This spoiler-free Disneyland Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride report covers our experiences with opening weekend in California. This also offers plus some preliminary strategy for arriving, using the virtual queue, and crowds, while we work on putting together our comprehensive guide to the DLR version of the attraction.
We made the decision to attend Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’s opening day at Disneyland relatively last-minute. Given that the two versions are clones and we’ve spent too much time covering the DHS version, it initially didn’t seem “necessary.” However, given that protocol and approaches there have been a moving target, we figured it might be wise to see firsthand how things operate differently at Disneyland.
It also didn’t hurt that Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure started this weekend, which meant killing two birds with one stone. Plus, we miss Disneyland…and Southern California in general…and In-N-Out Burger, so any excuse to get back is a good excuse. This visit gave us the opportunity to do other things we needed to accomplish in the area, like eating a dozen or so Double Doubles…
Note that this is a basically a mini trip report rather than a comprehensive strategy guide. If that’s what you’re after, we’ll have one coming very soon. In the meantime, consult our FAQ & Ride Guide for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. That’s written for the DHS version, but there’s significant overlap.
Additionally, this post doesn’t touch the substance of the attraction itself at all. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth jumping through so many hoops and all the effort, read our spoiler-free Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Ride Review. Suffice to say, we call this the pinnacle of modern Imagineering.
Cutting to the chase, we left our hotel (Anaheim Del Sol Inn) at exactly 5 am on opening morning. We had mixed feelings about arriving so early, and expected it to be pointless. Joining us on the potentially pointless endeavor was Guy Selga of TouringPlans.
We opted to arrive so early because we had read reports on social media that the Esplanade was already filling up. We were concerned that Disneyland might deviate from the announced plan to open the virtual queue at 8 am, either by opening the virtual queue early, doing standby for Rise of the Resistance, or something else entirely.
We wanted to see that for ourselves and also be inside Disneyland by sunrise. Being inside the park before dawn topped my agenda, as it has been since the 24-hour parties since I’ve last seen a beautiful sunrise from inside the park.
If the sunrise was pretty, the rest of the day would be gravy for me. And it was:
The stunning sky was short-lived, and after that it was a lot of waiting in the cold. Main Street, Town Square, and the Central Plaza in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle all were pretty packed with guests by 7 am.
It was becoming obvious that more guests were going to be in the park by 8 am than there was daily capacity on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
This means that rather the hybrid first-come, first-served and lottery system at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the system at Disneyland (at least for opening day/weekend) would be a pure lottery.
It wouldn’t matter whether you arrived at midnight and camped out overnight, or rolled up at 7:55 am. Everyone inside Disneyland by 8 am had an equal shot via the app of scoring a spot in the virtual queue.
I know some people who camped out overnight or showed up really early were upset about this, but I struggle to see why. Disneyland delivered exactly what was promised. All any “hardcore” Disneyland fans had to do was spend a few minutes reading the official Disney Parks Blog post or numerous reports from DHS. Sure, we also showed up early, but that was because we enjoy being part of opening day fanfare, and “just in case” Disney threw a curveball.
As I’ve said before about the DHS version, I’m not overly concerned with the system Disney uses for allocating the scarce resource of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance capacity. There is always (quite literally) going to be more daily demand for this attraction than there is supply. There will always be winners and losers. That’s the nature of the beast.
I have my own personal preferences, but I don’t think any single approach is inherently superior. I’d simply prefer a method of distribution that favors tourists and is properly communicated via official channels. At least in theory, Disneyland’s system checks both boxes.
At about 7:58 am, a hush fell over Main Street. This is about the opposite of what often happens on a Disney opening day, as the excitement begins to crescendo in the minutes leading up to official opening time. At about 8:00:15 am, that crescendo occurred, with a wave of guests expressing jubilation over securing their boarding passes.
We scored boarding group 25, and the numbers around us were all over the place, ranging from the high teens to low 100s. The Disneyland app was distributing backup boarding groups before 8:01 am, and although signs didn’t go up indicating that the virtual queue was full until around 8:20 am, I’m pretty sure that the virtual queue was actually full before 8:05 am (if not by 8:01 am).
We spent much of the morning wandering around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which had a great energy thanks to all of the enthusiastic guests and Cast Members. After a couple hours wandering the land, our boarding group was called at around 9:40 am, and we returned to the entrance of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance around that time.
Shortly thereafter, the attraction broke down, and we ended up sitting in the queue for 60 minutes waiting for it to resume operations. (Cast Members were very clear that anyone leaving the virtual queue wouldn’t be issued recovery and would forfeit their boarding passes.)
