WDW Fastpass Strategy re: Hollywood Studios

October 28, 2019, 12:05 AM

My family will be going to WDW at a crowded time (New Year's Eve and early January). My kids are 15 and 13 and mostly like the bigger rides, though they do appreciate the shows. Same for my wife.

We can select fastpasses later this week, and I am looking for the best Fastpass Strategy for DHS.

First: DHS has all the new Star Wars stuff with no fastpasses available. We'll need to get there super-early to have any chance of minimizing wait times.

Second: Tier 1 for DHS now includes Rock n Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania, and Tower of Terror -- all family favorites. Plus Slinky Dog Dash which is new since we've last been there which gets good reviews and I'm sure they'll want to try. However Tier 2 for DHS has nothing that are "must do" attractions for our group.

One strategy I've seen online is to get 2 early-morning Tier 2s that you either do or skip, just in an effort to get past the time slots so you can select an additional fastpass -- which hopefully will result in another Tier 1 attraction. The downside to this is that with such large crowds as New Year's, it's unclear whether we can expect to get any ad-hoc Tier 1 fastpasses.

An alternate strategy would be to maximize the value of the 3 pre-planned fastpasses by just getting fastpasses for later in a day to a different park -- where at least the 3 rides we'd get would be things everyone really wants to do. Then just go as early as possible to DHS and do what we can before the lines get overwhelming, particularly if we skip or limit SW.

Board experts, what do you think we should do ?

All info appreciated, and thanks!!

(PS Any non-obvious tricks for avoiding bad wait times at Universal Orlando in heavy crowd situations are also appreciated!!)

Replies (14)

October 28, 2019, 7:07 AM

I have no idea how SWGE impacts the waits on Twilight Zone or Aerosmith, but since you say your family enjoys them, here is my take. DHS is the absolute worst when it comes to wait times and fast pass management, and if you do not get them, you may miss out. Both of those are must rides for my family, so pre-SW, it was FP as early in the day as possible, then go straight to Aeromsmith, then Twilight Zone, which by that time of the year will be at 30 minutes right after rope drop. Then you ride your FP and do standby for Slinky Dog. The queue for Slinky Dog is actually pretty neat, so a 45 minute wait is pretty interesting. Then you can do all of those again if your group does not care for Fantasmic. Note, none of this factors in SWGE, which is on the complete other end of the park than Twilight Zone. The real question is whether this would mess up your ability to experience SWGE at this time of the year, especially with the RoR opening. If that is open when you are there and you are big fans, you might get FP for later in the day and just head straight to SWGE. That time of the year, you aren't going to get more fast passes anyway, and DHS is going to be a nightmare. We even found that the early morning entry program had the crowds inflated, and I guarantee they will do that when you are there, but I believe that will impact the other end of the park.

October 28, 2019, 8:33 AM

The re-tiering of DHS FPs has created a real mess of the park with different guests using lots of different strategies with varying success. Also, this may completely change if they add FP+ to MFSR when ROTR opens in December.

The most important thing to know is that Rock 'n Rollercoaster has a single rider line if your family is willing to ride separately. That will eliminate the need to get a FP+ for that attraction. Honestly, for me that roller coaster is a one time and done unless the single rider line is really short (less than 20 people in the queue beyond the pre-show).

The lines for ToT have been all over the place recently, which is most likely due to technical issues that have affected overall ride capacity (one of the shafts was completely down for much of the summer reducing the maximum throughput of the ride by 33%). ToT is a MUST do, and for me, I'd want to get at least a few rides on it to experience the different drop sequences, but with lines routinely extending beyond 45 minutes, it's almost a must-do with FP+. However, if you don't plan on watching Fantasmic!, that could be a prime opportunity to grab some extra rides on ToT with minimal waits. Many guests try to time rides on ToT to finish the attraction 20-30 minutes before Fantasmic! starts, so if you enter the queue during the window just before the show, you can often get 2 or 3 rides on ToT before Fantasmic! finishes and crowds mob the queue after the show. It's important to know that the posted wait times are often inaccurate during this time because they don't update fast enough to adjust to the significant drop in demand as guests start streaming to the arena.

The complicating factor then becomes Slinky Dog Dash. The park's newest roller coaster has some of the longest lines in the park (as long if not longer than MFSR), and the capacity is not great. As we have also not ridden SDD yet, this would be the highest priority FP+ attraction because while we've heard it's pretty good, it's highly unlikely that it would be worth the typical 90+ minute waits (similar to 7DMT).

