Surprisingly Swell Debut Day at Hollywood Studios & Epcot

The debut of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival, opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios (plus an 8 am opening time), and return of 90 degree weather at Walt Disney World, provided the recipe for a chaotic and unpleasant day in the parks. That couldn’t have been further from the truth–it was an amazing, memorable, and uncrowded day at WDW.

I’m already expecting a flurry of comments speculating that coronavirus is taking its toll on attendance, and I want to nip those in the bud. As covered in our Visiting Walt Disney World During the Coronavirus Outbreak, we anticipate that happening and deals popping up as a result. However, it appears to be business as usual right now with most guests enjoying their vacations as normal. Aside from conventions being dropped (look for deals at Coronado Springs in the near future), there will be lag before people cancel trips in significant numbers or don’t book them in the first place due to COVID-19 fears.

Rather, the light attendance we’ve observed and experienced the last several days is better explained by the 2020 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars. Quite simply, this is a lull between the Presidents’ Day holiday and Spring Break season–and one without any major events to spike crowd levels. It happens every year. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but in our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World, we did rank this as our #3 week of the year to visit…

Naturally, the morning was quite crowded. If you were going by crowds showing up to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the crack of dawn, you might’ve expected a busy and chaotic day. However, this always happens when something new debuts. There are a ton of crazy & obsessed Walt Disney World fans living locally who want to be among the first to experience anything new. We’re not knocking them–we were there, too.

We’ve mentioned this regarding the last half-dozen or so new attractions that have debuted, but you are better off showing up shortly after something new opens than you are waiting months. This is not simply my opinion–it’s borne out by data. The best time to experience New Fantasyland, Pandora – World of Avatar, Toy Story Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, etc? The couple of weeks to a month after each debuted.

Anyone who showed up for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in the early morning hours the couple of weeks after it opened was treated to doing the ride (in some cases, more than once) plus the entire park all before 9 am. Now? Not so much.

All of this is reiterated because, despite having posted this sentiment approximately 785 times by now, we still get comments from readers who are “waiting for the crowds at [insert new attraction/land] to die down.” That simply does not work.

It’s likely people are only looking at rope drop photos of crazy crowds or astronomical posted wait times from the peak of opening morning (like the one above). However, that doesn’t even begin to tell the full story here, which is that the crowds quickly subsided and the afternoon and evening hours were downright pleasant

After the hoopla of rope dropping Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (fortunately, that began operating well before official park opening time–as is also normal with new attractions), we had some time to kill before our FastPass+ reservation for the attraction.

Our initial plan was to leave Disney’s Hollywood Studios shortly after 11 am, continuing with Epcot for the remainder of the day. As such, we had no intentions of doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Nevertheless, I compulsively check boarding group statuses (whether we’re in the parks or not–if someone got ahold of my phone and saw all of the nearly-identical screenshots, they’d think I’m insane).

Shortly before 8:45 am, backup boarding groups were still available. Thinking we might want to return for night photos of the neon marquee of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, we threw up a Hail Mary and snagged boarding group 133.

We figured that if it somehow did get called, we’d end the night at DHS instead of Epcot.

Then it was on to breakfast, with a couple of new options available for choosing. We opted for the shorter walk…plus shade and air-conditioning…and headed to ABC Commissary.

This was shockingly delicious, and served on real plates. We’ll do another meal to “complete” the breakfast menu before publishing a full review, but if you’re heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios sooner rather than later, we recommend ABC Commissary for breakfast.

After that, we wandered around for a bit and checked out the rest of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even at this point, it was noticeably quieter than during our visits the last few couple of months–and this was while Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was posting wait times of ~180 minutes.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the posted wait time for the ride was ever even remotely accurate. It’s so hard to estimate these opening day lines, so Walt Disney World typically takes an “aim high” approach. From what we heard, even guests who got in line when the posted wait time was 300 minutes waited two hours or less.

Following that, we used our FastPass+ reservation for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. That was incredibly smooth–I think we ended up waiting around 10 minutes. In case you missed it, we posted full thoughts on the new attraction in our Spoiler-Free Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Review.

Suffice to say, this was our most highly-anticipated new attraction of the next two years at Walt Disney World. Although Runaway Railway didn’t quite live up to our hype, we’re mostly pleased with the addition. (Now, we await the start of the 50th Anniversary!)

Our afternoon was spent at Epcot sampling food from the Outdoor Kitchens at Flower & Garden Festival.

