Hollywood Studios Report: Christmas is Here!

We’re back at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with the first park report of Christmas! Here we’ll share photos, crowd & wait time info, overflow queues in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land, plus first impressions of the holiday season at Walt Disney World.

By way of recap, we just shared our latest Star Wars Rise of Resistance Ride Report: Compromises & Improvements, which covers the two big changes and the positives and negatives they bring to the guest experience. If you’re thinking of doing the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World in November or December, that’s an absolute must-read.

One of the big upsides to this change is that it’s no longer necessary to arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios before rope drop. That means no more getting to the Skyliner station an hour before it starts running, no more waiting in long parking plaza lines at DHS, and no more hassling with peak crowds within 30 minutes of park opening…

Word of mouth takes a while to spread, so we’re not expecting any immediate changes to crowd patterns at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. However, this is the only park at Walt Disney World where wait times max out within an hour of park opening, and there’s no logical reason to expect that’ll still be the case come December. (Even then, we don’t expect a total redistribution–DHS is home to Walt Disney World’s newest attraction, and many of those who score boarding passes will err on the side of arriving early.)

For our first visit in this new “era,” we opted out of the Disney’s Hollywood Studios rope drop madness, rolling up to the park at 12:45 pm. We were greeted by no lines for parking, security, or the turnstiles, and almost no crowd whatsoever on Hollywood Boulevard. Already a massive improvement in the experience for as us compared to what we’ve encountered during recent visits.

Let’s start with a fresh look at Disney’s Hollywood Studios crowds.

As compared to mid-October, things aren’t bad right now. DHS has not seen the same drop-off as other parks, but it has not been fully booked across all three buckets of Disney Park Pass reservations the last couple of weeks.

Don’t expect this to last.

We hesitate to make any predictions for next week. Veterans Day falling mid-week could significantly diminish the holiday’s impact on attendance…or not.

We’ve posited a few theories for the slowdown in the last couple of weeks.

Possibilities include pent-up demand among locals starting to be exhausted, rising case numbers meaning increased travel trepidation, and fall breaks coming to an end. There are undoubtedly other plausible explanations, but those are the standouts in our view.

With that said, it’s only a matter of when–not if–crowds return.

It could be next week or the following week, but it’ll definitely happen by Thanksgiving week. The good news there is longer hours and the fact that attendance caps preclude crowds from getting anywhere close to their normal holiday peaks.

When discussing post-reopening crowds at Walt Disney World, one thing that has been overlooked is weekly attendance relative to that of normal years. As you’re undoubtedly aware, attendance levels are not static–some weeks of the year are literally twice as busy as others.

For example, if you travel the same week every single year in mid-September, you might’ve encountered “feels like” crowds (and even some wait times) that were as bad or worse than normal. That’s because average attendance in mid-September is normally pretty low–likely under 50% of full capacity. Walt Disney World purports to have capped attendance at 25%, but they also reduced capacity on attractions to 50% or so and cut park hours. The net result is normal or above average waits for that time of year.

By contrast, attendance levels during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s are normally above 75% of full capacity.

However, the reduced capacity cap remains at 25% of the total. This means that although late November through the end of December crowds will probably be heavier than in September, they shouldn’t be nearly as bad as normal. (With that said, we do believe Disney is using fuzzy math to adjust its current caps–but not to a degree that changes the overarching point.)

For its part, Walt Disney World is clearly projecting a spike in holiday season crowds.

This is evident in the preparations that are underway. For instance, “please wait here” markers have proliferated in the last week or so.

Above is the start of the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run queue. This starts in Grand Avenue, winds all the way through Star Wars Land, seeping into Toy Story Land, and then back to Galaxy’s Edge. Only the final stretch of the extended queue was in use during our day in DHS.

There were rumors of a virtual standby line for Smugglers Run, but this would suggest that won’t happen before Thanksgiving.

In terms of wait times around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Peak times were Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at 80 minutes, plus Slinky Dog Dash and virtually every other headliner at or around an hour.

At around 2 pm, we received push notifications while in Toy Story Land encouraging us to do Toy Story Mania.

That makes sense, as the posted wait at that point was 10 minutes with no queue in use outside the attraction marquee. As we’ve noted previously, Toy Story Mania still has a healthy hourly capacity even during modified operations.

By mid-afternoon, other wait times around Disney’s Hollywood Studios had also dropped precipitously.

Both of the Sunset Boulevard headliners had posted wait times of 40 minutes or less. Several other attractions were under 15 minutes.

One of the more noteworthy crowd “issues” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now is ABC Commissary.

Every time we’ve gone through this walkway since the restaurant reopened, there has been congestion due to guests waiting for the Mobile Order notification. It’s a narrow path, so that doesn’t really take much to become a pinch-point. It’ll be interesting to see whether Walt Disney World does anything about this prior to Thanksgiving.

On the Christmas front, Walt Disney World has released added details about the Christmas entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. First, guests get a visit from Santa when he brings glitz and glamour to a motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, led by an entourage of elves and riding in his red convertible packed with presents.

Next, in time for the holiday season, “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” adds a festive finale, featuring everyone’s favorite snowman, Olaf, and celebratory songs of the season.

After dark, the iconic Hollywood Tower Hotel on Sunset Boulevard will twinkle with projection effects as it becomes the Hollywood Holiday Tower Hotel, magically transforming into a Muppets gingerbread masterpiece, a Toy Story toy hotel, a snowy corner of Arendelle and a Dickensian village inspired by “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”

Given that not all of the supporting infrastructure has been installed (and Walt Disney World didn’t refer to it by name), this will not be the full Sunset Seasons Greetings. It’ll likely be the normal vignettes on the Tower of Terror itself, but without the on-screen visuals along Sunset Boulevard that blend scenes into more of a single show. Presumably, this is to prevent guests from congregating–but it also saves installation and labor costs, so a two birds with one stone type of deal.

Over around Echo Lake, things are looking and sounding festive.

In the past, we’ve called this a sleeper hit for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. It has some of the best atmosphere (I’d put it in the top 5 in all of WDW at Christmas), and that’s heightened by the fact that it’s often devoid of crowds.

We are elated to see that all of the vintage Christmas decorations have been installed around Echo Lake (and the rest of Disney’s Hollywood Studios). After Halloween decor was sparse, this has us feeling relieved.

These enhancements are relatively simple and subdued, but they are thematically pitch-perfect. We highly recommend slowing down and spending some time strolling around Echo Lake during your next Christmas visit.

Some people are upset or disappointed that Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! won’t be shown this year, and we can understand that.

We’re just happy this area won’t be blocked off for dessert parties. I’ll take being able to sit/wander around Echo Lake at night over that projections show. Probably not a trade normal guests would make, but we are not normal.

Ultimately, we’re really excited for Christmas at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the changes to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Echo Lake and Hollywood Boulevard look great, it’s nice to see a projection show returning to Sunset Boulevard (one is plenty in our view), and the virtual queue modification already has made for a more relaxed day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Our relationship with this park truly feels like a roller coaster–just a couple of weeks ago, we complained of how bad crowds and the virtual queue process had become. That’s not the first time we bemoaned the operational inadequacies of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and, frankly, probably won’t be the last time. However, right now things are looking pretty good again, and we’re already awaiting our next visit to DHS!

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

How do you feel about Christmas at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Happy to have the modified Sunset Seasons Greetings and vintage decorations, or is the loss of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! a big blow? Have you been done the new 7 am Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue release? What were your thoughts on the changes? Feedback on crowds the last couple of weeks at DHS? 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!

17 Responses to “Hollywood Studios Report: Christmas is Here!”
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