What We Have Learned from Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge and Its Impact on Walt Disney World

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Disney was well prepared for large crowds for the May 2019 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland in California. For the first 24 days, only guests with a reservation booked prior to arrival were allowed into the new land. After this reservation-only period was over, Disney advertised it would operate a virtual queuing system to control the number of people entering the land. In addition, Disney employees could not use their free entrance privileges, and the most popular Annual Passes (Southern California and Southern California Select) were blocked out this summer. Disneyland even plastered a warning on its website, cautioning prospective guests that access to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is not guaranteed.

 

All of these preparations worked too well: They kept crowds under control in the new land, but guests also steered clear of the rest of the resort. Galaxy’s Edge has seldom filled to capacity, so the virtual queuing system has only been used one day. Overall 2019 summer crowds at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are well below typical summer crowds, causing Disney to introduce new offerings and promotions to attract guests to the Disneyland Resort.

The low crowds were a surprise to almost everyone, spurring a slew of clickbait headlines saying that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a failure. Clearly, Disneyland expected significantly higher summer attendance, but we are going to wait until Annual Passholders are allowed in and the land is complete when Rise of the Resistance opens in 2020 before calling the new land a flop.

Differences between Florida and California

Disneyland and Walt Disney World are very different resorts. Disneyland is a regional park where most guests go for the day. Disney World is an international destination were guests plans trips months or years in advance. Galaxy’s Edge opened in California before the peak summer period. Galaxy’s Edge in Florida will open at the end of summer, just prior to the low fall crowds. No guests will be blocked out of visiting Galaxy’s Edge in Florida. And Galaxy’s Edge in Florida will open at 6 a.m. for Extra, Extra Magic Hours, while in California Galaxy’s Edge has yet to participate in the Extra Magic Hour/Magic Morning programs.

Similarities between Florida and California

The initial operations of Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida will be similar to how they currently run in California. Both locations are opening with the same stores, restaurants, and one ride. The lone ride, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, is operating without FASTPASS/FastPass+. The mixed reviews of Smugglers Run should have the same impact on enthusiasm in both resorts. And some guests on both coasts are postponing their visits until the second ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opens in December in Florida and January in California. Disney employees are blocked out from visiting Galaxy’s Edge. The employee restricts were lifted in California; it will only take time to know if and when the employee restrictions are lifted in Florida.

Will Low Crowds Repeat at Walt Disney World?

Disney does not want the opening of Galaxy’s Edge to scare guests away from its Florida resort. With less than 40 days before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we have not heard anything about crowd management. In fact, Disney World’s intimidating “there is no guarantee that you will get into the Hollywood Studios park, let alone the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land” notice has been removed from its website. I suspect Hollywood Studios will have a virtual queuing system ready for use if it’s needed, but Disney will not overhype it, or even mention it in advance. Last week Walt Disney World extended hotel discounts for September through December. September typically has the lowest crowds at Walt Disney World, and we expect this to be true in 2019. Crowds will be higher this year than in 2018, but not unmanageable.

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run Wait Times

Smugglers Run is operating without FASTPASS/FastPass+. Personally, I think this is a smart move because it allows the standby line to move faster. The wait times at Disneyland have been reasonable, and we expect similar wait times at Hollywood Studios.

The pattern of a quick rise in wait times at opening followed by a tapering off will likely repeat in Florida. With the 6 a.m. Extra, Extra Magic Hours, it will likely take longer after opening for the peak wait time to occur, but wait times will still peak before 10 a.m.

Choosing the Best Month to Visit Disney World and Galaxy’s Edge

It is best to use the Crowd Calendar to see specific daily crowd levels. This is a high-level rank of crowds by month.

Month Reason
1 September 2019 Most schools are in session. Only one Star Wars ride will be open.
2 August 2020 Schools are starting. People have had 8 months to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
3 July 2020 Summer 2020 will have the full Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, as well as other new attractions.
4 June 2020
5 October 2019 Fall discounts and holiday parties will bring guests to the parks. Many schools have fall breaks in October.
6 November 2019
7 May 2020 May is competing with September for low crowds. May will be the first “low” season with a full Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
8 January 2020 Holidays, events, and school breaks typically keep attendance up at the beginning of the year. The complete Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will just be an extra draw.
9 February 2020
10 March 2020 Spring Break crowds plus Star Wars.
11 April 2020
12 December 2019 Holiday crowds and Rise of the Resistance will be open. The first few days of December will not be bad.

