I’ve never been the only person in a theme park before. But that was the surprising predicament my family found ourselves in as we drove into Disney’s Hollywood Studios the morning of Wednesday, August 15. The sky was still dark, our eyes were still tired, and Disney property was just beginning to wake up. We had one goal: Toy Story Land rope drop.
Back in June, I wrote about expectations for this new expansion for the park, and I was excited to experience it in person. Nonetheless, crowd levels surrounding new theme park attractions are notoriously atrocious. Avatar Flight of Passage, which opened in 2017 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, commands regular queues of 180 minutes, while Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom rarely has a wait less than two hours, despite having been open now for four years. To have any chance of escaping an hours-long wait time for these newer rides, one must either achieve a miracle by obtaining a FastPass, or show up to the park as early as possible and hit the headliner before the masses arrive. When FastPasses for Slinky Dog Dash were snatched quicker than I could grab them, the latter option seemed to be my only hope to ride it without waiting forever.
The high expectation for heavy crowds and the precedence set by the previous attractions listed above made it rather shocking, then, to arrive at DHS at 5:55 a.m. (just over an hour before park opening) and be the first car in the parking lot. I knew it wouldn’t be slammed with people, but I certainly anticipated at least a small gathering of Guests waiting to enter. This was the first of several indicators throughout the day that, while definitely popular, Toy Story Land simply did not attract the gargantuan swell of humanity that other recent new attractions did (at least not in its first few weeks of operation, having opened June 30).
This was an Extra Magic Hours morning on a day when the park opened to everyone at 8 AM, meaning EMH began at 7 AM. For the sheer earliness of this timetable, I imagine the crowd level I experienced might have been a bit lighter than, say, if EMH began at 8 a.m. or if there was no EMH at all. The exclusivity of only being open to resort Guests AND being earlier than most EMH mornings helped keep things manageable. (Ordinarily, I avoid EMH like the plague, but in this case, DHS operated on EMH daily all summer, so since I was staying on Disney property, I might as well take advantage of it, and it proved to be a wonderful amenity.)
All Guests verified their resort stay, and then were held at the tapstiles. Eventually, every available tapstile became occupied with waiting Guests, but still, at this point, there were no more than a handful of Guests at each one. I would not call the crowd substantial, and if anything I would say it was actually somewhat pleasant. The air was still cool, the new background music loop at the park entrance is wonderful, and stress was nonexistent.
At [6:30], we were allowed to scan our park tickets and enter the park. Everyone was then halted at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. There were starting to be more people now, but still not as many as I anticipated and definitely not sardined. There were maybe 150 people gathered (a.k.a. NOT BAD AT ALL). The crowd reached about halfway to Crossroads behind us and was, again, pleasant. I just love that feeling an empty park waiting for a day full of memories to inhabit its space. It’s a special atmosphere, and staying in that moment for a few minutes was actually pretty cool.
At [6:45] (15 minutes before the official park opening), Cast Members escorted us to Toy Story Land. (The rest of the park was open, but, I mean, they knew why we were all there.) And I do mean escort. A wall of Cast Members stretching the entire width of the street calmly walked the crowd to Toy Story Land. While some Guests still tried to walk as quickly as they can and get toward the front, this process was leaps and bounds more orderly than, for example, the opening summer of Frozen Ever After at Epcot in 2016, which was nothing short of chaos.
As we got closer to the land, a Cast Member announced which side of the path to start transitioning to based on our destination. This was semi-hectic for about 30 seconds, but not extremely so. Before we knew it, we were stepping foot into Andy’s backyard, and in a fun magic moment, Woody, Buzz, and Jessie welcomed us right away at the land’s entrance, waving to the incoming crowd and ushering them into their world.
Things got a little squirrely in ultimately narrowing down the rush into a single-file line as we entered the formal queue area for Slinky, but it was an overall painless process. We entered the queue at [6:53] and boarded our vehicle at [6:57]… essentially a walk-on. After our ride (which was so much fun!), we should have gotten right back in line to ride again, as the wait had only surged to 30 minutes, much less than I would expect. This means that if you planned to arrive right at park opening (on a very early EMH morning, mind you), your wait would only be a half hour, which I think is very manageable if you don’t want to “camp out,” per se, like my family did.
However, we were so swept up in being in the new land for the first time that we just wanted to experience everything. According to time stamps on my photos, we were off of Slinky by [7:01] and into a ride vehicle on Alien Swirling Saucers at [7:06]. Pretty great! Next, we stopped to visit characters, which admittedly wasn’t the most strategic move, but, I mean, we’d be in the park all day and there was plenty of time to do everything. We met Woody and Jessie together, then met Buzz separately. It was [7:38] by the time we finished both of those Meet and Greets. We finished out our EMH with Toy Story Mania!, which we entered the line for at [7:45] and had fully completed by [8:06].
All in all, it was a stress-free, very enjoyable morning. We knocked out three big attractions, including the park’s current most popular ride, as well as two separate character greetings. The question, of course, is: Was it worth getting up early for? Or is it possible to just sleep in and stick out a longer wait later in the day? Kinda, sorta. For us, it was worth getting up early. Some people might wager that while, yes, we did avoid actually standing in Slinky‘s physical queue for a long time, we still “waited,” just outside the park. And that’s true. If you consider the time we began waiting outside the park gates at [5:55] until boarding the attraction at [6:58], then our wait time was an hour. But with a new attraction’s patterns being so unpredictable, I didn’t want to leave the experience to chance. And being in a park at dawn with so few people around is such a unique memory that it was hard to pass up.
It’s worth noting, though, that the “do-it-first-thing-or-you’re-screwed” principle doesn’t really apply here as it has for extremely popular new attractions in the past. Around 8 p.m., the wait for Slinky Dog Dash was 55 minutes (long, sure, but for such a new ride, pretty great) while Toy Story Mania! was only 20 minutes (a steal!). This may change over time, of course, but it’s nice to know that for whatever reason (whether operational efficiency or lower-than-anticipated crowds), accomplishing Toy Story Land is a more manageable feat than Pandora or Frozen for those who don’t have FastPasses.
Have you experienced Toy Story Land? What was your strategy?
(All images belong to author’s personal collection.)
To learn more about Blake and read his recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.