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!
I have read through this but I don’t see where Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is in this strategy. Is it best to book a LL for it after Smuggler’s Run? Or if I already have a LL for Slinky Dog should we ride it some time after rope-dropping ROTR? Thanks!
I have been reading your helpful hints since 2018… so thank you!
I have also been trying to secure a character breakfast at Topolino’s since 2019 and have been UNSUCCESSFUL! Do you have any helpful hints on how I can reserve that?
This is the best way to get those hard to get reservations.
I appreciate this so much!!!! Thank you!!!
We have a very large group going in May and are staying off site. Would LOVE to see tips for off site guest and guests with large groups (10+). THANK YOU
Our last visit in December we did HS twice and both days Rise was broken during early entry- people still waited on line I guess just incase but the cast members waved everyone past- we ended up doing smugglers run twice back to back and then slinky dog first day which worked out nicely. Second day we tried same strategy but it was ridiculously crowded even though it was a weekday- overall was a horrible experience – I feel like they let way too many people into this park at a time
As an avid reader of Tom’s blog, I was thrilled when we followed this strategy and were stood in line for Rise of the Resistance at 7:46, a good 15 minutes before Early Entry officially began. We were staying at Caribbean Beach to be perfectly located for the quick Skyliner hop to Hollywood Studios. Highly recommend!
Tom I still don’t understand how you get in before Early Entry. We’re staying at the Contemporary and I would love to get to Star Wars attractions and Toy Story Mania (a family favorite) before it gets too crowded. We are traveling with my 90 year old mom who needs a wheelchair to get through the parks. Any suggestions for us? I love your blog! It has all sorts of great information.
The front gates of Hollywood Studios open for guests a half hour before the official Early Entry time. Rise of the Resistance will start operating shortly after that (if it can), and the rest of the attractions will start operating at the official Early Entry time.
My wife had hip and leg trouble during our last visit so she had to rely on a wheelchair, though she wasn’t confined to it. All the cast members at attractions were very knowledgeable about how long she’d have to be out of it, how far she’d have to walk, and when necessary, bringing it to the exit area for us. While I found WDW’s official website* to be an excellent resource, I’d add my suggestion that you should consider bringing your own wheelchair/ECV or rent one for your entire stay rather than renting at the parks. The walking from the wheelchair rental return to the transportation outside the parks was too much for my wife most of the time.
You recommend arriving an hour before early entry starts, so about 7am. If you do that and also plan on using Genie+, is it easy to grab a high demand LL (ie Slinky) while outside the park’s turnstiles?
Yeah, I’ve never had any issues. Slinky Dog Dash has gotten “easier” to score in the last couple of months, so you might want to be mindful of your return time. Don’t do it TOO early!
As always, really helpful (and entertaining) article! You mention calling audibles. If Rise is down first thing, is there any benefit to waiting it out or are they always long down times when it’s down? Thank you!
After reading (and re-reading) this post and others on the blog, I am thrilled to report that it worked! Today we took the 7 am skyliner from Pop, exchanged at Caribbean, then onto HS. There were definitely people there waiting at the turnstiles but we were maybe 5 people from them. They opened right at 7:30. One thing we did not plan for was our turnstile glitching out and having 2-3 minutes shaved off our time while they rebooted it. Huffed to Rise but it wasn’t up yet. Went to slinky and found a long line, which does not start moving until 8 am. In the meantime my husband scouted Rise and texted us when it opened. We abandoned slinky and got on Rise in about 30 minutes. Hit both Tower and Runaway with 15 minute waits. Absolutely worth getting up at 5:30 am. Now back to the hotel to crash! Thank you!
So 3/11/23 ((Saturday) 8:30 open time with 8:00 early entry. They started letting folks in at 7:40
It was supposed to be a crowded day.
We went straight to Rise and had almost no wait. Then Toy Story twice with no line, Mickey and Minnie…..then it was crowded so we did lesser rides.
