Home » What to Expect at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Right Now, Pre-Holiday Edition

What to Expect at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Right Now, Pre-Holiday Edition

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…

2. Significant improvement in morning crowds

The opening gate rush has been a major stress point when visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the past year. While changes to Rise of the Resistance boarding group distribution curbed the ultra-early mornings we saw a year ago, there was no escaping the fact that if you wanted the best chance to get onto the ride, you needed to be inside the park before opening. Even after Walt Disney World’s long closure, this problem didn’t go away—Disney found ways to mitigate crowds by limiting capacity and adding the second distribution time, but opening gate still produced the biggest congestion issues of the day.

We arrived a little after opening time, and we noticed the difference immediately. It seems that the change has helped reduce morning crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at least somewhat. The parking lot was not nearly as full as on our previous visits, to the point we actually were directed to park in the front row now that empty cars weren’t having to be distanced. Bag check went faster than I’ve ever seen, and even with a character cavalcade taking place, Hollywood Boulevard was decidedly easy to navigate.

Once again, this proves that it looks like Disney made a smart call changing the strategy for managing the Rise of the Resistance virtual queue. Parties with a low boarding group number (you only have an hour to check in once your boarding group is called) or want a full day in the park can arrive for opening gate, but casual visitors and those with a higher group number don’t necessarily need to be there that early.

3. Increased ride capacity seems to be helping wait times

In our last update, we noted that wait times had increased significantly across Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unlike the pre-Labor Day season, it seemed like the only time to guarantee shorter queues was during the last two hours of the day. While some of this has been due to crowds, the larger issues has been reduced ride capacity due to social distancing and sanitation measures. Most attractions have socially distanced guests by giving every party their own vehicle.

Disney has taken on this issue by adding plexiglass barriers to ride vehicles on some attractions, including Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and the Tower of Terror. While this measure can prove a minor annoyance for guests stuck behind these barriers (more on that later), they’ve proven a reasonable way to shorten wait times and increase attraction capacity. While there still isn’t a completely predictable way to catch only short lines (besides riding the last two hours of the day), we did notice some shifts in trends for rides that previously had long waits.

Video: YouTube, @MyKingdomForAMouse

On the day we visited, the park’s two coaster attractions–Slinky Dog Dash and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster—held the longest waits of the day. This makes sense as there hasn’t really been a good way to increase capacity on these rides. Slinky Dog Dash clocked in with the longest wait time of the day at 80 minutes starting around 11:20 AM. It seems a lot of people are heading straight for this attraction in the morning as the queue had already reached 70 minutes by 10:20. Wait times didn’t lower much until 5:15 PM, hanging at a steady 60 minutes for the rest of the day. The Rock n’ Roller Coaster fared a little better with shorter waits first thing in the morning, but it also maintained a fairly steady 50-70 minute wait throughout the day.

The biggest change we saw was a significant improvement in wait times for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. On our previous visit, this remained one of the longest queues in the park all day long, never dipping below 45 minutes. On our recent visit, while the park’s newest ride did see a large rush first thing in the morning (with waits around 60 minutes), it seems that after the lunch rush, queue times for this attraction lowered to 40 minutes. By 6:30 PM, the wait was only 25 minutes long, which is excellent if you’re determined to spend as little time in line as possible.

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run has remained a bit of an oddball for wait times with the highest crowds forming around lunch time (with a 60 minute wait). Once again, this line continued to shorten throughout the day, with waits as low as 20 minutes by 6:30 PM. Do be aware that it appears Disney is getting more accurate with their wait times, so if the time says 20 minutes, it really might take that long. Previously, it seemed like Disney was majorly overestimating queue times.

