In our Star Wars: Galaxy Edge Review, we indicated that we’d follow up once we had a chance to experience the new land under normal operating circumstances. In this post, we’ll do exactly that. We’ll also share new photos and thoughts about opening weekend crowds at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in this mostly spoiler-free update.
In response to our largely glowing review of the new land, many of you expressed doubt. When it comes to commentary out of media previews, healthy skepticism is natural and appropriate. After all, attendance is artificially limited and Disney is attempting to present the new experiences in the best possible light. I’m similarly incredulous, and tried to discount certain things when covering them.
We’ve now spent more time in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as regular guests, riding Smugglers Run, eating…pretty much everything, dropping money on merchandise I never knew we “needed,” and further exploring the land. In so doing, we’ve found that our opening weekend experience with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was superior to the preview…
Before I get into the why of that, I also want to preface this with a disclaimer that (at least) some of this should also be discounted a bit. Disneyland is treating the reservations period as a soft opening, and entrance to Galaxy’s Edge over the weekend was limited below actual capacity. We’re told that the number of reservations offered gradually increases, so it’ll be interesting to see how well Galaxy’s Edge is handling crowds in a few weeks.
In addition to the restricted entrance to Galaxy’s Edge, or perhaps in part because of it, crowd levels at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have been below average all weekend. The bigger factor here is probably all of the warnings and fear-mongering about congestion at the parking structure, bag check, and in the parks. We played a role in said fear-mongering, and we definitely got it wrong. I’m still a bit shocked at just how wrong we were.
Despite a lack of Annual Passholder blockouts, locals without Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge reservations largely stayed at home. Tourists who didn’t already have trips to California booked when the opening date was announced have avoided these travel dates. Even those “adorable” eBayers (pictured above) mostly didn’t bother, as Disney finally instituted strict purchase limitations.
We’ll have more commentary on the lack of crowds in the next few days, as it has been an interesting phenomenon. We don’t want to jump to any premature conclusions about what it could mean. Our initial reaction is that this reinforces what we predicted for September in our 2019 Walt Disney World Crowd Predictions Post-Star Wars Land.
The end result has been a blissful weekend at Disneyland. Truly one of our best experiences at Disney California Adventure and Disneyland in years. We covered much of this in our Live Trip Report: Star Wars Land Opening Day post, but since most of that was written hastily on my phone, I’ll better elaborate here.
Throughout the entire weekend, we have encountered no lines at bag check. After some miserable experiences with bag check at Disneyland the last couple of years, I was terrified for the bag check process post-Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. To Disneyland’s credit, they’ve expanded the bag check area, and a no bags line seems to be permanent on the Harbor Boulevard side.
We’ve been through bag check at all times of the day (over a dozen times) in the last week, and have never waited more than 5 minutes. We’re talking a better bag check experience than Epcot’s International Gateway in the middle of the day, which is quite the turnaround as Disneyland’s bag check process has been far worse than Walt Disney World’s for a while. (We’ve only parked at Mickey & Friends a couple of times, but it’s been smooth sailing there, too.)
Lines at the turnstiles have largely been good, too. The process of Cast Members at the turnstiles taking guest photos can back things up–especially when it happens with several guests in succession–but our waits at the turnstiles have likewise been minimal.
Thus far, the Star Wars “crowds” haven’t really put the Project Stardust changes to the test, but what we witnessed and reported on pre-Galaxy’s Edge holds true here. Between MaxPass and the low crowds, touring Disneyland has been a breeze. In particular, waits have been abnormally low in Fantasyland, with Peter Pan’s Flight frequently posting an under 30 minute wait throughout the day. You’ll often encounter a longer line for that ~10 minutes after rope drop.
We’ve had a couple of chances to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge over the weekend. (Huge thanks to the TouringPlans team for including us on their hotel reservations.) To our surprise, the reservation process from check-in at Launch Bay to entering the land itself has been smooth sailing. Any other theme parks planning to open a land based upon Star Wars in the near future should simply copy this system.
We were really apprehensive about this whole process, especially as it seemed like Disneyland was racing to figure out the system on the fly, releasing sporadic nuggets of info in the lead-up. To its credit, Disney got this system right (for the most part) and all of the pieces of the puzzle came together shockingly well. (It’s worth noting here that we’ve seen Phil Holmes and other members of WDW leadership throughout the weekend; hopefully they are learning some ops lessons for DHS.)
The biggest improvement in the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge experience is that the land is now alive with guests and even more streetmosphere performers. In our review, I commented that the land’s design had a lived-in quality to it. Now, it has that, plus a sense of life from guests. There is an excitement and energy in the air, with a constant stream of Star Wars fans geeking out over seeing this or that for the first time.
This was a sharp contrast to the hurried and anxious feeling of attendees at the preview who had to get footage and content prepared before their deadlines. Many of you commented on my ’empty’ land photos from the preview–in actuality, it was far from empty. That was just patience and careful photo composition to conceal what was basically a working ‘on-location’ television set.
