For decades, a truism of Walt Disney World touring was that you had to arrive before rope drop to efficiently experience everything in the park in one day. But what if a combination of attraction closures and FastPass+ reservations made it possible to sleep in and still experience everything of note at Disney’s Hollywood Studios — including most of the new Star Wars entertainment — before closing time? That was the theory behind Len’s new Disney’s Hollywood Studios One Day Touring Plan for Late Arrivals, and I put it to the test last Friday, April 22, a day that was predicted to be a 7 out of 10 on our Crowd Calendar.
For the TL;DR crowd, I’ll cut to the chase: with our new Late Arrival touring plan, and the proper FastPass+ reservations, it is now possible (even on a busy day) to arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at noon and see every worthwhile attraction before the evening ends. This is great news for families who want to hit the snooze button after a late night in the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, once nighttime hours there begin.
Preparing to use the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Late Arrivals Touring Plan
There is a catch: you’ll need to do some preparation in My Disney Experience ahead of time. The key to this plan is to secure consecutive FastPasses for Toy Story Midway Mania, Star Tours, and Tower of Terror beginning as soon as possible after your noon arrival time. In my case, I booked Toy Story for 12:15 p.m.-1:15 p.m.; Star Tours for 1:15 p.m.-2:15pm; and Tower of Terror for 2:15 p.m.-3:15 p.m.
As a solo annual passholder, I had to reserve nearly 30 days ahead to get the proper time windows. Hotel guests booking FastPass+ reservations 60 days out should have an easier time of it, but the larger your party the slimmer your chances of getting your first choices. Make sure you’ve upgraded your smartphone with the latest version of the My Disney Experience app, which makes it much easier to specify preferred times, and try breaking your party into smaller groups with overlapping FastPass+ windows. Remember that you get an unpublicized grace period of 5 minutes before and 15 minutes after your window, which extends the time you can use your FastPass+.
Once your FastPass+ reservations are secured, you’ll want to make your own copy of our Disney’s Hollywood Studios One Day Touring Plan for Late Arrivals to customize and evaluate. Enter your precise FastPass+ reservation times, and I suggest selecting “enforce use of FastPass” if optimizing your plan.
When the day arrives, try to get to the parking lot in time to pass through the front gates before your first FastPass+ window begins (ideally before noon), allowing time for additional security screenings. That should be late enough to let you get a good night’s sleep, and a hearty late breakfast/early lunch around your hotel. Make sure you don’t arrive hungry; this plan calls for an early quick service dinner at 5:30 p.m., and you’ll have time to grab some snacks, but there are too many attractions to allow for multiple full meals.
I got through the touchpoints by 11:55 a.m., grabbed a park map and times guide, and stopped to watch a couple of my favorite remaining Citizens of Hollywood on my way to the first step on my plan.
With a few minutes to go before my first FastPass+, I had time to watch Captain Phasma’s stormtroopers parade from Star Wars Launch Bay to the central stage. Though not listed on the times guide, the brief event takes place every hour on the hour.
The costumed characters do a good job of intimidating the crowd, but there’s no compelling reason for even serious Star Wars fans to go out of their way to see this modest march, so we haven’t included it in our official plan. Now, on with the show:
Step 1: Toy Story Midway Mania (with FastPass+)
The plan was off to a great start: despite a 75 minute posted standby wait, I was on Toy Story Midway Mania in under 5 minutes using FastPass+, and back in the park by 12:25 p.m. (We won’t talk about my paltry score and sore wrist!)
Step 2: Star Wars Launch Bay
This walk-through exhibit of replica Star Wars props is one of the newer attractions in the park, and though modest in scale is a must-do for fans of the saga. It’s also a great attraction to hit at midday, though here I encountered one of the few glitches (soon to be corrected) in our plan. Our software insists you’ll wait 20 minutes to enter the Star Wars Launch Bay, when in fact the average wait is only 5 minutes, and even less if you opt to skip the 9 minute introductory film. That means I had time to watch the film, examine the displays, and meet both characters while still staying ahead of the touring plan’s predicted timeline!
