Hollywood Studios Touring Without Genie+: April 2023
We’re constantly testing our standard one-day touring plans in the parks to ensure they’re the highest quality possible. Recently, we had the chance to do side-by-side testing at Hollywood Studios with some Disney Cast Members who work in the park. We tested our plans, and we got to see if they knew any tricks that we could add to our touring plan optimizer app.
The result? If you want the shortest waits at Hollywood Studios without buying Genie+, we believe our touring plan below is the best strategy right now. This itinerary covers all the park’s top rides in a single day without relying on Lightning Lane. It’s based on the data we collected, but we’ll also tell you why we put the attractions in this order. That way you can adjust the list if something doesn’t appeal to you. After all, just because something is on our must-see list of attractions doesn’t mean it’s on yours.
We’ve included a lot of information on our testing below. But if you’re just here for the plan and you don’t want to hear about how we make them great, click here to go straight to the itinerary.
What We Tested in Hollywood Studios – And Why
We had to make a few choices about what to test. We wanted to do the simplest tests first to quickly expose any problem areas.
We Used Early Theme Park Entry
We decided to use Early Theme Park Entry. For testing, it made things simpler since we know the waits at park opening are zero minutes. From your touring perspective, time versus money is a common trade. To save time in line without paying for Genie+ one of your best tactics is to get to the park as early as you can.
The Attraction List
We chose these attractions to see:
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Meet Disney Stars at Red Carpet Dreams
- Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- MuppetVision 3D
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
- Toy Story Mania
- Tower of Terror
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was closed for refurbishment, so it’s not on this list.
We also didn’t include Rise of the Resistance. Our data shows that Rise of the Resistance is the #2 least-reliable ride in Walt Disney World, behind EPCOT’s Test Track. Every day Rise of the Resistance has, on average:
- Around two breakdowns where guests are kicked out of line and told to come back later.
- Around 110 minutes of downtime (this is to date in 2023, and it’s better than the 117 minutes per day in 2022).
So Rise breaks down often, and our test would break down along with it. We also omitted stage shows for a couple of reasons:
- Your wait depends mostly on how close to showtime you arrive. This adds variability (“noise”) to our results, without adding useful information.
- For most stage shows, you’re likely to be admitted to either the next scheduled performance or the one after that, so wait times don’t vary that much.
Although we didn’t include the shows in our tests, our plan tells you where to fit them in if you’d like to see them. And we’ll talk a bit more about Rise of the Resistance and Rock ‘n ‘Roller Coaster too.
We did include the Red Carpet Dreams meet and greet. Character meet and greets are popular with all age groups, and they can only handle a fraction of the guests that a ride can. Low guest capacity plus popularity means long lines unless you visit as soon as they open, but that’s a trade-off because lines are also growing fast at other attractions. This is the kind of trade-off analysis that the software is supposed to be good at, so we need to have real-world test results to make sure the app is optimizing correctly.
We Tested During Spring Break with Crowd Levels 9 and 10
I already said that we tried to keep things simple, but this was an exception. Testing in large crowds gives us the most information and they’re not always easy to come by. We tested different versions of our plans, and had our friends try their own strategies, during Spring Break 2023 – peak time at the parks. In fact, our testing on April 12, 2023 happened to be the busiest day the Studios had in the past year!
We Didn’t Use Genie+
We didn’t use Genie+ for a few reasons. One is that the return times you get with Genie+ can involve a certain amount of luck. If one of our testers got an early reservation for Slinky Dog Dash and another one didn’t, we can’t really make an apples-to-apples comparison of how they toured. Second, Genie+ makes the testing more complicated and we were trying to keep it simple.
Also, Genie+ was $35 per person during our tests. We’re reluctant to suggest spending $35 on Genie+ on top of the $25 per person that’s needed for Rise of the Resistance. We don’t think that you need Genie+ to tour Hollywood Studios with reasonable waits if you have a good plan.
What We Wanted to Observe – And Why
How Fast Do Wait Times Increase At Hollywood Studios?
We wanted to verify that our models were accurately forecasting how fast actual wait times grow in the first 30 minutes the park is open. Knowing this is crucial for choosing the correct first and second steps in a touring plan.
For example, suppose we know that when the park opens at 8:00 a.m., the actual wait time at Slinky Dog Dash is 40 minutes at 8:15 a.m. So the wait time grows from 0 minutes at 8:00 a.m. (when there’s no one in the park) to 40 minutes, in 15 minutes’ time.
There are a lot of ways to model that growth. The simplest is linear interpolation, which is like drawing a straight line between 0 and 40 minutes. The advantages to linear interpolation are that it’s easy to understand, simple to implement, and straightforward to check that it’s working the way it’s supposed to. One disadvantage to linear interpolation is that it assumes the same number of people arrive at the attraction every minute. For some rides that might be true. For popular rides like Slinky Dog Dash and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it’s almost certainly not true.
