Hollywood Studios Report: Skip or Strategize

It’s time for another visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios! In this Walt Disney World photo report, we’ll look at late October crowds, lengthy lines & posted wait times, and our attempt at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’s boarding pass drop. We’ll also offer commentary on whether you should skip DHS entirely or just strategize, be patient, and manage expectations.

Let’s begin with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which has been an ‘evolving’ problem point since debuting last December. It started as a pure first-come, first-served system and slowly morphed into a hybrid first-come, first-served and lottery system. Short of closing the attraction down for several months (ahem) to iron out its problems, this was the approach we viewed as most equitable back in the winter.

When Walt Disney World reopened, the story was more or less the same as pre-closure for the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue. In the last month or so, it’s worsened. Thanks to increased attendance and slashed attraction capacity, the “boarding pass dash” has become a de facto lottery, and not one with a high success rate. It’s leaving a lot of guests disappointed and frustrated they bought tickets for DHS. It has left us wondering, is Disney’s Hollywood Studios even worth the hassle?!

Right now, you must be in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 10 am in order to even have a shot at obtaining a spot in the virtual queue. Strategy helps give you a fighting shot, but luck determines whether you’ll ultimately score a boarding group. There is zero room for error: if My Disney Experience stutters, arbitrarily forces you to sign-in, you’re in an area of the park with weak cell service or Wifi, or you need help from the Guest Experience Team, forget about riding at all.

To compound matters, if you lose this lottery at 10 am, your alternatives are not great. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run are instantly posting 60-90 minute wait times, and physically distanced lines are massive everywhere else in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There is no park-hopping, so you’re stuck at DHS, hoping against all odds for better luck at 2 pm.

It was against this backdrop that we headed to DHS this week to once again test an afternoon arrival strategy to see if maybe that was the most viable approach…

This approach is not really new for us. Our last Disney’s Hollywood Studios Crowd Report: Morning Highs & Evening Lows suggested arriving for rope drop and the first attempt at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance before taking an extended midday break.

That was also a few weeks ago, after crowds had increased at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–but before they had reached their latest highs. Despite that, it’s the approach we still recommend; you just should temper your expectations in terms of wait times and congestion.

For this visit, we opted to skip the morning entirely and instead arrive a bit later. Our aim was to see what we could accomplish after crowds peaked and (hopefully) score Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding passes in the 2 pm drop.

Although a lot of these scenes don’t look particularly crowded, this visit was noticeably busier than our last one to DHS, which was noticeably busier than the one before that. Basically, each time we do Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the park is worse than the time before.

Lots of space in the main courtyard, but this photo is deceptive.

The posted wait time for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was 105 minutes, and it was “only” that low because the queue had been closed to new guests earlier.

Here’s a look at Disney’s Hollywood Studios wait times at 11:30 am.

This is about par for the course right now. However, this is also a snapshot in time–if you’re visiting in November or December, peak times times could be worse. Or, Walt Disney World cut see the error of its ways, reduce capacity to improve the guest experience, and things could be better. (Hahahahaha.)

It’s not just rides, either. In the early afternoon, lines are long pretty much everywhere.

Above is the line for BaseLine Tap House. It was the same story around several restaurants, including the recently-reopened ABC Commissary. The menu is supposedly better, but I’ll believe that when I taste it.

We also observed a lot higher “feels like” crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

In the past, we’ve commented that DHS can appear deceptively uncrowded because most guests are standing in long lines for the headliner attractions at any given time. On this day, the walkways were noticeably busier.

Here’s a look at the line for Slinky Dog Dash, which extends almost to the entrance to Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

The posted wait time was 80 minutes when this photo was taken; Slinky Dog Dash has had longer waits and actually extended into the Voyage of the Little Mermaid queue. (The custodial Cast Member is actually standing on one of the markers–you can sort of see it in the photo above.)

With physical queues this long, it’s less likely that posted wait times are significantly inflated as compared to actual wait times.

This may not be an 80 minute wait given the spacing and that it’s constantly moving, but it’s probably still a 60 minute wait. In short, if you’re visiting in the next couple of months, don’t expect the dramatically inflated wait times that we and others were reporting over the summer and early fall.

Toy Story Mania is probably still an exception to that since its capacity is pretty high.

This was a 40 minute posted wait; we’ve found that if the end of the line is within Toy Story Land, the actual wait is likely 30 minutes or less.

