Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Early Bird Gets The Mouse: Hollywood Studios

A few days ago, somebody asked me the following question: "If you could give just one tip - the most important single tip you could think of - to someone regarding their upcoming visit to Walt Disney World, what would it be and why?"

I thought about it for a bit, and considered the many possibilities. Important tips about taking advantage of fastpass, dining choices, photopass, transportation decisions, what attractions to skip, what parks to hit on what days, what special events to attend and extra magic hours all crossed my mind. All are indeed important, but they aren't the single most important. That distinction belongs to just one piece of advice:

Get there early.

Very early. As in, well before "rope drop" early.

I can't emphasize how important this tip can be; how much it can mean to your day and to your vacation in general. It can set you up for a much more pleasurable and relaxing day - which can leave a general imprint on how much you enjoyed your vacation as a whole.

This tip applies to every park, but we'll start with Disney's Hollywood Studios and tackle the other three in future episodes of Around The Mouse. It can be argued that on non-extra magic hour mornings, if you're there a full half hour before opening, you can get a handful of the major top-tier attractions out of the way in the first hour and a half. If you can do this, it can make the rest of your day much, much more enjoyable.

For example, check out this strategy on a morning where DHS opens up at 9 am:

8:20 - 8:30 am: Arrive at Hollywood Studios. Stand in line at the turnstiles.
You want to arrive this early because sometimes the gates open slightly before 9 am and this park hosts THE most popular attraction in The Mouse, Toy Story Mania. TSM is nearly everyone's immediate target - the vast majority of the rope drop crowd wants to get to Pixar Place, and they want to get there as fast as possible. You need to be near the very front of the pack so that you don't get lost in the middle of the stampede and lose precious time.

9:00 am: Make a beeline for Pixar Place and Toy Story Mania
Take aim at this attraction and don't stop until you get there. It's fastest if you don't go through the Animation Courtyard entrance, but go down the stairs/ramp just to the right of the giant Sorcerer's Hat that empties out by One Man's Dream. It's the fastest possible route.

9:05 - 9:10 am: Get a fastpass to Toy Story Mania
This is where I'm sure I'll get some disagreement. I'm going to tell you to SKIP riding Toy Story Mania first thing in the morning - but instead, just get a fastpass. You'll be amazed at how quickly the standby line piles up here. In no time, a 30+ minute wait appears, unless you are amongst the very first to arrive. Hightail it out of there toward Sunset Boulevard and Rock N Roller Coaster after you've secured your passes. If you get them immediately, the return time should be no later than between 10:00 - 10:30 am.

9:15 - 9:20: Get to Rock N Roller Coaster
Before Toy Story Mania arrived on the scene, this was THE ride to hit first thing in the morning. The lines piled up very quickly. They still do, but not nearly to the same degree as before.

Generally speaking, of those who don't go directly to Pixar Place first thing in the morning, most go to R&RC...and almost all of the rest that's left after that go to Tower of Terror. So, you've got to conquer them in that order. By the time you get your passes to TSM and get over to R&RC, your wait should be between 15-20 minutes. Take the pre-show and ride itself into consideration, and you're talking about a 25-30 minute block of time dedicated to one of the biggest rides in the park - completed in full. By about 9:45, you should be done with Rock N Roller Coaster and on your way to Tower of Terror.

9:45 - 9:50 am: Get to Tower of Terror
After Aerosmith, head over to the Hollywood Hotel. It should be about a 15 minute wait at this point in the morning, because most people are still going hysterical over Toy Story and the 'Coaster. Add in another 15 minutes to complete the walk-through and ride, and by about 10:15, you're done with Tower of Terror. Walk back over to Toy Story Mania, because your fastpasses should about ready.

10:15 - 10:20 am: Get into the fastpass line at Toy Story Mania
By about 10:15, you're in the fastpass line at Toy Story Mania, getting ready to ride. By about 10:30 or so, you're done. In sum, within the first hour and a half of park opening, you should have the 3 biggest attractions in the park over and done with. You're now available to take your time the rest of the day.

This strategy enables you to do a few things. The promise (threat?) of enormous lines is no longer a big factor (unless you want to ride one of the Big Three again later). No other ride/attraction in the park (besides Fantasmic!) garners the kind of lines the above three compile, so you'll be able to hit less popular attractions later on the afternooon/evening when more people are in the park - meaning you get the MOST out of what Hollywood Studios has to offer.

10:35 - 10:40 am: Visit One Man's Dream
Besides Tower of Terror, this is my favorite DHS attraction. I love this walking tour, and I believe it should be required viewing for everyone who enters Walt Disney World. Take your time here and soak it all in. Learn all about the man who started it all. And bring your camera.

Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a half-day park. There is actually a lot to do here - but there's also a lot to skip here as well. Our job is to determine which you shouldn't miss, and which you can afford to skip. The attractions you should absolutely check out include:
Star Tours
Muppet Vision 3D
Great Movie Ride
Magic Of Disney Animation (the Animation Academy, in particular)
Beauty and the Beast Stage Show
Mulch, Sweat and Shears
Streetmosphere Performers
Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It! Parade

If you see all of the above and you miss Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, The Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the Backlot Tour, you shouldn't be upset. Granted, if you have time, which you very well might due to great early morning planning ;) , you should absolutely see as much as you can anyway. But at the very least you'll have seen the best the park has to offer.

I should make special mention of one attraction though: Fantasmic! When planning which day you want to visit Hollywood Studios, remember to visit on the day that is showing this phenomenal end-of-night show (and avoide morning EMH, if you're not a resort guest). This is SO important, because Fantasmic is THAT GOOD. By itself, it is almost worth the price of admission (and that is saying a LOT). Do yourself a favor and do not miss it. And if two shows are being offered, hit the 2nd show - it is ALWAYS less crowded, without fail. The benefit there is that you won't have to line up nearly as early and you'll get a better choice of seating. If you end your day at Hollywood Studios with Fantasmic, it is guaranteed to leave you with a feeling of absolutely getting your money's worth out of it. Never mind all the other great stuff you did earlier in the day

So remember, the early bird gets The Mouse.


  1. Amen and amen!

    Getting to the parks EARLY is a tip I have preached to anyone and everyone who will listen for years!

    During our most recent trip in July, we got up every morning to be at the parks for rope drop. The remaining families in our party did not do this (regardless of preaching) and proceeded to spend the entire day accomplishing what we had done that morning in less than two hours!

    I just found your blog this week - love it!

  2. Thanks for the kind words! It baffles me when non-Disney addicts don't take our advice. We're only trying to help! ;)

  3. We are going in October. It is our first time outside of the extremely crowded summer (my wife is a teacher). We were advised to get to Fantasmic two hours early during the summer and found that worked perfectly. We had awesome seats even though we were not at the front of the line. How early should we get there in the October time frame? Some of our group this will likely be their one and only trip to the mouse so we want this to be memorable.

    Thank you for your help.