Hollywood Studios Report: Lower Crowd Holiday Weekend?!
We continue our holiday crowd updates with a visit to Hollywood Studios over the weekend. In this Walt Disney World park report, we’ll share photos of lines, wait time comparisons, a look at modifications to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and more Christmas stuff at DHS.
This continues and concludes our series of Thanksgiving crowd reports from Walt Disney World. Previous “installments” are our 2020 Taste of EPCOT Festival of the Holidays Opening Weekend Report and our Magic Kingdom Crowd Report: Fully Booked, 35% Capacity Day. Those are a good preview of what you might expect during the busier dates around Christmas and New Year’s.
If you don’t feel like reading the ~4,000 words between those two posts, the salient point is that we experienced heavy crowds, high wait times, long lines, and occasional breakdowns in physical distancing–but the parks weren’t as bad as anticipated, and manageable with savvy strategy. However, our experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the holiday weekend was nothing like Magic Kingdom or EPCOT…
Perhaps our visit to DHS being “nothing like” Magic Kingdom or EPCOT is an overstatement. Peak wait times at all three were in the same ballpark and there were long lines at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as well. Those are pretty significant overlaps, obviously.
Where Disney’s Hollywood Studios differed, and where it has consistently differed since reopening, is in its wait time trends. The other parks saw significant spikes, with wait times doubling week over week pretty much across the board. Here’s what happened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
In case you can’t read the text, the blue line there is the holiday weekend, the red line is the previous off-season weekend. (Graph courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.)
Not that it really matters, as the lines are more or less identical. Actually, wait times were .6% lower the day we visited than the prior week.
While we did not foresee wait times dropping for Thanksgiving week at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the overarching trend was pretty predictable. Since Disney’s Hollywood Studios is fully booked or close to it almost every day, there is not much variance in crowd levels.
This is why we’ve implored you to book your DHS Park Pass reservations on the busiest days of the week. Crowds at other parks fluctuate dramatically, and do increase on weekends and holidays. Generally speaking, that has not happened at DHS. Christmas Day probably isn’t going to feel or look much different than Wednesday of this week.
However, this is not because Disney’s Hollywood Studios sees low crowds daily–it’s the opposite. DHS is busy every single day, whereas the other three parks do have quiet days, particularly non-peak weekdays.
So basically, the other three parks will be pleasant every non-weekend/non-holiday between now and December 18, 2020 and again in January through mid-March 2021. By contrast, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be chaotic no matter the day through at least March 2021.
There’s something to be said for predictable chaos. The good news is that it’s also manageable chaos.
This is especially true thanks to a duo of recent changes. The first we already covered in our latest Star Wars Rise of Resistance Ride Report: Compromises & Improvements. We aren’t going to rehash that here, but it makes doing that headliner so much easier, and with a bit of pre-planning, the average tourist (non-Annual Passholder) can increase their odds of experiencing the attraction significantly.
From our perspective, one of the big advantages with the modifications is arriving to Disney’s Hollywood Studios late. We prefer scoring a boarding group above 30, as it generally means we can roll up after lunch and stay until park closing. As was the case with this visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Reasonable minds are going to differ on this, but I see little advantage to rope-dropping Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now. You will get 1-2 attractions done before the day’s peak crowds hit, which happens before 11 am. By contrast, wait times are all downhill after lunch. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not a full day park without the stage shows, so arriving first thing in the morning means you’re probably not staying until park closing.
The other big change is at Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which has installed barriers between the rows on the ride vehicles. As with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, this effectively doubles ride capacity.
This attraction was only open for a couple of weeks prior to the closure of Walt Disney World, so we never really saw its wait times “settle” into anything normal. We do know it’s a people-eater, and a fairly reliable one.
This is the closest Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is going to get to “normal” anytime soon, and the results are fairly impressive. Old habits die hard, so the attraction still sees long lines and high wait times (~60 minutes) at the beginning of the day.
Since reopening, our 1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary has recommended you “zig while everyone else is zagging and go right” to do Toy Story Land at rope drop (if you opt to arrive at park opening) instead of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The wisdom of that advice has been questioned by some readers, but it has always been objectively good. Now, there is zero question about that whatsoever.
