Star Wars: The Unintended Consequences

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The opening of Rise of the Resistance at Disney Hollywood Studios on December 5 marks the end of the beginning of Galaxy’s Edge, so this seems like a good time to review the history of the land from the initial announcement to now. What follows here is my personal account of the complete story of Galaxy’s Edge, including my opinions on the new land and how it operates. Of course, this is a TouringPlans post, so it will also break down park operations, wait times, crowds, and trip planning in the post-Galaxy’s Edge version of Walt Disney World.

In The Beginning

A Star Wars land was first publicly announced by Bob Iger at the D23 Expo on August 15, 2015. Construction began at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World on April 14, 2016. In February 2017, Iger stated that the lands were scheduled to open in 2019 at both locations. In May 2018, it was announced that the Disneyland version of the land would open in summer 2019, followed by Disney’s Hollywood Studios version in late fall 2019. In February we got details about what to expect with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Finally, in March 2019, specific opening dates were announced: May 31, 2019, for Disneyland and August 29, 2019, for Walt Disney World. With the announcement, we were told that the lands would open without  Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and without FASTPASS/FastPass+. On July 11, 2019, Disney announced the opening dates for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance: December 5, 2019, at Walt Disney World, and January 17, 2020, at Disneyland.

Disney Hype

In the build-up of the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland warned guests that access may be limited due to capacity limitations of the land and park. For the first few weeks, it was required to have a reservation to enter the Star Wars land. Hotels in Anaheim raised their rates for Summer 2019. All the hype scared people away from Disneyland. Summer 2019 had lower attendance than a normal summer.

Learning from the underwhelming response to Galaxy’s Edge in California, the hype for Walt Disney World was eventually toned down. Although scary language was initially present on the Walt Disney World website, warning guests that Galaxy’s Edge or Hollywood Studios could fill to capacity, by mid-summer Disney gad removed all language from its website about limited access.

Opening Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in stages was a bit of a surprise. From Disney Parks Blog: “In light of tremendous demand, Disney made the decision to open the land in phases to allow guests to sooner enjoy the one-of-a-kind experiences that make Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge so spectacular.” In hindsight, opening a land without its headliner attraction was a mistake. The early opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was to increase revenue, not guests’ demand. The unintended consequence here is that in the future Disney probably will not open a new land without its headliner.

Operations at Walt Disney World

On May 4, 2019, Walt Disney World announced “Extra, Extra, Magic Hours.” Disney’s Hollywood Studios offered daily Extra, Extra Magic Hours from September 1 through November 2, between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m. Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom parks had Extra, Extra Magic Hours every day between August 29 and November 2, between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. The large crowds that did not materialize in California also did not show in Florida. As a result, the Extra, Extra Magic Hours provided some of the lowest-wait touring ever at the resort. It was quickly clear that these Extra, Extra Magic Hours every day for 2+ months were unnecessary, but they had been announced in advance, and Disney almost never reduces published park hours. The unintended consequence of Extra, Extra, Magic Hours is that Disney did not announce any extra park hours prior to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opening. After the opening of Rise of the Resistance showed that interest was strong, Disney changed the Hollywood Studios opening time to 8:00 a.m. on most days in December. Then a few days later Disney adjusted opening times even earlier, to 7:00 a.m. Having taking proactive measures to handle a demand that never materialized for Fall 2019, in with Rise of the Resistance Disney is taking a reactive approach, prudently adding park hours only after demand is demonstrated.

The staggered opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is rumored to be a result of delays in the construction of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Instead of postponing the opening of the whole land, Disney decided to finish everything other than that marquis attraction. Rumors continued that Rise of the Resistance was behind schedule. Some people were expecting Disney would not make the December 5 opening date. Postponing the opening date would have been a public relations nightmare. The ride did open on-time, but it continues to operate with frequent break-downs, and lower-than-needed capacity.

Boarding Groups

Disney’s park operations came with an elegant solution to the predicament in which they were placed. Their solution for running a high-demand attraction with poor reliability and low capacity is a virtual queue. This virtual queue system, called “boarding groups”, limits the number of people waiting for the ride, and guests can maintain their location in the queue even if there are operational problems. Being a virtual queue, guests are able to ride other attractions or even leave the park.

