If you want to do an afternoon or evening at Hollywood Studios, this half-day itinerary offers a plan of attack for touring the park efficiently. DHS has some of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World, so you may need to strategize differently in order to get everything done.
To that point, we do not recommend only a half-day at DHS if you’re a first-timer. Although there are a number of time-consuming stage shows without much repeatability, we usually do an entire day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios even as WDW diehards. DHS is most definitely a full-day park, just to be clear.
However, we seldom do a full entire day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, instead opting to splice it up (so to speak) with a morning at the park and a separate evening or two. We’ll explain the why of that below–as there is a method to the madness–but if you don’t have Park Hopper tickets, this post probably isn’t for you. Instead, consult our 1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary for zig-when-they-zag strategy for a complete single day at DHS.
For a while, we’ve been emphasizing that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the most frustrating park at Walt Disney World. This was true even pre-closure (in fact, that link above is from early 2020), and it’s been exacerbated in the last few years due to the ongoing absence of some entertainment.
In case you don’t want to read that older article, the quick explanation for the frustrations is that the ride roster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is both top-heavy and relatively-limited. This means that DHS has mostly popular rides, without much of a supporting lineup of smaller-scale attractions to help soak up the crowds.
For the most part, this is actually a good problem to have. The average guest undoubtedly prefers to do popular rides (hence their popularity) than the smaller-scale and less popular stuff (hence their lack of popularity). But it also means that the average posted wait time at DHS is significantly higher than other parks at Walt Disney World.
This also presents an opportunity. Because of that aforementioned top-heavy and limited ride roster, wait times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios peak earlier in the day than other parks. By the middle of the day, many attractions have long lines and posted wait times of over an hour, which results in guest burnout. As a result, people do a few long-wait rides before hitting a wall and leaving.
By the evening hours, many attractions have short lines and low waits–even less than what the posted times might suggest. This may not make complete sense, but it’s the phenomenon we’ve observed over the last 3+ years at Walt Disney World. We expected the dynamic to change once Fantasmic returned, but it largely has not. Frankly, this is a bit inexplicable even to us–but it is how things normally play out at DHS, and can be exploited as a way to minimize your time waiting in lines!
In addition to arriving late, the other best option for beating the crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is arriving very early. Well, so long as you’re staying on-site and are thus eligible for Early Entry. This offers pre-park opening access to all important, high-wait attractions at DHS and usually ends up being much more than a 30 minute head-start.
That’s especially true if you prioritize Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, with the added upside of doing this first being that you’re less likely to encounter a breakdown while you’re in line for it. Check out our step-by-step strategy for Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’ll allow you to knock out several headliners, leaving you with less to do at night (or a shot at second rides on Rise of the Resistance and Slinky Dog Dash!)
If you’re staying at a Crescent Lake or Skyliner resort, doing the morning at DHS before heading to your hotel for a midday break or a few hours at the pool is great option. It’s easy and efficient to take the gondolas or boats back to those resorts–or simply walk if you’re staying at BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, or Swan & Dolphin.
To really leverage savvy strategy for a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, follow the above Early Entry plan and this afternoon itinerary and also stack Lightning Lane reservations via the Genie+ service. Return times for DHS attractions are often in the second half of the day, so you can make ride reservations throughout the day and redeem them in the second half of the day. (See our Disney’s Hollywood Studios Genie+ Priorities & Lightning Lane Ride Ranks for the best order of selections.)
Enough with the long-winded preface, let’s fast-forward to our afternoon in the park…
Early Dinner – As an optional first step, arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios by about 3:30 pm if you plan on having a late lunch or early dinner in the park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is home to two of the very Best Themed Restaurants at Walt Disney World in Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Other very popular options include Hollywood Brown Derby, Minnie’s Seasonal Dine, and Toy Story Roundup Rodeo BBQ.
