“Galaxy’s Edge is a failure!” they said. “Disney’s attendance is plummeting!” they said. “It’s a financial catastrophe!” they said.
To which Florida replied, “Pssh-- Hold my blue milk.”
No one knew exactly what to expect for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World on Thursday, August 29th. Tension certainly lingered in the air. Resorts didn’t appear to be sold out and Fastpasses in other parks seemed strangely easy to claim as the day drew near. The media kept Disney under heavy fire over the summer with reports that park attendance was down-- that Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge felt just too empty to be successful. The prognosis didn’t look ideal for one of Disney’s biggest investments to date.
Whatever hurdles Disney ran into with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland, they clearly learned from those mistakes. To call the opening of Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World an unmitigated success is an understatement. Fans didn’t just come out in droves to christen Disney’s newest land—they caused a disturbance in the Force by coming out in such numbers that Disney had to quickly adapt to accommodate the unforeseen demand.
Here’s our firsthand experience on just how opening day for Galaxy’s Edge went down…
Crowds were INSANE—so Disney rolled with it
Camping out for premieres is something of a longstanding tradition among Star Wars fans. Never underestimate the zeal of this fanbase. Disney’s Hollywood Studios was slated to open at 6am on August 29th. You would expect that people probably would want to arrive early for such an anticipated land, but surely no one would arrive before 4am, right?
By midnight, people were already arriving and camping out for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. The reports we heard indicated that a number of zealous guests were turned away when they tried to stake spots in line early or camp in the parking lot. Some were even warned that if they stayed, they would technically be trespassing. Despite this, cars began to line up throughout the night outside of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, stretching well down the road into the resort’s main thoroughfares.
Around 3am, Disney opened the floodgates to let people properly line up outside of the park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios parking quickly started filling, and fans lined up in front of Hollywood Studios in droves. Our friends who were present described the atmosphere as barely-contained-insanity. Bright Suns hadn’t even risen on Batuu yet, and the crowd had already surpassed capacity levels for the land. Excitement was in the air, and the craziness was only going to intensify as 6am drew near.
So, Disney did something absolutely unexpected: they opened the park early.
Somewhere around 5am, Disney opened its gates and Star Wars fans filled Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Boulevard filled wall to wall with a swarm of people as thick as any Magic Kingdom 4th of July crowd. Forget Area 51—this crowd was ready to storm the Black Spire. We heard several unconfirmed reports of guests nearly being trampled by over-eager visitors, and one confirmed report of cast members even being pushed by misbehaving guests. We never got clear details on this, but some cast members in other parts of the park (particularly on Star Tours) definitely looked a little weary from the wild morning.
Fortunately, this craziness dissipated as crowds were gradually absorbed into lines for Smuggler's Run, Oga's Cantina, and the land's merchandise experiences. Well before 6am, the line for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run swelled to a whopping 300 minutes.
A surprisingly smooth morning
“10-hour lines are not a sign of success,” Disney Parks and Resorts Chair, Bob Chapek, recently remarked. “It should be seen as a sign of, frankly, failure.”
By the park’s officially announced opening time at 6am, Galaxy’s Edge had already reached capacity. Most theme park openings are associated with bonkers lines, but Disney wasn’t about to make the same mistakes they did with the opening of Pandora—nor would they make the same mistake as Universal Islands of Adventure with the 14-hour lines guests encountered at the opening of Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure coaster.
We arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios a bit after 6am. Turns out, this was actually something of a sweet spot. Parking went incredibly quick, and almost no one bothered using the tram to get to the entrance plaza. The new security checkpoints flowed incredibly well, and the security guards were commendably pleasant for all the madness they had endured in the morning. My husband and I both Disneybounded as smugglers, so I had been concerned we might get bounced since we didn’t necessarily look like “Batuu” natives, but we ran into no problems. While people were waiting in line to gain entry to the park, Disney was already sending cast members into the crowd announcing that Galaxy’s Edge was at capacity and handing out cards explaining how to use the land’s virtual queue.
When Disney tried using reservations at the original opening of Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge, they ran into a problem—they may have underestimated the land’s potential as a crowd sponge. We’ve talked about this concept before at Theme Park Tourist. Attraction queues and other lines help “sponge” crowds away from thoroughfares so the park doesn’t feel stressfully busy. By getting rid of reservations and using virtual queues instead, Disney turned Galaxy’s Edge into the perfect crowd sponge without turning the whole of Hollywood Studios into one massive, miserable line.
Using the virtual queue was insanely easy. We literally just pulled up My Disney Experience, clicked the Galaxy’s Edge information button, and signed up. We ended up in Boarding Group 19 with an estimated entry time of “Morning”. This evolved over the next hour into “Late Morning” as Disney got a better handle on how long fans were lingering in the land. Disney didn’t use the four-hour limit they instituted in Disneyland, a prospect that definitely made those of us waiting a little nervous. However, this ultimately ended up being a good thing—people could spend as much or as little time at Batuu as they wanted.
While some attractions didn’t open until 9am, there was plenty to do for eager fans waiting to get into Galaxy’s Edge. In a smart move, Disney set up a line near Fantasmic where guests could queue up to procure opening day merchandise. You even received a flyer with the opening day goodies listed with their prices while you waited in line to expedite the process. This was definitely a good-sized line that helped sponge away more crowds. We knew we would be spending money at Dok Ondar’s later on, so we opted instead to ride some rides during our wait.
For the first time that I can remember at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, all of the park’s E-Ticket attractions were walk-ons. We shared an empty car on the Tower of Terror with two other fans. Rockin’ Roller Coaster was slightly busier, but the line was moving so fast that they didn’t even have crowds stop to watch the pre-show. Star Tours was (expectedly) a hair busier, but even it we got onto in less than 15 minutes. By 7am, we were piddling about in the shop at Star Wars Launch Bay, chatting with an extremely friendly cast member about how the morning went (we ended up with an opening day patch and pin after all—I think she used a Jedi Mind Trick on us). They were barely boarding groups 5-11 by this point, so we were prepared to not get into Galaxy’s Edge until the afternoon. Our friends who were inside texted that they had already ridden Smuggler’s Run 3 times thanks to the single rider line (more on that later).
We were enjoying a quiet Starbucks breakfast by Echo Lake when my phone buzzed, and the time arrived. It wasn’t even 8am yet. We finished our food and headed to the Galaxy’s Edge entrance near Grand Avenue. We passed through about 3 layers of lined up cast members: one who asked our boarding group based on honor system, a second who confirmed our group with our Magic Bands, and a third line who made sure no one slipped by. I could hardly believe it was happening, but with almost zero waits, we were headed into Galaxy’s Edge… and it was just as spectacular as we had hoped for.