Hollywood Studios Winter Report: More Crowded, Less Busy

It’s time for another visit to Hollywood Studios! This Walt Disney World park report covers the latest updates, with a focus on crowds and efficiency changes and whether it makes sense to adopt new strategy for DHS during the off-season.

As reported earlier this week, wait times are down 40% or more at Walt Disney World since the holiday season ended. We expect this trend to continue, with exceptions for holidays, through at least early to mid-March 2021. Disney’s Hollywood Studios isn’t seeing as sharp of a drop as the other parks, but it’s still enough to potentially alter strategy.

In addition to that, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is now processing more boarding groups per day on average–in addition to its two big improvements made to the ride upping its efficiency. The result is many more guests riding per day, and the virtual queue remaining open longer some days. This also raised questions about whether our recommended DHS strategy should change.

By way of recap, our post-reopening 1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary has recommended you arrive before rope drop and “zig while everyone else is zagging and go right” to do Toy Story Land 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.

Readers who have been following the saga since Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened have likely encountered our attempts at late arrival strategies. We’ve done several of these, and each have worked for a few days or weeks before Walt Disney World tweaks things again, rendering our advice obsolete. Nevertheless, our goal this week has been to test whether this approach might once again make sense…

We arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at around 12:45 pm, and were far from the only ones entering the park for the second virtual queue entry.

It’s a similar phenomenon that we’ve observed and reported on in the past–a lot of people loitering around waiting for that 1 pm boarding pass drop.

We headed away from the crowds, over to Echo Lake and did quick speed tests and clock synchronization. (see our How to Ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance FAQ & Guide for everything you need to know–like increasing your chances of success.)

As soon as the virtual queue opened, we scored slots before it closed again within a matter of seconds. It was nothing like last week where there were days when it was open for a few hours.

In general, Disney’s Hollywood Studios was more crowded than we’ve observed thus far during the winter off-season.

One big reason for this is that Cast Members blockouts for select weekdays were recently lifted. This marks the first time in over a year that Cast Members have been able to self-admit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Main Entrance Passes are still blocked out, meaning they cannot bring family or friends). We spotted a lot of Cast Members, so the lifting of that blockout alone likely explains the spike.

The crowd levels are also undoubtedly impacted by increased efficiency of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Hence this post’s paradoxical “more crowded, less busy” subtitle.

Walt Disney World has been improving the hourly throughput of many attractions at DHS. That results in shorter wait times, guests finishing the limited ride lineup faster, and then loitering around waiting for their Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group to be called, Advance Dining Reservations, or whatever else.

It’s counterintuitive, but makes complete sense: when guests are waiting longer in standby lines for rides, they are not congregating in other areas of the park. When they’re waiting less time, they have more time to be other places and do other things.

This is actually somewhat similar to how FastPass+ can lead to congestion and crowding in other areas of the parks by displacing guests from queues. The big difference now is that there are no shows to absorb those guests and round out the middle of their days. So more people are just sort of wandering aimlessly. It’s sort of like World Showcase, except not as interesting and condensed into a much smaller physical area.

Historically, this blog has had no shortage of criticism for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Here, we want to be abundantly clear that while this situation is not ideal–and could be “fixed” with a large outdoor show or two returning–it’s essentially a good problem to have.

The “crowds” we encountered were not bad at all, just more than the low to moderate wait times might suggest. It was still incredibly easy to navigate the park and enjoy ourselves, and we’ll take the status quo over the circumstances from last January through March, or October through the holiday season. Comparatively, it was a joy.

We had a little over 3 hours before our boarding group was called, and we spent that time wandering around, doing a couple of attractions, and getting awkward PhotoPass shots.

Also, we had an excellent lunch at ABC Commissary, which you can read about in “Another Good New Menu at a Boring Walt Disney World Restaurant.”

We ended up walking over 18,000 steps, which is a decent amount considering the small footprint of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I also stopped for a lot of photos.

My favorite tree at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has reached peak bloom, which I view as huge breaking news. Not sure why the other blogs are suppressing this colossal story–no wonder people distrust the media! 😉

We even waited around for a couple of the character cavalcades to come down Hollywood Boulevard with the Tabebuia tree in the background.

Definitely not an “efficient” use of time by any objective measure, but we had fun.

It also felt a lot like a winter day in California, and we’re really missing the West Coast right now.

Beyond just the obvious architectural similarities, there are several of these Tabebuia trees in Disneyland and DCA, and the low temperature made it feel like a crisp day in Southern California.

Our boarding group was called at 4:10 pm, and we returned to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at around 4:45 pm. We were initially a bit nervous as the line was backed up outside the attraction entrance, but that quickly dissipated once we were scanned in to enter the queue.

In fact, the attraction was virtually a walk-on, with our total wait being 8 minutes. That’s about how long it takes just to walk through the queue (it’s a long one). The pacing of the experience was perfect, with complete flow and no backups after that. Only one effect was motionless, right before the last major AA, which was working.

You may find it silly that we’re still being vague with ride details and avoiding photo spoilers even over a year after Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened. I’m cognizant that the vast majority of you don’t care. However, we care. We wouldn’t want the experience spoiled for us, and think those who have yet to ride deserve the same to the greatest extent possible. Due to the weird year that has caused many to postpone visits (and since Disneyland’s version of the ride has only operated for ~2 months), we’re going to continue avoiding spoilers for this attraction indefinitely.

As usual, Disney’s Hollywood Studios starts to clear out in the late afternoon on weekdays. This has been relatively unchanged by the introduction of Park Hopping.

To the contrary, fewer guests arrive and more people leave DHS during Park Hopping hours. This is the opposite of what happens at EPCOT, and makes perfect sense. Why would guests come to the park that closes earlier and that doesn’t allow access to its headliner for late arrivals? Nevertheless, those who do will be rewarded with very low actual wait times in the last couple hours of the day. That makes it a good option for repeat visitors who have already knocked out Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and aren’t interested in re-riding.

Ultimately, we cannot recommend a late arrival strategy for most tourists doing a single day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It might work for you, as it did for us, but it’s a gamble. Unless you’re particularly averse to getting up early or calling the “EPCOT audible” it’s simply not as good of an approach. For those planning multi-day trips to Walt Disney World that encompasses a weekend, stick with our advice of doing DHS on a Saturday or Sunday (or Friday, since Cast Members are blocked out then).

There’s also the practical reality that, as has been the case multiple times previously, Walt Disney World will tweak things yet again. In the span of just a couple weeks, we’ve already seen the viability of arriving for the 1 pm virtual queue dramatically decrease. It’s unlikely we’ll see it improve with any degree of consistency going forward, but it certainly could get worse–especially if attendance picks up heading into February and March. Hard to complain too much, though; right now is pretty much the best possible experience you can have at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so long as you don’t mind missing the shows.

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 start of the winter off-season? If so, what was your experience with crowds and wait times? Thoughts on crowds v. wait times? Late arrival v. rope dope? Recent feedback on the 7 am or 1 pm Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue release? 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!

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