Early Entry at Hollywood Studios Strategy & Park Opening Plan

Early Entry is a great perk for on-site resort guests at Walt Disney World, and that’s most true at Hollywood Studios. This DHS photo report offers a step-by-step plan for the morning Extra Magic Hours replacement plus park opening, strategy & tips, what works well and what to avoid. (Updated February 13, 2024.)

Since originally sharing this strategy, we’ve returned to Disney’s Hollywood Studios several times for Early Entry and tested out other approaches as well as this exact one. Our most recent attempt came during Winter 2024, on a day when DHS was 7/10 on the crowd calendar, with an average daily wait time of 52 minutes.

That’s park-wide, meaning Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, Toy Story Mania, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and more were significantly higher (all peaking above 100 minutes), as they’re offset by short waits at Star Tours, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, and shows or movies that shouldn’t even have posted wait times.

For our 2024 update, there are two other major changes. First, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is currently closed for a multi-month refurbishment through Summer 2024–the second such closure in as many years. Consequently, you can’t do this attraction at all. As a bit of a corollary to this, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s “stealth” refurbishment that took each elevator shaft down is now finished (and has been for a while). With the attraction back at full capacity, Tower of Terror now averages the #5 highest wait time at DHS instead of #2. Together, these two changes make prioritizing Sunset Boulevard a bad plan. You won’t save as much time, and there’s only one attraction to hit.

Second, park hours have changed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the last year. Previously, the park would open at 8:00 a.m. on busy days, which meant Early Entry starting at 7:30 a.m. As of 2024, the park now opens at 8:30 a.m. on busy days, meaning Early Entry at 8:00 a.m. And on slower to moderately busy dates, DHS opens at 9:00 a.m., with Early Entry 30 minutes before that.

In our tests, this doesn’t really have a material impact on crowdedness for Early Entry…so long as you’re ahead of the wave of crowds. We’ll explain how to do that and why it’s important here…

To that point, my goal for Early Entry at DHS is still to knock out multiple headliner attractions before the “wave” of regular guests arrived for normal park opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This might seem overzealous, and it arguably is. However, I’ve done Early Entry at DHS several times and found that it’s surprisingly easy to accomplish a lot that won’t be possible later in the day.

With that, let’s set out for Disney’s Hollywood Studios! These particular Early Entry tests occurred on days when Disney’s Hollywood Studios officially opened to the general public at 8:30 am. This is the norm now, and it should continue when Walt Disney World hours are inevitably extended for later dates in 2024.

As we’ve seen in the past, rope drop crowds are worse with later park opening times and better with earlier ones. This is because people like to sleep-in on vacation, or so I’m told. This shrinks the pool of participants for Early Entry as the start time moves earlier.

For this day’s Early Entry at DHS, we stayed at the Swan Reserve and walked from there to the park. With this morning perk being most advantageous at EPCOT and Hollywood Studios and least valuable at Magic Kingdom, the Crescent+ (all of the ones around the lake plus those that can access the area via the Skyliner) resorts have really moved up the rankings for us.

I left our room at around 6:45 am with the goal of beating the first Skyliner guests to DHS. This worked out as planned, as I arrived at 6:57 am, behind only a couple other guests. Security opened at 7 am, and I breezed through that. I was at the entrance touchpoints by 7:02 am. Literally the first guest in line:

I lucked out with this spot, as the guy stationed here was clearly an old school Walt Disney World Cast Member. You can just tell with the way some of them talk and carry themselves. After chatting a bit, he encourage me to take a couple of steps forward and get some clean shots of Disney’s Hollywood Studios getting ready to open.

Honestly, the best part of my morning was talking to this Cast Member and gazing out at the facades of Hollywood Boulevard bathed in warm light. There’s something special about the way the early morning sun kisses the architecture, emphasizing the building contours and drawing out the details. Even with hundreds of visits under my belt, I still notice new things–that’s a huge part of what makes these parks so special to me.

So much of my time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the last couple of years has been spent trying to strategize to avoid frustrations, which has had the unfortunate byproduct of amplifying the park’s imperfections. So it’s nice to slow down and appreciate what I love about DHS in the first place.

Anyway, the tapstiles opened at exactly 7:30 am, which was an hour before park opening time–or 30 minutes before the official start of Early Entry. (Note that this opening time is unofficial and can vary from day-to-day; in other tests, we’ve had the tapstiles open as late as 7:45 am.)

Being the first guest at the tapstile came with an odd bit of pressure. I found myself worrying that there would be a problem with my Park Pass reservation, my fingerprint wouldn’t register, or that another unforeseen error would occur for whatever reason. I could single handedly derail the plans of dozens of guests! Dozens!!!

Fortunately, my reservation and fingerprint “worked.” I was able to breathe a brief sigh of relief before racing around Disney’s Hollywood Studios. My goal at this point was to both capture empty park photos and stay ahead of the crowd.

Power-walking around Walt Disney World while taking photos should really be an Olympic sport. It wouldn’t even be the most niche competition at the summer games.

Wanting to have my cake and eat it too, I took a very quick detour over to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway for a few photos of that.

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 arrived at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at 7:34 am to find a very small gathering of guests waiting for the ride to open. That happened less than one minute later.

Being less than a dozen guests from the front of the line, the wait time was how long it took to walk through the lengthy queue, plus the duration of the pre-shows and ride time. I was off the attraction by 7:55 am.

Still a few minutes to spare before the official start of Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!

