Holiday crowds have left Walt Disney World, so yesterday we headed back to Hollywood Studios to determine the best early 2020 strategy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during the off-season. In this, we’ll offer arrival recommendations, crowd predications, and share our ride report…which is our first suboptimal experience doing the flagship Galaxy’s Edge attraction.
Before delving into this ride report, we’ll offer the boilerplate reminder that most questions you have are likely answered by our Ride Guide & FAQ for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We continue to update that as circumstances dictate (it was just modified yesterday!), so please read that before asking a question in the comments below.
It’s also worth noting that the 7 am opening time for Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been extended through January 26, 2020. Expect to see this trend of early openings to continue as crowds dictate, so keep an eye on park hours. Same-day closing time extensions have also been occurring from time to time, but don’t expect those outside of the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr and Presidents’ Day holiday weekends…
Last week in our Crowds Spike, EMH Changes, and Hours Extended at DHS for Star Wars Rise of Resistance post, we speculated that a spike in crowds was due to Orange and Osceola Counties still being on winter break. After stalking the boarding group process in the My Disney Experience app each morning the last few days, we can more or less confirm that this assessment was accurate.
Crowds dropped off noticeably once school was back in session this week. While Walt Disney World historically has not been known as “locals parks,” this reputation is outdated. You only have to drive around a bit in the sea of subdivisions that used to be orange groves, farms, and swampland to realize there’s been a population explosion in Central Florida.
But I digress. The point here is that crowds due to the holiday peak season followed by locals being off work and out of school have subsided at Walt Disney World. This was readily apparent when we rolled up to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at around 7:20 am…
Arriving 20 minutes after park opening was deliberate. For one, we wanted to test our Sleep-In Strategy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as well as Using the Skyliner to Rope Drop Rise of the Resistance. On non-holiday and weekday dates in January and February 2020, both of those approaches are feasible.
In other words, this should work January 13-17, January 21-24, and January 27-31, 2020. Same goes for February 3-7, February 10-13, and February 24-28, 2020. Those are also the ideal dates to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the lowest morning crowds. (See our 2020 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars for more insight.)
With that said, we would not recommend this sleep-in strategy if you only have one day (and thus one shot at SW:RotR) in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This approach is a “reduced stress strategy” better suited for guests visiting Walt Disney World for a week who have Park Hopper tickets and have already gotten their first ride in on Rise of the Resistance.
Anyway, from the time we passed the Skyliner station at Disney’s Hollywood Studios until we were under the Crossroads of the World, it took approximately 4 minutes. There was absolutely no wait at security or the turnstiles. From there, we opened My Disney Experience and had our Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group at 7:24 am. We could’ve left at that point, but I wanted to check out crowds and wait times.
Even though it was 30 minutes after park opening, headliners all had lengthy waits—and these weren’t just inflated posted times. That’s the end of the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run line spilling out into Grand Avenue below (with a 90 minute posted wait). Slinky Dog Dash had a similarly long line.
After getting ample photos and riding Alien Swirling Saucers a half-dozen times, we headed out. At this point, we could’ve walked or taken the Skyliner over to Epcot and followed our Double Rope Drop Day at Walt Disney World Strategy.
We also could’ve arrived to Disney’s Hollywood Studios significantly later than we did. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance didn’t run out of backup boarding passes until 9:55 am. (However, given the problems we encountered later, I’m not sure obtaining a boarding pass after about 9 am would’ve actually done us any good.)
I continued to watch My Disney Experience throughout the day, wanting to see if there were any downtimes so we could plan accordingly and delay our return if necessary. There was, in mid-afternoon shortly before our boarding group was to be called.
After Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was back up, our boarding group was called shortly thereafter. Knowing there’d be a surge, we held off on returning for another hour. We ended up arriving to the attraction at 6 pm to find the line spilling out the front entrance and the the extended queue totally full. This was our first red flag.
Nevertheless, it was a lovely evening and it’s not like we had anything better to do, so we hopped into line. After about 20 minutes of consistent movement through the outdoor queue, we came to a dead stop.
We were still stalled at 7 pm as guests in front of us began leaving the line (so at least we started inching forward a tad!). We decided to stick it out, primarily because these reports are most useful when they reflect the array of actual experiences guests are having, and not just our usual glowing review of the ride itself. Plus, we had heard some concerning reports lately about show quality and wanted to see for ourselves.