As a photographer, the glowing lightsabers all over Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge present a real challenge. As a guest who appreciates kinetic energy (and new lightsaber owner myself), I absolutely love them. Seeing groups pose for PhotoPass or have faux battles is more amusing than it should be.
Likewise, the impromptu droid “rumble” I witnessed over by the restrooms was hilarious and entertaining. Technically, droids aren’t allowed to be placed on the ground, but thankfully this seems like a ‘wink and nod’ rule that is currently not being enforced. Watching a bunch of droids beep, interact, and crash into one another makes me hope ‘real’ droids make an appearance here in the future.
Your mileage may vary on how much this type of thing actually enhances the land for you. As someone who can measure the amount of time I’ve spent watching ducklings and cats this weekend in hours rather than minutes, this is all oddly mesmerizing for me. Seeing the sense of unbridled joy in other guests as they experience and partake in the land is contagious.
Conversely, I also love straggling behind and being among the last guests out of Galaxy’s Edge. First, because the land is beyond beautiful at night. (I already praised the rock-work, but the lighting package deserves a big “assist” as it’s next level.) Second, because the sounds you hear and details you notice when few others are around enhance the land in a different way.
On a different note, Smugglers Run is growing on me. It’s not like my Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run Review was overly critical to begin with, but I’ve enjoyed the gameplay more with each subsequent ride. (Except engineer–that position is boring.)
My biggest change of heart is on the pilot position, which I now absolutely love, and hope for every single ride. Her first time being pilot, Sarah was having an audible hoot. When I asked at the end if it bothered her that we did poorly, she exclaimed, “who cares–that was so much fun!”
For what it’s worth, none of the strangers in our crew cared in the least. They were doing the Play Disney Parks app and wanted to be in the other positions, as it’s (apparently?) easier to do better via the app in those roles. Something I neglected to mention in my review is that each position has its own score; it’s semi-collaborative, but you’re not only as good as your crew’s weakest link. If you’re open to it, “failure” is actually a lot of fun, too.
By far the most fun we had on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was when our party made up an entire flight crew. Even with strangers, we’ve had some fun ‘trial by fire’ communal bonding missions. Our actual waits for the attraction have been about 5-30 minutes. (Also, if you do Single Rider, always go left at the stairs–no one is going that way for some reason.)
Not everything has been perfect. The two super low capacity experiences that are going to be huge draws for years to come–Savi’s Workshop and Oga’s Cantina–have been shaky and inconsistent in terms of their reservations/entry processes. The goal for each has been to allow as many people from each time slot to access these things, but without disadvantaging subsequent time slots.
Knowing this, we prioritized these, lining up early for our reservations and racing to each location. With Oga’s Cantina, this approach was a great success. An iPad-wielding Cast Member was taking down guest info, and the line moved quickly–our wait was under 20 minutes. (Our group ordered everything, so we’ll review all the drinks at some point. For now, my recommendations are the non-alcoholic Blue Bantha and alcoholic Fuzzy Tauntaun.)
Others with whom we’ve spoken have reported a more disorganized, free-for-all situation at Oga’s Cantina. That’s pretty much exactly what we experience at Savi’s Workshop. Communication and crowd management were poor, and a lot of time was wasted. After waiting a while, we did receive a return time, but that could’ve been handled far better.
The good news is that, per reports from today, Oga’s Cantina is now using a text reservation system to further minimize waiting in line. We hope the same happens with Savi’s Workshop. And in fairness to the Cast Members, this is still a soft opening with test and adjust ongoing. Moreover, some Cast were being overwhelmed by rude/entitled guests, which also didn’t help matters. (The other good news is that both Oga’s and Savi’s are fantastic on a substantive level…but more on that in our full reviews.)
It’s tough to pull ourselves away from Disneyland with such low crowds, but we’re probably going to spend some of the next few days hitting up favorite spots in LA and Laguna. After carrying ~25 pounds of camera gear on my back for the last week, I’m ready for a bit of decompressing.
Overall, my strong first impression of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is only getting stronger with more time spent in the land–and we both still feel like we haven’t done so much. We’ll be holding off on more thorough/granular Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge posts for now. Our goal is quality reviews rather than hasty but quick ones. (I already regret some of my initial reactions to Smugglers Run now that I’ve experienced it more.) I need to collect my thoughts so future posts aren’t simply stream-of-consciousness rambling…and edit the thousands of photos I’ve taken already.
If you’re planning on visiting the new land, you’ll also want to read our Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Guide. This covers a range of topics from basics about the land and its location, to strategically choosing a hotel for your stay, recommended strategy for the land, and how early to arrive to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to beat the crowds. It’s a good primer for this huge addition.
Have you visited Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge yet? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of opening weekend? What’s your favorite thing about Star Wars Land? Are you hoping Walt Disney World utilizes some of the crowd-control methods that have worked at Disneyland? 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!