DVC Member Planning for FastPasses and Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios
As a member of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), you’ve visited all of the theme parks at Walt Disney World, right? You likely have a strategy for how to navigate all four gates. What happens when Disney mucks up those plans with new rules, though? Let’s evaluate how DVC members should approach Disney’s Hollywood Studios from now on.
Changes to FastPasses and Extra Magic Hours
Like Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios is a Walt Disney World park that utilizes FastPass tiers. You may select only one FastPass from the top tier. Your other FastPasses will come from the second group.
Depending on how long that you’ve been visiting Walt Disney World, you may be accustomed to the various FastPass tiers. Alas, I’ve got bad news for you. Disney has changed them in anticipation of the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on August 29th.
From now on, almost every major ride at Hollywood Studios falls into the Group A or Tier 1 category. Even Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is now a part of the top group. Only Star Tours falls into Group B, meaning that virtually everyone will have a Star Tours FastPass during a Hollywood Studios visit.
The lone exception here is Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. It won’t have FastPasses, at least not at first. Those of you who want to ride it quickly must choose the Single Rider line instead. I presume that the same will be true of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which opens in December.
Disney’s strategy here is simple. They’re worried about the flow of park traffic once Star Wars Land opens. Their goal is to get more guests off the streets and at Disney shows. For this reason, all Disney attractions like Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage and Voyage of the Little Mermaid are in the Group A/Tier 2 category. Even the reserved Fantasmic! FastPass seating is in this category.
When you’re watching these presentations, you’re sitting down in a stadium or theater for 10-45 minutes. Disney knows where you are and, thereby, may control traffic congestion better.
How the Changes Impact DVC Members
For longtime DVC members and Disney park guests, this change is a bitter pill to swallow. When Disney opened Toy Story Land last year, they already introduced two new attractions that were in the top FastPass tier. Now, they’ve switched one of the most popular selections, Tower of Terror, to the top row, too. Worst of all, you can’t even book a Star Wars Land FastPass.
Your old park strategy just flew out the window. You’ll need to put a bit more thought into your Hollywood Studios visit next time. And that’s especially difficult since you don’t know yet how much Star Wars Land will increase traffic.
Even less crowded attractions like Star Tours and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! may have longer lines the next time that you visit. You must plan for the worst to avoid experiencing a frustrating park day.
Best FastPass Strategies for Tier 1
You’ll have one major decision with your new FastPass approach. You must select one of five options as your Tier 1 FastPass. Your choices are:
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Toy Story Mania!
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Everyone has their most treasured Disney rides. If one of those five is the ultimate for you, read no further in this section. Book a FastPass for your favorite and don’t sweat the details.
For everyone else, the decision isn’t THAT challenging, really. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster already has some of the longest lines at Walt Disney World. During peak park time, a wait of 90+ minutes isn’t unusual.
However, a couple of other factors come into play here. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster provides a Single Rider line experience that’s nearly identical to the standard version. You should become acquainted with it if you’re not already.
The other halo effect of the FastPass change impacts the Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Fewer people will book those FastPasses now, especially the former. Because more competition exists in Tier 1, space will open on each attraction.
This phenomenon should have a positive trickle-down effect on wait-times. With fewer FastPasses booked, the regular line queues should move quicker. As such, I wouldn’t suggest a FastPass for either one.
Alien Swirling Saucers isn’t the best choice for a different reason. It’s a divisive attraction that some Disney “fans” crudely abbreviate to its initials. I think you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ride it when the line is 45 minutes or less. That’s especially true if you follow a suggestion in the final section.
Given these conclusions, your Tier 1 choice really comes down to Slinky Dog Dash or Toy Story Mania!. You want the former if you can get it. First of all, you’ve likely ridden Toy Story Mania! many times by now. Second, the difference is line queue wait-times are usually 30+ minutes. So, the choice is clear. When you can’t get Slinky Dog Dash, however, Toy Story Mania! is an excellent backup choice.
Best FastPass Strategies for Tier 2
While Tier 1 is a finite discussion, Tier 2 is more open-ended. To many longtime Disney guests, the shows aren’t exciting anymore. People know them by heart and aren’t as enthusiastic about repeat viewings.
I maintain that the shows at Hollywood Studios are the best at Walt Disney World and highly recommend them. Even if you disagree, you may want to rediscover them in the short term. Disney wants you to book at least one show with your FastPasses. Whether you should do so is an interesting debate.