At 7:10 pm, there was a wave of spontaneous applause and cheering that rippled through the the extended queue. We weren’t sure why there was suddenly so much excitement, but we nonetheless clapped and cheered, too. Had everyone else spontaneously jumped into the waterfall in the Rise of the Resistance queue, we would’ve followed suit. We’re lemmings like that. Then again, who wants to be the only person standing there stone-faced while everyone else is hyped?
This excitement was not for naught; the ride was back up. I’m not sure if the ride went down and had to reset–I’ve been told that takes 70 minutes–or if there was simply a smaller issue. The line was not dumped and we weren’t stopped for 70 minutes, but the queue moving early-on could’ve been a matter of Cast Members asking guests to fill in all available space at the front of the queue, and the decision could’ve been made not to dump the line because it was so close to park closing.
Whatever the case, we began the attraction ‘process’ shortly before 8 pm and were off Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance by around 8:15 pm. There were several positives that we were relieved to see (or not see) and one negative. This is tough to convey without getting into spoilers, but here goes…
First, there were no switchbacks where they don’t belong. This was a huge relief given photos that have popped up on social media. Our entire “run” from the start of the attraction process to the end was seamless, which we view as crucial to a proper experience.
Second, the Cast Members were pitch perfect. There were no managers wearing street clothes in the queue, or anything of the sort. The First Order Cast Members in the load area are only getting better at doing this as the ride is open longer. They are truly rising to the occasion, even at the end of the day at what I can only imagine was a frustrating time for them, too. So kudos where kudos are due.
We’ve had several great interactions with these Cast Members, but last night was unquestionably the best. While we were touching one of the control panels (because ya know…colorful lights!) one of them ordered us to keep still with arms to our sides because, “for all you know, that controls the oxygen in here and you’re breathing the same air as me…for now.”
Finally, the negative. It’s impossible to adequately cover this without spoilers, and we’re refraining from those for at least the next several months. Suffice to say, one major effect was broken and one minor one wasn’t working. If you haven’t experienced the attraction before, you wouldn’t notice either. The major effect actually has a satisfactory B-mode (no, it’s not a strobe light!) so that the story still makes sense, but it’s nowhere near as cool as the actual effect.
Again, if this were your first time on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, you wouldn’t have noticed either issue. It’s debatable whether the attraction should run without the major effect in question working, but given that there’s a video B-mode for it that maintains the experience, I’m inclined to say yes, it should. Either way, Rise of the Resistance is still the Best New Disney Attraction of the Decade.
Ultimately, we spent an hour in the morning commuting to and from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to obtain our boarding passes, plus over 2 hours in the evening to experience the attraction. Obviously, the second part of that is bad luck, and most guests are going to wait 20-30 minutes for their return ride. Cutting out the downtime, we would’ve been looking at ~90 to 120 minutes of time devoted to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
In hindsight, we could’ve arrived at 6:30 am, been in the park by 7 am, scored a low-number boarding group, done the attraction (and maybe Slinky Dog Dash) and been out of the park before 9 am. That would’ve been more efficient than what we did, even if it meant waking up earlier and dealing with crowds at the turnstiles.
However, that also represents a best-case scenario. Because Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’s virtual queue is now a hybrid first-come, first-served and lottery system, we could’ve arrived early and entered the park at 7 am, but had the app crash when it was time to grab the boarding pass.
Problems with joining boarding groups immediately via My Disney Experience have been occurring, and the result is guests who arrive early end up in boarding groups higher than 80. Had that happened to us, we still would’ve had the same issue with waiting out the afternoon downtime and we still would’ve queued up at around the same time in the early evening. The only difference would’ve been more wasted time in the morning.
The point here is that the “best” strategy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is debatable, and it comes down to balancing the desire to avoid the morning crowd outside the turnstiles with how willing you are to risk being in a higher-numbered (potentially backup) boarding group. Even then, there are several factors outside of your control that could cause longer waits or even being shut out entirely.
We remain of the belief that arriving to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at around 6:30 am on your first (or only) day to experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is optimal. Thereafter, we’d encourage a more relaxed approach that allows you to sleep in a bit and not stress out quite as much. For subsequent days, consider arriving between 7:30 and 8 am before bouncing immediately and park hopping to Epcot.
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.
Have you had any negative experiences with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? If you’ve visited since January 7, 2020, what has been your experience with crowds and boarding group distribution? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment and advice? 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!