Step 3 & 4: Jedi Training: Trails of the Temple & Star Tours
Let’s keep the Force rolling with two more Star Wars adventures. My Star Tours FastPass+ was about to activate, but a performance of Jedi Training: Trails of the Temple was just beginning. That’s not surprising, since Jedi Training runs almost continuously, with a new show starting at 10 and 40 past every hour.
It should be easy to catch a performance on your way into Star Tours (as I did) or immediately after riding, just as long as your kid doesn’t insist on participating (which is incompatible with this touring plan). Being childless, I watched the Padawans pummel Darth Vader before waiting less than 5 minutes for my flight to Jakku.
Step 5: MuppetVision 3-D
Fresh from fighting the Empire, I flew to the newly rechristened Muppet Courtyard, where I only had to wait two minutes until the next showing of MuppetVision 3-D. The version at California Adventure won’t be returning any time soon, but Orlando’s attraction recently activated some new digital displays in the preshow area, which may be linked to upcoming StoryMaker enhancements.
I exited MuppetVision by 2:09 p.m., with time to spare before my third FastPass+ kicked in, so I scoped out some changes to food service around the park. Pizza Planet is currently closed for an extended refurbishment, and rumored to become a new Muppets eatery; other then some minor demolition to the facade, no progress is visible.
There is however an attractive mural of Star Wars concept art on the nearby construction wall blocking off Streets of America.
Over at Echo Lake, Oasis Canteen now sells chicken nuggets instead of funnel cakes. You’ll have to visit Magic Kingdom or Epcot if you want a funnel cake from now on.
Step 6: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
It was time for my final pre-booked FastPass+ of the day, and once again it was a huge timesaver. The 50 minute posted standby wait at Tower of Terror was slashed to just under 10 minutes, including the library preshow.
That ten minute wait was just enough time to use the new features in My Disney Experience to book my fourth FastPass+ of the day without having to find a kiosk. The good news is that the system worked great; the bad news is that Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, my preferred ride, was fully reserved for the day. I settled for a Great Movie Ride FastPass+ that would become active as soon as I exited the attraction.
On the way out, I examined this corner across from the PhotoPass desk, which is rumored to become a new bar. Sorry, no sign of cocktails yet!
But you can get boozy coffee from Joffrey’s just outside the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Step 7: The Great Movie Ride
Thanks to the FastPass+ I had booked only minutes before, The Great Movie Ride‘s 15 minute posted wait was reduced to less than 5 before I was off to be hijacked by gangsters.
Step 8: For the First Time in Forever
The Great Movie Ride spat me out just in time to visit the restroom and be seated for the 3:30 p.m. performance of the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.
Unfortunately, the Frozen show started a few minutes past it’s advertised time, which made it impossible to make it to the 4 p.m. Beauty and the Beast show as originally planned. Instead, I easily reshuffled my showtimes in Lines to bump up the Star Wars stage show in the touring plan, rescheduling Beauty and the Beast for later. While I was at it, I booked my final FastPass+ of the day for Fantasmic!, ensuring that I could show up as late as 15 minutes before the popular show and still get a seat.
Shuffling shows gave me just enough time to do something that should be essential to any imbiber’s Hollywood Studios touring plan: an Ultimate Long Island at Tune-In Lounge. It has by my count about 4 shots of liquor in it, making it one of the more potent libations on Disney property, but goes down smooth as a soft drink. Warning, these can completely derail your touring plan if you aren’t careful. Hot tip: try to grab an open seat even if you are ordering to-go, because the take-out line moves glacially slow.
