During today’s Walt Disney Co. Annual Meeting of Shareholders in St. Louis, Bob Iger revealed some new information about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, including the grand opening date for the Star Wars land in Disneyland and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World.
Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open to the general public on May 31, 2019, while Walt Disney World’s version will debut a couple months later on August 29, 2019. However, it will open in phases, with Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run opening first, followed by Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at a later date. (As we cover in our Tons of New Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Details Emerge from Construction Tours post, Rise of the Resistance is the more complex, higher profile attraction.)
In this post, we’ll share thoughts on how these dates will impact crowds prior to and after the respective grand openings, and also cover what you should do right now if you’re planning a visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World for the grand opening itself, or thereafter.
Walt Disney World’s opening has been a hot topic in fan circles of late, with “evidence” previously pointing to an opening as early as September or as late as December, depending upon the source of the rumor. Well, this is even earlier than the earliest of rumors due to the whole “phased opening” bit, the range in rumored months now makes sense. Additionally, it gives us a better idea of what to expect for the rest of 2019 at Walt Disney World.
First of all, the phased opening is an interesting twist. About a year ago, there was a rumor that this would be the case, but that was rumored in the event that delays were to occur, potentially pushing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to miss opening in 2019, at all.
This seems to be going the other direction, attempting to push forward the opening as far as possible to help prop up crowd numbers for Summer 2019 and beyond. This will also help dilute crowds to some degree, as most non-locals will have to choose between attending the grand opening or waiting for both rides to open. It’s an interesting approach.
The grand opening for Disneyland’s Star Wars land is not too surprising. Bob Iger has been saying “June” for a while, Disneyland’s Annual Pass blockout calendar suggested it would happen around then, and rumors of a media event the few days before that further corroborated that date. Again, though, the phased opening allows that timeline to move forward a bit. Nevertheless, we’d expect everything to be ready to go by July, at the latest.
Disneyland has been encouraging locals to visit before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge with ticket specials, and is discouraging visits post-Galaxy’s Edge with blockout dates. Nevertheless, that can only do so much. Orange and Los Angeles Counties are home to about 14 million people, many of whom were raised on Disneyland and zealously attend each big opening at the park, no matter what.
To compound matters, Star Wars fans eager to be there when the land debuts and the normal summer Utah and Nevada tourist crowd, perhaps not totally aware of what they’re getting themselves into, will be there. Personally, I don’t expect a ton of Walt Disney World diehards to shift vacation plans to the West Coast for this, but that won’t matter from a congestion perspective. Disneyland will already have more demand than its infrastructure outside and inside the parks can handle.
To that end, Disney has also announced that guests planning to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland between May 31 and June 23, 2019 will be required to make a no-cost reservation, subject to availability, to access the land. Information on how to make a reservation will be available at a later date, but we assume it’ll work like timed entry to Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan, except bookable in-app or online, and in advance.
Guests staying at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels during these dates will receive a designated reservation to access Galaxy’s Edge during their stay. Depending upon the level of competitiveness for those slots, this is one definite advantage to staying on-site.
Speaking of hotels, we cannot stress enough that you need to book a hotel now if you’re planning on visiting Disneyland anytime around or after May 31, 2019. As in, don’t even finish this article or wait to discuss travel dates with your family–open a new tab on your browser and book a hotel with a no-penalty cancellation policy.
This might seem extreme, but it’s really not. Despite several hotels going up in the last few years, Anaheim still has a room shortage. This was evident every time there used to be a runDisney event, and still sometimes plays out when large conventions come to town. (Speaking of which, if you’re attending the 2019 D23 Expo and don’t have a room yet, you also need to get on that now.)
Almost every off-site hotel near Disneyland uses dynamic pricing, meaning that prices increase based upon demand and inventory. Moreover, some hoteliers will undoubtedly have been waiting for this announcement to know when, precisely, to start raising their rates.
That exact scenario played out with Cars Land, and it will happen again here. If you don’t want to get stuck with a shady budget motel for $300/night, you need to jump now before everyone else and before the hotels themselves have a chance to act on this news.
We’d normally suggest carefully going through our Rankings and Reviews for Anaheim Hotels Near Disneyland, that gives numerical scores for several different factors and ranks 44 different hotels. However, you really don’t have the time for that. Instead, just quickly go through the top 10 and find one with availability and good pricing. You can always do your research later after you have something locked-in.
Alternatively, our Top 10 Cheap Off-Site Disneyland Hotels post gives a good run-down for budget seekers. Note that if you’re coming to this article a week or even perhaps a day after the announcement, those hotels may not be so “cheap.” (In our experience, Anaheim Desert Inn is always slow to raise its prices–so long as there’s availability, it’s a good option if others are price-gouging.)
