For all the details Disney dished out in recent weeks about the attractions, shops, and merchandise in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it had said little about how it will manage the massive crowds expected to pour into Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
That changed when Disney announced opening dates for the 14-acre land on both coasts.
No FastPass+ ride reservations can be made for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run when Galaxy’s Edge opens, leaving the stand-by line (and possibly the ride’s single rider queue) as the only option for guests. A Frequently Asked Questions page on the Disney World site revealed the same policy will apply to Rise of the Resistance, the second Galaxy’s Edge attraction, which is set to open later this year.
“We will continually evaluate our operations and services in order to help provide a great guest experience,” Thomas Smith, editorial content director for Disney Parks, wrote on the Disney Parks Blog.
No major attraction at Disney World has opened without FastPass since the system was first introduced in 1999. While the move could be seen as egalitarian, eliminating the advantage guests at expensive Disney-owned resorts have long enjoyed for reserving ride times, it’s more likely the decision comes down to mathematics.
And when it comes to the math behind the crowds at Orlando theme parks, there’s no one better to ask than Len Testa, the founder and president of Touring Plans, a popular subscription service offering customizable itineraries to help avoid long lines for Disney and Universal rides.
He told Orlando Rising that FastPass+ has generally reduced the wait times for major Disney World attractions by more evenly distributing guests throughout the parks. What makes Galaxy’s Edge different is the higher “balking time” — when the wait would be so long that guests balk at even getting in line — which, for very dedicated Star Wars fans, could be as high as 5 or 6 hours.
Here’s how Testa broke down the numbers:
For most rides, Disney allocates 75 or 80 percent of the ride’s capacity to FastPass+. To make the math easier, let’s say that Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run can handle 1,800 people per hour. That means that 1,440 rides per hour would normally go to FastPass+, and 360 to standby.
If the ride had FastPass+, it would take 1,800 people without Fastpasses (out of a park capacity of, say, 50,000, so less than 4 percent of the people in the park), to make a standby line 5 hours long. There will definitely be 1,800 people willing to wait 5 hours for this ride.
When the ride doesn’t have FP, it would take 9,000 people without Fastpasses to make a standby line of 5 hours.
It’s entirely possible that 9,000 people (about 18 percent of the people in the park) will want to ride Smuggler’s Run at the same time, the first week it opens – I would bet on it. But you see the math – however long the line is without FastPass, it would be as much as 5 times longer with FastPass. The only thing that would limit it would be how long the most devoted people are willing to wait, and how many people Disney is willing to allow in a line.
Testa expects long lines for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run to persist for more than a year, similar to Flights of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. What could make wait times slightly more reasonable in the short term is requiring a reservation just to get into the Disney World version of Galaxy’s Edge. Disneyland will have such a system in place from when Galaxy’s Edge opens there on May 31 through at least June 23.
Big crowds won’t just be a problem for Smuggler’s Run or Galaxy’s Edge, but a pain felt parkwide. Despite the addition of Toy Story Land last year, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is still short on rides, particularly with no opening date yet announced for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
“I think (Mickey and Minnie) will be open before Galaxy’s Edge,” Testa said. “However, if it’s not, I’d pray for the cast members. Because at that point, there’d be 50,000 people in a park with only 7 rides. And of those 7 rides, only 2 of them would be without height restrictions and thus appropriate for small children.”
Recent additions, like park’s new Edna Mode Experience, won’t provide much help, as the hourly capacity for character meet-and-greets is far lower than most actual rides.
The best bet for Disney’s Hollywood Studios is to add more performances for its existing stage shows, like Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage.
“Shows and live entertainment should be the core of Disney’s strategy for dealing with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge crowds,” Testa said. “They made a huge bet years ago not to increase the park’s ride capacity beyond Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers. We’ll see how that works for them.”
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