What: Star Wars Weekends 2012
Where: Walt Disney World Hollywood Studios
When: May 18 – June 10, 2012
Cost: Star Wars Activities are free with Hollywood Studios Admission
Photos: For additional photos of Star Wars Weekends visit Field Trips with Sue on Facebook
Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando is the largest gathering of Star Wars characters anywhere. The elaborate photo sets make for great one-of-a-kind photos – whether you take them with a character or just with your family. For Star Wars fans young and old, this is a fantastic, not to be missed experience. Don’t be deterred thinking it will be so crowded you can’t have a good time. In addition to our research and experience, I talked with Disney’s Gary Buchanan for this post. Gary is Disney’s self proclaimed #1 “Obi-Wanna-Be” and has worked on Star Wars Weekends for the past 10 years. Use the tips below and I assure you, the force will be with you.
Get There Early – This is the single best tip for any theme park experience, but especially when it’s a special weekend like Star Wars where crowds are expected to be higher than normal. Sometimes Disney will open early as a special “surprise” if crowds are already there and the staff is ready. The day we went, the studio officially opened at 8 am. We arrived at 7:30 and the gates were already open. I can’t guarantee they’ll open early when you come, but you may want to plan for it just in case. My boys immediately went to Rockin’ Roller Coaster and rode it five times with no wait at all. Later in the day, waits were up to 70 minutes long!
Have a Plan – This is the second best tip for any theme park experience, but again, especially important for busy weekends. Spend some time before you go to plan out your day. Know before you exit one attraction where you are headed next. Don’t try to do that on the fly either, plan it out before you go, there are lots of sites and guidebooks to help you. For instance, we saw the 9:40 am Little Mermaid Show and immediately went to the Animation Studio to find Sorcerer Mickey. We were one of the first five people in line when he arrived at 10 am and were able to zip in to see him and zip out. I found this tip on Disney planning site – www.TourGuideMike.com. Mike was not as helpful as I would have liked on the Star Wars Weekend information, but he was helpful on general park touring. I’ve also discovered a new site www.ridemax.com, which is a bit more updated than Mike’s site. I don’t know how reliable RideMax’s information is for special weekends like Star Wars, but they did give good tips for planning a normal visit.
Bring Your Younglings with You to Sign Up for Jedi Training – As soon as you enter the park (assuming you are there upon opening) register your children for Jedi Training. At press time, this registration is expected to be done at Sounds Dangerous, but check with guest relations when you enter the park to be sure. You’ll need to have everyone that wants to participate with you. Kids ages 4 – 12 are eligible. There is a bit of a wait here, but it’s worth it. Later in the day, your children don a robe and learn how to wield a light saber during training with a Jedi Master and Ahsoka Tano from Clone Wars. Then, they’ll battle either Darth Vader or Ventress. Upon completion, they are promoted to Padawans, given a certificate and a Star Wars toy (the program is sponsored by Hasbro). Once these spots are gone, they’re gone, so make sure you go here first thing if your child wants to participate.
Star Wars Parade – Throughout the park are various Star Wars characters. You can wait in long lines to have your picture taken with them (similar to waiting to see Mickey Mouse) or you can get a good spot on the parade route and take them all in at once during the Star Wars parade. The parade starts at the front of the park coming out near Sid’s Curious Shop and goes down Hollywood Blvd. to the big Sorcerer Mickey Hat. The characters then go on stage for a great photo opportunity with the entire galaxy and pyrotechnics as a backdrop. Here are some thoughts on where to position yourself for the parade:
- The end of Hollywood Blvd., in front of the hat, is a great place to see the parade front and back. As the parade comes toward you, get a photo with Crossroads of the World in the background.
- Near the Backlot Express, across from Star Tours, celebrities get out of their cars and go up on stage. Stand here to get a better look at celebrities.
- Anywhere along Hollywood Blvd. is good. We scoped our spot about 12:15 for the 12:40 parade, soon after that, it was harder to get a place. We missed the photo on stage, but I think everyone had ample interaction with the characters.
- If you’re a bit late, consider the courtyard in front of the American Idol Experience. People line up on Hollywood Blvd. first, and this area fills up later. If you stand on the Crescent Lake side, you can take photos with Sorcerer Mickey’s Hat in the background.
If your child would like to be in the parade, try to get in the Jedi Training class right before the parade. Generally they’ll pick kids from this class to be part of the motorcade parade. There is no way to set this up, it’s just the way the sign ups go, but if your children are in that class, perhaps ask about the parade.