If you’re unable to score Advance Dining Reservations for any of those table service restaurants, BaseLine Tap House is a solid walk-up option and Docking Bay 7 Food & Cargo in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (as well as the nearby Ronto Wraps) are great counter service choices. Or, you can Snack Around Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Star Tours: the Adventures Continue – Thanks to the finest technology in space tourism, the fine folks who operate tours of the Star War are incredibly efficient. Even on busy days, Star Tours usually has a short line by afternoon, and should take around 30 minutes from the moment you enter the queue until you disembark.
It’s now overshadowed by Galaxy’s Edge, but we think Star Tours: the Adventures Continue is exceptional and fresh (it’ll again get new scenes in 2024). Although Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is the better overall experience with fun interactivity, I think the destinations in Star Tours are much better than the visuals in Smugglers Run. So don’t skip Star Tours just because it’s older!
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Average wait times for Tower of Terror have plummeted in 2023 due to the conclusion of the stealth refurbishment that effectively had the attraction running at half-capacity. Accordingly, you might see some outdated resources highlighting its long lines (sorry–we’re working on getting everything updated!), but that’s no longer the case and shouldn’t be going forward.
Currently, the wait time for Tower of Terror usually peaks in the morning before plateauing midday. After a slight spike post lunch, it usually starts decreasing precipitously between 4 and 5 pm, depending upon crowd levels. During a recent visit, the posted wait time at 5:30 pm was 40 minutes and we waited about 20.
Note: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is currently closed for a lengthy refurbishment through Summer 2023. Once it reopens, it will almost certainly make the most sense to do that roller coaster after Tower of Terror. For maximum time-savings, use the Single Rider line.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – The newest attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is among the park’s few all-ages rides. Because of this, it’s usually busiest earlier in the day…but there does seem to be a post-dinner surge as some families hit it on the way out of the park.
Accordingly, it makes sense to knock out Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway while crossing the park from Sunset Boulevard to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. Our experience with wait times for MMRR is hit or miss; it could be anything from a near walk-on to 30 minutes or more. (We’ve been unlucky with downtime on Runaway Railway recently. YMMV.)
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run – From Sunset Boulevard, bounce to the exact opposite side of the park to do Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. During the busiest hours of the day, this has one of the highest posted wait times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
However, that is usually not the case by late afternoon. Smugglers Run is incredibly efficient, and is often a walk-on after 5 pm on moderately busy days (peak season is a different story) regardless of the posted wait time. We’ve frequently encountered ~30 minute posted wait times at around 6:30 pm that are actually waits of however long it takes to walk through the mostly-empty queue.
Toy Story Mania – This is one of the biggest wild cards in the itinerary, which is attributable in large part to the Genie+ service. Toy Story Mania dedicates a lot of ride capacity to the Lightning Lane, so if there’s still high demand for that, the standby line can move slowly here–even when there aren’t a ton of people in it.
Still, we’ve found that after 7 pm is pretty much the “sweet spot” for Toy Story Mania, with actual wait times that are under 20 minutes being common. (We waited 19 minutes on a recent evening when the posted wait time was 45 minutes, for example.)
Slinky Dog Dash – Far and away the two most popular rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are Slinky Dog Dash and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. This is included in the Genie+ service, and often has return times that are hours later in the day. (It’s not uncommon to book right at 7 am and get a return time after 7 pm!) Because of that, there’s a steady flow of guests in the Lightning Lane throughout the day, but that does drop off after 5 pm because more people “bail” on DHS (and thus, their Lightning Lane ride reservations).
In any case, we strongly recommend that you jump into line for Slinky Dog Dash about 60-90 minutes before official park closing. By doing this, you’re likely to wait 45 minutes or less, regardless of the posted time. (We recently waited 36 minutes when the posted time was 90 minutes.)
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – We view this as one of the modern masterpieces of Imagineering, and the best new attraction at Walt Disney World in decades. Suffice to say, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is absolutely not to be missed–even if you’re not a fan of the newer films.