We’ve been looking forward to this event, and optimistic that it’d bring some much-needed beauty to Epcot. It didn’t disappoint in that regard, but the weather sure did.

The past two weeks here have been delightful. Overnight lows in the 40s and 50s (perfect for sleeping with the windows open!), and daytime highs in the 60s and low 70s.

Like clockwork, opening day of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival rolls around, and the temperature hits 90 degrees. There’s little sense in complaining about this–we are in Florida, after all–but it was pretty jarring after a long streak of great weather.

After slacking during the last two Epcot festivals and not doing new reviews of the food booths, I decided I better resume for Flower & Garden. Readers seem to like these, but I find them incredibly tedious and difficult to write.

So…stay tuned for that, I guess. In the meantime, we enjoyed almost everything we tried. Even Italy had a standout item that we’d eagerly purchase again!

Our Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group was called much earlier than anticipated–we had only finished about half of the Outdoor Kitchens. We debated whether to keep going around World Showcase, but we also really wanted to do Rise of the Resistance again.

After weighing our options, we decided to finish up in France and call that “good enough” for day one.

It had been over two months since we’ve done Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Walt Disney World, so we were curious how things were going. Were all of the effects working? How efficient was the attraction? What had they done to breeze through boarding groups after so many hiccups last week?

Our fear was that’d we’d arrive to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, find an extended queue spilling back into Grand Avenue, and be stuck in a multi-hour line with a potential breakdown. Boy were we wrong!

There was no line at the entrance, and no one in the outdoor queue. My initial reaction to Sarah regarding this was a simple, “wow, there’s no one back here.

As we progressed through the line, I uttered that same line at least 4-7 more times. We walked on to literally every phase of the experience. It’s not just that there were no backups, there was no line period. The attraction wasn’t operating at 100% capacity, but not because of problems…because not enough guests were returning to ride it.

I can’t even begin to explain this. My best guess is that this was a one-off fluke, caused by people like us who showed up for the opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Guests probably snagged backup boarding groups later in the morning upon noticing they were still available because “why not?” but then ended up leaving.

I don’t think there’s any relevant takeaway from our experience Rise of the Resistance yesterday. It had to have been a total fluke (but one for which we’re grateful!). For what it’s worth, the attraction beyond that was flawless. Every effect was working and the First Order CMs were on point. (Seriously, they just keep getting better–evolving their intensity and adding to their dialogue.)

Above is a look at the longest wait times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios after we exited Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

(Tower of Terror is an error–we walked over there a few minutes later and the posted wait was 13 minutes, with the line also looking a lot shorter for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Sunset Boulevard and Echo Lake were looking great around sunset.

Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge were also delightful. The posted wait time for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was 35 minutes, and I’m guessing the actual wait was shorter than that. As we’ve noted several times, the lines really die down for this attraction in the evening.

Shortly after this, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway broke down for around 30 minutes, causing the wait time for that to spike for the rest of the night.

Based upon our observations (we were literally just making loops of the park at this point), pretty much “everyone” in Disney’s Hollywood Studios was up by Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Towards the end of the night, the rest of the park felt like off-season. Wait times were under 30 minutes for every single other attraction by 7:30 pm (an hour before park close). Not bad for the opening day of a new headliner attraction!

Aside from walking around soaking up the pleasant atmosphere, we didn’t end up doing a whole lot.

We did check out the new Mickey Shorts Theater and watched the “Vacation Fun” short. Neither of us had ever seen “Potatoland” until then, so that segment of the montage helped clear up some things for us. (All in all, the cartoon and accompanying photo ops are solid additions to DHS–exactly what the park needs.)

Overall, it was a great day at Walt Disney World. We know this could feed into a variety of narratives, but we’d caution against extrapolating too much from all of this. It doesn’t mean that Runaway Railway is a flop, that the new attraction is pulling crowds away from other attractions, that chaos around Rise of the Resistance is magically resolved, or anything else.

Again, this is a time that’s normally slower for Walt Disney World, and that proved true at both parks we visited yesterday. If there is one takeaway from all of this, it’s that now is a fairly ideal time to visit Walt Disney World from the perspective of crowds. Weekends are a wildcard as those will likely draw more locals, but weekdays between now and mid-March should be excellent.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Were you at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot yesterday? What was your experience like? Have you noticed lower crowds at Walt Disney World this week? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? 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!

24 Responses to “Surprisingly Swell Debut Day at Hollywood Studios & Epcot”
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