Hollywood Studios Park Opening Strategy & Rope Drop Tips
For the final park in our Walt Disney World park opening series, we head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Rope drop has seen a new intensity with Toy Story Land, and that’s going to increase exponentially with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge next year. For now, we’ll cover morning strategy for DHS, including optimal standby attraction order and when to arrive at the park.
We’ll start by saying Slinky Dog Dash hasn’t had as pronounced of an impact on crowds as many people (us included) expected. We wouldn’t be surprised if Walt Disney World was also anticipating a bit more. Slinky Dog Dash already is showing that it lacks the staying power of Avatar Flight of Passage, and it’ll only fade further as Disney’s Hollywood Studios becomes “the Orlando Star Wars park” next year.
That’s probably for the best. Not the part about people not knowing the actual name of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the part where everything else will be a supporting player used to soak up surplus crowds next year and beyond. There’s zero chance of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge drawing lackluster crowds. DHS will undergo such a fundamental shift in touring strategy that we’ll have to totally redo this–and all other tactical posts–to account for Disney’s Hollywood Studios surging popularity. In the here and now, if you’re traveling before late 2019, this morning strategy will cover you…
As with the other parks, you need to arrive at DHS well before the official opening time if you want the lowest rope drop waits. On mornings when Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens at 9 a.m., you’ll want to be at your hotel bus stop by around 7:45 a.m. Regardless of your hotel, buses are abundant first thing in the morning, so you won’t be waiting too long.
If you’re staying in a Crescent Lake resort, we recommend walking to Disney’s Hollywood Studios rather than taking the Friendship boats. Many guests don’t realize there’s a walking path, but it’s over behind Jellyrolls at BoardWalk, and easily accessible from any of those resorts. If walking, you’ll want to leave your hotel by around 8:00 a.m.
This gets you through security and into Disney’s Hollywood Studios no later than 8:30 a.m., if all goes correctly. On a related note, if you want to enter DHS even earlier to experience Hollywood Boulevard and Echo Lake without the crowds (oh, and character breakfast), check out our Pre-Park Opening Breakfast at Walt Disney World Strategy post.
You may recall that we recently did a post on Morning Extra Magic Hours Strategy at DHS, and this tracks relatively closely to that from here. The biggest difference we’ve already addressed: that you won’t have to get up as early. Unfortunately, you also won’t accomplish as much. I’m no scientist, but there might be a causal relationship between the two.
From our experience, the biggest difference between the two days is that you won’t be able to “ride the wave” ahead of the day’s crowd simply by arriving early to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. As compared to morning EMH, the crowd is more evenly distributed at regular rope drop.
In all likelihood, this is because hotel guests who were dedicated enough to arrive at a theme park around 6 a.m. during the summer either had been planning their trips around Toy Story Land or were “regulars” who disproportionately wanted to see these new offerings.
By contrast, after regular rope drop, we’re seeing more of a balance between guests going directly to Slinky Dog Dash and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. The crowds and wait times between Toy Story Land and Sunset Boulevard certainly are not equal, but it’s not as clear-cut as before. As the new toy smell wears off Slinky Dog Dash, we’d only expect this to further equalize.
Basically, your focus for rope drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios should be the attractions for which you couldn’t score FastPass+. Since it’s impossible to obtain FastPass+ for all of the Toy Story Land attractions, our objective advice is to start there, doing Slinky Dog Dash via standby even if you do have a FastPass+ for later in the day.
With that in mind, here’s our recommended rope drop attraction order:
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Toy Story Meet & Greet
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Toy Story Mania
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Tower of Terror
- Star Tours
If you have FastPass+ for any of those attractions–or simply don’t want to do them, cut them from your schedule. The earlier you can get over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the better. If you do all of these things, there’s a decent chance you’ll get there and find the wait to already be above 45 minutes.
Alternatively, my personal preference would be starting at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and doing that 2-3 times before the crowds really arrive, then bouncing to Tower of Terror for a couple of drops on that. I love those two attractions, and find Toy Story Land a bit underwhelming, so I far prefer that approach, doing Slinky Dog Dash via a FastPass+ later in the day…and just flat out skipping anything in Toy Story Land that has too long of a wait.
This might be a savvy approach for you, too. It really all depends upon how important doing everything in Toy Story Land is to you. The “problem” with both Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is that they have longer pre-shows and load times, meaning that even when the attractions are walk-ons, you’re still looking at a 10-15 minute experience from start to finish, during which time crowds build behind you.
To chart out the rest of your DHS day, we recommend consulting our 1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary. Alternatively, if you want to skip rope drop entirely and arrive in the afternoon, that’s also a viable option. Refer to our Half-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary for that. We aren’t saying DHS is only a half-day park…but we’re not not saying that, either.
