If you’re a Florida resident and/or Star Wars fan, now might be the time to punch it into hyperdrive and transport yourself to a galaxy far, far away with a visit to Disney World’s newest themed land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Over the past week, much of Florida was frozen in anticipation as Hurricane Dorian stalked the state like Darth Vader’s star destroyer hovering over the rebel base on Hoth.
But it was all bright suns on Batuu, the intergalactic planetary setting of Galaxy’s Edge. The $1 billion addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened Aug. 29 as then category 2 Hurricane Dorian eyed the Bahamas with all of Florida in its projected path. The storm wound up wreaking havoc on the Bahamas as a category 5 hurricane before changing course and skirting the east coast of the United States as it weakened.
With mandatory evacuations along the east coast added to the threat of severe weather, potential guests, it seemed, also changed course. Instagram and Twitter were loaded all week with posts from shocked Florida residents who took advantage of smaller crowds to get to Galaxy’s Edge.
Thousands rushed to the park on opening day, extending lines for the its only ride, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, to upwards of five hours. According to information from thrill-data.com, a website that tracks ride wait times, the line didn’t dip under 150 minutes on opening day. One week later, it was barely reaching a 70-minute wait.
Florida resident and Disney World Annual Passholder Matthew Parke made it to Galaxy’s Edge Wednesday and made it through the single rider line for Smuggler’s Run six times in 90 minutes, he said.
“I figured with the way Dorian was moving, it was going to shut off all traffic from (Interstate) 95, all down the eastern seaboard,” Parke said.
As others experienced, Parke’s gamble paid off. The park’s attendance this week was even lighter than the passholder preview day he went to earlier in August. Lines for photo opportunities, food and shops were all breezy.
The 14-acre Galaxy’s Edge, one of the largest park expansions in Disney history, opened three months after an identical park opened at California’s Disneyland. Declining attendance numbers in the California park’s third-quarter report have caused some to criticize the intensely immersive and highly anticipated park area and question its success. Disney executives, however have refuted such claims.
Disney CEO Bob Iger indicated that annual passholder backout dates were ordered to ease congestion around the park’s opening, so fewer ticks were sold. And Bob Chapek, Disney’s chairman of parks and experiences, said low wait times should be a sign of success, not failure because it leads to a better fan experience.
“If you build in enough capacity, the rides don’t go down and it operates at 99-percent efficiency, you shouldn’t have 10-hour lines,” he said referencing 10-hour waits and ride closures for the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which opened at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in July. “Ten-hour lines are not a sign of success. It should be seen as a sign of, frankly, failure.”
Between Dorian and Disney’s alleged overcrowding hack, fans are in for a treat and should take advantage now, Parke said, particularly during historically lighter fall months.
“As a huge Star Wars fan and somebody who’s heavily invested in that universe, it was a dream,” he said. “We had to use weather to game the system, but that’s kind of how you do it when you’re a pro. Now is the time to go."
A second Galaxy’s Edge ride, Rise of the Resistance, is set to open in December with attendance expected to swell.