Not long ago, Disney’s Hollywood Studios seemed like more of an active construction site than functioning theme park. 

Come March 4, however, it will be home to all five of the newest rides to have been added to Walt Disney World, the latest being Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

The trackless dark ride is being hyped as a “2 and ​1⁄2 D” experience that transports guests into the world of the recent Mickey Mouse cartoons seen on Disney Channel. 

“As an Imagineer, we are always being challenged to do things that no one has ever done before,” said Antony Capstick, project engineer for Walt Disney Imagineering, in a recent Disney Parks video. “And for this attraction, you are going to be in the cartoon world and anything is possible.”

The ride will be located in the park’s version of the Chinese Theatre, the former home of the Great Movie Ride. Not only will it shift the park’s balance by restoring a headliner attraction to the front section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it’s also opening in a more typical Disney fashion than the Galaxy’s Edge attractions.

Hello again, FastPass+

Both Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened without being available for FastPass+ ride reservations. Smugglers Run joined the system on Feb. 19, while the ultra-popular Rise of the Resistance continues to use a “boarding group” system that Disney dubs a virtual queue, but acts more like a lottery. 

While this system led industry observers like Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider to call for virtual queues to become the new standard for theme parks, Rise of the Resistance may end being the exception rather than the rule. 

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will instead utilize FastPass+ from day one, all thanks to more predictably reliable operations than its Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge counterparts.

“Runaway Railway is more like a conventional Disney theme park ride,” said Len Testa, president of Touring Plans, a subscription service that offers customizable itineraries for Disney and Universal parks. “It’s likely to start operating closer to its peak hourly capacity, and isn’t as likely to have ride breakdowns, as the Galaxy’s Edge attractions.”

Testa also suspects that the level of passion among guests played a role in the decision. 

Smugglers Run, being the only attraction in the much-hyped “Star Wars” expansion when it opened last August, would have attracted much longer lines if FastPass+ had been used, Testa said. That’s because diehard “Star Wars” fans wouldn’t have balked at long waits in the standby queue while Disney dedicated most of the ride’s capacity to those with FastPasses.

Mickey Mouse may be the original Disney icon, but Testa doesn’t expect guests will be willing to wait as long for this ride as “Star Wars” superfans would for Smugglers Run. 

How to get on all the big rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Juggling these various queue options — virtual, FastPass+ and standby — presents a new challenge to Disney theme park guests. 

Testa’s suggestion for optimal touring is to first get a FastPass reservation for either Smugglers Run, Slinky Dog Dash, or Runaway Railway (under Disney’s tiered system, you can only select one of those three). 

Then show up at the gates 45 minutes before park opening, get a Rise of the Resistance boarding group and make the other two Tier 1 rides for which you don’t have a FastPass your top two priorities in the morning. The rest of the park’s rides — including Toy Story Mania, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster — are available in the less-restrictive Tier 2 for FastPass+. 

A crucial moment for Disney World’s third theme park

For Disney, the opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway marks the end of the expansion of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Now, the question will be: was it worth it?

By adding five new rides in less than two years, Disney understandably expects a big attendance boost compared to the pre-Toy Story Land era.

Instead, the strategy of opening Galaxy’s Edge with only one ride flopped on both coasts, and the company reported just a 2 percent increase in attendance across in its last quarterly report

The current quarter will be crucial. It will include three full months of impact from Rise of the Resistance, along with several weeks of operations from Runaway Railway. 

“If Disney doesn’t see a trend toward double-digit increase in DHS attendance early in 2020, then I’m not sure whether Burbank will continue to invest in new rides,” Testa said. “Remember, Animal Kingdom got a 15 percent boost from Pandora, a film franchise that doesn’t have anywhere near the fanbase of Star Wars. If Galaxy’s Edge can’t match that, there’s going to be a lot of people asking why.”

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