Star Tours will experience the inverse behavior of the Aerosmith and Twilight Zone rides. It’s going to be more popular than at any point in the past several years. Most FastPass users will book a trip on Star Tours, increasing traffic and adding significantly to the wait-time in regular lines.
I’ll presume that you’ll follow suit. After all, when you’re visiting Star Wars Land for the first time, you’ll want the full Star Wars experience, right? Star Tours is undeniably a part of that.
Alas, everyone else will follow suit. The FastPass lines for Star Tours are probably going to be crazy for a while. Do you love the ride enough to put up with that sort of aggravation? I can’t answer that, so I’ll presume that you want a Star Tours FastPass.
It’s that other Tier 2 FastPass that’s so interesting. Technically, you only need to book one FastPass ahead of time. During the early days of Star Wars Land, you may prefer to remain agile with your others. You could feasibly only book one or two FastPasses and then grab any others that you want via My Disney Experience.
Whether you choose to do this comes down to how you feel about shows. Personally, I’m all about the Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the Indiana Jones/Beauty and the Beast presentations. Even so, I have a lot of confidence that I can get a FastPass for one of these or wait in a short line to catch a show.
For this reason, I’m inclined to skip that final FastPass. Should you disagree, you should choose your favorite show. The one piece of advice that I do have is that you should resist the temptation of Fantasmic!.This FastPass won’t execute until the evening, preventing you from booking anything else. You don’t want that. If you want reserved seating for Fantasmic!, book a dinner package instead. The Hollywood & Vine character meal is highly recommended, even though the food is just okay. Minnie Mouse wears a different outfit every three months!!!
The Star Wars Land Factor on Crowds
By the way, if you’re wondering how much Galaxy’s Edge will increase attendance, it’s an open-ended question. We don’t have hard numbers about Disneyland’s debut yet.
Many reports suggest that the park isn’t as crowded as expected, but surge pricing impacts Anaheim more than Orlando. Disneyland caters much more to the locals than Walt Disney World. And many Anaheim residents aren’t willing to spend the extra money on the best annual passes, a logical choice when you have Disney in your backyard.
Here’s my thought process. I’ve examined current ride data for all current Hollywood Studios attractions. I’ve added “Star Wars inflation” to account for much higher traffic patterns beginning on August 29th. Pandora demonstrably added 25 percent more attendance to Animal Kingdom. I’m estimating 40 percent for Star Wars Land.
A Temporary Fix
I want to point out one other short-term improvement to your park visit. Presumably, as a DVC member, you’re staying on property at an official Disney resort…and probably a phenomenal one from the Deluxe Villas tier.
You’ll receive an added bonus with your hotel state. From September 1st through November 2nd, the early bird will get the juiciest of worms at Walt Disney World. From 6-9 a.m. on these dates, you’ll receive early admission to Galaxy’s Edge.
Disney’s calling this initiative Extra, Extra Magic Hours. And it’s not just available at Hollywood Studios. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will also offer early entry from 7-8 a.m. on the same dates.
Park officials want to distribute Walt Disney World traffic more evenly across the four theme parks. They’ll let all of you who don’t mind a 5 a.m. alarm on a vacation day to enter the park early.
And yes, Animal Kingdom will open Pandora – The World of Avatar early on these days. At Magic Kingdom, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland attractions are available. Those of you who aren’t married to a Star Wars visit can mine that much enjoyment from your vacation by utilizing Extra, Extra Magic Hours elsewhere.
Extra, Extra Magic Hours Strategies
At Hollywood Studios, you’ll have a rare three-hour window to enter Star Wars Land before the park officially opens. The only crowds that you fight for these spaces at Black Spire Outpost are other Disney resort guests. Extra, Extra Magic Hours are available to everyone staying on-site. So, the themed land could still sell out if you’re too slow in arriving.
On the day that you plan to visit Star Wars Land, plan to reach Hollywood Studios 10-15 minutes early. And I’ll be honest that you may need to show up an hour early, depending on just how much demand there is for this area. It’s the safest way to secure admission and give you an ideal experience at Galaxy’s Edge. Remember: you can always go back to your luxury DVC hotel and take a nap once you’re done visiting Batuu.
Finally, here’s an oddball strategy for those of you who won’t rush straight to Galaxy’s Edge during Extra, Extra Magic Hours. Disney has confirmed that Toy Story Land will open during this three-hour window as well. While everyone else is waiting in line on Batuu, you could have your run of the rest of Hollywood Studios for three hours. That’s a lot of Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Mania!, my friends.