Walt Disney World’s $1 billion attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, opened early Thursday to capacity crowds and lines as long as five hours, a much busier debut compared with the California version of the land in the spring.
In Orlando, some Star Wars fans were on hand as early as 3:30 a.m. to be among the first to see Disney’s investment.
Thousands were let into the land around 4:45 a.m., more than an hour earlier than the original 6 a.m. scheduled opening of Hollywood Studios, where the new attraction is located.
For theme park devotees, Thursday was the equivalent of Black Friday shopping — a controlled chaos that was enjoyable nonetheless.
“I’m still on the high,” New Jersey vacationer Adrian Vazquez said. “I haven’t slept in about 24 hours.”
Megan Bender and Robert Trevelyan, both 28, of Lake City, got engaged in front of the Millennium Falcon.
About 6 a.m., the line to ride the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run stretched outside Galaxy’s Edge, all the way to the Chinese Theater, by the stairs leading to Toy Story Land, said Len Testa.
“Cast members were fantastic. Everyone was telling you were to line up. No one was grumpy,” said Testa, who runs Touring Plans, a guide for Disney vacations. “The guests weren’t grumpy because of that.”
It was a different world than Disneyland, which required advance reservations. Testa said he just walked straight in on its opening day.
In Orlando, some waited five hours to ride the Millennium Falcon, although the line wait time fell to 2 1/2 hours by lunch. It was only 75 minutes by early evening. Throughout the rest of the land, the main walkways were open, although lines formed to buy a $6 Coca-Cola shaped like a thermal detonator and at the more expensive shops.
Instead of dressing like Disney princesses, little girls wore their Rey outfits. One, 9-year-old Elouera Pappas of Tampa, wore a BB-8 droid costume her mother made out of papier-maché for Halloween.
The early crowds meant Disney workers arrived in the wee hours of the morning, too. One worker smiled cheerfully and joked she took “coffee through an IV."
Disney managed the park by using online reservations once the attraction was full, a method that will likely continue as the crowds remain high, employees said. But using the Disney app to get a virtual spot in line was confusing technology to some.
“Not everybody is Geek Squad,” said Pam Larson, an annual passholder from Fort Lauderdale who was annoyed about the complications to get inside.
She arrived at 6 a.m. at Hollywood Studios and stood in line for an hour to buy exclusive opening day merchandise before it sold out. Now, Larson had to figure out how to use her Disney app to actually get into Galaxy’s Edge.
She was tired from not having slept. She had problems with her hotel. And now this.
For Disney, both Galaxy’s Edges in California and Florida are finally open, and the company is starting to reap the rewards of its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012.
“It’s important to the company. It’s one of their most expensive IP [intellectual property] acquisitions,” theme park analyst Dennis Speigel said. “It would be the Harry Potter of Disney.”
Walt Disney World’s Galaxy’s Edge has the potential to boost the company’s quarterly earnings, although the impact likely will be felt more in November and December, said Speigel, who runs Ohio-based International Theme Park Services.
“It’s coming at the end of the [summer] season, but it’s leading into Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I think it’s going to be bonkers at that time,” Speigel said.
The transformation of Hollywood Studios, which has lagged behind Disney’s other Orlando theme parks in attendance, is almost complete.
The second and more sophisticated Star Wars ride, Rise of the Resistance, opens Dec. 5 at Hollywood Studios.
Disney Imagineers gave a sneak peek of it to the news media this week. In one scene, Disney-goers are captured in a Star Destroyer and face an intimidating line up of 50 Stormtroopers in front of a massive space window while live employees scowl in First Order uniforms.
Disney is also building a Star Wars hotel, which Speigel said is expected to open by the end of 2020, designed to make guests feel like they are on a cruise in space.
“The best is yet to come,” Speigel said.
But amid the upbeat crowds Thursday, an ominous force was lurking, barreling toward Florida — Hurricane Dorian.
The storm could hurt Disney’s pocketbooks if local passholders stay away, Orlando International Airport cancels flights and out-of-towners delay their travel plans.
When Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, Disney shut down the theme parks for two days and Disney Cruise Line canceled three cruises and shortened two others. It ended up costing Disney $100 million, the company later said.
Marla Howard of Deltona bought canned goods and water on Wednesday to prepare for the storm.