One 20-Hour Day at Disney World

For the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World, we were up just after 2 am, out the door of Pop Century at 3 am and in Disney’s Hollywood Studios by 4 am. From there, we headed to Epcot for a full day of Food & Wine Festival and an IllumiNations cruise, before returning to DHS to close out Star Wars Land.

Here’s the story of our caffeine-fueled, 20+ hour day in the parks. It’s sort of a throwback to both our trip report days and the 24-hour parties held Memorial Day weekend at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. I miss those so much, and when I saw the hours for Disney’s Hollywood Studios on opening day of Galaxy’s Edge, I knew something close to a two-park 24-hour party would be a possibility.

Our saga begins at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, which we booked months ago the day the Annual Passholder discount for fall dates was released. At the time, we figured that surely the Skyliner would be operating. In fact, we almost paid extra to ‘upgrade’ to Caribbean Beach so we’d have a direct flight to Batuu. The best laid plans of mice, men, and Disney fans often go awry…

Even the last couple of weeks, I’ve been holding out a sliver of hope that the Skyliner would quietly debut for the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Walking around Pop Century and scoping things out upon arrival to the resort, it became abundantly clear that this would not be happening.

Can’t win ’em all.

At this point, there’s little reason to believe that Walt Disney World will operate the Skyliner until a couple of days (at the earliest) prior to the official date.

The Skyliner could’ve been ready by now if Disney wanted it to be; it was a conscious decision not to run it until late September. If the gondolas weren’t needed for opening morning of Galaxy’s Edge, there’s no reason they’ll be needed before then.

After chugging some coffee and going over to the Skyliner station just to triple-check that the walls hadn’t miraculously come down in the ~3 hours since I previously checked the night before, we wandered over to the Pop Century bus stops.

At 3:30 am, the scene there was total chaos, with a longer line than I’d ever seen.

This was the line after two full buses had just departed.

Worried that this would take too long, we opted to drive to DHS, which took only 4 minutes.

The good news is that everything was smooth sailing once we got to the park.

Even though the official opening time was 6 am, we had spoken with several Cast Members the day before, and knew the park would quietly open at 4 am.

After breezing through bag check and the turnstiles, we were corralled on Hollywood Boulevard for what felt like an eternity but probably was just 10 minutes or so.

Cast Members then slowly walked us to Grand Avenue, held us there again, and let us into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge by around 4:30 am.

In response to our First Impressions of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World, several readers asked why anyone would subject themselves to the chaos and crowds of opening day.

I can only speak for myself, but for me, it’s truly fun to be part of a communal experience, and the palpable energy and excitement of day one. This is something I’d do even if I weren’t writing about it for the blog–I just have a blast with this type of stuff.

It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s something special and totally different from your everyday Disney experience. Normally, I’m not particularly keen on crowds, but in these scenarios, I don’t mind them at all. (Once we’re through bag check and into the park–I hate waiting in lines outside the parks.)

Personally, I’d rather be part of an enthusiastic crowd of wall to wall people in DHS than half as many people on Main Street, but all irritated and on the verge of meltdown.

When we got into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, most people headed to Smugglers Run. We’ve already done it several times and were primarily there for the fanfare of opening day, so we instead opted to head over to the overlook by Docking Bay 7 to watch as the courtyard in front of the Millennium Falcon filled with guests.

It was pretty cool to witness, and I wish I would’ve taken a time lapse of the crowd building in size. (Although there were about 37 different film crews from Disney, so I’m sure one shot a time lapse.)

We mostly just spent our time wandering the land, eating Ronto Wraps (both breakfast and regular), and watching the Stormtroopers interact with guests as they arrived.

Even though we didn’t technically “do anything,” it was great to experience Galaxy’s Edge vicariously through the collective crowd, most of whom I assume are Star Wars fans, given that they got up at ~3 am for this.

There’s a lot of cynicism surrounding Galaxy’s Edge, which makes it enjoyable to see the genuine enthusiasm of peole stepping onto Batuu for the first time.

There were a lot of emotional reactions, and also more than a few overheard ‘kids say the darndest things’ moments.

We meandered the land, followed by Disney’s Hollywood Studios until about an hour after sunrise.

I had brought my computer with me so I could sit down, re-up on my caffeine dosage, edit some photos, and get that first impressions post finished.

Sadly, I still write these posts myself like a total chump because I haven’t yet figured out how to train the robots to mimic my poor, typo-laden writing style.

You better believe that as soon as I can master that, these posts are going to be 100% automated. I assume the robots have a veritable database of dated pop culture references and know exactly what content you all want to consume.

From there it was time to head over to Epcot just in time for the opening of the Imagination Lounge (and, more importantly, free caffeine) plus the first booths in the Next Eats area of Future World for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

It might be surprising, and the exact opposite of what many people would expect, but unlike getting to DHS before 4 am for opening day of Star Wars Land, this is not something I’d do “just for fun.” At least, not during August in Florida.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Epcot’s festivals, but Food & Wine is by far my least favorite of the bunch.

This grazing around the booths is almost entirely outdoors in the sun with oppressive humidity, food at the booths is mostly overpriced, and we eat a lot of things “for the sake of reviews” even though we know they’re probably not going to be good just judging by the menu. (I’m looking at you, school cafeteria chicken fingers from the Italy booth.)

My ideal Food & Wine Festival experience would be doing a grand total of 6-8 food items spread over the course of 3-4 nights just before watching Epcot Forever come October and early November when the weather is nicer.

