Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has been on a roll at Walt Disney World, getting through over 130 boarding groups each of the last 4 days, including 146 yesterday. On several dates, the ride has maxed out early, meaning it could’ve gotten through even more backup groups had they been distributed. We’re not quite ready to trumpet these as reliability gains as a long-term or lasting improvement, having made that mistake once before.
In addition to this, there’s more good news. Walt Disney World has once again extended park hours for DHS for the second half of March 2020. Disney’s Hollywood Studios now opens at 8 am and closes at 8:30 pm from the opening day of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway through March 28, 2020.
The two weeks after that and through April 19, 2020 are likely to be among the busiest of the year thanks to a combination of schools being off for spring break and the Easter holiday, plus the Star Wars runDisney weekend. As such, we’d expect those hours to likewise be extended to an 8 am opening. As good as this all sounds, it’s still not enough…
Over the past two weeks, we’ve felt the “consequences” of Disney’s Hollywood Studios moving from opening at 7 am to 8 am. As stressed in our last several posts about the boarding pass dash for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the delayed opening time makes it easier for more guests to arrive at DHS by rope drop. Many might argue it’s great for them since arriving before 7 am is a non-starter, whereas 8 am is challenging but doable with some effort.
However, this is a double-edged sword. The later opening time incentivizes more guests to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the morning, which in turn makes scoring a boarding pass more competitive. The crowds we’ve observed for 7 am rope drop as compared to 8 am rope drop bear this out, as do statistics. More guests have been arriving at DHS before 8 am on mornings with the later opening than on mornings with the earlier opening.
Stated differently, on days when Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened at 7 am, fewer guests arrived before park opening plus the following hour leading up to 8 am, than are currently arriving by 8 am. Back in the “good ole days” of 7 am openings, it wasn’t uncommon to snag a backup boarding group at 8:30 am, often much later. Almost every day for the last two weeks or so, all boarding groups have been gone by 8:05 am. Often earlier.
In case I’m still not properly articulating this, above is a graph from thrill-data.com that shows the distribution of boarding groups since Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened. As you can see, back in December (before the distinction between primary and back-up boarding groups) when the park was quietly opening at 6:30 am or so, boarding groups were often lasting until 9 am or later. (Note the gaps between the green and red plot points on the graph before January.)
As that moved forward to official 7 am opening times and a distinction was made between primary and backup boarding groups, the guaranteed ones went quickly but backup groups were still available over an hour after park opening most days. Move forward to 8 am openings, and we’re now seeing all three plot points on top of one another, meaning all boarding groups are gone immediately.
In other words, the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding pass dash has slowly morphed over time into something more closely resembling a pure lottery on some mornings. It started as a pure first-come, first-served system back in early to mid-December. Many guests who didn’t want to get up before 5 am understandably objected to this.
That approach was modified to the hybrid first-come, first-served and lottery system we saw from mid-December until mid-February. Since you could arrive an hour after rope drop and still get a boarding pass with a very high chance of riding most days, this wasn’t a lottery. It was the approach that we viewed as most equitable.
Currently, attempting to join the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue is often a lottery, albeit one with a very high success rate. With few exceptions, you must be in the park at rope drop in order to obtain a spot in the virtual queue–and luck determines whether it’s a guaranteed group or a backup one. If you have problems with My Disney Experience or need help from the Guest Experience Team, forget about riding at all.
To compound matters, if you “lose” this lottery or even don’t perform well in it, your alternatives are not great. Slinky Dog Dash and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run are instantly posting triple-digit wait times, and crowds are massive everywhere else in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. As we’ve suggested in our Park Hopper Strategy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, your best bet is leaving for a couple of hours and rope dropping Epcot.
This problem is not going away anytime soon. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens next week and will provide Disney’s Hollywood Studios with sorely-needed capacity. However, it’ll also draw more guests to the park, and those people aren’t just going to do that one new attraction and leave.
Then there’s spring break followed by Easter. Those crowds will start materializing around March 13, 2020 and will continue through Easter. Don’t expect peak season crowds to let up until April 20, 2020 due to a combo of lingering Easter crowds and the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend.
During those peak season dates, expect all Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding groups to instantly fill up at park opening most days. That’s a long time for this problem to persist.
The silver lining is that there should be a temporary reprieve for the next 10 days or so, and all backup groups are unlikely to fill up instantly in this window of time before Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens. After that, all bets are off.
Which brings us back to the 7 am park openings. At least for now, those appear to be the “friction” that is needed to discourage enough Walt Disney World guests from attempting to join the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue at or shortly after official park opening time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
We’re not contending that this approach is perfect and doesn’t likewise have its own losers. Obviously it does–the whole idea is to discourage some guests from participating. Literally every single approach to allocating capacity for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is going to suffer from that problem due to a combination of high demand, low supply, and frequent breakdowns. There is no possible way to make everyone happy.
However, we contend that it’s the best system given the circumstances. It’s better for guests to be able to make the decision to opt out ahead of time, rather than putting in all of the effort of arriving early, using a park day at DHS, still potentially being denied a chance to ride, and then having to deal with the crowds & chaos. This is what has been happening with the current 8 am openings, which makes for an unpleasant day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Aside from the 7 am opening plus virtual queue, no other approach presents predictability and efficiency. If Rise of the Resistance were standby-only, the queue would fill up very early in the day and have to be cut at an undetermined time. That’s assuming there’s enough physical space to put everyone (there isn’t) and the line wouldn’t have to be dumped multiple times due to ride breakdowns (it would). Anyone thinking they could simply hop into line at the end of the day and wait it out should perish the thought.
Later closing times draw in more guests who want to take advantage of evening hours in the parks, which is the exact opposite of the goal here. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s the same idea as opening DHS an hour later–many guests strongly prefer staying late, which means a 10 pm closing would induce more demand/attendance.
There’s also the fact that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance still needs significant overnight maintenance. Operating the attraction from 8 am until 10 pm daily is simply not in the cards, as ideal as that might be for addressing its current capacity woes.
If anything, the other parks should have later closing times–especially Magic Kingdom–on a nightly basis. That’s tangential to the main point here, but the current crowds nonetheless necessitate it, and longer hours elsewhere at Walt Disney World could help pull guests away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Ultimately, the current approach for allocating ride capacity at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is not working with Disney’s Hollywood Studios opening at 8 am. Even as it has come under considerable criticism, we have been staunch defenders of the virtual queue and boarding pass system. Throughout this, we’ve been of the perspective that any scheme will create winners and losers, and this is the most sensible for creating “lemonade out of lemons.”
However, that’s in large part true because the virtual queue previously valued the time of guests, offered a predictable payoff, and favored tourists over locals (at least on weekdays). So long as you made the effort to arrive by 7 am, you’d be rewarded with a boarding group–maybe not early in the day, but at some point. Now, you can make the effort to arrive early, do everything right, and still come up empty-handed some mornings. In the process, you’re pretty much committing to spending time in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which may not be ideal given the wait times and crowds elsewhere in the park.
If you’re planning on visiting the new land, you’ll also want to read our Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Guide. This covers a range of topics from basics about the land and its location, to strategically choosing a hotel for your stay, recommended strategy for the land, and how to beat the crowds. It’s a good primer for this huge addition. As for planning the rest of your trip, we have a thorough Walt Disney World Planning Guide.
Do you agree with our assessment that Disney’s Hollywood Studios needs to return to 7 am official opening times for Easter and spring break season? Alternatively, do you prefer the later opening time even if it means scoring a boarding group is more difficult? Do you plan on visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios in March or April 2020? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and 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!