Walt Disney World has reawakened from its pandemic slumber, and the crowds have returned to Orlando’s theme parks. A lot of things have changed since we first covered the reopening of Walt Disney World, especially at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so we recently made a morning visit to DHS in order to update you on “rope drop” procedures at what has become Disney’s busiest theme park.
The most important things to know about rope drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios now is that there is no rope drop, and the park’s official operating hours are a lie. DHS is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. daily, but it actually opens a full hour earlier, at 9 a.m. Moreover, this isn’t the limited early opening of years past, when guests were held in the entrance area while waiting for the attractions to open. Rather, as soon as guests are allowed to enter the parking lot and approach the park gates, they’ll be able to head directly to their first rides of the day.
The tricky part is that guests are not allowed to wait at the parking tollbooths until shortly before the lot opens, and you’ll be forced by security to circle around if you arrive too early. That’s why you’re likely to spot cars parked along the side of the road as soon as you take the highway exit into Walt Disney World property closest to the park.
I pulled up to Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ tollbooths at about 8:50 a.m. and found full lanes of cars several dozen deep ahead of me. However, within minutes the lines behind me were twice as long, so my timing turned out to be nearly ideal.
By 9:02 a.m. cars were making their way through the tollbooths and into the parking lot. I parked in the closest section’s second row and joined the crowd walking towards the park entrance with only a couple hundred guests ahead of me. However, an equal or greater number were simultaneously arriving from the hotels via the Skyliner.
Despite the wave of arrivals, it only took a few minutes to pass through the temperature checkpoint. After that, I barely broke my stride walking through the security screening—which no longer requires manual bag searches or empty pockets—and the entrance touchpoints, which were wide open.
Despite entering Disney’s Hollywood Studios by 9:20 a.m., a full 40 minutes before its official opening, Hollywood Boulevard was already full of bodies.
While nearly all of the park’s major attractions are opening as soon as guests enter, the two biggest draws are Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Slinky Dog Dash. I picked the former and quickly found myself queuing in front of the Chinese Theatre.
When I entered the line around 9:20 a.m., the estimated wait for Runaway Railway was 75 minutes. In actuality, I waited 20 minutes to enter the interior queue—by which time the posted wait was 105 minutes—and I only waited 10 more minutes before boarding.
While waiting to enter Runaway Railway, I spotted a handheld sign marking the end of the 75-minute queue, which already stretched past the Walt Disney Presents entrance and into Animation Courtyard.
Guests move especially swiftly through Runaway Railway’s interior queue because the preshow film is not screening, with a voiceover in the lobby instead explaining the ride’s premise.
A 30-minute total wait for such a popular new attraction is certainly more than reasonable, and this trip on Runaway Railway was a delight…right up until the sewer scene. At this point the attraction paused for few minutes of unplanned downtime.
That wouldn’t have been so bad, but this stoppage ended up overlapping with the 10 a.m. distribution of boarding passes for Rise of the Resistance, which are currently the most coveted currency in the galaxy. Fortunately, I was still able to get a solid data signal on my smartphone inside the attraction. Unfortunately, despite stabbing “Join” a split-second after the distribution window opened, I received the dreaded “Booking Window Now Full” message.
Undaunted, I headed off to my next attraction, hoping to make a quick one-two of the E-Tickets on Sunset Boulevard. Shockingly, at only 8 minutes after the park’s official opening time, the queues for both Rock n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror already extended down the street.
I decided to bite the bullet and join the 80-minute queue for Tower of Terror, which wound back past the still-shuttered Beauty and the Beast theater and into the entry pathway towards Fantasmic.
It took a full 40 minutes to reach the Hollywood Tower Hotel’s decaying lobby, which has been retrofitted with protective walls.
From there, it took only 10 more minutes to walk through the library (whose preshow television was dark and silent) and board my service elevator to the 5th Dimension.
By the time I exited, the park had been open an hour, and posted wait times were approaching numbers we used to see on a busy summer day, rather than the fall. Posted waits of well over an hour for every major attraction are a far cry from the walk-ons we experienced a few months ago.
For the rest of my day, I attempted to find attractions with wait times under half an hour, which was a challenge. Even MuppetVision 3D posted a 35-minute wait, which turned out to be 32 minutes spent mostly in the extended outdoor queue, which was rarely used prior to the pandemic.