If you’re looking to save some money, you can book a hotel + ticket vacation package via Get Away Today to save money. In addition to the package discount, some hotels have ‘4th night free’ promos, and there’s currently a ‘5th day free’ promo on park tickets. In addition to their normal discounts and special packages, you can save an extra $10 by using code TOURIST at checkout.
If this is the ultimate splurge, give strong consideration to booking Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. The guaranteed access, location, and the comparative lack of bag check insanity might make the high nightly rates a little easier to swallow. Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel should also offer a bag check advantage, but not as distinct of one.
Security lines on the Harbor Boulevard side are likely to be chaotic, but those will still beat the potential for traffic, parking, and security delays on the Mickey & Friends side. As such, we’d strongly encourage you not to book a more remote hotel and drive. For the same reason, we’d also avoid anything beyond walking distance. Taking Uber or Lyft to the drop-off area might not be a good idea. Minimize all potential sources of friction.
It’s worth noting that while the grand opening and all summer months will be busy thanks to tourists, things won’t really get better in the fall. Annual Passholder blockouts will lift, and then the back-to-back Halloween and Christmas seasons arrive, both of which are huge draws for locals.
Your “best” options are the first two weeks of August 2019 or January and February 2020. Just be sure to avoid August 23-25, 2019, as that’s the incredibly popular D23 Expo, and crowds at Disneyland will be bonkers around that weekend. Or, if you’re a local and can plan a last-minute visit, any day it rains. (It’s a little known fact, but Southern Californians are deathly afraid of precipitation.)
If you want to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge but don’t need to be among the first, we’d strongly recommend sitting out Disneyland’s opening and waiting for Walt Disney World. While Disney’s Hollywood Studios will undoubtedly be busy for years after Star Wars land opens, it is better situated to absorb the crowds. This is particularly true outside the park, where Walt Disney World’s infrastructure is prepared for it. There will be backups opening week, but gridlock is unlikely.
Moreover, at Walt Disney World, there are three other parks, each with their own parking and security, to help absorb the crowds. They will function as a release valve if there’s overflow from DHS hitting capacity during the initial opening rush. By contrast, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure all share that infrastructure, which could cause some problems.
We do not for a second expect Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Animal Kingdom will see a dip in attendance once Galaxy’s Edge opens. To the contrary, they should each see a slight bump. First, very few people are going to plan a trip to Florida, and only do Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Second, those who aren’t huge Star Wars fans might look at DHS wait times and alter their plans to avoid that park. Finally, people will not have a choice if/when DHS hits capacity.
For similar reasons, we don’t expect wait times on other rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to drop. Nowhere is going to be a “ghost town” because Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is drawing everyone there. Its capacity is a very small fraction of all guests at Walt Disney World. As with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this is going to a “rising tide that lifts all boats.”
As for timing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World post-grand opening, the same issues exist as with Disneyland. Your best option might honestly be showing up a week after the grand opening, as September is typically the slowest month of the year. October, November, and December are all really popular.
In fact, if I had to choose a time to visit this fall and avoiding crowds were my priority, I’d absolutely choose one of the second two weeks of September. While this may seem dangerously close to that grand opening, it’s in the slowest month of the year and a week after the initial hype subsides. It’ll still be abnormally busy, but not October through December busy.
To this point, both Toy Story Land and Pandora saw larger crowds in October through December of their opening years than they did in the summer months immediately after debuting. Waiting until January or February 2020 offers no guarantees, as both of those months have seen a spike in crowds–or at least wait times–the last two years.
When it comes to booking a hotel at Walt Disney World, there’s definitely a sense of urgency, but not as immediate as for Anaheim. The one thing we would stress is staying on-site. While Disney has been eroding the on-site advantages recently, they still exist.
In particular, being within Skyliner or walking distance of DHS will be huge. We plan on booking Disney’s Riviera Resort or Pop Century. As for other perks, we don’t know fully how Walt Disney World plans to handle Extra Magic Hours or FastPass+ (at least from a paid v. unpaid perspective). Nevertheless, the on-site advantage should be apparent the first several months of Galaxy’s Edge.
Overall, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has the potential to redefine the guest experience at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. There are a lot of incredible, envelope-pushing ways this will occur, and those have already been focused on in our recent Tons of New Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Details Emerge from Construction Tours post.
As exciting as all of that is, there are also the practical, operational realities of Star Wars land’s impact. We’re incredibly excited for Galaxy’s Edge and don’t mean to be buzzkills with all of the above, but if you’re thinking about going for the grand opening or shortly thereafter, it’s important that you know what you’re likely going to encounter. Hopefully this post provided some insight into that.
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Are you going to be there for the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Irritated by the phased opening, or do you think that presents an advantage from the perspective of avoiding crowds? Will you avoid grand opening…or Disney’s Hollywood Studios entirely…until crowds are at a more manageable level? Other thoughts to add? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!