To that point, I have mixed feelings about morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The rope drop experience is an efficient way to get things done, but that’s true everywhere. Maybe we were spoiled by the morning Extra Magic Hours that ran over the summer, but I view this as the least productive rope drop at Walt Disney World. That perspective is further colored by my view that scoring evening FastPass+ times for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Slinky Dog Dash and Park Hopping to DHS is just as good of a strategy–if not better.
Ultimately, morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is something we won’t be doing with regularity until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens next year (then, the park will certainly be a full-day park–in lines alone!). Evening is our preferred time to experience Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as the park comes alive with the glow of neon, and there are two different nighttime spectaculars. Of course, we’re also Walt Disney World regulars who are perfectly comfortable skipping the stage shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Our approach works for us, but for you, rope dropping DHS might be the best option. In which case, hopefully these tips were helpful!
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What is your preferred morning strategy for Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Which ride do you do first: Slinky Dog Dash or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (or something else entirely)? Do you agree or disagree with our DHS park opening strategy? 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!
What is rope drop? I haven’t been in years.
rope drop is the moment a park opens in the morning. Staff figuratively or literally drop the rope allowing the crowds to surge into the park.
We did the ticketed Early Morning Magic last Wednesday and took a Lyft to the park from POFQ at 6:45am. (note: going to a theme park before dawn is wacky but it made the half mile ‘death march’ from the parking lot to the gate more bearable – no sun beating down)
Slinky Dog was awesome and because of the ticketed event, we could just about loop it time after time. Swirling Saucers was fun (The Whip-style rides are some of our faves), but I’m glad I didn’t have to stand in line for it at all.
After that, we rope-dropped Tower of Terror and my husband was on the first drop of the day. The crowds were almost nonexistent; after TOT, we were able to walk right onto Rock’n’Rollercoaster and could easily have looped it if we wanted – but it’s much bumpier now than I remember and the jostling was not pleasant.
We departed basically right after that and hopped a friendship boat to Epcot. There’s not much in DHS that is of interest for us right now – we’re not into stage shows and I don’t go to WDW for Star Wars content.
As a note, doing the ticketed early Wednesday event meant we had a second day for additional Fastpasses at AK – which meant we were able to snag a Flight of Passage spot. Totally worth it.
I am a big fan of the character greets of classic Disney characters so meeting Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy are my rope drop priorities.
We are heading to DHS on 11/27. We are torn between arriving for rope drop or just having a relaxing morning at the resort and arriving later in the day when our fast passes start @ 11am. I was unable to get a fast pass for Slinky Dog Dash (even at 60 days out) but was able to get them for Aerosmith, Tower of Terror and Toy Story Mania. From what I’m reading DHS at night is pretty awesome this time of year, and with it being a low crowd (hopefully!) time of year maybe we wont have an issue getting on some of the more popular rides mid day? Any advise is welcome.
Do they still do the “Jedi Training Academy”? Last time I went we had to do rope drop as that was the only way to get your kid signed up for it (they wouldn’t let grown-ups do it, no matter how much money I offered them). My wife and I had to split up so she could get the TSM fast passes and I could sign-up our seven-year-old to be a Jedi. Had it not been for the Jedi thing we probably would have gone a little later in the day….not gonna lie though, it was totally worth it.
Was the Jedi training pretty filled up at rope drop? Did you have a lot of time options to choose from? We’re going in December and it is a MUST for my 4 year old son. And where exactly is he the sign up for it? Just want to be prepared and know exactly what to expect It’s the only reason we’re doing rope drop too.
Assuming it hasn’t moved, the sign up is right by the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost – if you are facing the outpost, it’s to the right down a short path.
Sorry–forgot to turn on replies. It filled pretty quickly, but as long you hustle you should be okay. I took my son straight there (and if I recall correctly we got a little turned around) and we were in one of the late afternoon groups (this was a November trip so it was dark by then–which was way cooler, by the way). There were still a few shows after the one he was in, but this definitely fills up fast. The sign up area was in the Indiana Jones Outpost cafe when we went, but I would double-check with a cast member. I know when we went and were researching this we were told that they’d be full by 9:45 at the latest. Oh–the child HAS to be with you at the sign up. There were a few people in line upset to find that out, but they’re pretty strict about it.
Yes, they still do it. It’s now called Trials of the Temple. I’m not sure if it depends on the time of year but I’ve been in January several times, where I was able to get my son a spot simply because there were spots left or because someone was a no-show. If it’s really a priority, you should go fairly early and it you have a pre park-open breakfast at Hollywood and Vine, they’ll let you sign up before breakfast. Your child has to be with you when you sign up. Good luck!