To learn more about the Boarding Groups watch our YouTube video.

There are many unintended consequences of the boarding groups.

Park Opening

One rule with the virtual queue is that guests must be in the park before joining a boarding group. Since the number of people who can join a boarding group is limited, people are getting to Hollywood Studios early: very, very early. People arrive 2-3 hours before the park opens.

The unintended consequence of people arriving so early is that Disney is opening the park early. Even with a posted open time of of 7, 8, or 9 a.m., the park has been opening between 6 and 6:30 a.m. It appears that Disney is prepared for the entire park to be open that early. Disney has learned that guests will arrive 2 hours before the park opens. If they did announce a 6 a.m. opening time, guests would probably arrive at 4 a.m.

Poor Disney Communication

Part of the poor communication is that front-line Cast Members simply lack answers. Operations are changing from day to day, and Disney is learning how things are working each day. Free from the burden of adhering to any published long-term schedule or operational procedures, Disney can easily change its plans.

Disney has standard responses for many questions, and management (which should have internal expectations for ride operations) withholds information from Cast Members so they don’t have to withhold the information from guests. As a result, guests hear things like: “We don’t know when the ride will open,” or “We don’t know when the park will open,” or “We don’t know when the boarding groups will fill up.”

The standard response regarding Disney transportation is that buses start running 45 minutes before the park opens. Typically buses run earlier due to restaurant reservations and tours, and Hollywood Studios buses are currently starting at 6:30 a.m.

Crowd Flow

One unintended consequence of opening the park prior to published park opening is some great touring at Hollywood Studios. Not only are there fewer people in the park, the FastPass+ queues are closed. Therefore, all the capacity of the rides goes to the standby queue. This allows the standby queues to run 50-100% faster. Another unintended consequence of opening the park early and the rush to join the virtual queue is that the peak wait times at all attractions happen earlier in the day. Currently, we are seeing peak wait times between 9 and 11 a.m. instead of 3 and 5 p.m. With many guests being able to ride everything early, they can leave once they ride Rise of the Resistance. Evenings at Hollywood Studios are seeing lower than average crowds.

The table below shows when the peak wait times for Hollywood Studios attraction occurred since Rise of the Resistance opened, and the same time in 2018.

Attraction 2018 2019
Slinky Dog Dash* 1 PM 12 PM
Alien Swirling Saucers* 12 PM 11 AM
Rock Coaster 3 PM 12 PM
Star Tours 2 PM 11 AM
Toy Story Mania! 12 PM 10 AM
Tower of Terror 2 PM 11 AM

Below are the average wait times for Hollywood Studios attractions for the 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. hours, since Rise of the Resistance opened, and the same time in 2018.

9 AM 7 PM
2018 2019 2018 2019
Slinky Dog Dash* 98.9 73.8 58.1 51.2
Alien Swirling Saucers* 33.3 33.6 25.1 18.6
Rock Coaster 31.1 53.6 46.6 37.7
Star Tours 11.5 18.7 18.3 9.3
Toy Story Mania! 42.9 50.3 32.5 28.1
Tower of Terror 28.7 49.0 52.0 29.7

* Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers opened June 30, 2018. Wait times were elevated in 2018 as they were new attractions.

Full Boarding Groups

The virtual queue fills up very quickly. If the virtual queue is not filled before the park opening, it will be filled within the first hour the park is open. Some guests who cannot enter the virtual queue will skip Hollywood Studios and try a different day.

Crowd Level

The limited space in the virtual queue is keeping attendance down at Hollywood Studios. The early entry is letting people ride most attractions early. The method for computing the park’s crowd level is based on the average wait time of attractions between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. With peak wait times occurring earlier and wait times tapering off faster, the actual crowd level we post on the website are unexpectedly low. A crowd at 8 a.m. will feel like a 10 on most days, even though the afternoon will be calm.

