Today is the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, the new Stars Wars (SW) section at Disney’s Hollywood Studios part of Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando Florida. Natasha was among the lucky few season ticket holders who got to go to a preview last week. While I liked the movies when I was younger, Rocky has turned me into a true Star Wars fan. In Natasha terms, that means repeatedly watching the movies and referencing them in everyday life, going to the premieres of any SW movie, carrying special SW purses, having custom SW ears featuring the droids and the pets (designed by my own niece Maggie), owning a SW name tag (I’m from Naboo by the way but my computer cannot support the language font), R2D2 pants and a dress, going to SW dessert parties, and not to be missed, a Star Wars cruise.
The review came as a perk of my Platinum Annual Pass at WDW (unrestricted access to the four main theme parks in Florida with no block out dates). I got in by the skin of my teeth; my pass expires in mid September. I am renewing at the Gold level that has some block out dates at Christmas and Easter. I try to avoid crowded times anyway, so no real loss there. I did meet some Gold Annual Pass members while in Florida who confirmed that they were not invited to the preview. Theme park tickets went through the roof this year. Disney raised the cost of their annual passes as much as 28%. I saved over $200 by renewing at the lower level. In addition, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) membership saves me 15% and I got a renewal discount of $50.
Just a few weeks ago I was checking emails and read the invitation to the preview. I clicked on the link and waited in the queue for 50 minutes, but I got in! Maggie was the only other family member who had a qualifying annual pass, so it is just the two of us. There were no weekend times available so we got the first one on Monday. The preview is for a four-hour window (ours was 9 am to 1 pm), but they don’t really check when you leave so you could stay in the section the whole day if you wanted to. Maggie has to miss the first day of her second year of law school. She thought about it for a while, but has her priorities and is going to Galaxy’s Edge.
Last minute can be expensive but I did this almost expense free. I booked a DVC room, used miles for my plane ticket, will enter the park on my annual pass and the party on my free ticket. I will use my redemption card (earned from putting anything I can on a Disney Visa Card) to pay for meals, snacks, and drinks. Out of pocket I will only need to pay for my UBER home from the airport (Boris is taking me to the airport for my Sunday departure) and a meal at the airport. The real advantage I had was that I had no required meetings or events on my calendar.
Maggie went in for the weekend and got a budget room at Disney. She transferred over to meet me at Saratoga Springs resort on Sunday. From there we both went over to the Magic Kingdom and the rest of the day. We just missed the two o’clock parade. It was hot and very crowded but we used the few fast passes we had and then looked for extra fast passes that gave us a quick turn around. Maggie is a seasoned pro at this. Rather than watch the light show from in front of the castle (which you should do if you are only going to see it once), we watched from the back. This placement actually gets you a lot closer to the fireworks and your can find a seat at the last minute. Maggie had on her Rapunzel outfit with the lighted hair that she made. Unknown to us, the custodial staff in Fantasyland names a Princess of Fantasyland who actually starts the fireworks with the wave of her wand. Maggie was chosen. She did an excellent job! Afterwards we were both presented wishing stars.
We capped off the night by getting in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride that has impossibly long waits and difficult to get fast passes. However, as long as you are in the line before the park closes, they will let you ride. The sign said the wait time was 60 minutes (actually pretty short for this ride); it was actually less than 25 (they don’t change the sign in the last hour to discourage riders so they can close).
Then we took the bus back to Saratoga Springs and retrieved Maggie’s bag. Disney will transfer it free from one of their hotels to another if you switch Disney resorts. Just confirm your Magical Express bookings if you switch hotels. Then we set 3 alarms so we wouldn’t oversleep for Galaxy’s Edge.
At all the Disney parks, they actually open the gates and allow you to go through bag check, security, and the ticket entrance before the opening times and let you mill about in the entry areas. We got there and even found a cast member with a “Passholder Event” sign who told us where to go when the park was fully open. We headed straight to the Galaxy’s Edge main entrance (which Maggie had scoped out for us the day before) as soon as the rope dropped.
