One year after the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has become a very different park.
We’re nearing the end of 2020, which has proven one of the strangest years on record for Disney parks. Guest attendance patterns upended, the company continues to navigate extended closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the park that was once dismissed as a half-day novelty has become Walt Disney World’s most popular gate.
We’re entering the pre-holiday season, a time that used to be historically quiet at Disney parks but has grown in popularity in recent years, resulting in increased crowds. Before the pandemic, it seemed likely that this might prove Disney’s busiest December ever.
It’s no mystery that the unusual times have changed that projection. Disney continues to proceed cautiously regarding the pandemic, with park capacity maxed out at 35% and reservation systems remaining in place. Even on a full capacity day, Walt Disney World parks aren’t nearly as crowded as normally expected this time of year. This is a huge boon to guests who are comfortable visiting during this time, but it does come with some shifts to the normal Disney experience.
It's been a while since our last update on what to expect when visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios (in early October). Key points we noted from that trip included an increase in crowds and queue waits after Labor Day, mobile order crashes, the return of Savi’s Lightsaber workshop, and to continue to expect resort transportation to be slow. What has changed since then, and what can guests expect if you visit during this lull before the Christmas to New Year’s rush?
Our most recent visit took place on Thursday, December 3rd--something of a best-case-scenario for crowds since it was a weekday. If you will be visiting on a weekend, these points will still apply but expected longer waits and increased crowd congestion (despite capacity caps).
1. The new system for Rise of the Resistance works outside Walt Disney World
We’ve joked before that the most UnMagical place at the Most Magical Place on Earth is usually Magic Kingdom’s Transportation and Ticket Center (which can sometimes feel like the DMV of Walt Disney World). Since early 2020, a new place took that honor—basically, anywhere within Disney’s Hollywood Studios one minute after opening, when guests across the park let out a collective groan that they didn’t get a Boarding Group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The runner up was certainly Guest Relations where those flustered families would inevitably head next.
The virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has proven both an ingenious tool for managing crowds and one of the biggest sources of frustration at Disney parks. This system has essentially meant guests took a gamble visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios, knowing they may or may not get to experience Disney’s hottest attraction. Disney has tried a few iterations of the system including adding a second Boarding Group distribution time at 2PM, but nothing has quite culled those morning Disney blues.
As of November, Disney seems to have finally landed on a system that dissipates the issue for good. Under the new system, Boarding Groups for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance are now distributed at 7 AM, and guests do not have to be at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to try for one. We put together a guide for how the system works (and how to improve your chances) in our FAQ about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but here’s the important part: as long as you have a Parks Pass reservation for the day, you can try for a Rise of the Resistance boarding pass in the My Disney Experience app from just about anywhere in Florida.
We haven’t heard any reports on if anyone has tried from further than a few hours away, but the system isn’t location-locked to Disney property. We gave it a try from our house about two hours from Walt Disney World. We used normal Spectrum Wi-Fi, and we ended up scoring a spot in Group 16 while still lying in bed. The park doesn’t open until 10 AM, so this gave us plenty of time to snooze for a bit, get ready, and hit the road. It was a huge relief compared to the normal nail-biting routine we’ve come to expect trying to get into Disney’s Hollywood Studios before opening gate.
Needless to say, this change will prove a game changer for Passholders and guests hanging their entire visit on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. It still doesn’t guarantee a spot on the attraction, but it does mean you know what to expect much earlier and can assess your options accordingly. For those willing to take the risk, they can still try again for a boarding group at 2 PM, though be aware that you must be inside the park for the 2 PM Boarding Pass distribution.
The system change has also produced another major benefit…