Extra Magic Hours

Sunday, December 8, 2019, was the first day Hollywood Studios had Morning Extra Magic Hours from 6 to 8 a.m. Before Sunday it was not clear how the virtual queue would work. It was earlier announced that Rise of the Resistance would not be open during Extra Magic Hours. Once guests were in the park, it was announced that the virtual queue would open at 7:45. This meant that a guest who got into the park at 6 a.m. did not have any advantage over a guest who entered the park at 7:44 a.m. This also meant that guests who were not staying at an on-site hotel had little-to-no chance of getting in the virtual queue.

Basically, Morning Extra Magic Hours is a disadvantage for most people. Morning Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios have been removed on December 15 and 22 and into January, replaced with evening Evening Extra Magic Hours from 9 to 11 p.m. As long as the virtual queue is used, I would expect to see fewer Morning Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios.

FastPass+

The current tier structure for FastPass+ is frustrating. With the early entry, and the ability to ride most everything before the park opens, it is best to use your FastPasses at a different park.

Park Hopping

While early entry is happening at Hollywood Studios, park-hopping can be used very efficiently at Walt Disney World. On days you want to ride Rise of the Resistance, you need to arrive very early to Hollywood Studios. By the time you ride Rise of the Resistance, you have likely experienced everything else on your plan. If you don’t care to ride Rise of the Resistance, visit a different park in the morning and go to Hollywood Studios in the late afternoon, after the early crowds have left.

Future of the Virtual Queue

We have no idea how long Rise of the Resistance will use a virtual queue. Considering how bad the opening of Rise of the Resistance could have gone, the virtual queue made the opening go very smoothly. Most people who have used the virtual queue like it, and wish to see more virtual queues. The problem with a virtual queue is that people in the virtual queue have to go somewhere else physically. A park like Volcano Bay with only virtual queues does not work great, but I could see a having a single attraction in each park with a virtual queue working well for Disney and for its guests.

What are your thoughts about the unintended consequences surrounding Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? 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.

17 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Unintended Consequences

  • December 12, 2019 at 10:04 pm
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    I hope things ease up by mid-February. We are older guests and I don’t relish getting up early enough to get to DHS by 6am, then endure a tiring wait anyway with no guarantee we’ll get into a queue. We’re pretty good at creating relatively leisurely, low-stress, low-wait-time WDW trips; DHS as an endurance sport does not sound like a good time.

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    • December 13, 2019 at 8:59 am
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      Keep your fingers crossed, but don’t count on it. People still arrive 1-2 hours early at the Animal Kingdom to ride Flight of Passage.

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  • December 12, 2019 at 10:06 pm
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    Wow. Just received email crowd calendar dropping from 9 to 6. This is great news!

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  • December 13, 2019 at 7:07 am
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    So what does this mean for on-site guests? If I’m staying at a disney hotel can I join a boarding group from my hotel room?

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    • December 13, 2019 at 9:01 am
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      Only on morning Extra Magic Hours days do on-site guests get any advantage.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 8:27 am
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    No, you have to tap your magic band at the entrance and be in the park while setting up your boarding passes.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 10:12 am
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    I am very disappointed in the way Disney is handling things for Disney resort guests. Disney property continues to add rooms, then has additionally allowed the Disney Springs hotels the same “advantages” with Fastpass+, etc. Those of us who stay at actual Disney resorts are paying a lot more, but are no longer getting true advantages. Now they have removed EMH which was how I was planning to hit ROR on December 22nd (I booked the trip in January!!) so I have to fight the “everyone” else crowds. AND ROR was not READY based on the breakdowns and delays reported.

    Disney keeps adding special events that eat up hours of park time. Our family is quickly becoming disenchanted…I never minded paying the money to stay on property when we were getting the added benefits…but now Disney keeps increasing the prices to attend and stay at their resorts (including parking fees) and people who are not on resort property have the same opportunities. Sorry, RANT OVER!

