A Day at Hollywood Studios in October 2020 during COVID Pandemic

October 2020

When the COVID pandemic hit and after canceling all upcoming trips, I wrote up Why Walt Disney World may be my first trip post quarantine. As a scheduled trip in July got closer and more details about the opening were released … along with the crazy COVID numbers, I followed up my original post with Why Walt Disney World will no longer be my first trip post quarantine.

Well, it is now October and after a series of events, including venturing out on domestic adventures to bring some travel back to 2020, we decided to revisit the idea of Disney. I had been following the situation in Walt Disney World very closely and overall, was very pleased with the reports I was hearing regarding cleaning, distancing, and mask policies. After many conversations, we decided to give it a go.

For an overview of the trip and high level COVID measures, read Walt Disney World in October 2020: COVID Pandemic Edition. Disclaimer that the information and observations in this post are from the first week in October – things are changing constantly so please check Disney’s website for the most up to date information if you are planning a trip.

Read about our first park day at EPCOT here!

Parks visits are different than they were before – there was no park hopping permitted (ie more than one park per day) and reservations had to be made in advance for the visit with the purchase of a theme park ticket. Picking the park you visit on a specific day is important.

Why we chose Hollywood Studios for our second park on Friday:

  • The park hours were adjusted due to the limited capacity so Hollywood Studios was open the Friday we visited from 10AM – 7PM so we would not have made it to the park for opening on Thursday (arrival day) and weekends are apparently bonkers at this park
  • This is the most popular park by far due to the new addition of Star Wars Galaxy Edge and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway so it most consistently the park that sells out capacity
  • It is walking distance from the Boardwalk so we did not need to wait for transportation to cut into our park hours and could arrive super early

Mask rules at Disney as of this post – must wear masks at all times and if eating or drinking, need to find a spot away from people and be stationary.

I read A LOT on how to master a successful day at Hollywood Studios. From wait times to boarding groups, this was not a park you could casually visit if you want to ride the newest attractions. From experiences I was following, the people that were able to hit all the must-dos arrived early and had a game plan.

Since we are up early – I adore early mornings at the Boardwalk going from uninterrupted runs around the lake having it all to myself before the sun brings the heat and getting some of my favorite pictures.

We had no problem orchestrating our game plan. We would leave the Boardwalk around 7:30AM to walk to the entrance of Hollywood Studios by 8AM. Our first ride queue would be Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Either in that line or after the attraction, we would try for the 10AM lottery to get a Boarding Group for Rise of the Resistance. From there, we would see what wait times looked like to evaluate Smugglers Run, Toy Story Land, and the thrill rides down Sunset Blvd. Lunch for us is a tradition at Hollywood Studios – we always go to the Lounge at the Brown Derby (yay outdoor dining!) and order Blood Orange Margaritas and Famous Cobb Salads. Another favorite is hitting Baseline Tap House for snacks and drinks. Based on the stories, I would be satisfied to accomplish a fraction of this plan. Let’s see how we did.

After exercise and breakfast (BYO oatmeal and banana bread), we found ourselves ready to go earlier than planned so we decided to just go for it and start our walk to the park. We arrived to the Skyliner terminal at 7:20AM where two security guards waited to manage the crowds before open. As the only ones there, they explained that there would be two lines that they would lead to the health screening checks around 9AM. So, we sat on the ground at the line leader of the left hand line and waited.

From 7:30AM to 8AM, only a handful of people arrived to join us as the two lines began to form. Buses and other transportation do not start until an hour before the park open so bus traffic would not show up until closer the 9AM. Once 8AM hit, the masses from the Boardwalk area resorts, self drivers, and potentially ride share people began to arrive and the lines quickly extended along the Skyliner route above. I was immediately relieved we did not wait until 8AM to show up.

As the security guards promised, 9AM arrived and each guard became the new line leader of a line as we processed towards the park gates and the health screening checks. The left line went to the left hand side and the right side went around to the right side – this sounds self explanatory but there is a reason I bring this up. The left side puts guests closer to the ticket entry than the right side – the right side brings guests down towards the lake so there is more walking once you pass the temperature screening. If you can, I would recommend getting into the left land line.

We were first up for our temperature screening at 9:15AM, then we zoomed through the security checks as the new detectors allow for you walk through with all your items (minus a few items like an umbrella) without stopping for the bag checks that once was.

Our quick pace had us far ahead of any of the first guests that were in the right line and we started to get excited – we were going to be the first ones in the park! After tapping our “Mickey to Mickey” Magic Bands, we were in an empty Hollywood Studios.

As we made our power walk down Hollywood Blvd, the Cast Members lining the street were cheering us on, “welcome!”, “first in the park!”. I was on cloud nine! So far, so good!

