I suppose I enjoy writing about anything, but rarely I get to write about something as enjoyable as the topic of today. Sure, even with all the concerns that there are in the world, it is nice to take a moment to have a little fun, and that’s what I did for myself for Christmas this year. I’m a fan of Star Wars, and very specifically the Millennium Falcon and it just so happens that they opened recently the new ride Smuggler’s Run at Disney World. So, I planned a trip to ride it giving myself no cost restrictions due to the unique nature of this particular vacation. I timed my visit to enjoy another Star Wars ride that just opened called Rise of the Resistance which appears to be the most technical ride ever created anywhere in the world to date. The result was an extremely enjoyable five amusement park journey over a 5-day period and over 40 miles of walking that exposed me to some really wonderful moments of pop culture development and technical mastery through wild imaginations. The story I tell here is one that would have helped me while planning this trip so I offer it to those who are in such a need, so that they can enjoy their vacations as much, or more than I did.
I wasn’t going to spend that much money and time dedication to a vacation and not see the most technical ride ever made that was themed to Star Wars so seeing Rise of the Resistance for me was paramount. The ride opened on December 5th and I targeted my visit for five days later once some of the technical kinks and consumer drop off had occurred. I hoped that the Star Wars franchise had been damaged to the point where I might actually be able to get on the ride in the middle of a work week at Disney World on a winter day between Holidays. But, the demand for this ride from the public was so intense that the ride was selling out just minutes after the park was opening each day, so approaching my dates at the parks, I was getting a little worried. I wasn’t sure if the ride would even stay running long enough to allow the visitors who wanted to ride the thing time to actually ride it. So there was a lot that could have kept me from riding it which made getting the opportunity a unique adventure in perseverance.
While my wife and I were traveling to Orlando Disney had created a boarding party policy to help alleviate all the intense traffic that wanted to ride the ride each day, something they were calling a virtual line. In their other very cool and technical ride that has now been open for over a year, the Avatar attraction called Flight of Passage, the average wait times are in the 190-minute range. Disney knew that for Rise of the Resistance that the times would be even greater, so they used this virtual line concept to get people access to the rides. That meant that you had to get to the park early and get in line to get a boarding pass designation that would then give you a kind of time slot to ride the ride. This is where things got tricky, the boarding passes couldn’t be booked but by a phone app, once you entered the park. There was a lot of digital interactions that I was very weary of, because I felt a lot of things could have gone wrong, and often do in other places. But the level of Disney competence turned out to be extraordinary and it all worked out in the end with hindsight. But it was very stressful if you were dead set in riding this new attraction—which I was. People were lining up to get their place in line essentially at 4 AM. The gates to Hollywood Studios, which is the Disney park that holds the new Star Wars rides didn’t post openings until 8 AM, yet unofficially the gates were being opened at 6:30 AM and within a few moments of that early time, all the boarding passes for the entire day were being given out. I knew we had to get to the park early—really early, and that we’d have to fight our way to get a boarding pass from a restless crowd.
What made things even worse, was that the ride was breaking down a lot and the park wasn’t getting through all their boarding passes issued in a day so even if you managed to get a boarding pass, you still might not get to ride. So to ensure that we’d get a boarding pass we arrived at the park at 3:50 in the morning and were the seventh car in line waiting for the parking lot to open. And sure enough, more people started arriving in droves. Security let everyone enter the parking lot without paying since they didn’t have any workers at the park yet to run the admittance booth. By 4 AM a massive line had formed at the security check in that lasted until it was thousands of people. At around 5:30 AM they ran everyone through security so that a new line could form at the front gate of Hollywood Studios. It was there where the real race would be on. You had to zap your way into the park before they’d allow you to join a boarding party for Rise of the Resistance and all those people would be doing the same thing at essentially the same time. Boarding parties could change, you might be one of the first people in the park, but if you had trouble with your phone, or the system crashed, a ten-minute delay could put you from 20 to 50 quickly. Anything under 50 had a good shot of riding that day, anything over was sketchy. The Rise of the Resistance looked to do about 100 boarding parties per day, so there weren’t infinite rides to accommodate all the people who were there. So we were stressed about getting that boarding pass even though we were at the front of the lines in all the phases. Still, lots of things could have gone wrong.
At 6:30 AM, they let us in, my wife and I zapped our Magic Bands at the station and in we were. Within seconds we had the app opened and much to my relief, we were boarding party 13, which meant we were sure to get a ride that day. And as it turned out, we’d have the chance to get on the ride in about a half hour. By 7:30 AM we were off the ride and in line to ride the great Smuggler’s Run. By 9 AM we had explored most of what we wanted to see at the new Galaxy’s Edge and were free to use our Park Hopper option to explore the other parks and the best of their best attractions. It was good that Disney had opened their park so early to take away the pressure of the day and to give themselves more time to give everyone they could rides on Rise of the Resistance. Without knowing but hoping that they’d do the same kind of thing at Animal Kingdom for the new Avatar ride, we showed up at 8 AM for the 9 AM open and were delighted that Disney opened the park there early as well, at 8:30 AM. Since we were one of the first in line we headed to Flight of Passage and were able to get on the ride before 9 AM.
In the end after riding everything, which was spectacular, the Smuggler’s Run turned out to be my favorite ride at Disney. My wife and I rode a lot of rides on our vacation, but we ended up riding Smuggler’s Run 8 times and each time I found myself enjoying it more and more. It wasn’t just because I’m sentimental toward the Millennium Falcon, but because the ride is a technical marvel to me that was a lot of fun to fly. I was equally impressed by Flight of Passage and Rise of the Resistance, but the flamboyant nature of Smuggler’s Run won the day for me. It turned out to be a couple of the most enjoyable days of my life.
Disney was brilliant in their marketing strategy. They liked that Rise of the Resistance was overselling and that they had to show sell-outs which only increased the desire for demand. People not willing to get up as early as I did weren’t going to get a ticket, and that made it the hottest ticket in the country for something that turned out to be more Broadway play than amusement park attraction. All these rides were more than just rides, they were theatrical experiences in many ways and were deeply impressive. Disney turned out to be very flexible on their openings so that they could build up ride experiences by thinking out of the box and I was very impressed with them. They not only built some of the greatest rides in the history of the world released all within a short time of each other, but they knew how to build the anticipation. Getting on Rise of the Resistance was more treasure hunt than just slugging through a line, and that made it that much more special. And that turned out to be the secret to getting on the rides at Disney World that people wanted to see so much. If you were willing to get there early, they’d find a way. They get the long lines to market, you get to experience something very cool, and that did make it a truly magical experience.