Touring Strategies

This fall is going to be interesting. From September 1 to at least November 2, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom will have Morning Extra Magic Hours starting at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. every day. Having Extra Magic Hours every day will spread out the guests using them. Epcot will have Extra Magic Hours twice a week. For those early risers, some of the best touring ever will be available before 8 a.m.

Hollywood Studios

FastPass+ tiering is going to frustrate many people. Starting on August 29 (when Galaxy’s Edge opens), guests can only reserve one “good” FastPass+ at Hollywood Studios. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, don’t use FastPass+ at Hollywood Studios; hop elsewhere and use your FastPass+ at a different park.

Most people arriving at Hollywood Studios will go directly to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The rest of the park is going to be a ghost town before 8 a.m. If you arrive at 6 a.m., you will be able to do all of the open attractions (excluding Galaxy’s Edge) before 9 a.m.

Galaxy’s Edge is going to be crowded. Plan on spending half a day in the land. If you are not among the first 500 people in the park, let the wait times die down at Smugglers Run. Avoid arriving at Galaxy’s Edge between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

You will likely have to arrive at the park before 5 a.m. to be in the first batch of people at Galaxy’s Edge.

Epcot

With Epcot only having Morning Extra Magic Hours on Thursdays, avoid Thursdays. If you are going to use Morning Extra Magic Hours, use them at a different park. Since Thursdays will have Morning Extra Magic Hours at all four parks, the other parks (Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom) will have fewer people than on other days.

Magic Kingdom

Days with Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party will have low wait times before 4 p.m. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, go to the Magic Kingdom on party days and schedule your FastPass+ for a different park in the afternoon.

Animal Kingdom

Take advantage of the Morning Extra Magic Hours. Anything for which you are unable to get a FastPass+ reservation will have reasonably low wait times before 9 a.m. Be in line to ride Avatar Flight of Passage prior to when the park opens for Extra Magic Hours at 7 a.m.

Morning Extra Magic Hours

September and October are going to see morning Extra Magic Hours at 3 or 4 parks every day. This is very unusual and will affect touring. This is going to give a large advantage to onsite guests. My next blog post will delve deep into the Extra Magic Hours for all guests.

Future Updates

Once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open in Florida, we will observe operations and revise our recommendations. Although we have seen several new lands open over the past few years, each one is different, and it may take a while for predictable trends to develop.

Have questions for our stats gurus? Let us know in the comments.

Steve Bloom

By helping TouringPlans.com continue to reach the most accurate crowd level predictions, Steve finally found a way to meld his training in statistical analysis with a lifelong passion for Disney. He first visited the Magic Kingdom in 1972, just a few months after it opened. Now he enjoys frequent trips with his two kids. At age four his son insisted on wearing cowboy boots to reach the height requirement for Test Track, and his daughter believes that a smoked turkey leg and Dole Whip make a perfectly balanced meal. Even though she doesn't quite get it, Steve's wife is supportive of his Disney activities.

26 thoughts on “What We Have Learned from Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge and Its Impact on Walt Disney World

  • July 25, 2019 at 9:53 am
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    I really appreciate posts like this. I’m drinking them in as I plan for my upcoming stay. That said, we’ll be going in early December (post-RotR opening) and am curious to hear about touring recommendations once the EEMHs are gone. Of course, I also realize that since it’s not yet open, a lot is speculation, but please keep that time period on your radar and provide info for the pre-Holiday rush when you think that you’ve got at least a reasonable assurance of what to expect.

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    • July 25, 2019 at 12:14 pm
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      I am curious about this time period as well. We are considering taking a trip somewhere in the December 6th through December 19th range, going for a few days and were wondering what your predictions are for how much you think Rise of the Resistance will impact crowds. Is there likely to be a large influx into Hollywood Studios in early December?

