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Crowds and Capacity at Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Star Wars Opens



By Dave Shute

I meant what follows on the post-Star Wars opening capacity of and crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the course of a day to be the basis of thinking through how to tour Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the Extra Extra Magic Hours period.

However, combining the two concepts gets a little complicated, so as a precursor to that—and because it has independent interest—let’s first talk about capacity and crowds during this period at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and I’ll post about touring later.

During the Extra Extra Magic Hours period (EEMH), park hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios—including EEMH—will be from 6a til 10p, 16 hours a day. During the equivalent periods last year, the Studios were open most commonly from 9a-8a, but a few nights (mostly in September 2018) it was open until 9 or 9.30p. (See this for a September 2018 example, and this for an October one.)  So let’s use 8.15p as the average comparable 2018 close, which yields an average day of 11.15 hours.

So 16 hours is a 42% increase over the equivalent period last year. That means that HS will be able to serve about 44,000 people per average 16 hour operating day, compared to the 30,844 folks it served per average day in 2018 (latest available estimates, from TEA).

The extra 13,00 people per day translate into 4.75 million more people a year—on the order of double what Pandora, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley each saw in their first years. This closely enough matches my prior first year forecast of 4 million extra people in Hollywood Studios because of Galaxy’s Edge that I will go ahead and use it.

Double this number because of the same land opening in California, and you’ve got a nationwide opening of 9.5 million people, ten percent more than what the entire Disney’s Animal Kingdom park saw in its first calendar year. (Data here.)

So we are done, right? There’s enough capacity for any reasonable estimate of full year crowds. Do we really think a land with one ride will open nationally at the scale of an entire theme park?

Well, no, we aren’t quite done yet…

First, while after the first few days I don’t expect the partial open to be quite the draw that a full open would have been, it’s not unreasonable to think that it could be, say, three quarters of the draw.

Second, capacity varies across the day—from the EEMH period to the regular operating period to later at night when we are unlikely to see a full show schedule.

Third, show schedule capacity is harder to expand (and calculate!) than it is to simply add more hours to e.g. Star Tours. There’s no actual good capacity data out there in general, and particularly for shows, where the issue is both auditorium capacity and practical limits on frequency, which come from set turnaround issues and staffing issues.

To calculate show capacity, I have estimated auditorium size, and used current minimum intervals between shows to set frequency, while assuming no shows during EMH or much after 8p. For example, at Indiana Jones, the minimum time between shows next week is 1.25 hours. That means with a 9a first show it could run nine to ten times a day, rather than the five times it is showing next week.

Fourth, even with a sixteen hour day, there may still not be enough capacity to serve the demand for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ride that will be opening on August 29. Note that current practice is to let everyone ride a ride who is in line before official park close, so by current practice there will be more than 16 hours of capacity. Moreover, ride starts before the official opening time (6a, in this case) have been recently common for hot, new, in-demand rides. I expect Disney to limit both of these in some fashion, especially early on, so that there is sufficient time overnight for maintenance, so have modeled a 6a open and a last Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride of 2 hours after official close, getting to 18 hour actual day of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge capacity.

At about 1500 rides an hour, that’s 24,000 rides over 16 hours, and 27,000 over 18 hours. Call it 24,000 over 18 hours to account for inefficiencies in loading, VIP rides, and breakdowns, and you get less than 60% of the folks in the park actually being able to ride Smuggler’s Run.

Fifth, we don’t have a precise list of what will be open during EEMH other than Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. I am assuming that at least Star Tours, Rock ‘n’ Roller, Tower of Terror, and Star Wars Launch Bay will also be open during EEMH—although we may find that some of the last four don’t open right at 6a.

Sixth, I don’t know quite how to think of the new Star Wars land itself—that is, experiencing it beyond the ride—as an independent attraction, and thus an additional source of capacity. This is easy to overcomplicate. Simple math (and other simple assumptions about operations) would say that the land itself is one more attraction.

Seventh, while I have tried to keep my capacity numbers practical, the fact is the for reasons of both crowd flow (especially first thing in the morning) and intrinsic attractiveness not all the capacity will be fully utilized. I will comment on this point below topic by topic.

And finally (and maybe I should have started with this), as I mentioned in the show point above, there’s no authoritative source for practical capacity. I have used various estimates to come up with what follows, but take it as approximate starting points to aid with decision making, rather than gospel.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS EXTRA EXTRA MAGIC HOURS CAPACITY

I get practical capacity, including all the rides I expect to see open, and treating Galaxy’s Edge itself as an attraction, of about 11,500 per hour during the EEMH hours of 6a-9a. Actual capacity utilized will be less than this, especially in the early part of Extra Extra Magic Hours.