For me, that would be a fun way of doing Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. Even then, there’s less substance to the event than all of Epcot’s other festivals. I’m not sure why Food & Wine continues to be Epcot’s most popular event of the year (hype built up over time?) but I’d recommend every single other festival over it. Festival of the Arts is exponentially better, in my opinion.

Anyway, the bulk of our day was spent strolling around World Showcase, eating at the various Global Marketplaces. That doesn’t exactly make for an exciting ‘day report’, and we have full food booth reviews coming soon, anyway.

Fast-forwarding a few hours, after finishing with the food, I chased a glorious sunset around Epcot and over to the Crescent Lake Area Resorts.

I’ve said it before, but this is one of my favorite places to shoot the sunset at Walt Disney World.

No matter the time of year, the angles and spacing of the resorts makes for some really nice perspectives.

The golden light hitting Ample Hills was stunning. The kind of thing that really makes you want to head inside and devour an Ooey Gooey Butter Cake Sundae!

Unfortunately, I had eaten too much at Food & Wine for that.

Just as the last light of sunset faded away, it was time to board the IllumiNations cruise at Yacht Club.

I had never done this before; it’s a bit expensive, and I assumed the view wouldn’t be anything superior to what’s offered around World Showcase. However, some friends invited us to join their cruise, and I wasn’t going to pass up a free IllumiNations cruise.

The overall experience was nice, with my favorite part being the cool breeze on the water after I had just raced around Epcot and Crescent Lake taking sunset photos.

The fireworks view was fine, and there’s something to be said for floating along the water in your own private boat. However, the experience wasn’t some revelation or anything I felt like I’d been missing out on all these years. If I had to pay for it myself, there’s no way I’d do it again.

After arriving back at the Yacht Club dock, it was 9:30 pm. This would have been the perfect time to end the day, but there was unlimited Coca-Cola aboard the IllumiNations cruise, so I was once again fully caffeinated.

This could only mean one thing: time to power walk back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to close out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge!

By this point, Star Wars Land was open entry (see our Step-by-Step Guide for How to Use the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Virtual Queue for more on what that means), and wasn’t particularly crowded.

However, it was still swarming with PhotoPass photographers and guests posing with lightsabers, so I picked a few out of the way spots for nighttime photos.

After that, it was time for fireworks on Batuu East!

…Not nearly as good as fireworks on Batuu West. In fact, although the above photo might seem cool, this is one of like 5 instances of actually being able to see pyro from this spot, spread over the course of ~15 minutes. I’d recommend skipping the fireworks and getting one last ride on Smugglers Run while the wait times are low.

I’m pretty stubborn, and that part of me wanted to stay until the bitter end, closing out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on night one at Walt Disney World just like I did at night one at Disneyland as some form of weird ‘bragging rights’ about which no one except me would care.

Another, much larger part of me was completely exhausted and beyond ready for bed. It turns out that copious consumption of caffeine only works for so long before your body just says “nope.”

It was time to head out, saying goodnight to Gertie before leaving Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

All in all, this is one of our best days at Walt Disney World in a while. I know that seems silly to say of a hot and crowded day, but it was so unique and there was such an energy in the air that it was intoxicating. This has me even more excited for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opening, in part because I’m expecting/hoping that ride will be mind-blowing, in part because that day should have a similar energy, and perhaps in largest part because that day will be in December.

Finally, a look at my “stats” from opening day of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I’m mildly obsessed with this app, and my ‘competitiveness’ (with myself) in having good stats is what motivates most of my daily activity.

Aside from the 22 hours of standing, these numbers actually are fairly ordinary for a day at Walt Disney World. “Only” 26k steps, 1,110 calories burned, and 101 minutes of exercise, which is below average on a per-hour basis. A big part of that is the fact that normally I’m bouncing around the parks, but Food & Wine opening day is spent making a single lap around World Showcase, slowly grazing at the booths. Not that any of you cared in the first place. 

We’ll close out this ‘One 20-Hour Day at Walt Disney World’ report with a couple of housekeeping items. First, we’ll be in the parks a good amount over the weekend, weather permitting.

Back when Extra, Extra Magic Hours were announced, we planned hotel stays to be able to report on these and provide planning feedback. That remains our tentative plan, but we will probably bail on that if Hurricane Dorian continues on its current path.

One thing about which we’re curious is whether you want to read a post about opening weekend crowds and wait times at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

To be abundantly clear, this would be “just for fun” material, as there is zero value in this for future planning purposes. Visitation patterns will change tremendously next week (whether there’s a hurricane or not) and then again after that. I’m inclined to not cover this unless a lot of people are curious about it all.

Finally, we have a lot of posts waiting ‘in the queue’ to be written. (Hence my disinclination to write about opening weekend wait times.) It has been a wild and busy summer for Disney news and info, and things are constantly changing like I haven’t seen since I’ve been writing this blog.

Between new posts and planning updates, I’m stretched really thin. I apologize for not being as responsive to comments, but I also thank all of you who have helped answer questions posed in the comments. Sarah and I appreciate the reader community here, and we just wanted you to know that! Anyway…back to the parks!

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 to beat the crowds. It’s a good primer for this huge addition. As for planning the rest of your trip, we have a thorough Walt Disney World Planning Guide.

Your Thoughts

Did you attend opening day of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World? Have you done Food & Wine Festival on a hot summer day? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of either or both? 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!

40 Responses to “One 20-Hour Day at Disney World”
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