Thus far at Disneyland, breakdowns have been just as common as they are at Walt Disney World. In addition to different ride systems having issues, two of the Audio Animatronics figures have also had sporadic problems. We witnessed one of these on day one, whereas on day two we had a perfect run. (After the attraction broke down again for roughly an hour while we were in line.)
In general, it seems that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is off to an even rockier start at Disneyland than at WDW. Both of the first two evenings have had prolonged downtimes, leading to very few groups making it through towards the end of the night. This is something of a surprise, as Disneyland’s version had an extra month of test and adjust.
The rest of our day, which we split between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, was pretty great. We got numerous attractions done, ate a lot, saw a ton of ducks & cats, and just enjoyed the exceptional ambiance at both parks.
After spending the morning hours in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we once again returned to close out the night there. We stumbled upon a lightsaber meet-up. At the time, we thought it was impromptu and just a cool thing that randomly happened. There’s a viral clip of Rey basking in the glow of lightsabers going around on social media–it’s from this.
That’s pretty much how the day was in a nutshell, and encapsulates why we love the atmosphere and energy during opening day. (There was also a funny moment with Chewbacca and the lightsabers; I haven’t seen any video of it, nor did I capture good photos.)
It was weird to see “crowd reports” from Disneyland from opening day of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which were all over the place nad often sensational. Video on social media before park opening showed the hub absolutely packed…but that was before guests could enter other lands. Below is that same scene about an hour later–nearly empty.
There were heavy crowds in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge first thing in the morning due to the fanfare over the new attraction and a few new food items debuting. Otherwise, Disneyland was not particularly busy for most of the day. About average for an off-season weekday.
I know we shouldn’t be surprised after last summer’s low crowds, but this did catch us somewhat off-guard. There were no AP blockouts, there’s a major convention in Anaheim, and the Southern California resident ticket deals were not blocked out for opening weekend. On top of that, Disneyland was cautious not to “over-communicate” and scare guests away with concerns of colossal crowds.
To be sure, it was not a ghost town at Disneyland–we’re not trying to give that impression. However, for a holiday weekend debuting a blockbuster new attraction with ticket deals and no blockouts, Disneyland felt a bit slow. (On the other hand, Disney California Adventure was busier than expected thanks to the kick-off of Lunar New Year.)
We would not expect these low-to-moderate crowds to remain. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, crowds have progressively worsened for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance due to a combo of buzz about the ride and greater awareness of the ideal strategy for experiencing it. (There’s some irony in people sitting out opening weekend to “wait out the crowds” only to find larger crowds when they do visit.)
In terms of preliminary strategy, our advice would be to arrive early but not ridiculously early. Parking has been hit or miss, with not all toll booths staffed and some redirections occurring. That’s the real wild card, which might necessitate more of a buffer if you’re driving.
Security has been smooth on all sides, so if you’re walking from a nearby hotel, you shouldn’t encounter any hiccups there. Same goes for the turnstiles, which have had long lines, but move fairly quickly. They move even faster on non-Magic Mornings, as those early entry days consume several turnstiles for that. (Magic Mornings don’t otherwise impact the virtual queue process and neither advantage or disadvantage anyone.)
As for attempting to join the virtual queue, we’d recommend everyone in your party each attempt to secure boarding passes for everyone right when the clock hits 8 am.
The successful person will receive a confirmation, while everyone else will receive an “Already in Boarding Group” message with the option to remove guests. (Pictured above.)
Do not simply wait for the button to go live in the app, which is what Disneyland is officially recommending. Instead, actively force refresh it or do a clean launch of the Disneyland app right at 8 am. Ideally, do a mix of approaches.
That’s what we’ve done, and have had success securing low boarding group numbers this way. Ultimately, everyone is going to develop their own theories about which strategy works best, and we’ve witnessed success with a variety of approaches–except sitting there and passively waiting for the button to turn red.
That about covers it for now, both in terms of preliminary strategy and experience at Disneyland for the opening day of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We’ll be back with more follow-up posts next week offering further feedback from our experiences, crowd insights/trends/predictions, and further refined/more comprehensive strategy for improving your chances of securing a boarding pass.
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 Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide.
Are you planning on visiting Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge now that Rise of the Resistance is open? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of opening day at Disneyland? Which boarding group were you in? Were you able to experience the attraction? Did you have any downtime? Are you a fan of this system, or would you just prefer FastPass/MaxPass and a really long standby line? 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.