We found the Cast Member line leaders for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (MMRR) as she lead us through the winding queue, eventually ending at the front of the ride right outside the doors of the Chinese Theater.

And then the wait began. It was 9:20AM at this point – there were many reports of the rides opening prior to the official park opening at 10AM. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, then twenty. As we looked down Hollywood Blvd, the sea of people coming in was insanity. The entire queue for MMRR was full taking up all the space in front of the Chinese Theater and into Hollywood Blvd.

I was beginning to get nervous about a few things:

  • The number of people continuing to flood into the park made it feel like our chances of getting a Board Group from Rise of the Resistance were getting smaller
  • The more people, the more COVID concerns of people not complying with the rules

It was also getting dangerously close to 10AM, we were so worried that MMRR was going to let people in early which meant:

  • We would potentially not have cell service in the building to get a Boarding Group
  • We would be riding the ride trying to get a Boarding Group
  • We would miss the chance of enjoying MMRR

We could not get a clear answer from the Cast Members if they were letting us on the ride early but once 9:50AM came around, it was obvious they would be waiting until 10:01AM to open the ride. Everyone was on their phones, refreshing and refreshing. The chances of getting a Board Group among all these people felt slim.

I read some helpful tips that we tried:

  • Make sure everyone in the party is linked in the My Disney Experience App
  • Each person in the party with a phone should be trying – do not limit it to one person attempting to get a Boarding Group
  • And the most important one… use time.gov to see the official and exact time the clock strikes 10AM

9:59:57…9:59:58…9:59:59…10:00:00

A refresh left my app spinning but Kevin got it to come up – he pressed the prompts quickly and then it was over. There was no confirmation, no affirmation that his clicking got us a Board Group. People in the park started to cheer, acknowledging the joy of getting that coveted Boarding Group. A Cast Member who had been chatting with us ask if we got a Boarding Group. Honestly, we had no idea! We asked him to take a look and see if we got one.

He laughed and said he has never seen anyone get Board Group 1 before. Board Group 1?!?!??! We were going to ride the Rise of the Resistance.

*Update* Ride of the Resistance Board Group process has changed as of 10/29 – please check the Disney website for the most up-to-date information!

But first, we had the joy of relaxing as the doors of the Chinese Theater opened and we processed down the queue line and immediately seated in the last train car on MMRR.

Wow! I have to say, I adored the Great Movie Ride and was pretty upset when they announced the decommissioning… but this ride did not make me miss the Great Movie Ride. It was very well done, the technology was incorporated and executed very well into creating an immersive cartoon environment. We would have loved the opportunity to ride it again to get another look at all the details but the ride line was consistently over 100 minute wait throughout the day.

Since we had Board Group 1, we headed right over the Galaxy’s Edge. We have not been to this new area of the park so there was definitely a level of excitement that does not come very often – the ability to experience a brand new land for the first time. We entered through the back of the land by Baseline Tap and Muppet Vision 3D. We did not take too much time to stop and look around and went directly to the Rise of Resistance queue.

Our Magic Bands made the Mickey’s at the entrance turn green – we were officially in line. “Kev, are you ready to have your mind blown?” He laughed, “Um, sure”. I watched all the ride through videos and knew lots of stuff about the attraction, he did not so it was going to be interesting how we both reacted.

The Rise of the Resistance is an experience lasting 18 minutes. While the traditional vehicle ride portion lasts several minutes, the rest of the attraction builds and sets the story. After joining the Resistance, getting captured by the First Order, interrogated by the most in-character Cast members you will find, and getting busted out for our droid driven trackless ride vehicle.

We were cheering when the experience was over. Kevin turned to me – “was not not ready for that!”. In my opinion, this ride exceeded the hype and I was following the development of this park and ride since the beginning. There is nothing like it our there and is something everyone should have the opportunity to experience. And to top it off, we had what was basically a private experience having more of the rooms to our selves – including our own ride vehicle. Hopefully Disney makes it more accessible in the upcoming months. We felt so incredibly lucky!

By the time we were out of the ride, it was just before 11AM. While we wanted to continue into Galaxy’s Edge and see the entire area, we thought getting an early lunch would put us at an advantage with all the people in the park and limited dining options. We headed over to one of our favorite Hollywood Studio traditions – the Hollywood Brown Derby. There was already a small line for the outdoor lounge to open and at 11AM, the gate opened and it was revealed that they were only serving drinks outside – what a bummer! We quickly turned around and headed into the Brown Derby restaurant. I think we snagged the last table for the first round of seating. The fast turn around did not give time to process we would be experiencing our first indoor dining experience but down the rabbit hole we went.

