Walt Disney World has confirmed that new FastPass+ tiers will debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on August 29, 2019, which is not-so-coincidentally the date that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open. In this post, we’ll give you a rundown of the new tier breakdown, plus the motivation for the change.
Basically, this will divide Disney’s Hollywood Studios FastPass+ tiers into rides and shows. In tier 1, there will be Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers, Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Tier 2 will be comprised of the Star Tours plus shows: Frozen Sing-Along, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, MuppetVision 3D, Disney Junior Dance Party!, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Fantasmic, and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will not offer FastPass+ upon its debut (there will be both Single Rider and FastPass+ lines for the attraction, but there’s no word on whether Single Rider will be available right away).
This might not seem like a huge thing, but not being able to secure FastPass+ for multiple popular rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a colossal change, and one that’ll dramatically increase time spent waiting in line by those who plan well. This change could mean a couple of additional hours spent waiting in line on an average day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The reason Walt Disney World is doing this is undoubtedly for capacity control and guest redistribution throughout the park once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens…
This may not make complete sense, so let’s illustrate with some examples. Let’s assume that the capacity of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is 50,000 guests (made up number) with perfect distribution amongst all shows, rides, queues, restaurants, gift shops, and so on. Basically, an ideal distribution of guest attendance, filling in all available space.
That 50,000 number (or whatever it is in actuality) is purely theoretical, and will never be achieved in day to day theme park operations. For one thing, guests don’t naturally distribute themselves in an even manner. Most will flock to popular attractions, leaving less popular spots under-utilized. This isn’t a problem in a park with surplus capacity and space, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not such a park.
Right now, you’ll see a ton of people racing to Toy Story Land each morning, while Muppet Courtyard and Grand Avenue are veritable ghost towns at the precise times those lands are most crowded. Likewise, the courtyard around Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is never going to fill on its own.
Another example we’ve witnessed recently is with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party–most guests congregate in the hub/Central Plaza for the parade and fireworks, and there are times when these areas feel dangerously congested. Gridlock gets really bad and the areas are barely traversable.
Meanwhile, Adventureland might be almost totally empty at exactly the same time. This is why we’ve seen Walt Disney World increase attraction overlays for these parties. It’s a good way of enticing guests to redistribute their attendance in a more even, safe, and comfortable manner. (It also allows Disney to increase ticket sales while still creating maintaining the impression of lower attendance.)
The exact same idea applies here. When Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, everyone is going to race to that new land. No one is getting up at 5 a.m. to rope drop Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. Once Star Wars Land hits capacity–and it will–guests will have to fill space elsewhere in the park.
The natural inclination will be turning to ‘consolation prize’ attractions like Star Tours: the Adventures Continue, Tower of Terror, or other high profile rides. Especially for repeat guests, shows like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage are going to be low (or no) priority.
Distributing FastPasses to those shows will draw at least some guests to them. It may seem like a silly or ineffective way of “tricking” people to see shows, but this is a proven approach. In fact, Walt Disney World has done this before superfluous FastPasses (anyone remember getting the “bonus” FastPass to Carousel of Progress?). There’s a satisfaction in securing a FastPass, even an unnecessary one, to anything. Once guests have those (unnecessary) FastPasses, they are more likely to use them.
This brings us to the second motivation for these FastPass+ changes. From an operational perspective, the “problem” with offering FastPass+ on popular rides is that it allows guests to be in two places at one time. Virtually, you are standing in a queue for one attraction; physically, you can be standing in line for another attraction.
This is why Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will open as a standby-only attraction. Offering FastPass+ for it would allow people to browse the land’s shops and other offerings, effectively take up double the space in a land that is already low-capacity and high-demand. Having as many people as possible fill that attraction’s (huge) physical queue will allow Walt Disney World to allow more guests to enter Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
An attraction could have zero people in a physical line, but a posted wait time of 120 minutes thanks to a virtual queue, and some guests would not enter the physical queue because that amount of time is longer than they are willing to wait. Everyone has a balking point for each attraction–a posted time too high to justify jumping into line. (Disney also uses inflated posted waits at the end of the night to discourage guests from entering lines.)
When the virtual queue is much or most of what accounts for that wait time, more people will balk at getting into line, which means fewer people in the physical queue. Circling back to the first point, that means under-utilized capacity in the theme park.
Now, this is not to say Walt Disney World’s approach with Disney’s Hollywood Studios FastPass+ tier changes and crowd management for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the right one. Personally, I think it’s a big mistake inducing so much demand in a park with so little to do. The easiest fix here would’ve been waiting until both Star Wars attractions were ready to go (ditto Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway). That’s going to be sorely needed attraction capacity come August and beyond.
Moreover, we’ve been talking for a while about how Disney’s Hollywood Studios would have to add temporary shows and entertainment to help soak up Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge crowds. With the exception of the aforementioned Lightning McQueen show, that has not happened. It’s still theoretically possible, but whatever is thrown together at this point will probably be too little, too late.
While we would’ve preferred better planning (land reservations or a virtual queue!) and crowd management, we have to admit that something–even this–is better than nothing. Opening the turnstiles on August 29, 2019 and letting the situation devolve into chaos would’ve been bad, especially in a park that isn’t built to absorb crowds. (While Disneyland has its own unique infrastructure problems, at does have like 10x the number of rides as DHS.)
The other possibility, perhaps even an intended consequence of these changes, is that some guests will be discouraged from visiting or lingering around Disney’s Hollywood Studios. From a planning perspective, this is an unfavorable change, and between it and the potential Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge chaos, it might be enough to push people away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios completely. (If you’re looking for recommendations, consult our Tips for Using FastPass+ at Walt Disney World.)
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