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.
|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.|
|5||October 2019||Fall discounts and holiday parties will bring guests to the parks. Many schools have fall breaks in October.|
|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.|
|10||March 2020||Spring Break crowds plus Star Wars.|
|12||December 2019||Holiday crowds and Rise of the Resistance will be open. The first few days of December will not be bad.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.