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    • July 25, 2019 at 1:01 pm
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      We won’t forget about November and beyond. We will learn more before your trip and will have revised recommendations.

      It is possible EEMH will be extended. I’m afraid Disney is going to regret all the EMH hours in September and October, and will not offer them in November and December when they will be needed.

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      • July 25, 2019 at 2:03 pm
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        Awesome! Appreciate all the work you guys are doing. I know not knowing what the crowds will be like, compounded with not knowing how the crowds will be handled (virtual queue, etc.), just makes your job that much harder to get info out on shortened timelines as people try to plan (you taught us to do that, ya know! :-).

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  • July 25, 2019 at 10:14 am
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    What do you suggest for people staying offsite in October? We can’t be there for the EEMH but what do you recommend on arrival times for MK and AK? We are doing a short first time trip and know we will just get to do a small amount of what’s there but still want a great trip.

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    • July 25, 2019 at 1:07 pm
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      With MK and AK having 7 am EMH every day, the people using EMH will be spread across 7 days. I don’t think the EMH crowds will be very large on any one day. Be at MK or AK by 7:30. They will hold you past the turnstiles, you will still be ahead of the majority of guests.

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      • July 25, 2019 at 1:17 pm
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        Awesome thanks so much 🙂 I’ve been nervous because we had to change plans and shorten our stay and move offsite. We are excited to just get to be at Disney World though and will e joy whatever we get to do this trip. 🙂 Thanks for the great information and advice you give!

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  • July 25, 2019 at 10:45 am
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    What about using our DAS pass for the new Star Wars ride when we go the end of September-early October?

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    • July 25, 2019 at 11:35 am
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      DAS works the same at MF:SR as it does at all other attractions. They will issue you a return time, and you will enter through the (otherwise unused) Fastpass entrance.

      Reply
  • July 25, 2019 at 10:45 am
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    I’ve been looking for posts like this (data nerd hear!) and this kind of stuff is a gold mine for me and planning.

    I’m planning a trip last of October, 25-30. I have a bit of an odd schedule as the main reason for Hollywood studios is GE.

    The only other ride on the plan is toy story mania, and then a few of the shows (beauty and the beast, little mermaid, frozen, etc. ) so that days AFP are gonna be odd, bc we are staying on site and have a 60 day lead time, it feels odd to use ONE T1 fast pass, and then ONE T2 (Fantasmic) so late in the day … Because the plan is to spend the morning in GE, use TSM FP, take skyline to CBR for lunch and do shows in the afternoon.

    It’s not a typical touring plan I don’t feel and so I’m curious if there’s a better way to plan this day since the focus is GE. Thoughts on this type of plan for Galaxys Edge in October?

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    • July 25, 2019 at 1:24 pm
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      Sounds good to me. If your goal is to do everything at Hollywood Studios, I would do GE after lunch. You could cover the rest of the park before lunch. Since you would be in the park early, you could make reservations for Savi’s Workshop and Oga’s Cantina.

      Reply
      • July 25, 2019 at 1:32 pm
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        We do plan on doing MF:SR as well… is it still better to go after lunch? Touring plans still schedule everything in GE as AM… but I’m wondering if doing Smugglers Run for EEMH and making a res for Savi’s is better? (didn’t know you would be able to make a res for Savi, still debating the cost on this one too)

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        • July 25, 2019 at 1:44 pm
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          Well before your vacation, we will know the traffic pattern at Hollywood Studios. Based on your description it sounded like you were planning a chill day. If you are instead going all out, arrive at 5 am and go straight to Smuggler’s Run and then leave Galaxy’s Edge and do the other attractions. After lunch return to GE.

          By October I suspect you will be able to make Savi’s and Oga’s reservation in advance in My Disney Experience. Disneyland has just rolled out a reservation system which will allow guest to make reservations 14-days in advance.

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          • July 25, 2019 at 2:25 pm
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            Great advice thanks! I’ll be doing AFP’s on 8/26 and the only one I need is Mania, maybe 🙂

            Doing a res for Savi’s just makes more sense for me then standing in line for 180 mins.