However, the biggest complicating factor for a visit to DHS next January - we're visiting in the end of the month, so we're in a similar conundrum though without the intense holiday crowds - is ROTR. The highly anticipated attraction could completely change the landscape of DHS and dramatically shift crowds around the park. If you believe the rumors that the attraction itself (from pre-show to exit) will take an incredible 30 minutes to complete, that's a lot of guests that will be either in line to ride or physically on the ride. Assuming a typical day at DHS sees @30k guests in the park, and if nearly 10K are in line for ROTR (2k on the ride and another 8k of guests waiting up to 4 hours to ride - 4 hours seems to be the breaking point to ride as demonstrated by FoP), that's only 20k guests spread around the rest of the park (including those on MFSR and elsewhere inside Galaxy's Edge). If ROTR is as good as advertised, the rest of DHS could seem deserted compared to what it is like now. Unfortunately, there's no way to know how ROTR will affect lines until it opens 5 weeks from now, or if Disney will rearrange the FP tiers and/or turn on FP+ on MFSR.

Given the way the rides are currently tiered, here is how we would arrange our day in DHS...

Try to get a FP+ for SDD as early in the day as possible on a day where DHS has Early Magic Hours (currently Sundays) assuming you are staying at a WDW resort. If you are not staying on-site, you should avoid the Magic Hour parks at all cost, particularly DHS.

Assuming you can get a SDD FP+ time somewhere between 9 AM and 11 AM, you would then want to fill in the other two (2) FP+ attractions as early in the day as possible. Star Tours is probably the best of the Tier 2 attractions at DHS, so you should try to grab one for that right after your SDD return window ends.

I would probably make my 3rd FP+ attraction either Muppets or Indy just so you could stay on the south side of the park. It will come down to the showtimes for Indy, which I would probably prioritize over Muppets.

Once you clear your first 3 FP+ attractions for the day, the tiers go away, and you can then grab additional FP+s for ANY attraction in the park.

With that said, here is how I would execute this strategy...

Arrive 45-60 minutes prior to rope drop for EMH (assuming you're on-site). Once guests are allowed in, I would immediately head for ROTR. Ride ROTR with hopefully minimal wait (less than 30 minutes) and then leave Galaxy's Edge to ride SDD via FP+. If you're able to get on and off ROTR really quickly, you could hop on MFSR via the single rider line or the standby line if the wait is not long.

Ride SDD via FP+.

Ride TSM via standby if the line is less than 45 minutes. The waits for TSM have significantly decreased recently with the new tiers, the opening of Galaxy's Edge, and the increased capacity with the 3rd track.

Ride Star Tours via FP+.

Depending upon when your 3rd FP+ is (hopefully before noon), you could take some time to explore Galaxy's Edge or maybe even ride MFSR depending upon what lines look like. Then complete your 3rd FP+ attraction and grab a FP+ for whatever is available - ToT, RNRC, ASS, TSM, etc... By lunchtime you will have completed everything on the south side of the park with an entire afternoon and evening to enjoy the rest of the park without the shackles of the tiers. However, once you've completed those first 3 FP+ rides, make sure you're constantly checking MDE to see if new times pop up. Let's say if the only thing that's available when you complete your 3rd FP+ for the day is a 4 PM ToT, don't stop checking MDE throughout the afternoon to see if you can move that time up earlier. Disney is constantly adjusting FP availability, so it's likely that additional times earlier in the day may pop up if the ride is running well. Also, other attractions may pop up earlier in the day.

As far as strategies for how to deal with holiday crowds, here are a few...

1. Use park hoppers and EMH. If you have park hoppers and are staying on-site, take advantage of the EMH and then get out of that park by lunchtime. On-site guests tend to flood the EMH park, but you don't want to give up the exclusive time, so start your day in that park, but plan to finish it somewhere else where crowds are likely lighter. If you don't have hoppers, you will be stuck in the EMH park if you're on-site, but if you're staying off-site, avoid EMH parks at all cost.
2. Constantly check MDE. Make sure you have plenty of batter power (and extra backup batteries), because this is probably the best way to fight the crowds. MDE will allow you to see what crowds are like in the other parks to guide where you might want to hop to later in the day (if you have hoppers). You will also want to constantly be checking MDE to improve your FP+ selections. Even if you think you have good initial FP+ reservations, keep checking throughout the day to see if you can improve them.
3. Be flexible. Just because you have 3 set FP+ reservations for the day, don't be afraid to change up on the fly if you can get other attractions that improve your times. Your biggest priority for each day should be to get through those first 3 FP+ reservations as early as possible, especially in DHS. The "Modify" function is your friend.
4. Leave in the middle of the day for lunch. Even if you don't have park hoppers, it might be valuable to get out of the intense crowds to grab some lunch elsewhere (resorts, Disney Springs, or off-site). The parks stay open late virtually every night during the holidays, so you can hit it hard in the morning, leave for a rest and recharge so you can make it through park closing. The only exception would be on NYE. DO NOT LEAVE THE PARKS ON NYE, because they might close due to capacity, and you won't be allowed back in, or might have to wait in long lines just to reenter.

