Rise of the Resistance hopefuls have mere seconds to catch the Disney ride
By DEWAYNE BEVIL | Orlando Sentinel | Published: October 30, 2020
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Each morning at Disney's Hollywood Studios, there's a brief moment of silence. Theme-park visitors stand motionless. Heads are bowed. There may be a few thoughts and prayers, but it's not a religious service.
It's more like a high-stakes game. Call it Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance roulette, in which winners earn the right to ride one of Walt Disney World's newest, most in-demand rides.
Within seconds of the park's official opening, it's over. Cries of joy come from some corners; other voices yell "They're gone already?" All of the ride's loading groups have been assigned for the morning, courtesy of the My Disney Experience app. Those who missed out can try again at 2 p.m.
"We heard that if a whole bunch of people in your group tried to do it at the same time that it doesn't work as well, so we had one person doing it," said Kori Vanliere, who was visiting from Minnesota last week. Her group got in "and then it said something went wrong. So, we didn't get in."
A few steps away, Caitlin Stringer and family were all trying, counting down the seconds to 10 a.m. aloud. It was over 15 seconds later. They cheered. It was her first try, but she had the right touch.
She secured boarding group 11.
Stringer, who lives in Oklahoma, heard the Animation Courtyard area had good Wi-Fi reception.
"As you can see, nobody's here," she said. "But I turned off my Wi-Fi."
About 50 people typically stand around in the plaza for the key moments. But most of the attractions in that area, including the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" show and Star Wars Launch Bay, remain closed for now. Four character meeting areas stand uninhabited in post-shutdown mode. Some Disney workers pass through and wish the waiting visitors luck.
With loading-group rituals come rumors and legends. Some visitors claim it's best to ditch Disney World's Wi-Fi. Others advise standing in less-crowded parts of the park to avoid reception jams. Refresh the page with the "join" button, some say. Have everyone in your party try to get spots, says one school of thought. No, only have one person in your group try, says another.
Ryan Dorn, an annual passholder who lives in Celebration, estimates that he has been on Rise 10 times. He was only unable to get on once, he said. He thinks there are multiple good places to stand in the park.
"Basically, as long as you are not in the dead center of the park, you are potentially going to have better luck," he said.
"It's really just making sure that you are, obviously, ready to go when everything drops," he said. "Be ready to hit 'join' immediately. And, assuming everything doesn't go in two seconds, literally, you should be able to get in."
Though one day he got in a group after six minutes while standing in the middle of the park, he said.
Use of a virtual-line system means there's not a long, winding queue for Rise, where visitors could spend multiple hours just standing, leaning and waiting. At first, the ride had predawn opportunities for boarding groups. Then, after the park reopened from the coronavirus lockdown, there were three rounds of attempts per day. Now folks can attempt to get spots at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. only.
This setup gives ride operations flexibility and ends early gathering of crowds, a Walt Disney World spokeswoman said last week. The park now opens at 10 a.m., and visitors must be in the park to get Rise reservations.
"Opening the virtual queue two times is meant to give people who may not be early risers a chance join the queue later in the day," she said.
There are many factors at play in the demand for Rise of the Resistance beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The parks are operating under limited capacity, and that's also true for rides. Rise's vehicles seat eight passengers -- two rows of four people across -- but under current restrictions, they usually take off with one party aboard, even if that means that a visitor flies solo.
"We recently tested an update to the ride vehicles and had plexiglass barrier between the first and second rows," the Disney spokeswoman said. "We're working toward introducing this to all the vehicles." That would quickly increase the daily capacity of the ride.
Across Disney World, the FastPass+ reservation system has not been used since the parks reopened in July. Every ride uses the regular standby lines, except for Rise, where one gets the boarding group via the app or doesn't go at all. Passengers are signaled when their turns are nearing. In the meantime, visitors can enjoy other park experiences, from restaurants to shows, shops and other rides.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which debuted in December, is one of the newest rides at Disney World. The nearby Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway opened in March, and many park guests queue up for Runaway Railway while waiting for the 10 a.m. Rise window.
Rise is considered the most technically sophisticated Disney attraction, incorporating three distinct ride systems, animatronics and synchronized moments between music and visuals. There are complicated special effects, a run literally between the legs of gigantic AT-AT figures, big-screen battles and dozens of stormtroopers to maneuver around.
Where there's a lot going on, a lot can go wrong and create shutdowns, said Dennis Speigel, president of the International Theme Park Services. Plus, factors such as company layoffs, cutbacks and loss of revenue are at play, he said.
"When you bring all those things together, particularly the mechanical problem, the scheduling problem, the guests' problem ... it just creates the perfect-storm kind of situation for the big word we hate -- delay," he said.
Other coronavirus-based factors include Disney requiring reservations to enter the parks, and it's not allowing visitors to go to more than one theme park per day.
This summer, Rick Hayden and family flew from Virginia for a vacation featuring four Disney World parks in four days, meaning their one day at Hollywood Studios was their one shot to Rise. They had good luck traveling via Disney Skyliner from their hotel and were first in line to get into the theme park, he said.
Once inside, they followed the advice of other Caribbean Beach resort guests and staked out a spot on Sunset Boulevard near the Tower of Terror ride. They avoided getting into line for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster early because he heard that phone reception was bad there. A cast member gave him tips about the app, which he had not used before.
"Right at 9:59 or maybe 9:58, I started swiping down. And I think I reflexively went one swipe after the 'join' prompt came up," he said. "So then on the next one, I hit it and got number 43." Their estimated virtual wait time was listed as four hours.
Hayden wasn't considering it a make-or-break attraction for this trip, but he gave the ride high marks.
"I don't even need to do it again," he said. "But I was glad for the experience."