Here are some specifics for wait times we saw throughout the day:

10:30 AM

  • Slinky Dog Dash – 70m
  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Tower of Terror – 60m
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Millennium Falcon – 45m
  • Star Tours – 10m
  • Toy Story Mania – 30m

11:20 AM

  • Slinky Dog Dash – 80m
  • Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Millennium Falcon, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – 60m
  • Star Tours – 45m
  • Toy Story Mania – 30m

2:00 PM

  • Slinky Dog Dash – 80m
  • Millennium Falcon – 55m
  • Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – 50m
  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – 40m
  • Star Tours and Toy Story Mania – 20m

5:15 PM

  • Slinky Dog Dash – 60m
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – 50m
  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – 45m
  • Tower of Terror and Millennium Falcon – 40m
  • Star Tours – 30m
  • Toy Story Mania – 20m

6:30 PM

  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – 70m
  • Slinky Dog Dash – 60m
  • Tower of Terror – 30m
  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – 25m
  • Millennium Falcon, Toy Story Mania, and Star Tours – 20m

4. Plexiglass doesn’t ruin Rise of the Resistance—but it does make parts of it a little weird

Video: YouTube, @MyKingdomForAMouse

In our October update, we recounted how plexiglass dividers were added to certain portions of the queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance on the Star Destroyer, as well as how guests were being socially distanced on using small dots for the briefing and transport sequence. While this made for some bad views on the transport, the ride experience didn’t change much.

Enter the plexiglass.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has been plexiglassed out. It’s a Plexiglasstravaganza. It may leave some guests perplex(iglass)ed.  We’ve got plexiglass for the briefing room, plexiglass on the transport, plexiglass in the ride vehicles. If you have an irrational fear of plexiglass, this is not an ideal time to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

Let’s start with the bad news… while the plexiglass doesn’t feel that out of place in the world of Star Wars, it does make for some slightly awkward viewing angles during the first two sequences. We ended up tucked up against the wall right under BB-8 for the briefing, and it was a little odd. Rey’s head was blocked by a good sized column, and we felt rather like what a goldfish must feel trying to watch an episode of The Mandalorian with a wall of glass, your bulbous head, and a flower pot in the way. It didn’t ruin the ride, but it definitely wouldn’t be ideal for a first time visitor.

We experienced similar awkwardness on the transport. In positive news, we finally managed to escape the dreaded dot tucked in the rear corner where you can’t see anything of import (we seem to have a knack for being placed there). In a hilarious switch of fate, this time we were placed in the opposite corner, tucked right next to the lieutenant and communications screen. This actually ended up being a pretty decent view we hadn’t seen before, but there was no question the plexiglass left a few guests positioned in less-than-ideal spots. This is such a fast-paced attraction, it’s not like you really have a moment you can ask, “Um, could I evacuate the planet on that dot over there instead?” The best strategy is just roll with it and enjoy the action pretending Batuu has a booming plexiglass-production industry.

As for the actual ride vehicles, we ended up in the rear seats behind the infamous plexiglass shields. I will say that despite the fact that the shields make filming a little challenging (the glare looks worse on video than it is in real life—plus it gives videos a trippy drunk-wistful-and-in-peril effect like something from an 80’s movie), the plexiglass really didn’t dampen our experience. The glass is kept pretty clean, so it didn’t really muddy any of our views, and it was actually nice getting to share the adventure with other guests. Our experience on Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was similar—we definitely noticed the glass, but it didn’t harm the attraction experience.

Overall, the plexiglass jungle on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a little annoying, but it is worth it in this weird season to get more guests onto this popular attraction in a reasonably safe way.

5. Rise of the Resistance is still experiencing significant breakdowns affecting capacity

Video: YouTube, @MyKingdomforAMouse

It’s been nice to have some good news regarding Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as we’ve reached the ride’s one year anniversary. Unfortunately, there is one big problem the minds at Disney still haven’t overcome…

On our last visit, we were impressed by how many boarding groups got to experience the ride—they made it all the way to group 112, which is well into the backup groups. On this trip, things didn’t play out so smoothly, and the troubles started early in the day.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance still suffers from regular downtime due to ride breakdowns and maintenance problems. On the day we visited, the ride did not start accepting boarding groups until around 12 PM. Our group (16) was called around 1 PM only for the attraction to shut down again shortly after our ride completed. By 6:30 PM, they’d reached Group 66 (a bit ominous for Star Wars fans), making it unlikely they’d make it into backup groups by the end of the day. It seems these issues have continued in the days following, including one day where the ride didn’t start boarding guests until after 4:00 PM.