It’s also one of the most unreliable attractions at Walt Disney World, prone to breakdowns and delays. As a result, the posted wait time can be way off…in both directions. We’ve had actual waits that are less than half the posted time (quite often, in fact) but also actual waits that are nearly double the posted wait time. It’s one of the biggest offenders in terms of the disparity between posted and actual wait times at Walt Disney World.
If you get lucky and it’s not having any issues on the day of your visit, that 75 minute posted wait time after 8 pm might be an actual wait time of 20 minutes. By contrast, if it’s been up-and-down all day and there’s a backlog of Lightning Lane guests, it might be an actual wait of 70-80 minutes. Worse yet, it could break down while you’re in line and end up being a triple-digit wait.
The point here is that saving Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance until the end of the evening on your only day at DHS is a high risk, high reward move…and one we don’t recommend as your exclusive approach. This is a good time to do a second ride on Rise of the Resistance. (Recently, we waited 29 minutes when the posted wait time was 70 minutes in the last hour of the day. A good “tell” as to whether the wait time will be shorter than anticipated is no one outdoor queue or cavern area pictured above.)
Fantasmic – It’s not uncommon for Fantasmic to have two showtimes on busier days, with one occurring at park closing or 30 minutes after. This allows Disney to effectively extend the closing time by an hour or more (given the duration of Fantasmic and longer time it takes to clear the park after it ends) but without running rides during that time.
We’ve managed to see the second showing of Fantasmic from spectacular seats without arriving more than 5 minutes in advance of showtime. Note that this was the case even on evenings when the first performance was quite busy and seats filled up 30 minutes before showtime (announcements played that only limited views were available).
Conversely, the late performances of Fantasmic on those exact same evenings had multiple entire sections that went unfilled. I was able to snag the third row of a great section at (literally) 2 minutes before showtime, and that was on a busy day. (Speaking of great spots, consult our Viewing Guide for Fantasmic at Walt Disney World for all of our tips to get the best seats without paying extra for the dining package.)
On slower days, there’s usually only one Fantasmic–and it usually fills up faster than the second showing on even more crowded days. As such, you don’t want to arrive at the absolute last minute; you won’t get good seats (and may be shut out entirely). That also makes this entire itinerary a bit trickier, but on days with lower crowd levels, your wait times should be even shorter–so it all should more or less be equal in the end.
Hopefully this Disney’s Hollywood Studios afternoon and evening itinerary makes sense and helps you experience the highlights with a late arrival. It should be a good way to do DHS without getting burnt out from long lines in hot weather. At the absolute minimum, it’ll help you “finish up” the popular rides at DHS after doing a separate morning at the park.
As you might notice, this plan involves a bit of backtracking for the sake of minimizing waits. However, you could easy optimize to reduce walking by doing Tower of Terror first, Toy Story Land second, and Star Wars attractions third. If you do switch up the order, we’d still encourage you to do Star Tours before 7 pm, as doing it any later than that will cost you time.
Honestly, the specifics here matter less than the idea of this Disney’s Hollywood Studios plan. The salient point is that crowds clear out at DHS in the late afternoon to an almost inexplicable degree, resulting in wait times that–as a whole–are significantly lower than between 10 am and 4 pm. You can switch around the order of attractions and still save tons of time; just try to save both Slinky Dog Dash and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance for your final 2-3 rides to leverage this approach to its fullest.
If you want to know which approach is best for all four parks, see our new Best Time-Saving Strategies at Walt Disney World, which details the best and worst ways to save time in lines. Many fans and first-timers alike assume that Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are the optimal way to do the parks, but that’s only unquestionably true at Magic Kingdom. The other 3 have other approaches that (arguably) work better.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios recently in the afternoon or evening? What was your experience? When did you arrive? How long did you stay? Thoughts on lines and crowds? Success or failure doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, or anything else with shorter lines? What about a last-minute arrival to the second showing of Fantasmic? Do you plan on arriving for Early Entry, rope drop, or will you utilize a late arrival strategy? Do you agree or disagree with our itinerary? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!