To take advantage of the early entrance to Walt Disney World, you must stand up (wait for him) early and be in the parks before the park opens. This article discusses whether it’s possible to accomplish this at EPCOT or DHS by relying on Skyliner gondolas, rather than paying extra for Uber, Lyft, or a Minnie Van.
During a recent multi-night stay at the Art of Animation Resort, I thought rise and shine for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure putting the Skyliner to the test. My goal was to see if it would be possible to use air travel to get to these two parks before the wait times skyrocket for this trio of attractions.
To understand why this is important, it is worth reading Disney’s Hollywood Studios Early Entry Report: Three-Figure Triumph Triumph and Early entry to Epcot: better than Genie+. These are a few months old, but nothing in my experiences of this round was materially different. (I’ll probably do an EPCOT post again as there were tweaks, but the DHS one would be a remake – and not a good one like pete’s dragon. More like Aladdin Where The beauty and the Beast.)
Next, some important caveats. First, the following are my purely anecdotal experiences with using the Pop Century and Art of Animation station Skyliner. The same would have applied from Caribbean Beach or Riviera Resorts, as these are closer to the two Skyliner parks.
Second, those days at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios were 6/10-8/10 on the crowd schedule (depending on the park and day). Average wait times throughout the day for headliners like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Test Track and more. other attractions were all over an hour – several were over 90 minutes.
It should also be noted that these tests occurred on days when EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened at 8:30 a.m. It’s been the norm since Spring Break, and both have extended their 8:30 a.m. opening sequences until at least August 27, 2022. Parking hours beyond that are boilerplate, but we anticipate this will continue through at least early September 2022.
It wouldn’t make much sense to extend the hours until the end of the August off-season, but not do the same for Labor Day weekend. Whether the trend continues after that through September – typically the slowest month of the year at Walt Disney World – remains to be seen. Even though September gets later openings, it’s likely that Walt Disney World will return to the 8:30 a.m. opening hours from October through December 2022, as those months are likely to be among the busiest of the year.
Currently, each Skyliner route operates from 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Aside from a short time during the “peak” of the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in late 2019 and early 2020, these are the longest hours we’ve seen for the Skyliner.
It is possible that the opening time will change to 7:30 once the fall off season arrives, but hopefully not. These opening hours have been fairly consistent for this spring and summer, as far as we know.
This is highlighted as it may change the calculation of using the Skyliner for early entry. As we have seen in the past, morning crowds are worse with late departure times and better with earlier departure times. It’s because people like to sleep in on vacation, or so I’m told. This narrows the pool of attendees for early entry as the start time moves earlier.
Likewise, starting the Skyliner at 7:30 a.m. puts more pressure on the system, because those who want to take advantage of early entry really want to be at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or EPCOT around that time.
Anyway, I left our Cars room at Art of Animation Resort around 6:50am both mornings. At this point, the Skyliner was already gliding overhead and there was a slow trickle of guests heading towards it from both Hourglass Lake Value hotels.
Wanting a fast internet connection to score places in the virtual queue for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, I opted to do it from the hotel before getting on the gondola.
It didn’t matter much. There were no queues for the Skyliner, with some cabins completely empty.
It may differ on other mornings depending on the level of crowds, so don’t expect zero waits or a cabin all to yourself. The rides were fast and pleasant morning breezes that might make you think these would be pleasant days in Florida. (They were not.)
The real test would be at the central resort of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, where guests from several thousand additional rooms could converge and create a more chaotic situation.
Between that busy summer vacation period and remembering how bad the lines were in the past, I was bracing myself for the worst coming out of CBR. Luckily, that wasn’t even remotely the case.
I got here at 7:10 or earlier both mornings, and there were never any crowds or queues. If I had stood there and counted the guests, I probably would have found a handful more heading for Hollywood studios, but even that was hardly a line.
There were overflow queues in place, and none of that was being used.
In my experience with Skyliner and other stations, these lines actually fill up around real opening of the park.
Even though all on-site customers have access to Early Entry, the start time is an insurmountable obstacle for many families. Getting up and out before 7:30 a.m. or even 8:00 a.m. is a non-starter. Others may not be aware of early access or the fact that they are eligible.
For my flights to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I again had cabins all to myself.
I was even able to “slow walk” one of the lines to be placed in an envelope-free gondola en route to EPCOT. It wasn’t possible heading to DHS, but it’s also a much less photogenic flight.
No one joined my cabin at Disney’s Riviera Resort.
I didn’t even see somebody there outside of the Cast Members. It always seems to be the least crowded Skyliner station.
The Speedway gas station was actually busier than the Riviera Resort gondola station. It also has gas below $4 a gallon – $3.90 last I saw, for those keeping score at home.
Not really relevant to the subject of this article, but everything has gone well so far, so not much else to say.
My Skyliner landed at EPCOT’s international jetway around 7:20 a.m. Still 40 minutes before the official start of Early Entry.
In the photo above you can see a small crowd gathered outside the Skyliner exit/entrance waiting to enter the park.
Here is an overview of this same line from the exit of the Skyline station.
This line does not go to bag control. These guests are held roughly aligned with the left side of the photo. I would say there were less than 100 guests ahead of me in line. The number was slightly higher at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but that also has more headliners to disperse guests (and all are a bit of a hike, meaning you can make up for lost time en route to the rides) . At both parks, my first ride of the day was a literal walk.
Keep in mind that I didn’t line up for the Skyliner before it started running and didn’t line up at 7:00 sharp. I boarded Art of Animation around 7:02 and took my time to take pictures at the Caribbean Beach station.
Nevertheless, I was part of the first wave of guests in both parks. This put me in an ideal position to do Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure plus Frozen Ever After and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance plus Slinky Dog Dash (separate mornings, obviously).
Ultimately, using the Skyliner for early entry to EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios should be smooth sailing to beat the crowds at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance plus Slinky Dog Dash or Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Frozen Ever After. I was able to complete both headliners at each park, as well as other attractions, with minimal waiting for early entry. Taking the Skyliner didn’t put me at a disadvantage.
That said, the asterisk is that it requires park hours, gondola operating hours, and attendance to be comparable to those experiences during the summer season. Changes with mob levels alone shouldn’t move the needle much – I would expect it to work the same on Thanksgiving or Christmas assuming there is no reduction in hours. (That last part is really critical – it’s the hours that are crucial to the success of this approach.)
From my point of view, walking from the Crescent Lake Resorts remains the optimal strategy since you control your own destiny. However, this is not easily achievable unless you are staying at these hotels. The main takeaway here should be that there’s no need to jump through hoops or spend extra on taking an Uber, Lyft or Minnie Vans from Skyliner stations. The gondola is perfectly nice and there’s enough room for error that even if things don’t go perfectly, the Skyliner is still the best way to approach Early Entry from Barefoot Bay or Hourglass Lake resorts.
Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Learn more about the hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page. To find out where to eat, read our Walt Disney World restaurant reviews. To save money on tickets or figure out which type to buy, read our tips for saving money on Walt Disney World tickets. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips article takes a unique look at smart on-the-go items. To know what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride guides will help you. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Travel Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Did you use the Skyliner for early entry to EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Were you able to beat the crowds at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, Frozen Ever After or Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure? What time did the Skyliner start running when you did this? Would you recommend the Skyliner or use Uber/Lyft? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Questions? Hearing your feedback – even when you disagree with us – is both interesting for us and helpful for other readers, so share your thoughts below in the comments!