Now’s the best time to visit Disneyland, as Star Wars land draws away crowds

Opening day crowds at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in May.
Opening day crowds at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in May.
(Hugo Martin / Los Angeles Times)

Now may be the perfect time to visit Disneyland — as long as you have no interest in checking out the park’s Star Wars expansion.

The opening of the much-anticipated 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge drew so many visitors since it opened May 31 that it substantially reduced wait times at all the other attractions in the Anaheim theme park.

In the first week after the Star Wars land opened, the wait at all the other park attractions declined to an average of about 14 minutes, down 28% compared with an average of just under 20 minutes in the week before it opened, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times based on wait times compiled by the travel site Touring Plans.

When compared with the first full week of June a year earlier, the drop in wait times was even more dramatic, declining 46% from an average of more than 26 minutes, according to the data.

Depending on the ride, Disneyland fans could have saved more than half an hour of wait time by visiting the park when most of the crowds were taking in the new Star Wars land.

For example, the average wait time for Splash Mountain was 53 minutes during the first week of June 2018, according to the Times analysis. After Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened, the average wait time for the flume ride dropped to just under 21 minutes.

At Buzz Lightyear, an interactive ride based on the 1995 animated film “Toy Story,” the average wait time was slightly more than 29 minutes during the first week of June 2018 but dropped to just under 10 minutes after the opening of the Star Wars land.

At Space Mountain, the average wait time in the first week of June 2018 was about 64 minutes but dropped to slightly under 45 minutes in the week after the Star Wars land opened.

Park visitors noticed the decline in wait times and began touting it on social media in the days after the new expansion opened.

The Times analysis was based on nearly 85,000 wait times posted on the Disneyland website for each ride and collected by Touring Plans. Disney representatives noted that such data do not take into account the wait times for visitors who use the virtual queueing system called FastPass, as well as the wait times for guests who board the rides through the “single rider” lines.

The drop in wait times was a happy side effect to the overwhelming fan excitement over the opening of the $1-billion Star Wars expansion.

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Disneyland anticipated so much demand that the park required all visitors to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to have reservations during the first three weeks after the opening that limited them to a four-hour window.

The park also adopted a plan, dubbed Project Stardust, that sought to reduce gridlock and choke points by shrinking or eliminating tree and flower planters, moving lines, banning extra-wide strollers and eliminating designated smoking areas, among other changes.

Despite the reservation system at the Star Wars land, Disneyland executives had to adopt a few crowd-control fixes after the opening to handle lines that grew up to two hours long to enter the land’s cantina and a shop where visitors can build a custom lightsaber.

The drop in wait times at Disneyland was expected, said Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York.

When theme parks add new attractions or overhaul aging rides, he said, fans flock to the latest ride, thus reducing the lines at older existing attractions.

“Any major new attraction is going to draw people away from old favorites,” he said. “That is the nature of things.”

Although the “Star Wars”-themed attraction probably increased overall attendance to the park, the opening of the 14-acre land also expanded the total size of Disneyland by about 20%, giving the normally crowded theme park extra room to absorb more visitors.

“Given that increased capacity, continued investment in Disney California Adventure, and a wide range of new products and offerings, guests are enjoying a great experience throughout the Disneyland Resort,” Disneyland spokeswoman Liz Jaeger said.

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The new land, the largest single expansion since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, is designed to resemble a remote settlement named Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, occupied by space outlaws, smugglers and rebels battling, or hiding from, the evil Empire.

The land features two rides, four eateries, one space-themed cantina and five retail shops. Only one ride, the interactive Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, is in operation. The second attraction, the multi-vehicle Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, is promised for later in the year.

The average wait time for the Millennium Falcon ride for the week after the land opened was just over 32 minutes. When California Adventure Park opened its Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout in May 2017, the average wait time in the first week was 118 minutes.

Lewison predicted that the new Star Wars land will continue to draw park fans away from other attractions for six months to a year before lines throughout Disneyland edge back up to pre-Star Wars levels.

“In the near term that is going to remain a hot thing,” he said of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

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