Would you believe that it’s possible to roll into Walt Disney World’s hottest theme park at midday during the busiest travel season since the pandemic started, and still experience all of its top attractions before closing time? The impossible is now achievable with the help of our new Unofficial Guide to Afternoon Arrival at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which allowed us to arrive after 12 p.m. and enjoy 10 major attractions within 8 hours during the peak spring break period.
For decades, our primary dictate when designing a theme park touring plan was to arrive as early as possible, but the past year’s upheaval has put even that time-honored advice to the test. Our last experience attending the early morning “rope drop” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios made us wonder if the early bird still does get the worm at this Walt Disney World venue, or if there’s a way to sleep in without missing out.
For the TLDR, watch this video of highlights from our Hollywood Studios Afternoon Arrival Touring Plan test:
Spoiler Alert: The results of our experiment turned out better than we could have hoped! Despite failing to secure Rise of the Resistance boarding passes during the 7 a.m. distribution, we still managed to ride that attraction and all of the other E-Tickets at DHS during the afternoon. Better yet, the total queuing time we experienced throughout the day was the same or less than we would have faced if we had arrived at the park before it opened.
Our afternoon arrival at Hollywood Studios experiment started shortly after noon on a drizzly March Monday, as I drove onto Walt Disney World property underneath the welcome archway, which was recently repainted for the resort’s 50th anniversary.
On this particular day, spring break crowds had saturated the Walt Disney World Resort, and all theme park pass reservations were sold out.
Parking at DHS is easy after the morning rush, but before park-hopping starts at 2 p.m., and I was inside the park gates by 12:30 p.m.
Arriving at this hour allowed me to line up for my first attraction of the afternoon while awaiting the 1 p.m. distribution of Rise of the Resistance boarding passes. The DHS Late Arrival Touring Plan I chose to follow begins with Rock n Roller Coaster, so Sunset Boulevard was my first destination.
A 40-minute posted standby wait for the Aerosmith-scored attraction translated to a 32-minute actual wait time.
The coaster’s queue is moving more quickly these days, with Plexiglass dividers added to the boarding area and every vehicle row being filled.
Better yet, I was lucky enough to score a coveted Rise of the Resistance boarding group while waiting in the queue from Rock n Roller Coaster! Disney’s WiFi coverage can be especially spotty indoors, but my AT&T LTE signal was plenty strong enough to use the My Disney Experience smartphone app. Be sure to refresh a spilt-second before the clock strikes 1 p.m.
Next stop was right next door at the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, whose queue now typically stretches all the way to the dormant Fantasmic stadium.
The 70-minute estimated wait time turned out to be pretty accurate. The barrier-blighted queue moves sporadically because the center rows of elevator cars are still being left empty.
Thankfully, Tower of Terror turned out to be my longest wait of the day by far; all the queues from here on out were progressively shorter.
There’s never a wait for my third stop, the Walt Disney Presents: One Man’s Dream walk-through exhibit.
I even stayed to watch the film, since a screening was starting in just a few minutes.
Attraction number four was For the First Time in Forever, the Frozen sing-along. Capacity is strictly limited, with every other row empty and three seats between parties, so arrive 30 minutes or more before showtime to secure your seat.
This is one of the few live stage shows currently operating at Walt Disney World, and the cast really gives it their all.
I noticed that, although Elsa still summons a faux snow flurry during the finale, other atmospheric fog effects have been disabled.
It’s time to start the music, it’s time to light the lights! My fifth attraction was MuppetVision 4D, where I waited just under 25 minutes—about the length of two performances—to enter the main theater.
We’re at the halfway point in our touring plan, which is the perfect time to take a dinner break. Using Disney’s Mobile Ordering feature, I purchased a pot roast and pasta platter from Docking Bay 7 that was ready and waiting for me by the time I walked to Black Spire Outpost.
The meal tastes even better eaten with a souvenir spork (available for $10.99 while supplies last) in the open-air dining area overlooking Batuu’s central market.
Talk about perfect timing: the notification for my Rise of the Resistance boarding group was delivered just as I was finishing my dinner. After a casual stroll across Galaxy’s Edge, I redeemed my pass and waited barely 25 minutes inside the queue before my first preshow briefing.
Putting aside the distracting Plexiglass partitions that have been retrofitted to the ride vehicles, it was good to see all of this epic attraction’s elements in full working order.
In addition, the steady pace at which boarding groups were called during my visit indicates recent improvements in hourly throughput and reliability.
After surviving my face-off with the First Order, I said farewell to Rey and Chewie, and re-optimized my touring plan using the Lines app.
I soon found myself headed into Toy Story Land towards Toy Story Mania, my seventh attraction of the afternoon.
The actual wait for the 3-D shooting gallery was only 15 minutes, 10 minutes shorter than Disney estimated.
My eighth attraction was DHS’s newest addition, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Although the Railway’s queue extended far into the courtyard, it moved so consistently that the 25-minute estimated wait was just a hair under 20.
Even with its charming animated preshow being bypassed, this is one of the best all-ages attractions Disney has done in decades.
For my ninth experience, I should have been able to squeeze in Star Tours with less than a 15-minute wait. Unfortunately, the queue was backed up beyond the entrance because a number of the simulator cabins were temporarily out of service, so I called an audible and decided to skip the aging D-Ticket attraction.
Instead, I decided to jump ahead to Star Tours’ spiritual successor, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run.
Recruits moved steadily through Hondo’s service garage, and I boarded Han Solo’s legendary ship only 15 minutes after joining the queue.
Contrary to some previous reports, solo smugglers can still get a private cockpit to themselves upon polite request.
By now the sun was setting, and closing time was rapidly approaching. But there was still enough time for me to step into line for Slinky Dog Dash.
The queue’s signage warned of a 50-minute wait, but I was actually on board in less than half that time.
Such wait time inflation is common at many major rides shortly before closing time.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios had already closed for the day by the time I emerged from my 10th attraction of the night, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the park’s nighttime lighting with lowered crowds as I strolled towards the exit.
My final tally was 10 attractions, including Rise of the Resistance and every other headlining ride, plus a meal in an 8-hour afternoon. That would be an admirable result at any time of year before social distancing restrictions, but it’s especially impressive during the first COVID-era spring break.
Our bottom-line advice is that, unless you manage to get a Rise of the Resistance boarding group numbered 50 or below during the 7 a.m. daily distribution, there’s no reason to rope drop Disney’s Hollywood Studios right now. Instead, sleep in and arrive at midday. Just make sure you don’t miss either your ROTR boarding time (if you received one at 7 a.m.) or the
1 p.m. in-park distribution.
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