Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open to the public on Aug. 29 at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park and debut May 31 at Disneyland. The opening dates for the twin lands were announced Thursday morning during the annual meeting of shareholders of Walt Disney Co.
That's "earlier than planned," Bob Iger, Disney's CEO, told shareholders in St. Louis. Previously, the company had said the Anaheim, Calif., site would open in summer, with Central Florida following sometime in the fall. Instead, Walt Disney World's version will be ready just before Labor Day weekend.
However, both lands will open in two phases, with one of the major rides debuting in each round.
The 14-acre sites include rides called Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. In both parks, Disney will present a planet called Batuu, populated by bounty hunters, smugglers and other shady characters.
On both coasts, Smugglers Run will debut on opening day, but Rise of the Resistance will be available "later in the year," the company said Thursday.
These are the biggest single-themed expansions in Disney history, Iger said.
"No one has ever attempted anything of this magnitude," he said.
Iger recently described the Disneyland site as 80 percent complete. Hollywood Studios visitors can see the skyline of Galaxy's Edge attractions rising above a construction wall. That's especially visible from the park's Toy Story Land, which opened last year.
Experts expect big crowds and lines for the early days, weeks and months.
In Florida, a Star Wars-themed hotel also will open, but that's not expected to open with the Hollywood Studios expansion.
"If Disney executes and delivers what they've designed ... this is going to be a mega, mega-hit," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services.
"It's going to have a major impact," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me if it had a 20-25 percent improvement across the board."
The early launch is a good idea, Speigel said.
"People are hyped and pumped for it," he said. "I think there's pent-up demand."
Visitors going to visit Galaxy's Edge in Disneyland between May 31 and June 23 will need theme park admission and a no-cost reservation, subject to availability, to access the land, Disney said in a news release. More information about making reservations will be available later, Disney said.
"That tells us they're anticipating this huge demand, and they kind of want to get a handle on that," Speigel said.
There is no information about a similar reservation process for Hollywood Studios at this time, according to a post on the official Disney Parks Blog. But the item notes that Extra Magic Hours, the bonus time allotted to folks staying in select Walt Disney World hotels, will be available for Galaxy's Edge.
Lessons learned in the Anaheim launch will carry over later to Disney World, Speigel said.
"It's what you do when you have multiple properties and you're introducing the product coast-to-coast," he said. "If it's big in Anaheim, it's going to be larger in Orlando. We know that."
A Disney news release about Galaxy's Edge notes that capacity to the areas is limited. "Access to the theme park, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and its experiences may be restricted or unavailable depending on guest demand and other factors," it said.
Jay Porter, co-host of the "Orlando Tourism Report" radio show, said he was surprised by the early opening dates and shocked by the phased-in opening.
"I think that this is going to be a two-part grand opening for Galaxy's Edge, and I think that the capacity is going to be ridiculous by how many people are going to show up for this," Porter said.
"I think that this is something unlike anything Disney has ever seen," he said. "There's going to be people who show up at the park and spend their whole day waiting in line for one attraction. ... I don't think that's going to go away for two or three months."
It's inevitable people will stand in line and wait six or more hours to ride a Galaxy's Edge attraction - because they already do at for the Flight of Passage ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom, said Len Testa, a computer scientist who studies wait times and runs Touring Plans to help visitors with their trips.
He predicts both rides at the new Star Wars land will have a peak six- to seven-hour wait time without a FastPass unless Disney limits the lines. And the average wait time likely will hover around three to four hours for the first six months, he said.
Testa said he thinks attendance at the Orlando park could jump 20 percent to 30 percent in 2020 compared with 2019 after the land has been open a full year.
The buzz is so high that people will be willing to camp out or pull out their pocketbooks to be among the first to see the new attraction, Testa said.
"If Disneyland had a preview, and they priced it $1,000, it would sell out," he said. "I think Disney knows this."
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