Continuing in Toy Story Land, we have our next queue…but it’s not for Alien Swirling Saucers, which had a 25 minute posted wait (and was likely less than that in actuality).

It’s for Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run.

This is the queue for Smugglers Run within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. On the plus side, you can watch a Stormtrooper performance while waiting in line!

Last week we reported that More Virtual Queues are Rumored for Walt Disney World. This is why Smugglers Run is one of the likely candidates. If the line gets much longer than this, it’s routed backstage.

There are lines for literally everything in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Even those little $7 bottles of Coke that TSA thought posed a grave threat to national security. (Ah, simpler times!)

Back when the land debuted to low crowds, there was criticism that the sprawling layout was not necessary. Who would’ve guessed that the Imagineers that designed Batuu did not overestimate crowds, and instead were actually visionaries who foresaw all of this coming?!

As we’ve reiterated repeatedly, the lines at Disney’s Hollywood Studios drop off significantly in the last two hours of the day.

The problem is lasting until that point. After waiting in long outdoor lines for pretty much everything and perhaps failing to secure a spot in the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue, you might be losing your patience and ready to call it a day by 3 pm. (Hence the lines getting shorter later in the day…)

Leading up to the 2 pm boarding pass drop, there are a lot of guests just sitting around, waiting for that.

This is understandable–the stakes are high for many, and it’s either this or waiting in a 35 minute line for MuppetVision 3D. As much as I love that national treasure, I also would not wait 35 minutes for it.

We were once again unsuccessful with the 2 pm Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue lottery. Not a huge surprise, as the chances are incredibly slim with that second drawing of the day.

We’ve recommended that readers start out by booking Disney Park Pass reservations for two days–ideally Saturday and Sunday if your trip encompasses a weekend–at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (That is, if Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a must-do. Otherwise, only one day is necessary.)

We’re reaching the point where skipping Disney’s Hollywood Studios entirely might be the better advice. I’m not sure what the average guest’s chances of success are in joining the virtual queue, but I’m guessing it’s at or under 25%. Hence the “skip or strategize” subtitle. It’s still possible to have a good day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (especially if you don’t care about Rise of the Resistance), but you need realistic expectations, solid strategy, and patience.

I cannot believe I’m suggesting that some guests consider skipping Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is home to Walt Disney World’s newest and best attractions, and the park’s massive overhaul is finally finished. Back at the end of February, it seemed doing DHS could not possibly get worse. Then reopening operations came along, said “hold my beer,” and managed to make things much, much worse.

Some of this is no fault of Disney’s–reduced capacity attractions, restaurants, and retail make things tough. There are also plenty of unforced errors, like not resuming outdoor stage shows or not trying to fix Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance when it was shut down for 4 months. Walt Disney World leadership is undoubtedly aware that the guest experience is suffering at DHS and that some stopgap fixes exist, but has instead just shrugged and said, “deal with it.”

Ultimately, I’m not sure what the longterm solution is with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The first, near-term step is definitely increasing the attraction’s hourly throughput. The ride-through portion currently accommodates one party per vehicle, which could mean a single rider or a family of 8. Disney has already begun testing and installing plexiglass barriers between the front and back row, which should help immensely. That move alone could increase capacity by 50%.

Beyond that, Walt Disney World should consider other solutions. Those could include allowing guests with Park Pass reservations to attempt joining the virtual queue without tapping into Disney’s Hollywood Studios, testing an actual random-drawing lottery that guests can enter throughout the day (a la Tokyo Disney Resort), or a way for on-site guests to attempt pre-booking the virtual queue and allowing them to switch parks if they’re unsuccessful. We’re not saying definitively that any of these approaches would work better, but when the status quo is a train wreck, alternatives are at least worth testing.

With Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance being unreliable for the foreseeable future and a standby line not being viable due to its frequent breakdowns, it behooves Disney to continue tweaking things. The current approach is not working, and is resulting in a ton of unsatisfied guests. It’s one thing when these are Annual Passholders (like us!) who can visit weekly and play the odds. It’s another entirely when it’s families taking infrequent trips who don’t have that luxury and potentially don’t even understand the stakes. While there are no guarantees with anything in life or even in vacation planning, Walt Disney World needs to come up with an approach that gives guests more options and alternatives–or at least be more transparent about the colossal shortcomings and odds of the current Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance lottery.

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 in the last month or so? What was your experience? When did you arrive? How long did you stay? Thoughts on lines and crowds? Success or failure with the 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!


167 Responses to “Hollywood Studios Report: Skip or Strategize”
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