Folks entering the park at 6a will largely rush to Smugglers Run. Smaller subsets not interested in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, but quite interested in avoiding potential later crowds, will head to their targeted other rides, most commonly Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Only the most unusual or most confused will head at 6a to Star Tours or Alien Saucers Spin or Toy Story Mania.

Expect a large group of people ready to enter as soon as EEMH begins, and another substantial group to enter in the next 30 minutes or so who had planned to arrive before 6a, but life happened. After a lull, a steady and increasing stream of EEMH eligible folk—figuring some EEMH is better than none—will continue to enter the park.

Exactly what happens during this period is partly a function of what people believe to be true, and partly a function of their ability to act in response. If many people believe that they will see massive lines for Smuggler’s Run if they arrive after 7a, and are able to arrive by 5.30a, then we will see massive lines within minutes of opening. If they don’t believe the first point, or, more likely, aren’t able to get to the park that early, then Smuggler’s Run lines will build more slowly over the early morning.

Hourly arrival rates greater than hourly capacity increase lines. So if 6,000 of the ~90,000 EEMH eligible people show up for Smugglers Run before 9a, with the large majority of them arriving after 7a, then lines at 8.59a will be around two hours.

The exit from Galaxy’s Edge is expected to be right into Toy Story Land, by Alien Saucers Spin, so as soon as folks start exiting Galaxy’s Edge, Slinky Dog will start building to full capacity, and after that so will the other Toy Story Land rides.

Wiser tourers getting out of Galaxy’s Edge early in the morning will skip Alien Swirling Saucers, use a pre-booked FastPass+ later on Toy Story Mania, and see Slinky Dog Dash immediately upon exiting Galaxy’s Edge. They then will head to Rock ‘n’ Roller or Tower of Terror. If the Slinky Dog line is already too long, then get in line for it close to park close.

How long it will take for these non- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge EEMH rides to build to full practical capacity in the morning is first a function of how many people directly target them at 6a, second how many people balk from the waits for Galaxy’s Edge and head to them instead (some may instead balk to Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom, as they will each have 7a EEMH), and finally the rate at which people leave Galaxy’s Edge.

Some folks, more interested in rides and low waits than in rockwork, will head straight from Smugglers Run to rides outside Galaxy’s Edge; others will linger in the immersive Galaxy’s Edge environment. My guess is that we will see an average length of stay in Galaxy’s Edge (excluding wait times in the Smugglers Run queue) of in excess of ninety minutes, but with quite a wide distribution.

My model suggests all these EEMH rides will be at practical capacity in hour three (that is, 8a-9a) but none except the Star Wars option will be at capacity at the end of hour one, although Slinky Dog and the two Sunset Boulevard rides will start seeing people right away. The result is in an overall use of about 60% of available total practical capacity over the three hours.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS 9A TO 8P CAPACITY

At 9a, other attractions—principally shows—come on line, and add by my model on average about 6000 practical opportunities an hour to the park, although this will vary each hour depending on exact show schedules. Thus practical hourly capacity goes up to about 17,500 folks.

At the same time a new group—those not eligible for the Extra Extra Magic Hours—will enter the park. (A full list of hotels eligible for Extra Extra Magic Hours is here).  Many of these new entrants will focus on Galaxy’s Edge, driving waits related to it to the highest levels they will see all day, and some of those will balk from its lines–to the rest of the park, to elsewhere in Disney World, or sulkily off to Gatorland. Others who enter the park at 9a will be aimed at anything but Star Wars—and some of those will be aimed at the thrill rides, some at the more all-comers attractions, some at both.

How entry to Galaxy’s Edge is managed will, for an equal number of park entrants, profoundly affect the rest of the Studios.

My guess right now is that after the first hour or two of EEMH, Disney will be managing entries into Galaxy’s Edge based simply on the hourly throughput of the ride, making people wait in line for their chance to enter the land. Further, I can see a lot of operational reasons why Disney might ration rides on Smugglers Run to one per person entering the land. So assume for the moment that the ride can handle 1,500 people an hour, that Disney has targeted a maximum three hour wait in the ride queue itself, and the sense is that the land can productively hold 6,000 people.

If length of stay is on average two hours after the ride itself, then at some between 9a and 11a point here’s what the land will look like

  • 3,000 people milling about in the land (two hour length of stay on 1,500 people exiting Smugglers Run an hour)*
  • 4,500 people in the Smuggler’s Run ride queue
  • 3,000 or more people (a couple of hours’ worth) waiting to get into the land

The important thing to observe about this is that on this set of assumptions we’ve got 10,500+ people in Hollywood Studios, but “trapped” in Star Wars. That accounts for 80% of the average ~13,000 incremental people I am forecasting to be in the park on an average day after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.