Step 9: Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away
The ageant-style stage show A Galaxy Far, Far Away is one of DHS’s hyped new Star Wars additions for summer 2016, along with the upcoming updated fireworks. It consists of clips from all 7 films, displayed on giant screens that rise out of the central stage at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, punctuated by brief appearances by costumed characters. C-3PO and R2-D2, Boba Fett, Darths Maul & Vader, Chewbacca, and others each enter, deliver a signature quote (or sound effect) and stomp back off stage. At the end, everyone appears for a finale photo op, but there’s no attempt at storytelling or interaction. Still it’s the biggest collection of Star Wars characters you’ll see simultaneously now that Disney has deep-sixed Star Wars Weekends.
I was able to secure an acceptable view by arriving a few minutes before the 4:30 p.m. performance, and the brief running time life plenty of room to make it to my next step.
Step 10: Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
My mid-day schedule reshuffling to see the 5 p.m. Beauty and the Beast show worked out perfectly. I had briefly considered using a FastPass+ for this attraction, but it proved unnecessary, as I was able to get center section seating right in front of the sound booth as a walk-in arriving 10 minutes before curtain.
I hadn’t seen this show in a couple years, and it’s aged badly compared to the musicals at Animal Kingdom and Disneyland. If you are visiting during a time when fewer shows are scheduled and have to sacrifice one, this is becoming a prime candidate to skip, unless your little princess is bonkers for Belle.
Step 11: Eat Dinner
Following the Beastly performance, I broke for an early dinner, in a successful effort to avoid crowds. I picked the ABC Commisary, which discontinued all the fish dishes I used to enjoy, and decided to “take one for the team” by sampling the New York Strip. Please learn from my suffering: the steak was an overdone sliver of shoe leather, served with grayish green beans and Disney’s standard French fries.
After choking down this meal, I’m ready to declare the only redeeming feature of ABC Commisary is this prop display from The Goldbergs:
Step 12: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
A long show to sit and digest what just what I needed after dinner, and the audience participation preshow for Indiana Jones‘s 6 p.m. performance started minutes after I arrived at the stadium. While the pacing between stunts is slow, and the script could use some freshening, it’s still an impressive display, even when (as on days like this) most of the Cairo chase sequence is cut because of approaching rain.
Step 13: Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream
Overlooked by many, this walk-through exhibit of Walt Disney’s life and art is essential viewing whenever I visit DHS. Currently, the biographic film at the exhibit’s end is being preempted by a Jungle Book preview. I left the preview early because I had just seen it in Disney California Adventure, where it has 3-D and 4-D effects that DHS does not. Note: if a performance of The Little Mermaid is about to start as you enter Animation Courtyard, you may want to swap this step with the next one.
Step 14: Voyage of the Little Mermaid
A new Voyage of the Little Mermaid show starts every 25 minutes or so, and I slipped into the 7:05 p.m show with seconds to spare. Like Beauty and the Beast, this production boasts beloved characters and songs, but is badly in need of an update. The blacklight “Under the Sea” puppets are fun, but the projection effects look very dated, and the script doesn’t do a much better job of telling the story than the dark ride at Magic Kingdom.
Step 15, 16, &: Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Fantasmic!, and Star Wars Fireworks
At this point, it was about 7:25 p.m., and while the touring plan was right on track, my engine was out of steam. The posted wait time for Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, the final remaining ride in the park, was 60 minutes, which Lines estimated as a 48 minute actual wait. The single rider line was backed up down the ramp; I’d estimate it was at least a 30 minute wait.
Either route would have had me on my high-speed limousine and off again in time to use my FastPass+ for Fantasmic!
And after Fantasmic!, there’s just enough time to find a spot on Hollywood Boulevard or around Echo Lake to watch the Star Wars fireworks; I like to squeeze into the public area directly to the right of the private dessert party, in front of the new projection towers.
I hope I’ve demonstrated that with the proper touring plan and FastPass+ preparation, it’s possible to roll up at midday and still see “everything” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you try this technique during your next visit, please write in and let us now how it worked!