Huge groups of people – upwards of a thousand or more – can line up for rides like Slinky Dog Dash before the park opens. When the park opens, that group travels as one big mass to the ride. In this case, the wait time grows much faster than linear. (Exactly how fast depends on things like how far the group has to walk.) In this case, the best way to model the increase in wait time might be a logarithmic (log) function.
The graph below shows the difference between linear and log functions for interpolating a wait time between 0 minutes at 8 a.m. and a 40-minute wait at 8:15 a.m.
These are significant differences. For example, just four minutes after park opening a linear model would forecast a wait time of 10 minutes. The logarithmic model would forecast a wait closer to 25 minutes.
And speaking of wait times…
What Are the Real Wait Times?
Many of the wait time signs you see at attraction entrances are wrong. In some cases, it’s because it’s hard to estimate a wait time from a line length. Things like how close together people are standing, how many wheelchairs are in line, and other factors, make it hard to judge. Or maybe management doesn’t want to spend money on labor to keep the wait-time estimate accurate, so they don’t check the line length as often as they should. In other cases, the wait times are incorrect on purpose, serving as a signal that park management wants you to go somewhere else in the park. This happens at every theme park in the world.
Incorrect posted wait times can really mess up touring plans, so catching things like this is one of the reasons we do in-park testing with multiple people on the same day. It’s great to have a collection of posted wait times, as long as there are actual wait times to do a sanity check.
One of the interesting things we saw in our testing was that Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run’s posted wait time was far, far higher than the actual wait. In one instance, we saw a posted wait of 100 minutes before 9 a.m., when the actual wait was 33 minutes. In this case, most guests would’ve seen a 100-minute wait for Smugglers Run and decided to come back later. But 33 minutes was likely the lowest actual wait Smugglers Run would have until just before park closing (and even then, maybe). So the smart thing to do was to get in line.
We talked this over with Fred, our data scientist. Fred noted that it’s really hard for a model to look at a 100-minute posted wait and predict a 33-minute actual wait, because the numbers are so different. Trying to deal with these discrepancies is an ongoing part of our work.
The Best Touring Plan for Disney’s Hollywood Studios Right Now
After all our testing was done, we had enough information to put together the following plan. We think it’s the best way to tour Hollywood Studios right now if you don’t plan to buy Genie+. If you do want to buy Genie+, we’ve indicated a few places below where we think it could have the most impact on your day. Although waits won’t be as high through the rest of the spring and summer, we’d expect this strategy to work well until there are significant changes to entertainment or attractions at Hollywood Studios.
Why We Recommend Individual Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance
To make the most of your time in the park, you want to avoid waiting an hour in line for Rise of the Resistance, it breaks down, and Disney tells you to leave and come back later. Unless you’ve made it into the first pre-show room, Disney’s unlikely to give you anything to make up for the time you lost in line. If you’re particularly unlucky, this can happen to you a couple of times in one day, and you’d still have to wait in line a third time to ride.
We strongly recommend buying an Individual Lightning Lane to experience Rise of the Resistance. We don’t like the idea of spending another $20 to $25 per person for Individual Lightning Lane. But it’s an insurance policy against wasting a big chunk of your day to ride nothing.
It also lets you avoid a big trade-off. Rise is an obvious candidate to target as your first ride, trying to be among the first guests to arrive. But it’s also long, at 18 minutes. Rise will chew up a huge amount of the time when attractions have lower waits right at the beginning of the day. If you don’t choose to buy the ILL, you’ll need to take this into consideration.
Step by Step Plan
After multiple rounds of testing, here’s the touring plan we found to have the lowest waits in line:
- Purchase Individual Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance at 7 a.m. on the day of your visit.
- Arrive at the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios 30 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry begins. When admitted into the park, follow Cast member directions to get in line for Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land.
- As soon as the park opens, ride Slinky Dog Dash. Your wait time here should be under 10 minutes.
- Ride Toy Story Mania!, which is directly across a walkway from Slinky Dog Dash. While it used to be the most popular attraction in the Studios, Toy Story Mania is now a second- or third-tier attraction. Your wait time here should be 5 to 10 minutes, and riding now will save you from having to walk back here later in the day.
- Experience Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Galaxy’s Edge. Like Toy Story Mania, Smugglers Run is a second-choice attraction for many guests. Wait times here should be 35 minutes or less this early in the morning. Note that Smugglers Run has a single-rider line that can dramatically reduce your wait if everyone in your party is willing to ride separately. The single-rider line skips the pre-show; take this into account if you’ve never ridden before.
