perhaps “themed dining design” tour is more apt, since the ambiance outscores the cuisine at both).

Another less expensive and spontaneous option is Snacking Around Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You could also take up day-drinking and people-watching at BaseLine Tap House, which is a solid option if you’re unable to score an Advance Dining Reservation at the aforementioned table service restaurants.

If you’re staying at a Crescent Lake or Skyliner resort, heading to your hotel for a midday break is another really good option. It’s really efficient and easy to take the gondolas or boats back to those resorts–or simply walk if you’re staying at BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, or Swan & Dolphin.

We were staying at Swan Reserve, and this is exactly what we did–showing up to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the crack of dawn, sticking around for the first few hours, going back to the hotel for a few more hours, and then returning in the late afternoon. Florida weather is already heating up, so missing the hottest, sunniest, and busiest time of the day at DHS was fine by us!

Enough with the long-winded preface, let’s fast-forward to our afternoon in the park…

We headed back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at around 5 pm.

With 4 hours until park closing, this is earlier than we’d normally start an afternoon arrival itinerary. However, if you’re wanting to see the last stage shows of the day, it makes perfect sense. Doing the final performances of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and Frozen Sing-Along Celebration is a good approach to extend the afternoon, and will kill time before waits really start falling.

Rather than any of those stage shows, we opted for MuppetVision 3D. After a long and hot day, it was nice to enjoy some air-conditioning and the hilarity of the Muppets. After that, we wandered around aimlessly taking photos. In should be obvious, but “aimless wandering” is not part of the plan. No effective Walt Disney World strategy requires that…but my enjoyment of the parks does!

Bouncing to the other side of the park, I did Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster via the Single Rider line a little after 6 pm.

The posted wait time for standby was 40 minutes; my actual wait was 24 minutes. Single Rider ended up “saving” me negative time–I saw people who entered the standby line at the same time in front of me in the load area. Can’t win ’em all.

Normally, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would be next on an afternoon arrival itinerary for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Unfortunately, it’s at half-capacity right now due to a stealth refurbishment that’ll likely last through the end of summer. As a result, it’s currently one of the 3 longest wait times in the park. My recent experiences with Tower of Terror lines have not been positive–meaning the wait time is not significantly inflated–so I didn’t even bother. If you want to do Tower of Terror, do it via Genie+ or early in the morning.

Following that, we bounced from Sunset Boulevard back to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

This criss-crossing the park is absolutely unnecessary to the itinerary. Despite its distinctly patriotic pedigree, MuppetVision 3D is not technically part of the plan. Enter the park, start at Sunset Boulevard, and cross to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge from there. Much easier than playing pinball around DHS.

We got into line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at around 6:40 pm.

Posted wait time was 40 minutes; our actual wait was 23 minutes.

From there, it was off to Toy Story Land.

Slinky Dog Dash still had a 80 minute posted wait, which actually isn’t awful, but we thought we could do better.

Instead, we opted for Toy Story Mania. (Ignore the time on the clock and blue hour–I forgot to take a photo and had to go back to grab this later.)

Actual wait time at around 7:15 pm was just under 20 minutes–less than half of the posted 45 minute wait time.

At this point, we faced an “optimization dilemma.”

With less than 80 minutes left on the clock, we wanted to do Slinky Dog Dash, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We were closest to Slinky Dog Dash, but its wait time was higher than Runaway Railway.

We did Slinky Dog Dash anyway. With a posted wait time of 55 minutes, our actual wait time was under 40 minutes.

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was next up. Posted wait time was 30 minutes; our actual was was just over 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was down when we exited the attraction, “ruining” our run-through and “forcing” me to focus on photos instead. While over in the corner, sitting on the ground like burned-out tourist, I checked My Disney Experience one last time. Low and behold:

At 8:43 pm, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was back up and posting only a 25 minute wait. I grabbed my camera right in the middle of a long exposure and we booked it on over to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

This is also an interesting (and not atypical) snapshot of end-of-night wait times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Tower of Terror had actually gotten worse than it was in the late afternoon, while all other attractions were dropping. Everything not shown on the screenshot about had a 10 minute posted wait time (except Star Tours, which was 5 minutes).

