We're looking at you, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance...
Most guests at Walt Disney World and Disneyland show up expecting to have a vacation like no other. Every person’s perfect Disney day looks a little different, but all share in common that we expect the experience to be grand. With a little planning, most visits to the Most Magical Place or Happiest Place on Earth go wonderfully, maybe with a few hiccups.
However, even the most carefully laid plans can sometimes go awry.
Not every Disney day starts off magical. There are dozens of reasons why a visit to Disney parks might suddenly take a downward turn—from unpredictable changes in crowds to special events altering park hours to Fastpass and dining reservations running out… all can slam the breaks on a Disney day. Even plain old Murphy’s law can strike via vehicles breakdowns, unforeseen schedule changes, kids getting sick, you name it.
This is a particularly pertinent topic with the opening of one of Disney’s most ambitious attractions to date: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We covered the attraction’s opening extensively, and it provides the perfect example for how easily a Disney day can end up busted. For weeks after opening day, fans showed up in record numbers to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, sometimes as early as 3-4 AM to be one of the first guests into the park. Why? Because Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is Disney’s first ride to fully utilize a virtual queue—no stand by line, no single riders (yet), and no Fastpass+. That meant if you want to get onto the ride at all, you have to arrive well before rope drop to be one of the first people into the park to get a pass before the ride hit capacity.
The opening realized the unprecedented mass crowds everyone originally expected from Galaxy’s Edge—people kept showing up en masse earlier and earlier, forcing Disney to open the park before published hours. This meant boarding passes were often gone well before the park’s official opening time. Disney employed Guest Experience Teams throughout the park to mitigate backlash from unhappy guests who planned entire visits around getting on this one ride but just couldn’t get there early enough due to the moving target opening times (on a side note, they did a great job handling this by passing out free Park Hoppers like candy to families who politely sought pixie dust). Fortunately, Disney finally adjusted the system to require that guests couldn’t claim a boarding pass until the park’s official opening, which quelled some of the insanity and made things a little more fair, but the issue still stands—many families are showing up to Disney’s Hollywood Studios late only to find out their Disney day was busted before it started. Most likely, similar scenarios will play out at Disneyland come the ride’s opening there.
We may not be able to get you onto Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance if you arrive to the park late, but we can address the issue as a whole: what should you do if a Disney day gets straight up BUSTED?
1. Take a moment to calm down
In the words of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: DON’T PANIC. Walt Disney World and Disneyland are both places that can have strong effect on the emotions, especially when something we were really hoping to experience becomes unreachable. Even in pretty stable adults, this can cause emotions to soar, and in kids, it can cause full meltdowns.
The most important thing you can do is take a breath and ride out the initial wave of emotions. Don’t lose your calm, react in a panic, lose your temper, or vent your wrath on the nearest cast member…
We’ve written a few times both on how to settle down when emotions run high at the parks and even how to deal with panic attacks. In both situations, part of processing your feelings is to recognize that bad things feel bad, and that’s okay… but your day is not over yet. You may need some time to process what’s happened and adjust to the idea of your Disney parks visit looking a little different, but freaking out will not help. What you need is a new plan, and in order to do that, you have to accept that the day has changed, but it can be salvaged. If members of your party start losing their cheese, if possible, take some time to step off to the side and regroup—or split up temporarily, letting those who are really upset walk it off in some shops while cooler heads come up with a new plan.
2. Find something to distract or divert kids
Some kids are amazing at processing change, disappointments, and shifting plans. That’s a huge blessing if that kid is yours. For most kids, even the sweetest kids, this is definitely not the case.
Kids, especially small children, just aren’t mentally equipped to deal with something like plans for a magical Disney vacation changing. You are not a terrible parent because things went wrong on your Disney day, and don’t let your little angel’s meltdown or blubbering tears break your spirit. You can still salvage this day. Busted Disney days can happen for a lot of reasons, but for most anything short of the kid being sick and forced to stay at the resort (more on that later), there are course corrections that can be made to still have a good time.
Your kid will definitely need some grace if you have to make changes to a Disney day. One of the first things you can do is try to find something to help get their mind off the big disappointments and process their emotions—shameless churros, ice cream, and toy bribes are fair game as a start. Whatever resources you have, find something small and reasonable that can help ground your little one so they realize the world isn’t ending. Character meet and greets can also help if it’s a character that your child likes—Disney characters can do real magic with stressed out kids sometimes so long as its someone they really look up to.
I’m not saying to ignore outright bad behavior—if a kid is being mean to siblings or throwing a total rage fit, do what you have to do to correct that. However, in most cases, your little one may not know how to process things, and they may think they won’t get to do anything fun because of the things that didn’t work out. The goal is to get your little one grounded enough that you can do some magic to come up with a new plan for the day. For special needs children, definitely talk to Guest Relations to see what options you have and to get a Disability Access Pass, which works similar to a virtual queue (you don’t get to skip to the front of lines, but you can enjoy the parks freely while waiting for a ride so your little one doesn’t even realize they were waiting). Disney has a number of programs to help in these situations, and it can’t hurt to ask for their help and suggestions. Speaking of which…
3. If needed, talk to Guest Relations or a Guest Experience Team
This one has become less and less of a needed option with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, but in many scenarios, it cannot hurt to talk to either Guest Relations or a Guest Experience Team to see what can be done about your busted day. There are some things that cast members legitimately cannot help with—Fastpass+ and dining reservations being full at the last minute, crowd levels, or boarding passes for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance once the ride has hit capacity (they also generally are not giving out those park hoppers anymore since the boarding system is more fair and includes backup groups now). However, there may be other ways Guest Relations can help.
The key when seeking help from cast members is be nice. Even if Disney messed up, you’ll get further being firm but polite rather than blowing up. Explain your situation, even if its something simple like that you messed up a Fastpass+ reservation or your kid was throwing up all morning. Ask them if there’s anything they can suggest for how you can salvage the day. Especially if you have kids, feel free to ask if there’s any chance of some pixie dust to help make your little one’s day magical again. They can’t fix everything, but I’ve seen cast members pull out all the stops before to make sure your experience overall is positive, and they may even be aware of simple solutions you haven’t thought of.
On a side note, if your kid or a family member got sick, it can’t hurt to Guest Relations know and ask if anything can be done. For guests in the parks, First Aid offers free OTC medication for anyone in need who checks in with their nurses. I’ve also seen Disney sometimes do some nice things for guests stuck in resort rooms sick, though this isn’t a guarantee. Once again, it cannot hurt to nicely ask and see if any pixie dust comes about.