  • July 25, 2019 at 10:48 am
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    EEMH sounds amazing for touring bc of epically low crowds. But if crowds are that low, is there any risk that Disney could cancel them during Sept/Oct? Or would it be unheard of for Disney to withdraw a benefit once officially announced? We are going in Oct and I have this nightmare vision of hearing Disney “cancel EEMH (except SWGE) due to low attendance”.

    PS. Love this site! Brings me back to my days as an algorithm optimization specialist. Thank you for all your hard work!

    Reply
    • July 25, 2019 at 12:55 pm
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      I don’t think Disney will cancel EEMH, but they may limit what is available. They might only have SWGE, or a rolling opening schedule. So 6 am SWGE, 7 am Toy Story Land, and 8 am Hollywood Boulevard. The Magic Kingdom only has two lands open for EMH so it would not be unheard of.

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      • July 25, 2019 at 4:00 pm
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        Thank you for the response! I guess that is what re-optimizing the touring plan is for 🙂

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  • July 25, 2019 at 2:53 pm
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    We will be staying at POR from August 21 – 31. I was hoping they would offer reservations or EMH during my stay but no such luck. If we want to see Galaxy Edge what time do you think we’d have to arrive on Thursday, August 29? Or would it be best to try to hop there later in the day?

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    • July 25, 2019 at 4:19 pm
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      August 29 is going to be crazy. I would not be surprised if people start lining up on the 28th. I expect the crowds will be better in the afternoon. If you want to be part of the crazy, I would show up by 4 am. Showing up at 5 am on 8/30 will be better.

      Reply
  • July 25, 2019 at 3:03 pm
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    We are staying onsite in mid/late September, will our entire party of 6 all need to be in the park to make a “boarding pass/Oga’s/Savi’s reservation”? Assuming that they go with the virtual queue system. We also currently have a morning ADR outside the park at Bon Voyage on one of our HS days, will we be able to enter the park to make those reservations and then leave to come back after eating breakfast?

    Reply
    • July 26, 2019 at 12:46 pm
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      When Disneyland’s GE opened, everyone in your party needed to be in the park for the Boarding Pass, not for Oga’s and Savi’s. Leaving the park and returning for your reservation should not be a problem.

      Disneyland now has an online reservation for Oga’s and Savi’s. Hopefully, WDW will have a similar system in place.

      Reply
  • July 26, 2019 at 10:05 am
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    Are the only differences between the two lands the locations and EEMH? From the title I was expecting it to say this is different in Orlando vs Anaheim.

    Thanks for answering.

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    • July 26, 2019 at 10:25 am
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      This blog post is more about the crowd levels, and expectations learned from the opening of GE in DL Since no one has been in to GE yet in WDW we wont know until a guest is allowed in any real land differences.

      The only difference right now is that there are no 4 hour blocks of time onguests visiting the GE like there was in DL.

      Reply
  • July 29, 2019 at 4:07 pm
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    Just thinking out loud here but I would assume Disney will have to begin thinking of announcing Fastpass+ if they are going to do it in the next month. Since 60 days prior to November 2nd (last day of the Extra Extra Morning Magic Hours) is September 3rd, I would think Disney would have something in place to handle those guests trying to reserve in their 60 day window. Even conceivably, August 4th which is the 90 day window for the extra pass pilot program for club level guests. So, my guess is if they have any idea that they are going to turn on Fastpass+, they would have info out to CMs by September 3rd. Otherwise, it would be a real train wreck to decide to implement the FP+ system and then have all of these irate guests that had already passed their window. Just a thought.

    Reply
    • July 29, 2019 at 4:25 pm
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      You are correct about the timing. The first we learned about the changes for FastPass+ tiering was based on the options for club level guests. My guess is there will not be a change in FastPass+ tiering until Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens. I expect that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will open without FastPass+.

      Reply
      • July 29, 2019 at 4:31 pm
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        That makes a lot of sense. We will be there in late January 2020 and have club level access to signature services for the extra passes. So selfishly I was keeping my fingers crossed that the might consider FP+. But I am thinking there won’t be any for MFSR or RotR and maybe just use the VQ to fight any fires until the new tiers are created. I still am hopeful we will know something more definitively out of Disney for post November 1st here shortly.

        Reply

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