Tl;dr: If your looking to book a trip for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, understand its opening in phases with the Millenium Falcon attraction primarily and the Rise of the Resistance opening at a later date. Disney is already warning limited access to the entire land (meaning you might not even get in to buy merchandise let alone go on any rides.) Planning a trip will require some thought as WDW also just raised prices for the busiest time of year (Christmas through New Year’s) for a one day ticket at $159, up from $129. Finally, what’s up with the ludicrous wait times? Is Disney artificially creating long lines to test how the park handles demand?
Last week, Wednesday March 7th, Disney surprised everyone when they announced the opening dates of their highly anticipated new land Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Those dates, May 31st 2019 for Disneyland in California and August 29th 2019 in Disney World in Orlando, Fl were earlier than speculated. I got the news via YouTube notification and within seconds I was dialing up WDW to change our December reservation to the first week of September. I thought for Christmastime, when we’re booked, is not only unreasonably crowded its also the most expensive time to go. We were on a bounce back offer (discounts offered to on-property guests that need to be booked prior to check-out,) that gave us Free Dining. Thing was, our family’s favorite time of year is fall/Halloween and our most recent trip was the first week of September of last year. We had such an amazing time I figured, if SW:GE was opening in August it would be better to go then and avoid all the negatives of the holiday season. So here I am, on hold waiting to speak to a cast member when I check out the Disney Parks Blog page and find some info not given in the announcement video. After finally getting through to a very friendly live person, and with complete info on the opening, we decided to keep our Christmas reservation. Here’s my experience with the booking process, discounts or lack thereof and price increases. Also, my simple little theory on why the waits are nuts at WDW.
Why we’re going in *gulp* Christmas
In spite of my better judgement (and growing credit card bill,) we decided to take advantage of a short trip to WDW in the first week of September last year. Dubbed the “Fall Into Magic” package, it offered 4 days/5 nights at Caribbean Beach Resort (which was still under heavy construction) for a discounted rate and included a special welcome dinner at Epcot inspired by the Food and Wine festival, exclusive access to both Animal Kingdom and Toy Story Land which had just opened and tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. It was a short trip but we had an amazing time. On our last day, we decided to take advantage of the bounce back offer for the same time this year. To be totally frank, the offer was for Free Dining and our little family just doesn’t eat that much for the amount of food given. I was more interested in doing this short trip with exclusive access to the parks again. Spending three hours in TSL with very few folks was awesome (my kids did Slinky Dog fourteen times, I could only stomach five.) When I booked, I realized there was no guarantee SW:GE would be open when we wanted to go so I aired on the side of caution and booked the last available day for the offer, December 23. It was obscenely expensive but I knew there would be no other discounts (and I had over a year to pay for it.) I decided at least with free food it was worth it, whether we ate it all or not.
When Disney announced the opening dates I thought “perfect, we’ll go earlier and cheaper.” They were offering up to 30% off discount on rooms until September 30th which I knew would be eaten up unless I called right away. Well, after being on hold ten minutes I was able to speak to a cast member who explained the how Star Wars would open: the park will roll out in phases with the Millenium Falcon attraction primarily and the Rise of the Resistance opening at a later date. I asked her if she had any info when the land would be completely open and she really couldn’t say, other than later in the year. She looked at my reservation for December, saw that I had Free Dining and that we were staying at Pop Century, a value resort. She enthusiastically encouraged me to keep my reservation, as the new Skyliner gondola system (a tram system between Pop, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, Riviera, Epcot and Hollywood Studios where SW:GE will be located) should be open by then. I asked about the previous fall package and if that would be offered again. She said they were being told no discounts would be offered once the land opens which makes a lot of sense. So I kept the reservation and bumped up our six day ticket by two days. Within a week, Disney hiked the prices.
So, how does that help when considering booking a Disney World trip to experience SW:GE? For the sake of clarity I’m going to stick to WDW because Disneyland is its own beast. When diving deep into the Disney Parks Blog post about the land opening, there’s a lot to consider: first, and this is a big one, NO FastPasses. For the uninitiated, that’s the reservation system that allows you to book an available hour slot to bypass the standby line. Per day, guests are allotted three initial FPs (in three of the four parks at WDW, the attractions are tiered, for example, pick one from column A and two from column B.) The argument for/against FPs is you can book a busier attraction while getting on shorter lines, but when you bypass the line, you are basically getting in front of everyone else. With no FPs everyone is equally waiting and, in theory, the lines should flow smoother.
WDW will also offer Extra Magic Hours, access to the parks an hour before the park opens or an hour after it closes to guests on-property (Disney owned hotels.) The blog site states this will be offered to “select Disney World resort hotels.” No other info is given besides to check back for more info. My thoughts are this: the “select” hotels will either be the Deluxe level (luxury resorts that start close to $300/night rack rate during value season) or it might be the Skyliner resorts. My theory is, these resorts will have direct access to the park, alleviating congestion on the roads and at the bus stops. “Select” may also mean all of them for all we know but that’s my two cents. Another consideration: Disney also says there’s no guarantee you’ll get in to the land regardless of where you’re staying and access will be dictated by capacity. To put that into perspective: opening day at Toy Story Land there was a four hour wait just to enter the land and it is no where nearly as immersive as SW:GE promises to be.
Finally, remember that discount I linked above? Despite the offer stating the last day to book an on-site property as September 30th, checking for any dates after the opening of SW:GE the results come up empty. So either everything was eaten up or Disney pulled the rooms. I thought I was crazy but then I watched the Dis Unplugged WDW discussion and they brought it up too. The days of discounts, I think, may be over. Disney only offered them initially to get folks in the parks during slower times. Now that slow times don’t really exist anymore, I think discounts will be offered to better control crowds. That’s the excuse they give for why they raise ticket prices, as they did on March 13th: a $30 increase for a one day ticket during Christmas time is huge. The reason given is to offer better cost flexibility to everyone. Of note, the off peak one day tickets were left unchanged this go round but that was after Disney switched to date-based pricing last year that also included a price hike. Increases for the Park Hopper option and parking make it seem that ways to save money on a Disney trip are becoming few and far between.
So, what should you consider when booking a trip to Disney? If you’re not into Star Wars then head there now before it gets too crazy and cost prohibitive. There are some good on-property discounts currently (that discount above ends March 24th) so if you can swing it, go when it should be slower. Staying off-property is a better strategy to keep costs down. Aside from Star Wars opening this year, Hollywood Studios is also getting a Mickey Mouse themed thrill ride where the Great Movie Ride used to be. In the following years Epcot has major attractions and renovations coming up so while its a great time to be a theme park fan, expect those prices (and crowds) to continue to go up.
If you do decide to head over now, its been reported wait times are a little bananas.
Believe it or not, these aren’t that crazy considering its Spring Break season, but still. My crazy conspiracy theory is Disney is inflating wait times to test how well the park will be able to handle the crowds once Star Wars opens, while also testing guests’ patience. For a more scientifically nuanced explanation check out this analysis form Touring Plans.
Well that’s my experience booking a Disney World vacation in anticipation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and my little thoughts about booking future vacations. While your experience may differ, know that Walt Disney World is always in state of flux so while I might theorize there won’t be upcoming discounts, Disney may go and surprise everyone.