Our actual wait for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway in mid-afternoon was 10 minutes. The posted wait was 40 minutes right before we jumped into line, and dropped from that to 15 minutes as we entered the actual queue.
Shortly after we got off the attraction, the posted wait dropped to 10 minutes. An hour after that, it was the shortest wait time in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 5 minutes. That’s right, 5 minutes for the newest headliner at Walt Disney World on a holiday weekend!!!
Before you get too excited about looping Runaway Railway with no wait, we’d expect this to normalize as locals gain a better understanding of wait time patterns. Right now, guests are jumping into line first thing because conventional wisdom says it’s the newest and one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World. A disproportionate number do it early, leaving fewer guests wanting to ride later.
Thanks to the hourly throughput improvement, that line of reasoning is now very wrong. It’ll take some time for word of mouth and observations to result in behavior changes, but they will. When that happens (give it a few weeks), wait times for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will start to normalize throughout the day.
Around the same time, wait times elsewhere were still fairly high. The Sunset Boulevard headliners haven’t seen any efficiency gains–just an increase in park attendance.
The result is that their lines are now longer, with overflow queues taking up more space. Both we around 50-60 minute posted wait times in the late afternoon, which is much higher than what we would’ve seen at the same time of day a month or two ago.
There were also lines for all of the stalls in Black Spire Outpost.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge might be cramped and inefficient where it matters, but at least no one can accuse it of lacking overflow queue space!
Toy Story Land was likewise busy. On our passes through, we never saw Slinky Dog Dash below an hour wait. Even in the last two hours, it remained at a posted 50 minute wait time. We didn’t do it, but jumping in line at the end of the day probably would’ve meant at actual wait of ~30 minutes.
Woody’s Lunch Box has reopened, with Cast Members stationed outside the roped off seating area requesting that guests Mobile Order. With this and ABC Commissary returning, the dining lineup at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is now much more formidable. (Not even kidding.)
Aside from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land, navigating the park was a breeze. Even on a fully booked day, crowds and congestion are not bad in most parts of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
I’d go as far as to say this is the park with the most comfortable ‘feels like’ crowds in walkways, gift shops, and other open space when busy. Of course, another guest who bounced from one 45+ minute line to another might have a very different perception of crowds.
This is Santa Claus riding in a convertible.
It is neither a 1954 model nor light blue in color, so I believe someone is going to be disappointed with their Christmas gift.
Lame jokes aside, I enjoy this little Santa Claus cavalcade.
It’s not as good as the ones at Magic Kingdom, but much better than the flotillas at Animal Kingdom and about on par with the holiday EPCOT ones. A good example of Walt Disney World making lemonade out of lemons with entertainment.
On the other hand, we have not been particularly impressed with the modified Sunset Seasons Greetings.
Prior to seeing this, I had assumed the lack of screens would be “no big deal.” They’re really bright and somewhat obnoxious. However, those plus the soundtrack and all of the other effects are what make Sunset Seasons Greetings. With just the projections of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, it falls totally flat. Not even as good as the Cinderella Castle Christmas scenes, but at least this changes faster.
Oh well, at least Echo Lake at Christmas is still superb.
With lower attendance, fewer ADRs, and no dessert party, the atmosphere over here has improved exponentially over last year. Highly recommend grabbing a bench near Santa Gertie and just soaking up the scenery and background music for a bit at night. This is top 5 ambiance at Walt Disney World right now–savor it!
Consider pairing your “evening sit” with the Holiday Whoopie Pie from Trolley Car Cafe. (I took mine home.) It’s not as good as the Carrot Cake Cookie or the Gingerbread Salted Caramel Buttercream Cookie Sandwich at Walt Disney World’s Best Snack Spot, but it’s still strong–and festive!
Ultimately, another good visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we didn’t expect a holiday attendance surge like the other parks at Walt Disney World, we also didn’t anticipate wait times decreasing slightly. So that was a plus. Despite that, DHS remains a difficult park to visit, simply because it’s so headliner-heavy without much of a ‘supporting lineup’ to round out your day. Our advice, as before, is to stay late and take advantage of the decreasing crowds closer to park closing. Whether that means arriving late, taking a midday break, or doing a long table service meal is up to you. Just be cognizant of wait time patterns and don’t try to do too much early on when crowds are at their peak.
