Hollywood Studios Reopening Report: A Tale of Two Visits

Our final park to visit post-reopening of Walt Disney World is Hollywood Studios, following our days in Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot. In this post, we’ll cover our first two visits to DHS, the frustrations and pleasant surprises we encountered, health safety rule & mask compliance, plus our experiences with the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding pass dash, Toy Story Land, and more.

Even before the parks resumed operations, we knew Disney’s Hollywood Studios was going to be the most frustrating park. In our We Were Wrong About Disney Park Pass, we discussed some of the capacity woes of the park. New Virtual Queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance covered the updated and improved boarding pass process, but concluding that it was easy to foresee rope drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios being one of the biggest reopening problem points.

The unfortunate reality is that Disney’s Hollywood Studios does a poor job of absorbing crowds. The park’s layout, crowd-flow, reliance on stage shows, top-heavy attraction line-up, and even little things like the park’s approach to shopping & dining are all not conducive to present circumstances and reduced capacity operations. If you were designing a park to operate during this period of “temporary abnormal,” Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be a lesson in many things to avoid…

To be abundantly clear, we knew all of that going into our visit. As did Walt Disney World leadership, which is undoubtedly why Disney Park Pass availability is so limited for DHS. It’s less about this being the most popular park and much more that the park’s capacity has been significantly reduced–to a lower level than any other park at Walt Disney World.

We’re offering this preface not to “roast” Disney’s Hollywood Studios or offer some sort of scathing indictment of the current operations. To the contrary, we had a pretty good idea of what we’d be getting ourselves into well in advance with Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as would anyone who has visited since last December or read anything about the park since Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened.

Originally, we didn’t even plan on rope dropping Disney’s Hollywood Studios because we expected the worst and wanted to mitigate our risk.

However, we felt that might be doing a disservice to those using these reports for planning purposes or to see whether they’d be comfortable visiting. (The above and below photos are deceiving, but this line was actually pretty well physically-distanced when viewed closer.)

Instead, we opted to arrive 20 minutes before rope drop, but grab a bench in the shade beyond the Skyliner station to watch the crowd situation play out.

This line was longest about 10 minutes before park opening–above is how it looked a few minutes before 10 am. The guests towards the end of this line probably didn’t enter prior to opening. If you’re going to arrive for rope drop, your best bet is arriving closer to 9:30 am.

It’s amazing how quickly this all dissipated. By 10:08 am when we entered, every line (health screening, bag check, and turnstiles) was totally gone. Literally no one in front of us.

(For what it’s worth, we tried to enter the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue from outside the park and it did not work. No surprise there, but we double-checked anyway.)

Here’s a view from above about 90 minutes after park opening. Note that there’s not a single person walking towards the park in this shot.

At this point, there were already more people leaving the park than entering. This was the pre-closure norm at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and it remains true that DHS crowds peak within 30 minutes of rope drop. That phenomenon is not happening at any other Walt Disney World park.

Inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the longest line you’ll encounter early-on is for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. (See “line starts here” sign on left side of photo above.)

Again, physical distancing generally looked fine to us, but this is nonetheless a very long outdoor line that’s going to be in the sun for a while.

About an hour later, the same area looks like this.

While the line for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway has been cut on some mornings due to it getting too long, that was not the case here–it just naturally subsided due to the posted wait time being two hours.

Here’s a look at wait times as of 10:19 am. Slinky Dog Dash had just gone down, but was a 90 minute wait prior to that.

As before, you should either be in line for a headliner before official park opening time or save them for later in the day. Don’t jump into line for one of the top Disney’s Hollywood Studios attractions between 10:00 am and 10:30 am unless you want what will literally be the longest line of the day.

We enter Toy Story Land shortly after passing by the Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway line.

Not much of a crowd coming or going here at this point.

Slinky Dog Dash after reopening, with a physically-distanced queue.

Aside from the line being long, this was pretty well done. It’s essentially a “party per umbrella” system, with this stretching back towards Toy Story Land’s entrance. 

While these wait times are peaking–because the vast majority of guests in the park are standing in line somewhere–Disney’s Hollywood Studios feels like a ghost town.

We sat in Echo Lake for 10 minutes and didn’t see another person during that entire time.

Even the Grand Avenue entrance to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is pretty quiet shortly after park opening.

Paradoxically, the busiest time of day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the best time to wander around and get empty park photos because most guests are locked into lines for their first rides of the day.

Even Muppets Courtyard is totally devoid of guests!

…Okay, bad example.

A little bit later, and we’re starting to see more guests on Sunset Boulevard.

These are mostly people leaving the area, presumably finishing up rides on Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

As we leave Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the morning, here’s a look back at Hollywood Boulevard.

All in all, a pretty good morning for DHS…so long as you’re not looking to do anything aside from walking around. In terms of the park’s public spaces, we didn’t encounter anything troubling.