Star Wars Characters – As I mentioned, there are lots of places to wait in lines to have your picture taken with various Star Wars characters. We didn’t wait in any of these lines, but we did watch the characters as they interacted with people and took pictures of them in between guests posing. Seeing them live and up close seemed to be enough for my boys, which was great because it left us more time to experience the park. Right in front of Star Tours is a speeder bike, where Chewbacca and the Ewoks come out. When they aren’t appearing, you can take a picture on the bikes – which we did, several times. For a fun souvenir, bring a light saber for characters to sign rather than an autograph book.
Star Tours – Star Tours reopened last May after a complete renovation. You’ll take a 3-D journey through space to different Star Wars planets, encounter fire fights, hyperspace and perhaps even Darth Vader himself. The ride has 54 different combinations, so each trip can be slightly different than the others, hence the need to ride it several times. Get as many fast passes as you can for this one. To keep up-to-date on Star Tours, “like” the facebook page www.facebook.com/startours.
Stage Shows and Events – Autograph sessions aren’t the only way to see the stars of the Star Wars franchise. There are also themed talk shows and behind the scences presentations. These activities fill up quickly on a first-come, first-served basis and there are no Fast Passes available. That said, if you’re a fan, it’s fun. During a talk show with Clone Wars actors they do a staged presentation of a recording session. They build the scene right there and choose guests from the audience to participate. Q&A with the actors is also available for hard core fans. For updates on guest stars and special events, check the Disney Parks Blog.
Don’t Miss the HyperSpace Hoopla – OMG this was GREAT! Whatever you do, don’t miss this show. The HyperSpace Hoopla is a dance off between the Dark Side and the Rebel Alliance. You’ll see all your favorite characters from the Star Wars movies and Clone Wars – including Kit Fisto, my son’s favorite. Senator Palpatine is a riot and Chewie wins it for the Rebels in my book with his bandana, sunglasses and awesome moves. The day we went, it began at 7:45 pm. We got a great spot at 7:15, but by 7:30, things are getting tight, so you judge when you think you need to start camping out. If you want a little more space, maybe stand in the back near the tip board. You can still see and hear back here, but there’s a little more room.
Fast Passes – A Disney Fast Pass is free with your ticket. Fast Passes allow guests to save a place in line while they visit other attractions. You can begin getting Fast Passes at participating attractions as soon as the park opens. Each pass gives a return time for the ride and when you are eligible to get a second set. This time difference correlates to how busy the park is at that time. In the early morning, your fast pass times will be fairly soon and you’ll be able to get another fast pass in about an hour. As the park fills up, those times are stretched out. To maximize Fast Passes, you need to come with a Fast Pass plan (as part of your park plan). Designate someone to hold all your tickets and be the Fast Pass person. This person will take all the tickets (regardless of whether baby Susie wants to ride Rockin Roller Coaster, you can still use her ticket to get a Fast Pass for the attraction that someone else can use) and get the Fast Passes, keeping track of when you can get another one. Fast Passes hold a return time on them. In the past you could come back whenever you wanted, but that policy has changed and you must come back within the Fast Pass time window.
Fast Passing During Star Wars Weekends – Once you enter the park, Fast Pass the Toy Story ride. This is one of the newest rides and it’s very popular and everyone can ride it regardless of age or mobility. You’ll want to do this ride more than once, so go ahead and use your Fast Pass for this one. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to ride Star Tours numerous times too, so make sure you get a few Fast Passes there as well. There are only two more rides that really require the Fast Pass and those are the Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. If you have small kids and won’t be going on these anyway, then don’t worry about them. If you want to go on these rides, then secure Fast Passes here as well.
Stay Late – The day we went, the Studio was open from 8 am – 12 pm (but it really opened at 7 am). The festivities for Star Wars end with the HyperSpace Hoopla at 7:45, but there are still lots of things to do at the park. Fantasmic, the fireworks, light, stage show at the Hollywood Bowl is worth seeing and was at 9:00 and 10:30 pm the night we went. Folks were lined up for the 9 pm show as early as 7 pm. We opted to wait for the 10:30 pm show and do some more rides. It was a great call. We walked into Fantasmic at 10:30 and there were LOTS of great seats available. Plus, lines for the rides – Star Tours, Rockin Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror were down to about 15 minutes after 9 pm. As it got later, the lines got shorter. We were using our Fast Passes, but at times, it seemed the wait line was about the same. If you can do it, get to the Studios early, leave and take a break (a nap if you can) and come back later, staying until closing. Save all your “rides” for after 9 pm. You could even grab some Fast Passes before you leave for your break to use as soon as you get back. Sooo much better than waiting 70 minutes for one ride at the peak times in the afternoon.
For more Star Wars Weekend Tips visit the Disney Parks Blog or try this website on Star Wars (note their Top 10 Star Wars Weekend Tips has old information as it was written in 2008, but this site does have good historical information to see what’s been done in the past.)