    Hoping we do get the opportunity to ride ROR, but I am not super hopeful.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 10:18 am
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    This is especially frustrating for guests like myself and my family that come from the west coast and keep our kids on west coast time. We have done this as our MO for numerous trips back east and to WDW now and it has worked really well for our children. To be in the park at 7 am feels like 4 am requiring us to wake up somewhere around 3 am. We are heading back to WDW next spring and hope that Rise joins the Fast Pass + system.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 10:27 am
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    these crowds now are what we expected to encounter when we had our trip planned for labor day week. we had booked back in january when free dining was announced and everyone assumed SWGE would be opening in october (you know, that “late fall 2019” window that was everywhere). the day after we booked our ADRs in march, the hammer came down that we were going to be slammed with grand opening and we panicked big time, nearly canceling the entire trip. then dorian happened and we did push back a week at the 11th hour right before it made that slow turn. long story short, we didn’t encounter the crowds, thank goodness. we did manage one morning during EEMH to make it to the park by about 6:10am, but it was a challenge for sure, but it was a great advantage to have being publicized well in advance.

    but this… i am very thankful this ride was not open, no way could we have handled it with 2 small kids and grandma. i would be livid with the way park opening there was handled. i am strongly of the opinion disney made this mess themselves. if people show up 2 hours prior to posted opening, simply don’t allow them to start lining up. don’t open the parking lots, don’t run the buses. all it does is encourage more and more and more people to start lining up earlier and earlier. the posted opening time should be just that. that would be like if an airline said your flight leaves at 8am, you show up at 7am and they say it already left at 6am. if my family was visiting now and tried to get there so part of us could ride this, we wouldn’t stand a chance to get a boarding pass. one blog i read said boarding groups were gone by 530am when their writers arrived, that’s just insanity, especially when posted park opening was 2.5 hours after that. anyone who plans according to a posted opening time gets completely hosed if they show up an hour before (which should be PLENTY of time) and all spots have already been gone for an hour.

    from what i understand the virtual queue is great- for those who can actually get a spot. i think disney deserves all the complaints and criticism they are getting from guests who didn’t even get a fair shot though. everyone needs to start on a level playing field- posting an opening time and then opening up early with no announcement and boarding groups disappearing that same moment is not a level playing field. and quite frankly, i think they should have re-instituted EEMH for resort guests only for december, at least the people paying the most would have a slight benefit, but as it stands, they are just lumped in with the general public, which isn’t really fair either.

    i plan to ride the ride of course whenever we go again, but i don’t get this need people have to be the first to ride something immediately after it opens. why are these crowds and these early hours appealing to anyone? FOMO at it’s finest.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 11:32 am
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    I’m at WDW this week. Frankly, the virtual queue wouldn’t bother me if Disney actually adhered to their advertised opening times. We arrived at 7:30 for an advertised 8:00 opening. They were letting everybody in and we walked in at 7:45, I brought up the app to join a virtual queue and I watched it grey out in real time. I asked a cast member how this was possible and they said that guests were let in at 6:30AM due to “safety concerns.” Frankly, the land itself is beautifully themed and looks great, but there’s very little to do. A few shops, one or two places to eat, but with only two rides – one unreachable for most guests – and no shows other than a few random stormtroopers wandering around periodically, the land is easy to finish in an hour or two. With only being able to get one tier one fast pass, and no desire to wait in 90 minute lines for a ride I’ve ridden 50 times in my life, the unintended consequence of the state of the Hollywood Studios park is that Disney vets like me wandered around Star Wars land annoyed because of the lie of the actual opening time, then left the park early and went and spent our money off site.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 2:05 pm
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    Really helpful article and video. Thank you and keep up the great work! 🙂

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  • December 13, 2019 at 2:24 pm
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    it’s not letting me reply directly to jon’s comment above, but he makes my exact point- disney is claiming they are opening early for “safety” but that’s 100% their own doing. per my point above in my first comment, if they wouldn’t open the parking lot, not run resort transportation that early, and not allow people to start lining up hours beforehand at the gate, the safety point is negated completely. station security guards at the entrance and along the roads to not allow cars to begin lining up, make people have to drive around. the lining up hours beforehand will stop real quick. stick to the posted opening times. allow cars in at a normal hour, then begin letting people in. they are spending more money by running the park hours earlier by having to pay staff and run attractions.

