Rise of the Resistance

Imagine you lead Walt Disney World’s operations team.

You preside over the operations of the world’s most talked-about theme park experience – Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance... a single attraction so sought-after, families are willing to set 4AM alarms on their vacation to rouse kids from their peaceful slumber just to get a chance to see what’s inside; a ride unanimously called the world’s most ambitious; the attraction that’s literally redefining the capabilities of a theme park experience before our very eyes; the ride everyone wants to ride.

Now all you need to do is figure out how to get people on board.

We’ve all seen it on Facebook, Twitter, or Disney Parks discussion boards: “Just open the line!” “Make it FastPass only!” Would it really be that easy? Well, next time you see those comments, send them this article… Because today, we’re going to tackle this problem once and for all. With some detective work, we’ll see exactly what the future may hold for the queue of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

The case...

Image: Disney

If you and I are going to untangle the best way to get guests into Rise of the Resistance, first we need to know what we're dealing with.

As of February 2020, Rise of the Resistance is reportedly averaging 700 - 1,400 people per hour (gradually working its way toward a reported ideal capacity of 2,400 people per hour).

That means that on a typical 12-hour day, the currently-possible best operations of the ride can get through about 17,000 guests (even though, once it's running efficiently and continuously, it'll be closer to 28,000 people per day). So right now, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is reportedly maxing out at 17,000 guests per day. 17,000 slots to be filled; 17,000 seats available; 17,000 guests who can realistically experience the world's most sought-after attraction on any given day. 17,000, period. And 17,000 guests seems like a lot...

... Except, it isn't. In 2018, Disney's Hollywood Studios attendance was estimated at over 11 million guests. In other words before Galaxy's Edge opened, Disney's Hollywood Studios reportedly averaged 30,000 guests per day. (Disneyland's attendance is even higher at an average of 50,000 guests per day, making its version of Rise even more of a hot ticket.)

To recap: more than 30,000 guests; 17,000 slots. There's no two ways around it. That means that for right now, only half of guests visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios on any given day can even potentially get on the world's hottest attraction. And sure, some guests don't want to ride Rise of the Resistance; some aren't interested; some don't know it requires a unique process to get on board, and many aren't present at park opening; a good chunk aren't tall enough even if they wanted to! Once the ride is operating fully, efficiently, and continuously, its 28,000 people per day capacity should be enough to handle the demand; but for now, demand for this ultra-E-Ticket outweighs supply. Period.

Image: Disney

And this is important: for now, there's nothing you do can make more “slots.” The “slots” are the “slots.” Period. 17,000. Sure, some days you may only end up to 12,000; some days, you may hit 19,000! But for the purposes of planning, you should count on 17,000 available slots per day.

Let’s make the situation a little bit more complex. It’s not just that your headlining new ride is only regularly handling 60% of the capacity it’s designed for; it’s also prone to frequent downtime. Made of three separate but deeply interconnected ride systems, it occasionally sputters to a halt. Some fixes are fast, merely interrupting the movement of guests through queues and carefully-coordinated pre-shows that rely on precision timing and guest flow. Sometimes, downtime means a system shut-down, emptying not only the ride, but queuing guests who’ve earned a coveted spot in line. 

And speaking of those guests, if you think you’re upset that your headlining attraction is operating with only 17,000 slots even realistically possible, imagine the frustration of the 30,000+ daily guests who are all counting on this ride to be the capstone of their once-in-a-lifetime trip. 

Yes, you are in charge of the world's best trackless dark ride, featuring the most amazing Audio-Animatronic on Earth... and twice as many people want to ride it as can physically fit on it on given day. You’ve got the pieces of a really complex problem… so let’s run some solutions.

Solution 1: “Just open the line!”

A common refrain heard by frustrated guests today is simple: just open the line! And it sounds like it makes sense, right? Just open the line. Let people into the ride’s queue. If I choose to wait in a twelve hour line, I should be able to. 

But hold on... Remember those 17,000 slots? Remember those 30,000 eager guests? So if Disney simply "opened the line" and let guests walk into the queue, what would happen?

Image: Disney

While there's no way the park's full, average attendance of 30,000 guests would be present at park opening or that all 30,000 guests would want to ride even if they were, the daily sell-out of the ride's capacity within a minute tells us that there are enough guests in the park each morning to fill the ride's daily capacity, and then some. Put simply, there are more guests present at park opening and hoping to ride Rise of the Resistance than there are "slots" available in the day. (If that weren't the case, Boarding Groups wouldn't sell out immediately, right?)

So if Disney "just opened the line" in the most orderly and controlled method possible, guests would need to tap into the park, then immediately join a queue of thousands and thousands of guests whose sole intent would be to march to the ride's entrance. First, this seems to incentivize early arrivals – a temporarily-tried solution in the ride's first few days that saw guests arrive at 5 AM, then 4 AM, then 3 AM in successive mornings... something Disney actively wanted to avoid (for obviously reasons – try explaining to a DVC family splurging at the Grand Floridian that they need to wake up at 2 AM to get on the new, hot Star Wars ride).

Best case scenario, Disney would carefully, slowly, and thoughtfully guide those guests present at opening (by nature of today's sell-outs, 17,000 or more) through a massive, sprawling, makeshift queue wrapping throughout the entire park. (Worst case scenario, we can imagine fist-fights, trampled strollers, sprinting parents, and massive bottlenecks as guests race for the line, knowing its supply can't meet the demand of the present crowd.) But even once guests made it to the line, Disney would need to cut the queue entirely after 17,000 guests had entered, leaving at least a few thousand guests (the ones currently disappointed by missing a Boarding Group at park opening) out in the cold. 

