5. Characters are still around—sort of
One of the biggest changes we noticed immediately at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was the lack of wandering characters. The return of wandering characters was one of the most pleasant surprises that came with the land’s opening, and it made for some fun chance encounters with stormtroopers, First Order officers, Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, Rey, and Vi (the Spy) Moradi.
Unfortunately, up close character meet-and-greets have had to go on hiatus for the foreseeable future due to social distancing requirements. While this did make Galaxy’s Edge feel a little less lively, it wasn’t long before we started to spot characters presented in new ways.
For one thing, the Black Spire Outpost already hosts several “staging areas” where character vignettes sometimes play out. In the past, you might see Vi Moradi or Finn hiding from stormtroopers, or Rey and Chewbacca recruiting new Resistance fighters. Now, this is pretty much the main way you will see characters in the land. Throughout the day, we saw Vi Moradi (and later, Rey) working on landspeeders in the mechanic’s garage (an interesting nod to her undercover work in the novel, Black Spire) as well as stormtroopers regularly patrolling the First Order landing pad. At one point, Kylo Ren appeared and started picking out kids from the crowd to approach for inspection. This made for a few pretty amusing moments since some kids were absolutely not eager to approach the looming Supreme Leader.
Elsewhere in the park, we saw an example of the character cavalcades that pass through the park periodically throughout the day. These mini-parades are a nice addition to the entertainment lineup, and thanks to the fact they’re random, you don’t have people piling into rows like you normally do for parades. By using a mix of walking characters and characters on floats, they feel more personal than parades but still allow for social distancing.
6. Stand-by lines are back (but that’s not completely bad news)
The day was getting quite hot, so we decided on a strategy of drifting from one air-conditioned attraction to another. A cursory glance at My Disney Experience revealed that lines were growing shorter as the afternoon went on. We decided to hit an old favorite attraction we hadn’t done in a while—Muppet Vision 3D.
Muppet Vision is a good example of a great show to hit if the heat is getting to you. Once you get past the exterior queue, the indoor portion of the show lasts long enough to give you a good dose of air conditioning. Cast members kept guests social distanced through the entire experience—there was even a funny moment when they corrected Gonzo for telling guests to squish together.
It wasn’t too long after our stop at Muppet Vision 3D that we realized the queue at Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run was down to 20 minutes. This actually proved to be incorrect—there was almost no wait at all. We literally walked onto the ride. Thanks to social distancing, every party gets their own cockpit, which meant my husband and I were able to pilot together alone for the first time! If you really enjoy a certain role on Smugglers Run, this is a great time to ride, and it definitely was a highlight of our trip. Later in the day, we were able to also walk onto Toy Story Midway Mania (more on that in a moment) and Star Tours.
We mentioned this in our exploration of how a visit to Disney parks during this season might feel a little strange, but Fastpass+ no longer provides a core spine for planning a Disney day. How much time you spend in lines is all about strategy, and if reducing waits is important to you, be flexible. You may have to zig-zag about the park a bit, but if you keep an eye on crowd trends, you can avoid the longest waits. Our strategy of arriving later in the day did end up helping us avoid the longest queues, though it meant we didn’t get onto one or two attractions later on.
7. A great time to try new rides
I have a terrible confession to make as a Disney parks writer. Despite having been a regular Walt Disney World visitor for over thirty years and a Florida resident for four of those… I had never been on Toy Story Midway Mania.
I’ll be honest, I’ve just never been able to bring myself to stand in a long line for it. I like Toy Story, but it just never really appealed to me as a ride concept. The use of screens and 3D came across to me like a cheaper take on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
Thanks to the wonderfully low wait times, we decided that we wanted to try some rides we hadn’t before, and Midway Mania stood out because it had basically no line. We didn’t wait more than 5 minutes to get on, despite a longer time being posted. I didn't realize Mr. Potato Head in the queue was interactive as we passed. I may have kind of, sort of inferred he might be nightmare fuel. He chuckled eerily in response. We walked faster.
I’ll admit it—Midway Mania is a great little ride! If you’re going to rely on screens, a gaming experience is the way to do it, and my husband and I had a good time trying to best each other’s score. The cars also seemed pretty clean, though we did use hand sanitizer immediately afterwards.
The low pressure pace that comes with visiting while crowds are low provides a lot of breathing room that you may not have on a standard Disney trip. Rather than focusing on the things that aren’t available, this is actually a great time to try some experiences you may have passed over previously.
8. You’ll need some mask breaks in the heat
One of the biggest issues currently looming in the minds of prospective park visitors is that of masks. Putting aside the politically charged debate surrounding masks, they are simply a reality of visiting Walt Disney World right now. With the combination of across-the-board mask requirements, temperature checks, social distancing, and easily accessible sanitizer and washing stations, I honestly felt safer during our visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios than I do on the average visit to a local store. Despite these benefits, the question remains:
Is wearing a mask in the sweltering Florida heat unbearable enough to bust a Disney day?
Not necessarily, but here are a few thoughts…
As mentioned, the day we visited was hot—around 94-97 degrees with 50-80% humidity. It felt like the inside of a tea kettle. We’ve lived in some places with higher temperatures than that, but the humidity is making the weather quite brutal right now. With that in mind, I cannot emphasize enough to be wise what type of mask you choose to wear when visiting Walt Disney World.