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Did you visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the holiday week or weekend? If so, what was your experience with crowds and wait times? Thoughts on the changes to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway? Have you enjoyed the atmosphere of Echo Lake Christmas? Recent feedback on the 7 am Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue release? Feedback on crowds the last couple of weeks at DHS? Thoughts about anything else covered here? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this Christmas, or are you sitting this year out? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
We finally were able to experience galaxy’s edge and MMRR yesterday for the first time. After languishing during several years of transition, the park is now spectacular and our expectations were exceeded. Unfortunately, rise of the resistance, smuggler’s run, and MMRR all had significant down time while we were in line, effectively doubling our wait times. We had time for just 5 attractions (RotR, TSM, Saucers, Smuggler’s Run, and MMRR) in eight hours. The cool weather was our saving grace, as high heat and humidity would have made the whole day much more exhausting.
We were at DHS today(12/2) the lines were looong! 70 mins at the Train 10:30am (Did ride) and 80 mins at 2:30pm (no thanks). TofT 1 hours plus (rode). TSM said 50 mins , but was 21 mins the only saving grace!
Could Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway’s increased output could be contributing to the shift in wait times? Thanksgiving week had lower waits 11-12:30 and higher waits 12:30-3:30 than the week before (except for a drop off around the 2PM virtual queue release). Except for the RotR 2nd drop, it’s pretty consistently 40-45 min ave waits from 11:30 to 4PM.
Thanks for the reports!
Yeah, that would be the most logical explanation for the slightly shorter wait times.
Its crazy that with the spike in virus cases, Disney is allowing overcrowding
Will wait untill the vaccine brings things back to normal!
We followed the Toy Story rope drop strategy and we very happy with it. Thanks! Didn’t get into the queue for Rise of the Resistance but had set expectation for the possibility. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at Hollywood & Vine, but thought the character experience was meh. Not the fault of the characters-they were energetic, but pictures just are ‘t as good. Also missed Muppet-Vision 3-D because it closes at 6, which was an unpleasant surprise and a fail on my part.
We are scheduled to do HS on January 9th. Do you think the same strategy applies or has the wait time scenario for Runaway Railroad evened out by then? Thanks!
I was at DHS today and it was busy. The information about Minnie and Mackey is spot on. Later in the day we were able to get on the ride in with about a 20 minute wait.
Interesting comments about the wait times. I have not been to HS lately, but was at MK on Thanksgiving Evening. I am convinced that the MK wait times were deliberately inflated near closing time to discourage potential riders. Between 8 & 9 PM, Big Thunder RR & Jingle Cruise were showing 45- 50 minute wait times. Actual wait times were about 5 minutes. In fact, when we finished JC shortly after 9 PM, the ride had shut down and most of the boats were put away (while we waited to dock).
It is possible that they may be doing the same at the other parks.
We observed inflated wait times at MK yesterday. In later afternoon the posted wait time for Space Mountain was 50m. We queued up and the time from entering the queue to just before ride vehicles was just under 20m. I feel like that queue takes almost 5-10m to walk through anyways. In other words, the 50m posted wait felt like it was little more than a walk on.
We are at the parks right now. After must consternation I must say it’s been great.
We did a partial day at DHS on our arrival day. I snagged a boarding group for Rise while my plane was preparing for take off, and made it with about 5m to spare in our arrival window pretty wild experience (definitely no geo fence!).
Thanks for all your great advice!
Also typing this on the way back from a long day. Must obviously means much. And I meant to say it was a pretty wild experience. What’s a few incorrect and missing words? Cheers.
Tom, interested in your take for the holiday crowds. If DHS is booked to ‘capacity’ now wouldn’t you expect to see crowds the same for Christmas/New Years? Or do you expect Disney to increase capacity that week? Thanks
I sadly just cancelled our January trip. Saddest I’ve ever been to receive a refund! I picked January a while ago for the low crowds, and am now *cautiously optimistic* about rebooking late March (right before the Easter crowd) or May. Tom, if you could book either, what would you recommend? Thanks for giving us all our Disney fix these days.
We had scored a almost impossible to get reservation at Fort Wilderness over Christmas week this year. Unfortunately, the added capacity, the higher covid-19 cases and our own state restrictions convinced us to cancel.