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 April 10, 2023.)
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 Spring Break 2023, on a day when DHS was a 10/10 on the crowd calendar, with an average daily wait time of 65 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 2023 update, there are two other major changes both of which are on Sunset Boulevard. First, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s “stealth” refurbishment that took each elevator shaft down is now finished. That meant that the attraction was effectively operating at half-capacity for about 4 months on two different occasions, and caused wait times to spike. With the attraction back at full capacity, Tower of Terror now averages the #6 highest wait time at DHS instead of #2.
Second, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is currently closed for a multi-month refurbishment and potentially a full-scale reimagining through at least late Summer 2023–perhaps longer. Consequently, you can’t do this attraction at all. 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.
With that in mind, 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! All of 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.
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.
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 Spring 2023, 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 2023:
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Toy Story Mania
- Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run
- 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.
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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!
How to you get to R of R, do you go thru Toy Storyland or by the Muppets. It’s been years and I know that whole area has changed.
Hi Mary Pat Kuppel,
Have you ever been in a car with someone who says they know a shortcut and it’s always twice as long? Going through Toy StoryLand is that short cut. It’s the longest possible way to ROR. If you’re there at rope drop just keep left and follow the people walk/running in Star Wars outfits.
The only potential kink in this plan is when rides are down — I was there in mid-May and Slinky Dog, Tower of Terror and Rise were all down at the same time right when the park officially opened for early entry at 8am. They eventually were all back up within 30 minutes but not ideal when every minute counts before official park opening.
You’re absolutely right–and delayed openings are something that happen all too often!
Tom, can you confirm that you rode the Skyliner on that day? Does it operate early enough to get to the park in time to do what you did?
I walked, but Skyliner guests were arriving around the same time. It’s possible either way.
Help, what does it mean to “call an audible”?
Football terminology…..to be in the middle of a plan (play), see that it’s not working and change the plan (play).
I’m also curious about the early parking situation. We are taking a group of 30 in July and will want to drive our vans to the parks instead of trying to fit 30 people on a summer-crowd bus. We are ALL about getting there early, but how early will they let us in to park?
Omg I’m dying at the swirling saucer joke! Your humor is top notch. No blog I enjoy reading more.
Awesome report! Please keep these field reports coming. So helpful for folks. Going in Sept and debating Genie vs not. I’m only convinced its “worth it” (AKA cost plus inconvenience tied to phone, etc.) for MK if you can get everyone out the door early for other 3 parks. My wife is the weak link–painfully long morning routine.
I take it Mrs Steve does not read Tom’s blog. If not enjoy Disney with the kids on your visitation days.
Ride Ride of Resistance before just about every other ride opens for Early Entry is definitely a big deal for planning purposes. (Now I have to play closer attention to Tom’s reports from the other parks so I can see what else to pre-pre-rope drop.)
I’d guess that Tom’s two suggested approaches may be superior in meeting different goals. Based on his reporting from his late afternoon & evening visits, what he tried out was likely the superior method for the goal of using Early Entry to save time for both lines and walking if you’re trying to do everything and will be at the Studios in the late afternoon/evening. (Tower of Terror doesn’t appear to get any shorter than this in the evenings, unless you Bricker it just before park closing.) If you’re park hopping, or just assuming that the heat will beat you down and you’re DONE by 4 or so, his proposed alternative will definitely help you accomplish more attractions if you’re not also planning an evening at the Studios. Both are likely valid choices that can meet different tourists needs.
Those Golden Age of Hollywood buildings sure do look great “after sunrise” and “before sunset” against the blue sky. The latter is a great time to grab an ice cream from Gertie’s and wander around the front of the park.
Thank you as always for your thorough research and analysis – but also thank you for taking the moment to mention the cast member you spoke with at the turnstiles and just taking in HS in the morning. It’s great to hear that people can still stop and appreciate some of this, and to highlight the fantastic CMs all over Disney.
Also thank you for your humor – dat A.S.S. was just the laugh I needed this morning!
Hi! Do you have this sort of post for the other 3 parks? This is so helpful! Thank you
Wonderfully uplifting report on doing Disney without paying extra.
LIZ has a good question. I bet a report on hacks for people with cars would be appreciated by many.
Part of it is that some of it (how early do the parking lots open) is so variable, and as Craig noted, they will not let you start a line in front of the gates more than 10-15 minutes before the parking lots open. I might ask someone if they can find out when the park opened the day before you plan to go, and assume that’s the case for the following day.