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  • December 13, 2019 at 3:08 pm
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    Part of the lunacy is making every single person in your party be in DHS at the crack of dawn to get a boarding group together. That’s the–and the only–reason mornings at DHS have become an overcrowded, 5am madhouse. They could EASILY have done this via a similarly access-limited Fastpass+ strategy. The FP+ system is not so limited that they couldn’t allow guests to hold a RotR FP+ as a bonus FP+ without limiting the ability to reserve other Fastpasses–including in other parks. It’s a very robust system.

    Instead, they chose the current BG system which is to benefit of no one. Who wants to jack up their expensive, carefully planned (months in advance!) WDW vacation by getting up at the crack of dawn and keeping all your other pre-existing plans tentative–or giving them up–just for the possibility that at SOME POINT you MIGHT be able to ride RotR–as long as it doesn’t break down? No one, that’s who. The current strategy stinks.

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  • December 14, 2019 at 1:50 am
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    I don’t mind the complaints, that’s how things improve but I also want to keep my perspective. Disney just spent a billion dollars building a brand new land (twice) from scratch complete with attractions that will affect the entire amusement park industry for years. And people are mad or disappointed? Everyone realizes that they’re coming do Disney within the first year after a major new land is open, right? Just yesterday, flight of passage had 195 minute wait and it’s been open 2 and a half years.

    The virtual queue is brilliant. I can go do other stuff, leave, come back? Wow. Sure, it’s probably 70 or 80 percent a real feature but the benefit is just too good. I can see it for certain attractions like wait times over 120 minutes sustained like Avatar. Probably will apply to all of the upcoming major attractions (runaway railway, tron, guardians).

    I planned my trip in early September thinking it was before the land opened so it wouldn’t be as crowded. Oops, they open August 29, but how fun was that, second week it’s open we’re there at 6am in one of those lines moving to the millennium falcon. Too cool. And having Winnie the Pooh run up and hug the first time Disney visitor I brought with me was magic.

    If Disney is guilty of anything, it’s not knowing exactly what to expect. But one reason the crowds have been less than expected is because the mid-level Disney fans like me try to avoid visiting at times like this. My next trip is in a year. If I was there thought, not going on ROR isn’t the end of the world. When I saw people lining up for Avatar and the line wind all the way back to the tree of life I thought ‘who gets 220 minute line?’ So, I waited a year and a half for the next trip. Disney World is a lot more than just one attraction.

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  • December 14, 2019 at 6:49 pm
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    We just returned from a week-long trip wherein we spent 2 full days at HS. We arrived both days at 6:45 a.m. (not intending for the park to be open, but it was) we were able to get into virtual queues both days. 1st day, rode ROR around 11:30 a.m. waited about 20 mins and LOVED the entire experience! Day 2: ride stopped about 90% of the way through. We were escorted off (staff remained in character) and given fast-passes to ride again. Because of our plans, we weren’t able to ride again on the same day, so WDW accepted the passes on the next day. We basically walked right on. WDW staff were all extremely accommodating and answered our questions, beyond the canned responses. Thanks to touring plans, we also got on Millennium Falcon four times in 2 days! Our Galaxy’s Edge experience was truly OUT OF THIS WORLD! I was never disappointed, or anxious. We did it all, had a wonderful experience and were accommodated when things went awry. 5 stars! The saber and droid experiences are also a must! So cool!
    Family of 4, two boys age 11 and 14

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  • December 17, 2019 at 8:24 am
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    Coming to WDW is meant to be a holiday. Having to get the whole family up at 4am is not my idea of a family vacation. I like the idea of the Virtual Queue, but not how early the whole party needs to be there. If I had the option of just one member of the party getting up early to obtain the boarding passes for the whole party, that would be better. I’m hoping by the time we go in July that things will be a lot better. But there is no way I am dragging my son out of bed at 4am, and spoiling the rest of the holiday, when he is too tired.

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  • January 4, 2020 at 8:03 am
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    Average wait time on ALL rides yesterday was 2 to 2.5 hours. It was ridiculously busy we got in to Hollywood studios at 7:40am.
    No chance of getting in to queue.

    Reply

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