This is worth noting because Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is one of the few attractions (assuming it’s not experiencing technical difficulties) that opens before that official start time. Over in Toy Story Land, lines were being held outside attractions–including a confounding crowd that had arrived at the crack of dawn for Alien Swirling Saucers. Guess some Walt Disney World fans just love dat A.S.S.

Tempted as I might be to fulfill the prophecy of Kramer’s license plate, my focus was on Slinky Dog Dash.

The line already stretched back to here, but the queue had literally just opened. It’s an extremely fast-moving standby line when not slowed down by the Lightning Lane–I was off by around 8:20 am.

Previously, I would’ve criss-crossed the park to do Sunset Boulevard before regular park opening.

As of 2024, the superior approach is to stay in Toy Story Land or double back to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. My personal preference is going with what’s easy, and starting by knocking out Toy Story Mania.

You’ll often find this with a 5-15 minute posted wait time at the tail end of Early Entry, and it’s usually a walk-on or pretty close to it.

I prefer this approach even though the average wait time for Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run is higher for two reasons. First, you’re much closer to Toy Story Mania. Second, it’s a shorter attraction from start-to-finish, so you can knock it out faster.

After finishing up Toy Story Mania, you’re faced with the choice of finishing out Toy Story Land (thereby fulfilling the destiny of Kramer’s license plate) or backtracking to Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run.

We are not huge fans of Alien Swirling Saucers, so our move is always Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. However, our results here have varied widely. On some days, it has had a minimal wait, and we’ve breezed through the queue in 10 minutes or so. Other times, the line is already backed up and moving slowly as a result of Lightning Lane returns.

No matter what, it’s probably your best bet. If you’re visiting DHS on a busier day and the line is moving slow for Smugglers Run, other attractions are going to be a similar story. It’s not as if Smugglers Run is going to have a high wait and slow moving line while everything else is uncrowded. The trend will be the same throughout the park; if anything, Smugglers Run won’t be as bad as alternatives since it’s in the far corner of Galaxy’s Edge.

By the time you’re done with Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, wait times will be at or near their peak times for the day throughout Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Accordingly, this is a good time to switch gears and slow down. Have a snack, do stage shows, or enjoy the atmosphere of the park.

If you’re wanting to maintain an efficient pace, your best option is honestly character meet & greets. These tend to open later and have surprisingly high wait times. In fact, both the Red Carpet Dreams and Monsters Inc. meet & greet average wait times at or around 45 minutes.

In addition to those, there are a few other options that do not have posted wait times, but are insanely popular. Disney’s Hollywood Studios recently introduced rare characters plus the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Typically, these sets start at around 10 am or 10:30 am, and the earliest appearances of the day have the shortest waits or lowest crowds.

Note that the Mandalorian and Grogu are free-roaming characters, so they don’t have lines, per se. However, they are absolutely mobbed by guests throughout the day, so we’d recommend trying to time their first set if at all possible. It’ll usually result in a better overall experience and photos without a ton of strangers in the background.

Turning to strategy, the big thing is to arrive well in advance 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 begin right on time–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 plus another headliner or two, it’s imperative that you’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at least an hour before official park opening time–ideally 75-90 minutes.

The goal should be finish Rise of the Resistance by the time Early Entry officially begins. That puts you in position to do your second attraction before most on-site guests have even entered the park for the perk.

In a perfect world, you’ll then be done with your second ride (hopefully Slinky Dog Dash) before official park opening time. That puts you in a position to queue up for your third attraction of the day before rope drop. Your fourth will come shortly after that, and should still beat the wave of crowds most mornings, as the park opening guests head disproportionately to the #1 and #2 rides at DHS, which you’ve already done.

In the end, here’s the best order for Early Entry and park opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2024:

  1. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
  2. Slinky Dog Dash
  3. Toy Story Mania
  4. Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run
  5. Character Meet & Greets

How to approach #5 really depends on what time you wrap up Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run. On most days, it probably makes sense to catch the first appearance of the Mandalorian and Grogu, but if you’re more concerned with wait times for traditional meet & greets, Red Carpet Dreams is probably the way to go.

Ultimately, Early Entry is an excellent option for an efficient morning of attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. On a good day, you’ll be able to save 4+ hours as compared to peak midday waits by knocking out 3 or 4 of the most popular attractions within the first hour or so of the day. Even on an average day, you’ll still save several hours in line, which is what makes DHS far and away the best park for Early Entry at Walt Disney World.

This strategy is savvy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance alone. Not just because of the time-savings, but because of the way it mitigates risk. If the Galaxy’s Edge headliner is operational first thing, it’s unlikely–or at least far less likely–to break down. (By contrast, end-of-evening downtime isn’t uncommon.) If it’s not up and running, you simply keep walking towards Toy Story Land and effectively take the “long route” to Slinky Dog Dash. Doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance first is the low-risk, high-reward move.

Even if you only accomplish that and one other headliner, you’re set up well for the last few hours–and you should be able to accomplish pretty much everything else then. (See our recent Disney’s Hollywood Studios Afternoon Arrival Strategy.) As explained there, DHS is really only bad during the middle of the day, and is much more pleasant during the morning or evening.

Finally, this DHS Early Entry report should illustrate is the importance of calling an audible if things aren’t going according to plan. 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. if you want additional 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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Have you experienced this 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!

68 Responses to “Early Entry at Hollywood Studios Strategy & Park Opening Plan”
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