With our party confirmation, annual pass, and ID ready, we were quickly inside. We had already planned to go straight to Smugglers’ Run, the section’s one open ride. We had hoped to have a wait time of 45-60 minutes, but knew it might be more. We also hoped to ride more than once during the 4-hour preview. It took everything we had to stick to the plan and not stop at the many sights along the way-an X wing!
The first impression was a big wow! This is total immersion into a planet from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. The cast members were in great uniforms and even have specialty nametags. They talk in different terms. Purchasing lunch the cost was quoted in “credits” not dollars; we were given a cargo slip and not a receipt. When I commented on how hot it was (their multi-layer uniforms were theme on, but must have been incredibly hot), the cast member didn’t miss a beat and said “it was what you could expect for a planet with three suns.”
When we made it to Smugglers’ Run, the wait was only 35 minutes and it may have actually been a few less than that. A full scale Millennium Falcon sits just outside the ride. Smartly the queue area for the ride goes around the ship so you are taking this all in during your wait. Once inside, they continue to set the stage that you are in a smugglers cargo and hanger area. The queue area is really well done. Windows allow you views of the Falcon from above and we saw none other than Chewie checking out the ship from the ground.
The idea is that you are being recruited to serve as crew on a smuggler’s vessel and commandeer particular cargo. In addition to overhead and onscreen dialog, there are two other group queuing areas for developing the theme. In one of Disney’s smartest moves, as you wait you are given time within the Millennium Falcon to look around and take pictures.
At this point, you have already been assigned your role on the ship and given a color-coded card and assignment card. You are called by color to board the ship in groups of six. There are two engineers, two gunners, and two pilots. You do have a role to perform and are scored on your performance. The success of the mission depends on the combined scores of the participants. This is not as obvious when you were an engineer, my first role. I just enjoyed hitting lit buttons, although watching the buttons did distract me from the screen.
At special points in the mission, I was prompted to do certain things to happen by either the verbal cues or the lit buttons and switches. The six participants are sitting in the replica of the Falcon’s cockpit and a screen shows the mission and your activity. It truly is interactive.
I will share just a bit on the roles. There is no other way to say it; all jobs are not created equal. The engineer hits buttons and switches; they sit in positions 5 and 6 in the cockpit. The gunners go trigger-happy shooting; they sit in the second row in positions 3 and 4. These two roles do require you to look away from the screen at times. As a gunner, you do see your efforts reflected on the screen.
The primo role is the pilot. These are the first jobs the cast members assign (so there is little hope of getting that role as a single rider.) The pilot on the left controls the ship’s movement from side to side. The pilot on the right takes the ship to light speed and moves the ship up and down. You are right up next to the screen, so not only do you have the most important role and do the most; but you really feel like you are right there in the action looking at the screen (out the front window of the ship) the whole time.
We rode three times. The first time we rode as engineers. The second time we did single rider and-not surprisingly-were engineers again. We learned. The third time we waited in the line again and got to be pilots; we were prepared to ask for this role if we didn’t otherwise get it. At least at the preview party, they were honoring this request. My advise is always try to be the pilot if possible and don’t be afraid to ask. Maggie had been able to see the drill from her seat and wisely selected the right side pilot; that is still on my bucket list. I would like to be the one to take us to light speed.
The ride is incredible, especially from the pilot’s seat. The queuing area with the chance to walk through the Falcon was an added bonus. You will get to experience the Falcon’s interior waiting area even if you do the single rider option.
After our first ride we went over to line up for the Cantina. Unfortunately, they were not taking any walk-ins. We tried a couple of times, but there was never any space. I recommend trying to make reservations as soon as that window opens up for your trip 180 days out. Maggie was quite impressed when I asked if there was a way to see it since it was unlikely we would get in. The manager instructed one of the hostesses to give us a tour. It was brief, but the interior was impressive and right on theme. Not sure if they will allow you to do this when it first opens to the public, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Maggie had heard about the blue milk so we headed over there next. You have the option of blue or green milk with or without rum. We tried one of each. Ok, none with rum; we thought 10 am was a little early for that. We both liked the blue a lot better. The green milk was also good; it had the taste of green tea.