October 28, 2019, 12:45 PM

I think for now you can safely assume anything in SWGE will not be on FP+ until sometime in the new year. No blogs indicating 90 day people are picking them up, so you'll want to concentrate on what you can get when your FP+ allocation window opens.

You say "early January" so if that includes any days after w/b 1/6, you're going to be OK. If it doesn't, and you're there up to Sat 4th or Sun 5th, then it's going to be a tough few days with the FP's.

I'm guessing Disney will bring the SWGE virtual boarding groups back for the Christmas/New Year time frame, so that's going to keep a lot of people in the main park area, and so hamper the FP+ options for the top tier rides. Let's be realistic here .... it's going to be busy, extremely busy, especially with RotR opening on Dec 5th. I wouldn't be surprised to see DHS reach capacity for a number of days over the holiday period. Maybe the predicted 'perfect storm' will finally blow into the park ?

Slinky will be the hardest to get, but at 60 days, you may luck out and get a decent time. Moving/modifying FP's will be very difficult over the holidays, but if you only have one day at DHS, then you have little option but to try. It will mean a lot of time spent on the MDE app, but perseverance is the key, so stick at it and see what comes up.

DHS opens at 9am most days over the holiday period, so let's say you decide Slinky is your #1 priority. If divine intervention enables you to get a time slot in the first half hour ….. I’d go to your local store and buy a lottery ticket :) Other than that, take whatever you can get and try to modify it closer to the time. Getting tier 2’s and just buzzing them out of the way, is going to be totally dependent on that Slinky FP+. I do it all the time at DHS to enable me to ride Slinky, TofT and Aerosmith in an evening, but all bets will be off during the Christmas/New Year period. It still worked OK over the busy summer period though, so you may be able to work it to your advantage when you are there.

Standby wait times will be horrendous, so any magic you can work with the FP+ is going to be a bonus. If Hagrid’s can (today) still have wait times of over 2hrs, then RotR will be way beyond that, unless of course they limit entry to SWGE with virtual boarding. Slinky could easily push the 3hrs+ for standby. There’s no getting away from it during the holiday season. That’s why I’m happy to be a gold passholder, and be blocked out …… :)

October 28, 2019, 3:29 PM

I agree with Makorider, which is why I say rope drop and get the FP early. Spend the day in line. You might, might be able to get additional FPs for magic kingdom later that night, but I seriously doubt it. Like I said, Aerosmith and ToT are on the other end, but they will be two hour waits by an hour after the park opening.

October 28, 2019, 11:44 PM

The FP situation at DHS is execrable. On both our visits, I had to pester guest relations into fixing our mess because we didn't use the two useless Tier 2 FPs but they were still on our accounts long after they should've expired. As a result, we couldn't get any other Tier Ones. This software glitch was a pain in the ass.

The only plus was that we never had to wait too long to ride the Millenium Falcon attraction. But they need to correct the mess they created by making everything tier one.

Edited: October 29, 2019, 12:11 PM

@Still a fan - I don't believe what you experienced was a "glitch". Disney doesn't want guests grabbing tier 2 FP+s and then not using them just so they can get more tier 1's. If you don't actually tap in at the attraction, the system will not remove the lock on tier 1 FPs. This is a deliberate design in the FP+ system used on all three (3) parks that have designated attraction tiers. FWIW, you can tap in at the attraction entrances and simply not ride/watch if you want to clear the requirement so you can start picking up tier 1 FP+s.

I agree on the DHS tiering. The fact that ASS is still Tier 1 over a year after it opened is ridiculous (also ToT, though it made sense when one of the shafts was down), and forcing guests to experience two tier 2 attractions (of which there are only 8 choices - and just one of them is a ride - Star Tours - and just one other runs continuously throughout the day - Muppets) is a real hassle. I you don't have little kids, Little Mermaid and the Disney Junior Dance Party are non-starters, leaving just 6 choices, one of which is Fantasmic! that keeps you locked out from getting additional FP+s for almost the entire day. It's a real issue, and Disney doesn't seem to understand the annoyance they've created from making almost every ride in the park tier 1 (the tiering at EPCOT is annoying too, but at least there are enough decent tier 2 attractions to work around it).

