“When will Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge have soft opening previews at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?” That’s become an increasingly common question, as Walt Disney World fans want to beat the crowds and be among the first to experience this new land with minimal waits. There has been much speculation about paid special events, Annual Passholder early access, and more.
Let’s start with Cast Member and Annual Passholder previews, both of which Walt Disney World has already announced. As we’ve previously reported, Platinum, Platinum Plus and Premier Annual Passholders will be able to register for special, free preview opportunities planned before the official opening of Star Wars Land on August 29, 2019. Same goes for Cast Members and their guests.
While we don’t know when or for how long these Annual Passholder previews will run, there’s a decent chance these are being offered in lieu of soft openings. (This is already more than what Disneyland did prior to the grand opening of Galaxy’s Edge.) It’s also possible that these previews are a more of a way to incentivize the purchase of higher-tier (and thus higher priced) Annual Passes, with unscheduled soft openings of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge also being possible…
For starters, let’s cover what soft opening even means. Soft openings are also known as trial operations or technical rehearsals, and are basically an unannounced and controlled test period. They provide an opportunity for theme parks to open an attraction prior to its official opening and conduct operations and Cast Member training in a more forgiving and low stress environment.
Since soft openings are unannounced–meaning they are not publicized via any official resources: not on park maps, the official Disney Parks Blog, wait time boards, in-app–they always draw significantly fewer crowds than official openings. Hence the “soft” part of the name. (While Disneyland called its timed reservations period for Galaxy’s Edge a “soft opening,” this is not the traditional definition of the term.)
Soft openings are good for both savvy guests and Cast Members. Guests in the know have a chance to experience a new land or attraction with a fraction of its post-opening crowds, and Cast Members get to cut their teeth in a lower stress environment. During soft openings, most guests there have some degree of theme park knowledge, and are simply giddy to experience something so elusive. Contrast that with a normal day when emotions and stress run high, and adult meltdowns are a more common occurrence.
Some sort of trial operations are an ordinary and necessary aspect of opening any large theme park addition. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge obviously qualifies; it’s the largest and most complex expansion aside from a new gate…ever? It will be absolutely necessary for the land to open in some capacity before the official grand opening.
The question thus becomes whether there will be a public soft opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, or if Disney will consider the Cast Member and Annual Passholder preview periods sufficient. Unfortunately, we have no good way of definitively answering this. What we can do, however, is offer historical context based upon soft openings at Walt Disney World.
In terms of major additions in the last decade (or so), two other additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios had soft openings. Toy Story Mania previewed for nearly a month, while Star Tours: The Adventures Continue was around a week. Expedition Everest had 2 months of soft openings. New Fantasyland had nearly 2 months of public soft openings for 2 attractions, 2 restaurants, and gift shops. Subsequently, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had a single week of soft openings a year and a half later.
More recently, neither Pandora – World of Avatar nor Toy Story Land had public soft openings. Instead, these had a mix of Cast Member previews and free registration-only events (that filled to capacity in hours) to test things prior to their media events. Perhaps most notably, Disneyland only offered Cast Member previews of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. (During which no phones or cameras were allowed!)
When it comes to “predicting” soft openings for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World, these last three examples could be most instructive. Recent history trumps past precedent, and the Florida parks have had reticence in conducting soft openings to major expansions the last few years.
However, there’s a good chance that this is because they desired a splashy media unveiling, with most of the first big info to come out right at each land’s grand opening.
With Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the cat will be out of the bag–Disneyland opened an identical Star Wars Land months before Florida. Aside from Rise of the Resistance, which won’t open on either coast for at least several more months, Galaxy’s Edge is a known quantity.
Moreover, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is effectively opening the floodgates when it debuts its version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Opening day will be a trial-by-fire free-for-all and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a lower capacity park than Disneyland, could face crowding challenges (although given Disneyland’s veritable ‘ghost town’ on opening day, perhaps not). This is unlike the controlled reservations system in California, which Disneyland officials repeatedly referred to as a ‘soft opening preview’ period.
Above all else, whether there’s a public soft opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World probably depends in large part whether everything is ready to go and all Cast Members are properly trained before the aforementioned scheduled previews begin. If so, it could make sense to start testing the land early.
I’m not prepared to give numerical odds because I don’t want irate emails if these predictions don’t pan out. To be clear: I have no inside information and am only making educated guesses. Even with things “boding well” there’s probably only a 25% chance of soft openings at Walt Disney World. I think it would behoove Disney’s Hollywood Studios to offer as many previews as possible to ease demand on opening day and make sure everything runs smoothly, but no one at Disney asked for my opinion on the matter.
If you are visiting during a time when soft openings have a greater likelihood of occurring, one thing to keep in mind is that they are sporadic and unannounced. You will not see wait times in the My Disney Experience app. You won’t see anything posted in the park. If you ask a Cast Member at your hotel whether Star Wars Land is open–even after it has been doing trial operations for a week–they will likely say no and give you the official date.
To reiterate, the goal of soft openings are to conduct test operations in a less-hectic setting, and that doesn’t occur if there’s a public announcement and everyone in Walt Disney World flocks to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. However, the internet being the internet, soft openings are reported on (we will certainly update newsletter subscribers if and when soft openings begin) and people post about them to social media. The cat gets out of the bag, but still only to guests who are plugged-in to fan sites and social media accounts are generally apprised of the opening.
The sporadic nature of soft openings also means that you cannot count on them to start at park opening and continue through to park closing. This is a test and adjust phase, and usually that means delayed opening times, at minimum. Some days, soft openings may not occur at all. Other times, the attraction might break down, and the soft opening will end prematurely.
Soft openings require guest patience and a flexible schedule. If you have your entire Walt Disney World trip precisely scheduled and only have a 4-hour window in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and cannot change that, you might miss soft openings. The tradeoff in (potentially) being able to experience the Florida version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge before the general public (and with far shorter lines) is being understanding when things break-down or don’t go exactly as planned. Resolving these problems ahead of the grand opening is one of the points of a soft opening in the first place, so you need to be prepared to roll with the punches.
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.
What do you think the chances are of a Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge soft opening at Walt Disney World? Do you expect a general public preview, or registration-only events for Cast Members and Annual Passholders? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!