Disney's Star Wars lands generating excitement but trepidation about crowds, too

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An artist's rendering of Disney's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
An artist's rendering of Disney's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

NEW YORK -- The excitement around the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort is only mildly tempered by concerns of overcrowding in the first weeks after the themed lands open in Disneyland on May 31 and Disney's Hollywood Studios on Aug. 29. 

"We would say there's unprecedented demand" for Galaxy's Edge, said Claire Bilby, senior vice president of sales, services and events for Disney Destinations. "We're excited about the announcement of the dates with the lands and the initial attraction. We're also really working to make sure we can deliver as great a guest experience as possible managing that excitement."

Bilby spoke about Galaxy's Edge during an interview at the Discover the Magic Tour 2019 last week, when she highlighted Disney news and updates to a crowd of travel advisors at the Edison Ballroom here.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will have a two-part opening. When the lands first open, guests will be able to experience dining, shopping and character experiences, as well as the attraction "Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run." Later in the year, the land's second attraction, "Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance," will open.

Bilby said Disney will likely learn a lot during Galaxy's Edge's opening in Disneyland, to take place three months before the Walt Disney World opening. For the first three weeks in Disneyland, guests will be allowed in the land by reservation only, which will give the company a chance to see what demand will be like. Those staying in a Disneyland hotel during the opening will receive one reservation.

Disney executive Claire Bilby (center) was joined on stage at the Discover the Magic Tour 2019 by Mickey and Minnie Mouse as well as event emcees Sharon Tipps and Shawn Matthews.
Disney executive Claire Bilby (center) was joined on stage at the Discover the Magic Tour 2019 by Mickey and Minnie Mouse as well as event emcees Sharon Tipps and Shawn Matthews. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

The Walt Disney World opening -- not subject to reservations like the Disneyland opening -- will see some benefits from Extra Magic Hours, in which guests staying at Disney resorts can access certain parks early on designated days, Bilby said.

"I have never been more confident about our operations team planning," she said. "They're really looking at this and planning to make sure we do the best thing. ... But I will say, we do know there's going to be a lot of demand. And are we going to be able to get everybody in on the day of their choice? Probably not, but we're going to work to make sure it's as great as a guest experience as possible."

Agents said their clients are excited about Galaxy's Edge, but do have some concerns about crowding during the weeks surrounding opening day.

"I think they're definitely pumped about it," Ron Hayeck, president of Mickey World Travel in Succasunna, N.J., said. "I think they're kind of afraid to go for opening not knowing what's going to happen, are they going to be able to get in. That's what they're afraid of."

The Star Wars franchise holds wide appeal, Hayeck said, much more so than other recent and popular expansions Disney has added to its roster, like Pandora -- The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando. 

"For Star Wars, there are people in their 60s who are into it, and there are people that are 3 who are into Star Wars," he said. "It appeals to everybody, and there are some crazy Star Wars fans that are going to camp out, and they're going to be dressed in their Jedi costumes waiting to get in to see it."

Hayeck is advising clients who want to see the new land close to opening to expect a wait. He's advising those who aren't interested in it to avoid Disney's Hollywood Studios around its opening.

"I read that there were people waiting the night before for the opening of Toy Story Land, but then after a few days it kind of calmed down," he said. "But Toy Story is not on the same level of Star Wars. That's the big difference."

The opening dates of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge were earlier than originally expected, but despite that Hayeck hasn't had any cancellations or changes from clients traveling to Disney around the opening of the new land.

Sara Fredericks, owner of Dreaming of the Mouse in Kingston, N.Y., said interest in Galaxy's Edge has been "huge."

"I think everybody is excited, just like before Toy Story Land opened, and Avatar -- The World of Pandora opened," Fredericks said. "I think that people are hesitant. They don't want the crowds to encroach upon their Disney vacation, but I think everybody's very excited."

The two-phase opening of Galaxy's Edge will likely be a boon, Fredericks predicted: families will likely hold off on visiting until both attractions are open, keeping initial opening day crowds lower. As it stands, most of her Star Wars-specific reservations have been for a younger demographic of single travelers or couples, those who can easily take a quick trip to both the initial opening and the later opening of "Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance."

Both Hayeck and Fredericks said they are excited about the level of immersion they expect from Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

"The sights, the smells, every sense is going to be engrossed in Star Wars, and I'm so excited," said Fredericks, who intends to visit the park for both openings.

"You look at what Universal did with Harry Potter," Hayeck said. "You look at what Disney did with Avatar. They blew Harry Potter away -- if you've seen the movie, you're in the movie. You've seen what Disney could do with Avatar. I can't wait to see what they do with Star Wars. It's going to be like being a kid on Christmas morning, walking in there and seeing it."

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