Moreover, what happens to an average someone who enters the line to get in the land at, say, 10a, when perhaps all the numbers above will be hit? Well, they will exit the land at something like 5p—two hours to get into the land, three hours to get on the ride, two hours more on the ride and then in the land wandering.

So what we can expect, I think—at least until Rise of the Resistance opens, and so long as Disney manages Star War waits by making people physically wait in line to enter the land and to get on the ride–is that other than in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge itself, at Slinky Dog, and at Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster,** waits will actually be manageable in the rest of the park. Yes, 1,500 people an hour at some point start exiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and others will have balked out of it entirely—but the rest of the park, too has an effective increase in capacity from the later close and what I expect to be an increased show schedule.

If you don’t care about Star Wars, or see it either at 6a first thing or at the end of the day, and have FastPass+ for Slinky Dog, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller, in the scenario so far—just Smugglers Run open, and waits managed by physical lines–you’ll probably be just fine.

There are other operating concepts as well. In one, people in Galaxy’s Edge already will be permitted to get back in line for re-rides. This reduces the entry rate into the land itself, and increases length of stay, which will have the effect of lengthening how long it takes for equal number of people to enter the land and complete their experience in it. Re-rides will also force entry to the land to be closed well before park close. If the goal is to have no more than 3,000 people in line for Smugglers Run at 10p, then they’d need to stop admitting people to Galaxy’s Edge around 8p to get the numbers to all balance out. As more experience with the actual overnight maintenance needs of the ride (and the land) emerges, these late evening lines (and even the park close time) may be allowed to be longer.

Another operating concept would be to manage entry into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge via a virtual queue, rather than through an actual line. In this framework, you would have something like a reservation to enter Galaxy’s Edge, but would be free to enjoy the rest of Hollywood Studios until your Galaxy’s Edge reservation became timely.

This is the way California is going, but Disneyland is profoundly different than Hollywood Studios—Disneyland has about eight times as many attractions, and an entire additional theme park just 10 minutes away. At the Studios, folks in the virtual queue will simply lengthen waits at the already long-wait Slinky Dog, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Roller, and start to fill out the waits at the secondary rides and shows, as folk need to do something with their time before they can enter Galaxy’s Edge.

So while I certainly foresee a virtual queue (called FastPass+) eventually–and some use of virtual queues even before then, on lower-crowd days after operations are stable–I don’t expect to see it used much at Disney World during the early period of the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

But, you might ask, could Disney not have enough data from the three months earlier open in California to better manage some of these unknowns (length of stay, proportion of those entering wishing to re-ride, balking rates, maintenance needs)?

Well, the answer is that Disney will learn as much as it can, but what it learns from California will not be conclusive for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The issue is the two very different types of visitors. Disneyland is dominated by locals, and Disney World by out-of-towners.

Simply put, it is much easier for a local in Southern California to come back at another time than it is for someone flying in to Disney World from Baltimore. Analytically, this means that the opportunity cost of not doing something in Galaxy’s Edge is much lower for an average visitor to the California version of Galaxy’s Edge than it is for a visitor to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s easier for Californians to balk when they see waits, to spend less time in the land itself, and to put off a re-ride, in all cases because they can simply come back another time. This lower opportunity cost means that what Disney learns on these matters from California may have little relevance to Florida.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS LATE EVENING CAPACITY

At some point, the shows will wind down, taking about 6,000 experiences an hour out of capacity—but I expect to see at least two showings of Fantasmic to be offered, e.g. at 8 and 9.30p, or half an hour earlier in October, plus the one showing of Star Wars Galactic Spectacular to continue. These evening shows more than add back the capacity lost to the shows shutting down.

I don’t have a strong feeling for what Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be like in the evening—especially weekday evenings. At some point, the lines for Galaxy’s Edge will shrink—they have to, so it can be closed for maintenance. Where will these people be? And folks who have spent hours in Star Wars may be trying to see the rest of the park in this period. Families who don’t care about Star Wars will largely leave after—or even before—the first Fantasmic. On the other hand, on weekdays, locals may flock in once they get off of work.

FASTPASS+ AVAILABILITY DURING THE EXTRA EXTRA MAGIC HOUR PERIOD

My model suggests about 275,000 units of capacity over the day. If 44,000 people are in the park, there’s a little more than 6 experiences available per person. Among the attractions offering FastPass+, at 70% of capacity about 140,000 FastPass+ bookings will be available, just a tad more than 3 per person. (About a quarter of the FastPass+ opportunities will be in Toy Story Land, a third in the other rides like Rock ‘n’ Roller and Tower of Terror that I expect to open with EEMH, a third in shows and other 9a opening rides, and 10% for Fantasmic.)