The tables were plenty distanced from each other, everyone had to wear the masks when not seated, and the servers wore masks and face shields. All the table settings were brought to the table fresh which was another win.

We knew exactly what we wanted to order so it would keep our meal super quick – we were in and out in under 45 minutes. We both ordered Blood Orange Margaritas and the Famous Cobb Salad – Finely Chopped Greens, Spit Roasted Turkey, Bacon, Egg, Tomatoes, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Avocado, Chives, Cobb Dressing. Love this meal! If you get the chance, the outdoor lounge is definitely a great spot to relax.

Closer the traditional lunch time, we were hoping the crowds may have dispersed a bit. As we made our way to Toy Story Land, the line for Slinky Dog Dash was past One Man’s Dream (super far for those that know the park) – in fact, the entire land was mobbed.

We continued through to the opposite entrance of Galaxy’s Edge for the part we had not seen yet. We were just blown away by the scale and the details around each inch of the land. Attempting to getting to Uga’s Cantina was futile as it were at capacity throughout the day. Since the line for Smuggler’s Run was still quite long, we simply walked around taking it all in.

There were lines to get into everything, including every store in Galaxy’s Edge. We made our way through a few and enjoyed every attention to detail to immerse the store with the story.

On our second lap around the land, I notice the Smuggler’s Run line was considerably shorter than it was before, even if the wait time did not reflect that – still read 80 minutes. We jumped in line and would see where waiting for ten minutes got us. Welp, within ten minutes we made our way to the actual entrance of the line. Cast Member Daniel asked if we had any any Magical Moments today from a Cast Member, we said no, and he ushered us through the Fast Pass line that lead us directly onto the ride! Unbelievable – Thank you Daniel!

Smuggler’s Run was definitely a fun attraction. I do not know if we were at a disadvantage being two people for a six person mission – the pro was having the pod all to ourselves and the con was that we did not do so great on the journey. The attention to detail throughout the queue and the ride itself was really remarkable.

With the crowd continuing to press on, we decided to head back towards the front of the park to browse the shops – the stores on Hollywood Blvd are some of the best on property. Kevin grabbed some Starbucks and we picked up a few new face masks. Upon exiting, we timed it perfectly (complete accident) for an unannounced cavalcade with Mickey and friends. We are normally not big character people but we can get used to these cavalcades – they are so fun!

We had not checked out the attractions down Sunset Blvd so we made the righthand turn towards Tower of Terror. Unfortunately, the ride had been down most of the day so we continued to Rock’n’Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith. The line wrapped the courtyard but the wait did not look as bad as the posted wait time. The queue here was so odd without the iconic and quotable pre-show – we just walked right through it and into the garage area to the boarding area. While in line, the second chance of grabbing a Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group occurred at 2PM – you could hear the joy from those that were able to snag one.

While riding the coaster, Tower of Terror must have reopened and the line stretched all the way down Sunset Blvd. Instead we visited the outdoor theater where the Disney Orchestra played instrumental Disney songs for a fifteen minute performance – such a lovely use of the space!

We decided to do one last lap around the still very crowded park to see if there were any other experiences we could fit in. First we grabbed a Mickey Ice Cream outside of what was once the Little Mermaid Show since it was an empty part of the park where we could enjoy it stress free.

Over at Toy Story Land, the line for Slinky Dog Dash continued to baffle us so we instead did a round of Toy Story Mania and Aileen Swirling Saucers – both walk ons.

Another walk through Galaxy’s Edge continued the trend of being mobbed, we saw some characters, visited some more shops, and denied access to the Cantina (again).

I know most people commented that the park clears out around 4PM but it was still long lines and crowded walk ways at 4:30PM when we decided to head out.

We walked back to the Boardwalk, stopped by the room, and hopped on a bus to the Magic Kingdom for dinner at the Contemporary. Once at Magic Kingdom, we boarded the monorail and stopped at the Polynesian and the Grand Floridan to walk the grounds.

Dinner at the Contemporary was very good – California Grill is consistently one of our favorite places to eat and with so many of our other favorites closed, I had to really fight for a reservation here – the only this I could snag was after 8:30PM. Read about our dining experience here – coming soon!

With Disney Transportation done for the night, we had no choice by to call a ride share to get back to the Boardwalk – definitely one of the draw backs to dining at other resorts.

Despite the crowd (which felt like there was no way capacity was maxed at 25%), we ended up having an extremely successful day accomplishing all of our goals and experiencing new attractions at Hollywood Studios. We have memories that I do not think will ever be replicated again – such as having an entire ride vehicle to ourselves on Rise of the Resistance.

Continue reading about our trip to Magic Kingdom here!

Continue reading about our trip to EPCOT here!

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