The first busses arrive at the resorts 45-60 minutes before Early Entry; they’ll be allowed in even if the parking lot isn’t open until 30 minutes before Early Entry. That being said, since the Studios is letting people in 30 minutes before EE then the lots were probably open 60 minutes ahead of time when Tom was there. In that case, you could line up to park 70-75 minutes before EE, about the earliest it appears WDW lets people line up to park. (Don’t forget traffic time, as well as getting to the car, which can be longer than expected, even to this centrally located park.) Apparently there are days where the parking lots only open up 30 minutes before EE, in which case you can’t beat us crazies who are amped up and hanging around the bus stops 75-90 minutes before EE.
Thanks for the advice. We are normally at the bus stops pretty early, but there have been certain resorts we have stayed at where the bus was full when it arrived (Boardwalk – already full of Swan/Dolphin guests; obviously doesn’t apply specifically to DHS but it was a problem for the other parks that year) OR the bus stop was just a bench under a shelter and even though we were there first other parties thought it was perfectly ok to push ahead of us. I truly wish Disney would create a line at every bus stop much like the lines at AOA. It’s been 5 years since we have been to Disney so maybe that has been fixed although I doubt it since this has been the case for at least 20 years. It would alleviate a lot of the stress of getting there and then worrying that others will push ahead of you. This is why I prefer to drive if possible. We absolutely always drive to AK and the water parks. Waited once soaking wet at Typhoon Lagoon for over 45 minutes for a bus. Never again. I have a feeling we will just try to take the bus to DHS for early entry though.
Some excellent advice and info. We will have 17 to 20 days with 5 split stays at Disney to try out your suggestions and all the various choices. I’ll keep notes and pass them on to this blog.
Do you know how early they let resort guests park in the DHS lot? We are going to be at Wilderness Lodge and don’t really want to risk the bus situation and we will have our car. So…bus or car for early early entry??
I’d like to know about this as well. Last March, we tried to get to DHS early by car, and we were turned away. They wouldn’t even let us wait where you pay to park. We had to make a u-turn and leave.
I have this question as well.
My family and I are here now. I’ve been coaching everyone up in our extended family and we are ready to try your new strategies. Yesterday we killed it at MK and today is our first DHS day. Such a timely post! We are heading to the Skyliner in a few minutes to get in by 7. Thank you so much! Twelve Tourists Trying to Topple the Triple-Digit Trio today Tom! Tanks….err Thanks!
What’s the picture with the glare that looks like some sort of elevator?
Looks like the exit scene of Rise of the Resisteance.
I looked at my first ever trip to DHS, and I was also first at the…I can’t call them turnstiles. FBI fingerprinting booths. For earlier early entry. I whizzed through Rise, and then I chickened out of the Slinky line, which was at M&MRR. I did that same wait on my second visit and realized how quickly it would go once they actually opened the queue, but at the time, a preview of the new ride coming to DLR enticed me more. I was also using G+, and hopped to Epcot after 6PM (completed everything pre-Indy reopening, including a Frozen singalong that I desperately wanted to leave but I was in the middle of the aisle, and also singing my heart out while allegedly not crying). I think I could’ve done better if I stuck with Slinky and then gone for ASS, but I had a 6PM LL for Slinky (obtained at 7AM) and I couldn’t get a scheduled drop for it like I did Twilight Zone. Overall it was a less successful morning than yours, but it was my first time at DHS, you’re a professional, and I’ve never been to a theme park.
I gotta say though, it’s a vacation! Getting ready at 6AM is not going to fly with my family unfortunately. They say they are game for getting out early but I can’t see us leaving the hotel before 7:15.
Followed your strategy for early entry because Rise of the Resistance was our top priority. We stayed at CBR the week leading up to Easter. We skylined over and got in line around 6:45 and park opened at 7. Did Rise, Slinky Dog, ToT, and MMRR by about 10:30am. Went back to resort to eat breakfast (not my choice but I lost the vote lol) and then did Toy Story Mania and Muppets before leaving to hop to Epcot. Rockin Roller Coaster was down a good part of the day so never got on. We felt so accomplished that day! Our Magic Kingdom day on the other hand was another story lol. Thanks for all the helpful tips!
That comment about Alien Swirling Saucers, oh my goodness! Hahahaha!!!!
This is what I’m coaching my family on doing for their trip. Unfortunately they’re starting at DAK and are at the mercy of the buses to get to DHS. I told them to be at DHS turn styles at 7am and hope to get in early and rush ROTR, slinky and ToT lol. They’re at a disadvantage in my opinion at starting from animal kingdom lodge. I told them find out when that first guys leaves for DHS and be on it
In April my family and I stayed at AKL and got a bus at 6:37am and we’re in line at the park by 6:50am so it’s possible.
This strategy seems really good. May try it in September. Cause the Headliners r Not for my Son’s age group. So he can stay with Grandma while Mom n Dad have some fun