There are droid stages and restrooms nearby, but the big focus of this area is the First Order from the ship with a platform for Kylo Ren to descend (we saw him leaving) to the specialty First Order gift shop. There were lots of characters roaming this area. It is also where two stormtroopers spotted Maggie in her homemade BB8 dress and warned her against getting any ideas about funny business. Maggie had also incorporated the Rebel pilot uniform into the design of the dress.
We turned the corner and went in a door only to find ourselves in the cutest droid gift shop-actually my favorite gift shop in this whole section of the park. There were so many unique offering of things I had never seen. There is also a lifesize R2D2 you can take your picture with. I made a mental note that I wanted to return here later; I didn’t want to have to carry anything around.
The gift shop spills into the droid workshop where you can build your own droid from the many materials offered. There was one wall of sound attachments that will react as you enter different sections of the park. You will need a reservation. The droid experience starts at $100/droid. We chose not to partake, but I made a reservation for Rocky to have the experience when we return in September.
After the shop, we headed over to see the Marketplace with the cool open-air shops featuring SW creatures in cool carrying cases, amazing SW clothing, a replica of the Millennium Falcon chess set, etc. You can even get a fan styled liked the SW cargo. Not only are the items available new and enticing, but the area itself is very well styled.
At one end there are tables and an eatery featuring food that appears to be of galactic origins that has been turned on a spit and cooked by a droid. You didn’t need the styling of the spit to feel the heat in this area. Next door is another outside eating area, but this is overflow from the quick service restaurant next door. We tried the cantina again, but no luck. The wait time at Smuggler’s Run was longer, so we decided to try single rider. You miss the first set up waiting area, but you get time in the Millennum Falcon, so it’s a good option if you are not particular about what role you are assigned. Our wait time was 5 minutes. Probably not going to be that way again for years.
After our second run, we returned to try the quick service restaurant. The food was good and the atmosphere was SW authentic. We made another pass through the area. Maggie has to fly home today so she was toying with the idea of going to other areas of the park. In particular, she is a big Tower of Terror fan and wanted to go on it. She had had absolutely no luck getting a fast pass. She did get one for Toy Story Mania-hard to get but easier as a single rider.
We wanted to go into one more shop with a lightsaber focus. This one reads almost like a cool museum and display area. Mounted heads of some of the exotic creatures from the movies adorn the walls and some serious SW costuming is found here. Worth it just to look around even if you aren’t planning to fork over $200 to make a custom lightsaber. You’ll need reservations for that too. We saw some-they look pretty cool with the curved handgrips.
So it was dilemma time-does she leave or does she stay. We still had time on our preview window, although we could have actually stayed longer had we wanted to. I told Maggie I was going to ride one more time. I wanted to be a pilot. Then I was going to purchase a few souvenirs and check out the area near the entrance that we passed through quickly. The wait time was to be the deciding factor.
Just then she got notice that Toy Story was down so she was able to use her fast pass at almost any ride in the park-including Tower of Terror-anytime that day. Then we saw that wait time had gone back down to less than 30 minutes. Decision made. We rode that third time and it was the best yet. We rode with two others that said they had been on 5 times and we were the best pilots (highest score) yet. We didn’t even realize that you could pick up more contraband until we were that successful during the interactive third ride. You have got to be a pilot. Yes, Maggie and Natasha kicked ass!
After a return to the droid shop, we headed out checking out the cool ships that tried to attract our attention on the way in. I thanked one of the Disney cast members not in character and he ended up being from the evaluation team so we gave him lots of feedback. Outside of Galaxy’s Edge was a special shop with pass holder exclusive items, so we had to get some of those. It was an awesome experience. Galaxy’s Edge is even larger than I expected. It is a not to be missed Disney experience.
We will be back next month. Who knows how large the crowds will be? Until then…may the Force be with you.