We’ve tried a few different types of masks over the course of the pandemic, and there are some that I think would be downright miserable in Disney parks. Early on, we made our masks out of bandanas folded into multiple layers and held on with elastic bands. While these looked pretty cool (I felt a bit like a Mad Max character), the way they smoosh your nose and mouth would get pretty miserable on a humid Disney day. Guests are not allowed to wear neck gaiters or masks with valves, so that’s not an option.
We had particularly good luck with simple, multi-layer cotton masks that looped around the ears (with a bit of wire in the nose to conform it to your face). We also had a couple paper disposable masks in my bag in case the cloth ones got too nasty, but we never needed them. While we were definitely cognizant of some extra heat with the masks, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The key really became to move from air-conditioner to air conditioner, as well as to pull off to the side every once in awhile to drink some water or eat a snack. You are allowed to remove your mask temporarily if you are stationary, out of the way, and actively eating or drinking, so we took advantage of this several times to take a breather. If you really want to improve comfort, some sort of mask bracket to keep the fabric off your nose and mouth may be a good idea as well.
For us, using the right mask, moving from AC to AC, taking periodic rests, and taking advantage of Disney’s relaxation zones made the masks a non-issue. Speaking of which…
9. Unprecedented access to private experiences
One of the best experiences we had all day came at the most unexpected place… and it really drives home what’s so great about visiting Disney parks during this time.
Disney has established several relaxation zones throughout the park where guests can kick back and take their masks off while safely distanced from other parties. We were looking for one of these locations when we realized that Star Wars Launch Bay (a longtime favorite stop of ours) has been designated as one of these zones. The vast majority of guests stopped immediately outside to enjoy a cool breeze from fans, but the cast member assured us we were welcome to go inside, so long as we camped on a dot distanced from others.
Inside, we found a few parties resting in the museum, but we know our way around Launch Bay pretty well, so we kept walking until we hit the cantina replica. Sure enough, there was a dot right next to the bar, and only one other quiet family was present. We sat on the floor and took off our masks, enjoying some peace, quiet, and air conditioning. It wasn’t long before the other family left, after which we hardly saw a soul for the next 30 minutes.
It was Disney introvert heaven.
I cannot describe what a marvelously refreshing experience this was. We spotted so many details we’d never seen before. It felt uncharacteristically relaxing for being smack in the middle of Disney’s busiest park. Dave caught some Pokémon; I spent a little time reading and ate a Coffee Crisp. It was wonderful, like some sort of Star Wars fan’s VIP experience.
That theme really stood out to us throughout the day—due to social distancing and decreased capacity, guests have unprecedented access to private experiences. We already mentioned flying the Millennium Falcon by ourselves, but we also got to explore Savi’s Workshop without a build-a-lightsaber reservation. This is going away later in the month, but at the time we visited, all legacy lightsabers had been moved to Savi’s. All we had to do was walk up, and a series of cast members ushered us inside, even having us use a secret password. We not only got to finally see the inside of the place, but they let us hang out trying out lightsabers for a good fifteen minutes.
In short, if you like your personal space and prefer to enjoy some experiences alone, your chances of fulfilling that dream are pretty high at Disney parks right now.
10. What about Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance?
Our day continued at a leisurely pace after our transcendent stop at Launch Bay. We picked up some Starbucks (the barista wrote that I was a Jedi on my cup, which was sort of adorable) and did a quick ride on Star Tours where we got to see one of the new scenes from The Rise of Skywalker. We were getting close to closing time, wondering if we’d actually get onto Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Around 6:50pm, we intended to go ride Smugglers Run again when our phones both buzzed.
Our backup boarding group was called!
This would end up being our second ride on Rise of the Resistance (after several failed attempts, we finally got on last December), and we noticed several things different. For one thing, we spent a fair amount of time in the queue—at least 30 minutes. I actually had time to play through the entire Star Wars Datapad mission tied to the ride.
As for the actual ride, as expected, cast members kept guests social distanced. Some of this actually worked with the idea of a military operation, such as during the mission briefing. It proved a little problematic on the transport sequence as we were placed in a corner where I couldn’t see either of the viewports very well, and we couldn’t just move around like the pre-social-distancing days.
The Star Destroyer sequence also played out a little differently because cast members were ushering guests through fast. When the ride first opened, guests were given time to hang out and take pictures of the stormtroopers, but there was zero time on this visit. New plexiglass barriers have been installed inside the Star Destroyer halls to separate guests from cast members, but they feel appropriate to the setting. The briefing with the First Order officer went very fast, as did the prison sequence. We ended up in the same vehicle we’ve been in previously (facing the AT-AT head on), and the ride went off without a hitch, short of one hiccup in the audio. The Kylo Ren animatronic was also fully up and running, which was nice to see.
This ended our day on a great note. The only experience we really missed was trying Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, but we’ll be aiming to hit that at the end of the month. We may also try Tower of Terror and Rock'n Roller Coaster next time to see how those are looking with distancing in place.
Our final assessment is this: if live shows and fireworks are a key component of a Disney visit for you, or if you find it extremely uncomfortable to wear a mask in the heat, it’s probably not an ideal time to visit Walt Disney World right now. However, for guests who highly value short queues, unprecedentedly low crowds, and private experiences, we would recommend taking advantage of this time to enjoy a Disney visit unlike any you may see again in our lifetime. For fans of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, in particular, this is a uniquely low pressure time to go, and your chances of getting onto Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance are pretty good!
Did you enjoy this article? Keep reading to explore our Reader’s Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or go back in time with us to revisit some of the Ridiculous (and Adorable) Things You Totally Believed as a Disney Kid.