The Star Wars land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios finally has its signature ride, Rise of the Resistance, and excitement is high.
Industry experts have suggested that the reason crushing crowds did not appear as expected when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened was because it only had one ride and a bunch of shops and eateries. Many fans were waiting for the land to be complete to consider a visit to Batuu, a mythical rocky planet inhabited by scoundrels, bounty hunters, First Order loyalists and a band of Resistance fighters.
Reviews have been off the charts for Rise of the Resistance, the most complex ride system Disney’s Imagineers have ever designed. It fits well into a land designed to look like it could be in a Star Wars movie, though it never did. It features the rounded architecture and grubby industrial look of the dusty marketplaces George Lucas dreamed up, with Stormtroopers and characters including Chewbacca casually strolling by at random moments.
If you have a new hope of getting your Star Wars geekery on, here are some tips. And may the Force be with you.
When to go: The kids might be out of school for the holidays, but that is about the worst time to visit Disney World. The last two weeks of the year bring elbow-to-elbow crowds to the world’s most visited tourist attraction. Consider waiting for slower months like January through March. But avoid busy holiday weekends like Martin Luther King Jr. Day or during Easter week. The crowds pick up again during spring break and dip before summer vacation season. After that, you might as well wait until after Labor Day weekend.
A good resource on planning a time to visit is the Touring Plans “crowd calendar.” It’s proven to be very accurate because it’s compiled by a bunch of geeks who use all kinds of data to give a measurement of crowd size. Their estimate for Jan. 31 is a 4 (out of 10). That’s much better than the 9-10 the site predicts for MLK weekend. It’s free if you are looking ahead a month or so but you have to pay if it’s in the next two weeks.
What time to go: Don’t sleep in, especially if Disney enables its “virtual queue” that lets you sign in and come back later when it’s your time to ride. These spots can fill up fast. On opening day, the virtual queue was fully booked for the day by 8:30 a.m. Disney resort guests often get “Extra Magic Hours” meaning they can get in early and snap up those spots before the rest of the guests arrive. The tool aside, getting to any theme park early is the best way to avoid an unreasonably long wait. Another option is to visit the last two hours before the park closes. Galaxy’s Edge is quite beautiful at night, and there’s more room since many families have left the park. And if you are already in line when the park closes, Disney won’t turn you away.
The virtual queue: Similar to restaurant buzzers that go off when your table is ready, you can’t use this system in advance. You have to be in the park to get in the virtual queue. You will not know in advance if the park is using it on any given day. Disney says it is “as needed,” so you could show up and it’s not an option. When you arrive, check the park’s app to see if you can join the virtual queue or go to guest services and you will be assigned a boarding group number. Once your boarding group is called (you will get a text, and you can also watch the numbers move), you have two hours to enter the ride.
The rides: The big attraction at the moment is Rise of the Resistance, the most complex ride system Disney’s Imagineers have ever designed. Its elaborate queue of rooms have eight different “scenes,” including an intimidating time on the deck of a Star Destroyer with dozens of Stormtroopers. Riders then get into a trackless vehicle that moves laterally and vertically. It also spins smoothly around realistic animatronic characters, laser canons and AT-AT walkers, the four-legged robots used in battle by the First Order.
The land’s other ride, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, doesn’t have a FastPass available yet. This interactive simulator allows guests to act as pilot, gunner or engineer aboard the cockpit of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. Lines haven’t been too tough on this one, but that was before Rise of the Resistance opened. The single rider line for this one moves much faster but that means you won’t get the coveted Pilot seat, which is the most fun. Also, you would miss the full queue and pre-show, which is half the fun of this ride.
Figuring out food: Disney let Lucasfilm have a lot of influence on the look and feel of this land. Maybe a little too much. Unlike the rest of Disney, you won’t find any Mickey Mouse waffles here. It’s all on theme and that means instead of fried chicken, you get Fried Endorian Tip Yip. Clever. Maybe too clever. With its high volume of tourists from all around the world and many Disney guests who aren’t too keen about venturing out of their comfort zones when it comes to food, Disney in October changed the Tip Yip to simple Fried Chicken, and Braised Shaak Roast to Beef Pot Roast. Some hardcore Star Wars fans protested, so now the menu reads like a hybrid: Endorian Fried Chicken Tip Yip and Batuuan Beef Pot Roast. Some of the items that still retained their exotic names have easy-to-understand descriptions under them.
So what’s good to eat? One of the most popular items are the Ronto Wraps found at Ronto Roasters. Meat is cooked over an open flame on what looks like an old podracer engine. Pork or chicken is wrapped in a soft pita with a tangy sauce and slaw. The Felucian Garden Spread at the Docking Bay 7 fast casual eatery was buzzed-about, a tasty vegan dish popular with carnivores as well. It’s comprised of Impossible brand vegan meatballs with hummus, pita and a tomato relish.
One of the most anticipated beverages was the Blue Milk, as seen in Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, and the Green Milk as seen in Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi. It’s no Butterbeer, but it does have fans who hotly debate which is better. They are not “milk,” but vegan offerings. The Blue Milk is flavored with dragon fruit, pineapple, lime and watermelon. And the Green Milk is slightly more citrusy with mandarin orange, passion fruit, grapefruit and orange blossom.
Over in the marketplace, look for the Black Spire Outpost popcorn stand. The Outpost Popcorn Mix from Kat Saka’s Kettle is a flavored mix of sweet, spicy and savory kettle corn that is downright addictive and best eaten warm from the kettle.