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was still posting a 25 minute wait upon arrival a few minutes later; we breezed through almost all of the queue.

Our actual wait time was about 20 minutes, which caught me by surprise. I expected that there would be a backlog of Lightning Lane guests and they’d be prioritized, pushing our wait time even higher than the posted time. (For what it’s worth, the posted wait time did jump to 55 minutes right before park closing. Since we didn’t do it then, it’s impossible to say whether that backlog arrived after us or if the wait was inflated to discourage guests from jumping in line. Probably a little of both.)

Our night-ending experience with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance illustrates a couple of points we’ve been making about the Galaxy’s Edge headliner.

First, its wait time is lowest first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. This is hardly groundbreaking investigative journalism–it’s true of literally 100% of attractions at Walt Disney World. It’s nevertheless worth reiterating, as is how commonplace it is for the posted wait time for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to be double the actual wait in the last hour of the night.

Second, this should illustrate why waiting until the end of the night is playing with fire when it comes to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. While its reliability and downtime woes have improved tremendously in the last year-plus, it still goes down daily.

If that happens in the last hour of the evening, there’s a strong probability that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will not reopen. In fact, I’m surprised it returned on this particular evening. Usually, they just call it a night rather than reopening for the last half-hour.

The point is that waiting until the end of the night is great strategy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance…but also a risky one. I would never recommend this approach to a first-timer only spending one day at DHS. This is the most awe-inspiring attraction at Walt Disney World and you do not want to miss it. Even if there’s only a 10% risk of this happening, that’s too high for my comfort. Only save Rise of the Resistance for last if you have Park Hoppers or a second day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

This should also underscore the wait time inflation happening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the last couple hours. Again, this isn’t stop-the-presses news. We’ve seen this happen for a long time at Walt Disney World, even pre-closure. It’s particularly pronounced with headliners throughout the parks around closing to dissuade guests from doing “one last ride” that prevents clearing the park in a timely manner.

However, it’s happening here much earlier in the evening and pretty much across the board–and not just by the ~25% or so that we’ve come to expect. Some of our actual waits were around half of posted times, which really makes us wonder if maybe the goal is making Genie+ buyers who had to hang around DHS all day (since return times are pushed out so far) feel better about their purchase–or encourage future sales of the line-skipping service. Sorta like inflated menu prices for the sake of the Disney Dining Plan.

It’s also possible that wait times are less predictable at Disney’s Hollywood Studios since so much capacity is set aside for Genie+ users, and many of those go unused. It would stand to reason that the “abandonment rate” for Lightning Lane reservations is higher at DHS. If you use Genie+ to book Slinky Dog Dash at 7:02 am, but get an 8 pm return time…there’s a good chance you’ll be long gone by then.

Finally, this should demonstrate that it is still possible to do (almost) everything in Disney’s Hollywood Studios with moderate waits by arriving early or staying late–or both. We’ve stressed this several times recently, but really want to hammer it home. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is best experienced first thing in the morning during Early Entry or at the end of the night. I love DHS at the beginning and end of the day.

By contrast, I hate being at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the day, between (roughly) the hours of 11 am and 4 pm. You may not believe that since I’m seemingly there all the time to test Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, but that’s really for the “sake of research,” and not the fun kind. If you gave me the choice of Genie+ during the midday hours or standby in the morning/evening, I would take the latter without hesitation. It’s just as productive and efficient, if not more so, than the paid line-skipping option. More importantly, it’s the far superior experience. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is an incredibly pleasant park in those first and last few hours–a great place to simply stroll and take in the ambiance–and I don’t think that’s the vibe at all during those midday hours.

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!


Have you visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios recently in the afternoon or evening? What was your experience? When did you arrive? How long did you stay? Thoughts on lines and crowds? Success or failure doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, or anything else with shorter lines? Do you plan on arriving at rope drop, or will you utilize a late arrival strategy? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? 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!

26 Responses to “Hollywood Studios Afternoon Arrival Strategy”
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