October 29, 2019, 12:43 PM

This tiering change is all to do with SWGE, so it will be interesting to see what it looks like when the 2 Star Wars rides become available on FP+. I can live with the tiering to be honest. For me MK is by far the worst as they are all the same tier. Weird I know, but I am a pass holder ... LOL ... :)

My recommendation to everyone I talk to about getting the most out the FP+ system is always-always cancel if you are not going to use them.

October 29, 2019, 12:54 PM

@Makorider - But if you cancel your FP+ reservations, you still have to complete the two Tier 2 attractions before you can pick up any additional Tier 1 FP+s. It's smarter to pass by the attraction entrance, tap you Magic Band, and move along. Your spot on the attraction you didn't care about will be filled by someone waiting in the standby line (shortening the wait for those folks in the process).

The reality is that the tiering change was made in response to TSL, not so much Galaxy's Edge, though the new rules were initiated on August 29th. SDD and ASS brought 2 low capacity attractions to a park already devoid of rides, so in order to manage crowds around the park, Disney had to force guests to chose among the best of the best. With just ToT, TSM, and RnRC really worth using a FP on outside of the new TSL attractions (and most guests wanting to wait 2+ hours for MFSR), guests would have been completely out of luck getting any decent FPs if they had not placed those attractions in Tier 1. My guess is that once the Galaxy's Edge attractions add FP capability, only SDD will remain on Tier 1 with the rest of the attractions dropping to Tier 2.

October 29, 2019, 1:24 PM

Russell …..my viewpoint is slightly different to yours in the respect my mindset is to cancel and possibly allow that FP+ to drop back into the loop for someone else pick up. Never really thought about tapping out a FP+, and that ultimately allows a person in the standby line to get on quicker …. Hmmm …. ?? Not sure about that one.

I'm guessing the 4 tier 1's at DHS will eventually end up at SDD, RotR, MFSR and MMRR.

Edited: October 29, 2019, 1:51 PM

My view is that if someone is willing to wait in the standby line for one of those tier 2 attractions that Disney is essentially foisting upon guests that want to maximize opportunities to get more Tier 1 FPs, the least I can do is expedite their wait by not gumming up the line. If I cancel the FP, chances are that it's going to go unclaimed anyway, and a standby guest will take the spot. So by tapping and not riding/watching, I'm not only helping everyone else, but I'm also helping myself.

What really needs to happen is for at least one other RIDE to get dropped down to Tier 2 (likely ASS or TSM), so they're not reducing immediate standby capacity (and skewing perceived demand) for shows that have been playing long past their expiration date. Either that, or the shows (aside from Fantasmic!) need to have FP removed. You can walk up to any of those shows minutes before they start and get a decent seat without a FP.

Edited: November 17, 2019, 7:07 PM

Just for all the haters and lovers of the Disney FP+ system ....

We had a big update over night. All new flashy interface and no modify button. Don't panic though, it's been split into 2 change options. One for the ride, the other for the time of the ride you already have booked.

Also gone are the "morning", afternoon" & "evening" buttons, plus there is now no longer 1/2 hour buttons (i.e. 9:30, 10:30 etc) .... just hourly.

I'm guessing it will still work the same, but time will tell. The ride change time is a pain now, as it just comes up and says no more fast passes available, instead of allowing us to search thru the times until something actually did come up.

As my friends said .... "Darn it, they're on to us" ....... LOL ... :)

November 18, 2019, 7:53 AM

That seems to be the way Disney works. They troll message boards and fan sites to see how guests are circumventing and finding loopholes in their system to determine what patches need to be installed to close them up. This is just par for the course for Disney, and I guarantee that if FP+ didn't cost over $1 billion dollars, they would have done away with the system long ago.

November 18, 2019, 8:48 AM

It's going to make getting multiple (for instance) FofP, FP+'s in a day a little more tricky that's for sure, but from what I've seen so far it's still working as per the old method, you just need an extra step (or 2 !!) to get what you want.

Which in the long run, will push people further away from using the system.

Us pass holders may have ways to 'get around' the system, but it still doesn't mean they have to stab us in the back once again. It's not as if we are "stealing" all the fastpasses ... LOL ... :) I only wish we had the 60 day option.

November 20, 2019, 7:06 AM

The folks they are stabbing in the back are not the pass holders, but the families that get the 60 day (or 30). They are more restricted to heavier times of the year, and trying to negotiate this system with them is a nightmare. I am one of those people. When some of the family slides back to the room, it is much different with one or two people, but For some reason I doubt any of the park managers have ever taken their families and used the system they implemented. If they did it would be gone. This system has made us go from visiting once every 1-2 years to now only when it is free based on reward points. Universal on the other hand...

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