How might this affect your visit? It is wise for guests to remember that scoring a boarding group does not guarantee you’ll get to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Disney has done a decent job making sure guests who have a group still get to enjoy the attraction, but that may mean a long wait in the queue if multiple boarding groups are called at the same time, and you might even end up experiencing parts of the ride in B-mode. Our experience with the attraction has been largely positive without major breakdowns, but be aware that they are still happening.

6. Don’t expect too much holiday flair (with one weird exception)

Video: YouTube, User: Blog Mickey

While Disney’s Hollywood Studios has never necessarily been known as Disney’s most Christmas-y park, guests who were hoping for a Life Day Celebration on Batuu may be a little disappointed.

This isn’t entirely unexpected with all the belt-tightening Disney has had to do to ride out the financial losses of the pandemic, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios felt decidedly minimalistic when it comes to holiday cheer. Toy Story Land only got the barest holiday treatment, and rumors of a Life Day 2020 Celebration in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge never came to fruition. Echo Lake still hosts a good sized Christmas tree, and little bits of holiday bling can be spotted here and there, but decorations felt distinctly low key for Disney’s normal Christmas style.

With one notable exception…

Introduced in 2017, the Hollywood Holiday Tower Hotel is back with a shortened projection show transforming the Tower of Terror into a tower of toys, then a tower of gingerbread (eeeevil gingerbread, we assume), and a winter wonderland. You can’t miss it. Some guests love it, some guests think it looks a bit like that one weird uncle who gets a bit carried away with the Christmas decorations aimed his staggering collection of novelty projectors at the Disney landmark all at the same time. It’s a little weird, but hey, if the kids like it, we’ll take whatever cheer we can get. We appreciate that they didn’t project a giant Mickey facemask wrapped around the building or an enlargement of everyone’s least favorite sign:

7. Some merchandise locations are opening late and closing early

You may not want to wait until the end of the day to pick up that lightsaber you were hoping for…

I’m not positive if this has been a policy since the parks reopened, but we noticed that Disney is limiting hours for many merchandise locations in the park. Keystone Clothiers, for example, did not open its doors until lunch time, and some merchandise locations are not open at all (particularly on low attendance days).

The biggest place we noticed these limited hours was in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. We intended to pick up a lightsaber sheath from Dok Ondar’s around 6:45 PM, but we noticed that the queue for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run had fallen to just 20 minutes. Assuming this meant the attraction was essentially walk-on like on our previous trips, we went ahead and got in line. As mentioned, the wait times are no longer being padded as much, so we didn’t get off the ride until a bit after 7:10 PM.

To our chagrin, the doors to Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities were sealed, along with all other shops in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

We assume cost-cutting measures are at work again, but this is definitely something guests should be aware of if you plan to pick up any last minute souvenirs—expect most merchandise locations in the park to close by 7:00 PM. This policy may change, but we would recommend erring on the safe side and doing all your shopping earlier in the day. You will definitely find shorter waits if you visit shops later in the day (like the Jewels of Bith Marketplace in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), but don’t wait too late or you may miss your window.

In summation, if you are comfortable visiting Walt Disney World with the pandemic still in play, it is still a very good time to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios before the holiday rush. Capacity limits are still keeping crowds reasonable and despite some weirdness surrounding plexiglass and pandemic policies, we are not likely to see the parks this quiet again once capacities go back to normal in the future.

Enjoy this article? Keep reading for Answers to Your Top Questions About Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or to learn about The “Mad” King Who Inspired Walt Disney to build Sleeping Beauty Castle