The FastPass+ capacity (at 44,000 people, it’s 3.17 per park entrant) is quite low—the Runaway Railway would have been a help here, although as I have written elsewhere as an independent draw of people to the park who might have otherwise avoided Hollywood Studios altogether during the Star Wars mess, it may well have made everything worse.

The extra access that we know some folks will have to Slinky Dog Dash, and likely to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, during EEMH, will in effect help with this issue for those eligible for EEMH. Folks not interested in Star Wars could see these three rides during EMH, setting their FastPass+ for the afternoon for three lower priority attractions, and take a nap in between…

*If this seems low to you, recall that the second ride will double it, getting the land to the 6,000 I’d noted. For any given attendance level, the more people the land itself holds, the better for the rest of the park.

**And maybe Star Tours and the Star Wars Launch Bay, as well

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11 comments

1 Jane { 06.06.19 at 9:22 pm }

Hi Dave, I just started seeing articles about FP tiers changing at HS where all the rides except Star Tours will become Tier 1 as of Aug 29. Rumor or truth? I can’t figure out from the WDW site. I’m pretty upset about it. I just did my ADRs and wish that Disney had announced this when they announced the opening date for SW.

2 Dave { 06.10.19 at 10:57 am }

Hi Jane (and Ashri)! First, I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Day job demands…

My take on things like this (the change in HS tiers) is to believe it when I see it when officially announced. “Customer Service” folks at WDW are notorious for being inaccurate, and much of what looks like early evidence often turns out to have been a temporary IT glitch.

That said, it is quite possible and makes a lot of sense. If ti happens, tt will among other things give folks going to the 3 hour HS Extra EMH a very strong reason to leave Galaxy’s Edge to see whatever of Slinky Dog/Tower of Terror/Rock ‘n Roller that they weren’t able to get FP+ for, distributing crowds around the park better, and using the capacity of these rides more fully–which will then diminish the standby demand on them later in the day.

3 Ashri { 06.06.19 at 9:46 pm }

Jane,
I spoke to someone at WDW customer service who was able to confirm that the Hollywood studios tiers for rnrc& tot will change to tier 1 on August 29.

4 Jane { 06.06.19 at 10:13 pm }

Ok, thanks. I was just about to write an apology for spreading rumors. I did more research and felt uncertain of my information…….

5 Jane { 07.12.19 at 9:12 am }

Hi Dave, I am looking forward to your analysis of how things will be after the official announcement that Rise of the Resistance will open Dec 5. I am happy because we are doing a Thanksgiving week trip and I’m hoping people will postpone their trips from my slot to December. Of course I have no way of knowing if they do that…..

6 Dave { 07.14.19 at 9:38 am }

Jane, to be honest I am trying to catch up on 2020 right now (e.g. the 2020 crowd calendar update and such). People will both book and cancel in response to the new information. Some will book/cancel to avoid it; some will book/cancel to be a part of it. How the net effect balances out is a bit up in the air, given how underwhelming California has gone so far. My guess is that it will be in soft open your week, and you will thus see more locals going to HS than would have been the case had it opened say two weeks later.

7 Jane { 07.14.19 at 11:43 am }

Thanks! My HS plan is….basically to be flexible, which I usually am not. :O We have ADRs and will make FP but I’m willing to leave at any point. We have one day there. I’d really like to make it at least through lunch b/c I like 50s Primetime a whole lot, but there’s a whole other WDW out there if HS is just too much….and we’ll still have time left on our Universal tix too if it’s really unbearable……

8 Dave { 07.15.19 at 12:56 pm }

Yaeh, Jane, I would not fall in love with any ADRs you set for this visit…

9 Jane { 07.14.19 at 11:07 pm }

Hi Dave, I can’t figure out if Disney has officially announced the change to HS FP tiers. It seems like everyone everywhere is confirming it b/c people are seeing it when they go to make FP res past Aug 29, but when I search for “Disney announces….” I come up short. So, I’m guessing it’s not “official” yet?

10 Dave { 07.15.19 at 1:00 pm }

Jane I haven’t seen an official announcement yet. I have seen screenshots posted here and there that indicate (from FP+ offered) that it is real, but have not seen those with my own eyes. Comically enough, I have not been able to get into my MDE account for the last month, and have not taken the time to call tech support…

11 Jane { 07.15.19 at 3:01 pm }

Dave, I had a problem with MDE in May where it kept logging me out as soon as I logged in. They told me to clear all of the history from my chrome browser (it was working in safari, mostly, but not at all in chrome). Clearing the history solved the problem immediately (of course though all my history was cleared so I had to re enter some things to various sites). From the tone of the tech support person it seems that this is the main thing she tells people to do all day; maybe it would solve your issue.

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