I’ve been wondering lately if the crowds for Galaxy’s Edge are going to be as apocalyptic as conventional wisdom predicts…
I remember the hype leading up to the release of the prequel trilogy. There was a quote in Newsweek magazine (IIRC, it might have been elsewhere) from some marketing expert or other, when asked whether “The Phantom Menace” might fall short of expectations, he dismissed the idea by saying “Let’s face it, they could show two hours of George Lucas’ hairy behind and it would still beat ‘Titanic.'” Then the movie actually premiered, and reality ensued.
The latest Star Wars movies have also disappointed, both at the box office and in fan reaction, and it just makes me wonder how invincible the franchise really is.
Don’t get me wrong, I expect Galaxy’s Edge to get massive crowds, at least in the short term. If Pandora, a franchise few people care about in the least, can draw such crowds then Galaxy’s Edge certainly will, if Imagineering puts in the same level of quality. But some of the expectations are so extreme they’re starting to sound a little “hairy behind” to me, and I can’t help wondering. Expectations are so high that Disney could be disappointed even with record crowds, if they’re not record enough.
Star Wars 7 and 8 are #1 and #8 on the all-time domestic box office record list. I don’t think anyone would count those numbers as “disappointments”. Star Wars land will be insane–quite possibly the most insane WDW has ever been.
And yet “Rogue One” and “Solo” disappointed hard enough to make Disney scuttle its plan for a Marvel-style extended cinematic universe (I liked both of them a lot, but they weren’t the skyrockets Disney wanted). Galaxy’s Edge will certainly be wildly crowded, but as much so, or for as long as, Disney planned when designing it, or most Disney pundits now expect?
The plans (and capex) for Galaxy’s Edge were put in place when Disney expected to be putting out two standalone Star Wars movies each year, not counting episodes 7-9, each of which would be a blockbuster. That plan didn’t work out– is that a warning for Galaxy’s Edge, or is it independent of the existence of a Star Wars extended cinematic universe?
I don’t imagine for a second it will fail by any objective standard– it will indeed be packed with people, at least as much as Pandora and likely more– but in comparison with the enormous expectations, things aren’t so certain.
Curious – The runaway railway looks like it might be opening in summer of 2019. Wonder if that will be a tier 1 FPP and if any of existing Toy Story Land rides will go to tier 2?
I am 100% with you on evening at DHS. It’s so much more magical, especially Sunset Blvd speakers playing the old music – probably my favorite night ambiance in all of the parks! I was also actually really impressed by SDD, love it, but I’m wondering who was smoking what when they created ASS, and I’m pretty sure they created it just so bloggers would have to type out that acronym.
Do we know how the early morning magic would affect rope dropping toy story land? We are going when the ticketed event is happening but couldn’t justify the price tag to do that , we of course couldn’t get a slinky dog FP so we were going to rope drop that and the saucers , just curious how many people would be back there for that or if they will probably move on to other parts of the park once it’s open? Thanks!!
Lauren, I have asked this question around many many times in various forums, FB group pages, blog sites, basically anywhere there might be input from people with experience in this matter and the popular vote is that it will NOT affect us (I too have my DHS day planned on a Early Morning Magic event). The reason is because most of the people who attended the event will start moving elsewhere once us rope droppers start filing in. Fingers crossed for both of us that it’s the reality because I have been stressing it. These hard ticketed events are KILLING me. I’m a 12yr disney veteran and I am struggling to get used to them.
Hi Lisa, I am currently in the same situation. My DHS day, which I planned to rope drop Slinky, is on the same day as EMH. How did your rope drop go? Were you able to make it onto Slinky within a reasonable time? Hope this finds you.
Hi Lauren, I am in the same predicament. Were you able to successfully rope drop Slinky?
While I think this overall strategy is spot-on, the concept of Fastpass+ for Slinky is a difficult one – I was unable to get FP+ for Slinky for an upcoming trip, at 60 days out, when fastpass+ opens. (At the early AM time, 6am or 7am, whenever) They were all gone for the week I’m staying before I ever had a chance! I saw similar for a trip in October, but finally managed to snag one a few days after our initial booking period. So to me, Slinky seems awfully popular right now. (100% anecdote, non-scientific, YMMV)
We just returned from a week at Disney World. Your comment “…find Toy Story Land a bit underwhelming”, is right on the mark. We rode both Slinky dog and Swirling Saucers and found both pretty underwhelming. It is hard to see people waiting 2 hours for Slinky….it’s just not worth it in my opinion.
We did DHS on in September on a day when there were no Magic Hours. The 9am rope drop to Slinky Dog Dash meant we got Toy Story Land done by 10. We had fast pass for Rock n Roll and Tower of a terror so chilled the rest of the morning doing the other attractions in no particular order. Came back in the evening to take meaninful photos of Toy Story Land.