We returned (twice) at around 3:45 pm to test out how a late arrival and evening visit would work. On only one of these visits were we able to score a spot in the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

Thus far, the staggered distribution of boarding passes has been a bit flawed and glitchy. The process for entering the virtual queue could definitely could use tweaking and improvement, but we found the actual ride experience to be markedly better. (All of that is a full post unto itself, so stay tuned.)

It should come as absolutely no surprise, but wait times were significantly shorter around 4 pm.

Above is a look at posted times, which are the highest we’d see during our afternoon and evening visits.

By 5:30 pm, everything except Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway has a posted 10 minute wait.

In actuality, everything we did aside from Slinky Dog Dash was a walk-on.

Slinky Dog Dash was an 8-minute wait one time and around 5 minutes another.

We would’ve felt comfortable waiting longer in this line. The spacing is great, they’ve installed barriers throughout, and it’s all open-air. This is going to be one of our go-to evening attractions this summer and fall.

From our Slinky in the Sky, we can see that the walkways are pretty clear.

Of course, we were sure to scream inside our hearts.

After doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the rest of Galaxy’s Edge was pretty empty.

I never expected to see this land as quiet as it was last summer at Disneyland right after it debuted. Surely that was a total fluke that would never repeat itself, especially once the incredibly popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened, right?!?

The late arrival approach is obviously the way to go, so long as you’re not dead-set on doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

If that attraction is a must-do, you should arrive before 10 am as that increases your odds of scoring a spot in the virtual queue. We’ll offer a more comprehensive DHS strategy post at some point in the near-ish future, but feel free to ask any questions you might have.

Even with a good number of tables out of commission, BaseLine Tap House remains a great under the radar option for a low-key late afternoon meal. How this spot remains a “secret” despite its prominent location on the main walkway to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is beyond me. (But we are totally fine with that!)

Thanks to their outdoor seating, along with Docking Bay 7, this is now our go-to restaurant at DHS. Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge is not serving its food menu, unfortunately.

As with the other parks, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a few different motorcades that drive up Hollywood Boulevard.

These are pretty good, with the Mickey and Minnie one being an especially great fit for the area now. Once things start getting back to normal, Walt Disney World should really condense these cavalcades into one, creating a new Stars & Motorcars Parade.

My “favorite” of these motorcades is the Disney Junior one, which we’ve now seen about a half-dozen times. It features a vampire and a doctor, who I assume appear together in a buddy comedy getting into all sorts of morbid hijinks. (That premise sounds a bit dark for kids, but I’d watch it.)

The Disney Junior motorcade also has an ear-worm of a song consisting of ~15 words. I know maybe half of these words, yet insist on humming/singing it anyway. Sarah is thrilled by this. (Of course I don’t have any photos of this motorcade–I was too busy rocking out to that sweet jam.)

Entertainment in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is also great.

I really hope one of the long-term consequences of the modified operations is more spontaneous character appearances and fewer static meet & greets. I wouldn’t mind a future where the only posed interactions are via character meals.

Wait times for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway dropped to around 30 minutes in the last hour that Disney’s Hollywood Studios was operating each night. Far and away the longest line at that point of the day at DHS.

There’s no reason to expect this to change. With how scarce Park Passes remain for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this is going to be disproportionately tourists every day of the week. As this is the big new thing (that has a standby line), it’s going to be a must-do for many/most guests.

Mask compliance was exceptional at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during both of our visits–even at the end of the night when you’d think fatigue would be setting in for more guests. What we observed was around 98% compliance.

This is especially great news given that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is going to be the toughest park when it comes to physical distancing and time spent in lines.

Ultimately, Disney’s Hollywood Studios remains Walt Disney World’s most paradoxical park. We had two unexpectedly pleasant days in the park, but we also went from ~10 am to 11:30 am one morning (doing zero attractions) plus ~3:45 pm to 8 pm two evenings. We haven’t even experienced the lunch rush or early afternoon when walkways might be more crowded. It should go without saying, but this is not how the average guest is going to approach DHS.

While Disney’s Hollywood Studios was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise for us, we also were braced for the worst with it, and did everything we could to avoid lines and minimize exposure to points of friction. The fact remains that this is the most frustrating park to visit at Walt Disney World, and that’s exacerbated by the reduced stage show lineup. More than any other park, you’ll need to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a strategy, or better yet, willingness to skip Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. If you’re potentially okay with that, it’s the perfect option for an afternoon arrival after enjoying a morning at the pool or somewhere else.

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

Have you visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios since the park reopened? What was your experience? When did you arrive? How long did you stay? If you’ve yet to visit, will you be attempting to join the modified virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance? Do you plan on arriving at rope drop, or will you utilize a late arrival strategy? Do you agree or disagree with our 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!


61 Responses to “Hollywood Studios Reopening Report: A Tale of Two Visits”
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