Most aggregating thing. We were the 3rd group in line to go in as we listed to these articles and got there at 7:15…..but a family of 5cut in front to join a single woman at the front. Obvious they did not know what they were doing based on the instructions from their friend And of course they were not fast.
Cutting the line is a pet peeve of mine.
I read this article last night and moved up our arrival time by half an hour. Early entry was scheduled to start at 8:00. We arrived via the Skyliner at 7:20 and were let in at 7:30! Thank you so much for your tips!
How were you able to enter the park before the hotels early entry? Looks like you had one attraction down before the park even opened for hotel guests
Your comment about Alien Swirling Saucers had me laughing out loud! Thank you, Tom, for your always detailed, informative, well-written, humoruous, and extremely helpful reports. I love this solid Early Entry plan for DHS!
Thank you for this report…will definitely try to do the same. the only difference is we will be coming from AKL, what time do you recommend we take the bus? Also we will be park hoping to Epcot later on to do cosmic rewind and Harmonious…and what ever else we can fit in depending on timing! if HS is better morning and evening would you stay at Epcot for the remainder of the evening or leave HS a bit earlier do Epcot (cosmic rewind and a few others) and head back for evening to finish up rides we missed and watch the star wars night time show…not sure if Harmonious is better?! thanks
Tom, thanks so much for this! As I read this, I’m in the middle of deciding between a stay at the Riviera and the Swan Reserve for an upcoming visit in September. I love the rooms and restaurants at the Riviera; the easy walk to the neighboring Caribbean is also a lot of fun. I have yet to stay at the Swan Reserve. Thoughts? It sounds like the Skyliner is not that much of a hurdle for rope drop (which I do).
Looking at the park pass availability calendars for July, HS is sold out for most days. Early Entry is the obvious way to go, but do I need Genie+ on top of that to get the most out of the park on those “sold out” days on top of EE? We’re a family of 6 with young kids in tow; also worth noting that we have 2 full days scheduled for HS with at least one hopping day (to HS) planned as well.
Genie+ will be worth it with the young kids if only to avoid standing in the hot Florida sun. We have an eight and four year old. The eight year old and I rope drop the EE to knock out the rides that my wife and four year old don’t care for and we start stacking LLs for when they arrive mid morning. We are typically done with the headliners around lunch and then take our time with shows or a long afternoon break before heading back for the evening (which is the best time to be in HS).
We are in a similar situation. (5 kids and going over Christmas) what did you determine was the best combo? EE alone or with G+?
The early entry is good for the day you check in and check out. So 2 days of early entry for one night stay. All people must be linked to the hotel stay in order to get early entry
When does the skyline typically start? We are staying at Pop Century in two weeks, and I’m worried the skylines won’t get us to HS early enough for potential extra early entry like you experienced in your article. Thanks as always for your great guidance every week!
My family will regret that I read this post. I read “This is because people like to sleep-in on vacation, or so I’m told.” and my inner voice evil cackles and shouts “FOOLS!!!” Can’t wait to try out this strategy in August. I’m wishing and hoping that ToT is back to normal operations by then.
Planning a trip in Nov and we are staying off site, but I am considering getting one night at Pop for our HS day. Does it matter if it’s the check in day or check out day? Would I be considered a resort guest for two park days? Trying to leverage this so i can benefit from EE. Also, If the room is in my name, and my parents are with me – can they use EE too or do they have to be on the hotel reservation?
Anyone going for Early Entry needs to be linked to the room reservation in My Disney Experience, and while I haven’t tested it I’m pretty sure that’s going to be limited to the number of people the room is booked for (so no linking 4 people to a room reservation for 2).
I’m not sure about the other half of your question, typically they treat both the check-in and check-out days as part of your resort stay BUT I’m not sure if you have to officially check-in to your hotel before making use of benefits (ie. tell the hotel staff you have arrived, even if the room isn’t ready yet).
Thank you! I am planning to use EE for what would be the checkout day anyway, so I think that would cover me.
Hi. Were your parents able to get i with you for early entry? We have this same situation.
Yes! They were in the hotel room with us and you get early entry or any on site perks for your checkin through check out day.