Check the time before you get in line at Smugglers Run. If you’re within 10 minutes of the opening time for Meet Mickey and Minnie at Red Carpet Dreams, an alternative step here is to do the Meet & Greet first, then ride Smugglers Run. On busy days, the wait times at Red Carpet Dreams will increase faster there once it opens, than at Smugglers Run after it has been open. So you’ll save more time by seeing Red Carpet Dreams with no wait.
- Meet Mickey and Minnie at Red Carpet Dreams in Echo Lake. On days when the park opens at 8 a.m. for Early Theme Park Entry, you should get here very close to 9 a.m., when the Meet & Greet opens. You should wait under 10 minutes to meet Mickey and Minnie here.
- Ride Star Tours: The Adventures Continue in Echo Lake. Star Tours is a third-tier attraction in the park for most guests, so waits here should be around 10 minutes.
- See MuppetVision 3D in Grand Avenue. You’ll almost certainly get into the next show, so your wait here will average 10 minutes or less.
- Ride Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard. Like Rise of the Resistance, Tower of Terror has problems with reliability. But because it has multiple ride tracks, it’s possible for half of Tower of Terror to be down and still operate the ride – you just end up with wait times twice as long as they should be. Tower’s questionable reliability and its location in a far corner of the park means that you shouldn’t visit during the early morning – there’s too big a chance you’ll just be wasting your time.
The best time to ride Tower of Terror is after you’ve done all the other big attractions in other parts of the park. Another bonus of visiting now is that you can work in a ride at Tower and at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster around a showing of Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. Doing that will save you from walking all the way down Sunset Boulevard again to see the show. If you do decide to use Genie+, Tower of Terror would be the first step in this plan where having a Genie+ reservation would be really helpful.
- Ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (when it reopens). Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has a single-rider line as well.
- Ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. This should be one of your longest waits of the day, but you’ve already avoided so many other waits. An alternative, if you’re going to be in the park until closing, is to try Runaway Railway in the last two hours the park is open, or use Genie+.
- Take a spin on Alien Swirling Saucers. Waits are generally lower around 4 p.m., and at the end of the day.
These steps cover all of the park’s major rides. Once the lines have reached their steady level for peak hours, usually somewhere around 10 a.m., you can begin to mix in the stage shows and minor attractions – and breaks for meals or snacks – with the steps above. Minor attractions like Walt Disney Presents: One Man’s Dream, the Vacation Fun movie, and Star Wars Launch Bay usually have no waits at all. For the shows, you should be able to get into the ‘next’ performance of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration whenever you want – check our Lines app for show times.
To Make Your Own Customized Hollywood Studios Touring Plan
If the plan above doesn’t suit you because you don’t want to buy the ILL for Rise, you don’t want to arrive early, or any other reason, you can make your own customized touring plans here, or in the Lines app. Never done it before? See our walkthrough: Step-By-Step Guide: Make and Use a Touring Plan in the Lines App (Including Lightning Lane)
There’s more to test at the Studios. We know that most theme park guests aren’t taking advantage of Early Theme Park Entry, so having touring plans for them is very important. We’ll also need to re-test once Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster opens. We need to check our Genie+ return time predictions as well. And we need to see how adding multiple breaks into the plan affects the order in which you visit the attractions. A Touring Plans subscription will give you access to all our premium plans.
Our immediate next step is to do similar Early Theme Park Entry tests with the 10 most popular attractions at Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom. We’ll be doing those live on Instagram, so follow us there to see them as they happen.
8 thoughts on “Hollywood Studios Touring Without Genie+: April 2023”
This is perfect timing since I’m aiming to try this soon. But I won’t have EE or be able to buy ILL at 7. Any suggested modifications there, or stick with this order?
Thanks Moondance07! You should be able to get a ROTR ILL at 9 a.m.
We’re going to test this for regular park opening as well, probably next week. When’s your trip?
Great info and can’t wait to try it out in the fall! Something I would love to see is rope drop and touring strategies for adrenaline junkie families with little ones that aren’t tall enough yet and how child swap affects our strategy and what our new strategy should be. 🙂
If you bought ILL for RotR and it’s down during your window I assume you can return anytime? What if you were planning on leaving the park early – say 3ish and it hasn’t gone back up. Do they issue refunds?
Yes, you can return any time after your window. Disney is reluctant to give out refunds for ILL. If the ride is down, though, they don’t have a choice.
One thing I’d suggest is that if the ride is down, it might be faster to chat with someone online rather than stand in line at Guest Relations to get that refund.
Glad to see that you are going to test for those of us who can’t get early entry because we don’t stay in a Disney resort. Really enjoy the testing articles and Instagram posts and Len’s breakdowns on Disney Dish!
I’ve been a member of your plans for years and this is my favorite post ever. It really spells out how a layperson with some good planning can still have a great day at the parks. Disney changes so much in between visits for me that I just get good at navigating and they figure out how to make it harder. Your work helps close the learning gaps for me.
Hi Chris, thanks for the kind words!