Image: Disney

And for the "winners" of this migration to the ride's queue, the misery is only beginning. By definition of those 17,000 guests accounting for the full day's capacity, those in the middle of the line would be looking at a 5-6 hour wait; it's more like 10-12 for the last folks in. And based on the continued willingness of Resistance hopefuls to wake up and Uber to Disney's Hollywood Studios before dawn, it's clear that the "buy-in" and percieved worth of this attraction remains massive and unprecedented, meaning that despite common industry knowledge, guests probably would queue all day for this experience! They'd hate it; but they'd do it.

And that's where the real problems begin. So to take stock of this situation:

  1. The line would still be "full" (with all 17,000 daily spots spoken for) within a minute of park opening and would be closed to new guests.
  2. Disney would still have a crowd of incredibly angry guests who didn’t get their chance, just like they do now… except there would be no way to communicate to the crowd of thousands gathered outside the ride's entrance that its line was full for the day.
  3. The ride would still be limited to 17,000 people per day, only now all 17,000 would need to physically stand in a queue line for up to 12 hours – a miserable, outrageous, and practically inhumane situation that would ruin the day for most. And sure, some people argue, “Hey, if you’re willing to waste 12 hours in line, you should have that as a choice.” But...
  4. When the ride’s physical queue space needs emptied due to inevitable downtime, those 17,000 people – the ones who’ve been standing and waiting for up to 12 hours – would literally just be tossed back out into the park. How do you get them back when the ride’s ready? How do you keep them in order? How do you keep others from “sneaking in” with them when the ride re-opens?
  5. Even if Disney managed to cut the line at 17,000 guests, what would happen if it was a particularly bad day for the ride? A day when it only made it through, say, 15,000? It's not just that 2,000 guests "promised" a ride didn't get on board... is that by nature of being at the back of the line, guests who ultimately don't get a ride spent 11 - 12 hours waiting... an entire day.
Image: Disney

So even though some fans rally that Disney should “just open the line,” that would literally be the absolute worst decision possible. The takeaway here? 17,000 slots are 17,000 slots. Opening the queue to guests doesn’t magically give the ride more capacity. The queue would still need cut off once the ride’s daily capacity had been reached, and that would still happen in a matter of seconds after park opening. It’s just that now, those guests who survived the process to get there would be trapped physically standing in a queue line for a ride subject to frequent evacuations and breakdowns. Yikes…

But hey, Disney has a built-in system designed to keep people from being trapped in queues, right? What if Rise of the Resistance went full-on "FastPass only"... Hmm... Could this often-repeated line really solve Rise of the Resistance's operational limitations? Read on...



Why couldn’t Disney do a 30/70 split or better? Say. 7000 fast passes a day available on line each day. Those passes are for the beginning of the day. The rest at park opening. As a disabled person I worry I will be trampled never mind physically being able to get in to the park. Even if they made it so the passes become available anhourafter opening the park to avoid the crush

FastPass and boarding groups are no different.
Make it 30 minute windows. If you save some spots for down time or people who missed their window because of repair, it works just like every other ride. If it is down during your time, you get a voucher for the next Available time. Boarding group that has a down time or doesn’t get called is the exact same thing. This is just a way to get you in the park early that is all.

I think every gets it, boarding passes are the way to go. But the distribution of boarding passes at the moment just doesn’t make sense. Those who are staying on property are paying thousands of dollars for their trip, they should have an opportunity to “pre-board”. Have a limited amount of passes available per day for those guests prior to their trip, no different than booking fast pass +. Once the pre-boarding groups are gone, they’re gone. Just like Flight of Passage fast passes. You should also limit the amount of “pre boarding” spots any one person can book to one per month.

Two weeks ago I went to Hollywood Studios with my family and a group of my students. There were 19 total in our group. We got to HS at 6:15 for the 8:00 open. The gates opened around 7:00. We got in early enough that I could get in one of the Guest Services lines and be the first person to have a Disney employee scan my tickets for a boarding group. I thought this was a good idea because I wouldn't have to worry about the app crashing. Before the line opened at 8:00, I asked a Disney employee if it'd be smarter for me to try using the app because I would have 19 tickets to be scanned in. The employee said no and I'd get a boarding group if they scanned my tickets.

After the line opened and all 19 of our tickets were scanned, we got back-up boarding group 100. I was furious. I felt like I did everything right and was even told by a Disney Guest Service employee that I'd be fine, and I still got a back-up group.

After complaining, Guest Services said they couldn't change my boarding group number, but they gave me a fast pass for any ride in Toy Story land. This didn't make me feel better.

In the end, we were lucky that Rise of the Resistance had a good operations day and our 100 boarding group got called around 5:30. We used our Toy Story fast pass for Slinky Dog, which had around a three hour stand-by line all day.

After leaving Disney that day I was disappointed in the boarding group process. I felt like I did my homework, got there early enough to not have to count on the app, and I still got a back-up group. However, everything you said in your article makes perfect sense. Disney has created the most amazing theme park attraction in history, and everyone wants to ride it. Fast passes won't work for the reasons you detailed, and opening up the regular line at park opening would lead to a race that'd look like the Hunger Games every morning. As things stand right now, using boarding groups is the most fair way to give everyone an equal chance to ride.

Just a piece of advice for anyone with a large group trying to get a boarding group; don't use one of the Guest Service kiosks. For a large group, the app is your best bet.

In reply to by Chad H (not verified)

The key is to not have a large group like that. The smaller your group the better your chances. Because once a number begins to fill up it’s easier to put a group of 3 in than a group of 19.

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