I also made two attempts to see For the First Time in Forever, the Frozen sing-along that was Disney’s first stage show to reopen using Actors Equity union performers. On both occasions, I was closed out of the sold-out theater and advised to return at least 30 minutes before the next showtime.
A rare exception is Mickey’s Vacation Fun, which rarely filled its socially distanced theater. However, this compilation of Mickey Mouse clips is very entertaining (even if you’ve seen the shorts they come from) and makes an excellent escape from the heat.
Among the rides, only Star Tours saw short waits during the middle of the day, with a posted wait of only 15 minutes (and an actual wait under 10).
At the exact same time, the park’s other Star Wars simulator was advertising a 70-minute posted wait time.
Speaking of Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, my actual wait for the Galaxy’s Edge attraction turned out to be 45 minutes. Applicants to Hondo’s employ are advised to look quickly at their animatronic boss because riders no longer get to stop and watch his preshow.
Guests are also not currently being assigned color-coded cards that allow them to freely wander around the Falcon’s hold while awaiting their turn in the cockpit.
But the wait was worth it because I got a private ride, which allowed me to sit in the left-hand pilot’s seat while also operating the right-hand hyperdrive lever.
If you get hungry while at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll want to use the Mobile Order feature in the My Disney Experience app as early as possible. When I went to order lunch from ABC Commissary before noon, I found I had to wait a half hour for an available pickup window.
The shrimp curry bowl on ABC Commissary’s recently updated menu sports sizable crustaceans, and the rice has a nice jasmine flavor, but the red curry sauce has hardly any heat.
At 2 p.m., guests get a second bite at Rise of the Resistance boarding passes, but I struck out yet again.
Once the second distribution ends, guests start streaming out of the park at a steady rate.
By 3 p.m., wait times around the park are noticeably dropping, with Toy Story Mania and Alien Spinning Saucers both posting under half an hour.
Slinky Dog remained at an hour, but the actual wait was likely less than 45 minutes.
If you’re willing to stay until Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ 7 p.m. closing time, you’ll find increasingly short waits for the rides. Just remember that there are still no fireworks or evening spectaculars to end your night with. The one exception is Runaway Railway, which can continue to draw a sizable queue until shortly before closing time.
After reading all this, you might wonder what the heck is happening with crowds at Hollywood Studios—and how you should best handle a visit. First of all, although attendance has increased from the rock-bottom levels of a few months back, Disney is still limiting attendance and enforcing all social distancing precautions, including mandatory mask wearing. Right now, we’re seeing approximately 50% of the average daily attendance at the parks, which equals only 25% of the parks’ maximum peak-day capacity. However, with the reduced carrying capacity of the operating attractions (most of which are only filling 1/3 to 1/2 of their available seats) compounded by the large number of closed shows and meet-and-greets (which would ordinarily absorb many guests), that 25% attendance can feel more like 110%.
Second, to somewhat compensate, Disney appears to be systematically inflating the estimated wait times for its rides, so that your actual wait will be 66% to 75% of what was posted. This may make guests feel good when their wait is significantly shorter than expected. but it makes it more challenging to optimize your touring plans.
For now, our advice is to only arrive early for rope drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios if riding Rise of the Resistance is extremely important to you. Entering the park before 10 a.m. is the only way to have two chances at a coveted boarding pass, and if you’re going for it you might as well take advantage of the shorter ride wait times right at 9 a.m. Just hope that you aren’t trapped on an attraction without a data signal when the clock strikes 10 (like I was).
If Rising isn’t a requirement for you, we suggest showing up by early afternoon, in time for the 2 p.m. boarding pass distribution. If you happen to get one, great; otherwise, you’ll be able to enjoy the shortening lines for attractions as the morning guests begin to exit.
Finally, if you have fewer than four days in your Disney vacation, consider skipping Disney’s Hollywood Studios until your next visit. Because it has the most new attractions of any park right now, it’s the busiest park to navigate—and the most difficult one to enjoy a relaxing day in. The situation should improve when more of the park’s people-eating amphitheater shows reopen, but for right now DHS is best reserved for brave Jedi who have braced themselves for disappointment.
For a better look at what the crowds were like this morning, take a walk around Disney’s Hollywood Studios with this video, which was originally broadcast on our Facebook page:
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2020. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.