Thursday, May 14, 2015

Disney FYI - Star Wars Weekends

Walt Disney World is the most Magical place on Earth, but for most weekends in May and June it is the most Magical Place in the Galaxy!  It is one of the premiere Star Wars events in the world.

Star Wars Weekends is truly a special event located in Disney's Hollywood Studios.  It is not so much an event as a party for lovers of Star Wars.  With all kinds of special events, shows, and character meet and greets there is more to do then you can shake a ligthsaber at.  

Lets rundown what all the excitement is about and how to plan for it.  One true key with any Disney World trip is to remember you can not do it all.  If you try you will be hot, tired, and fail.  Learning what is available before you arrive is important so you don't waist time on one thing and then learn there was something else more appealing.  

In 2015 the  First weekend is May 15th and the final weekend is June 12th.  The event runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of each weekend.  Other then the opening weekend Friday is usually the least crowded.  Saturday is typically the busiest.  There is no extra admission required your park ticket is all you need.  We know when it is and where it is, so it's time to talk about what it is.

Rope Drop
To start your day you will need an alarm clock.  If you want to try to experience as much as you can you really need to arrive early.  I know you have heard me say this before but this is a different level of early.  On a day you plan to rope drop and head to a character you want to betoards the front of the crowd.  We arrived at 6:30am.  We were able to be the first ones at our own Mickey Readers but we were not the first ones there.  By 6:45 the line behind us had grown to be over 20 deep. multiply that by 10 - 15 lines and that is a lot of people.  If you are at the back of that it translates into valuable park time you will spend waiting in line for the first character.  Rope drop is not the only game in town for SWW there is also celebrity autograph FastPasses being distributed.  We will get to that later.

With a 6:30 arrival time you will either need to take a cab, drive, or walk.  The buses will not get you there in time they start about an hour before park opening.  The "scheduled" opening for the day is 8am, but they will open the gates between 7:15 -7:30 to let people in and advance up to the rope.  Part of why they do this is to make room for more people to fit between security and the entrance.  We have been lucky enough to walk to SWW.  By staying at the Boardwalk, Beach Club, or Yacht Club you can just walk.  It is about a 15 min walk.  The boat service does not start that early either.  We were able to watch the sunrise on our walk.  

Proof we rope dropped SWW!  No better feeling then knowing there is no one in front of you.

By 7:30 we were in the park and had a spot on the rope.  Were we would wait for about 10 more minuets.  The entire street behind us would fill in.  I am told it backs up through the security gates.  I hope that is never a place I find myself.  Waiting for the park to open but unable to get through security because the crowed is backed up through it.  

Soon two storm troopers on patrol came out and asked us to move along.  They talked for about 10 minuets and it was funny.  Kids and Adults both love the humor of the stromtroopers.  Even if you are not big Star Wars fans you will find them entertaining.  

They released the rope at about 7:52 and we were off.  Doug took the kids to sign up for Padwan Mind Challenge(more on that later)  I made a bee line for Chewbacca.  

I was the second one to the line for Chewbacca.  Doug and the kids joined me about 2 minuets later.  Chewie arrived at about 7:56.  Just a little before the official 8am start.  This picture shows the line before he even made it out to meet.  The line wraps around to the right.  Character meet and greets are much slower moving lines compared to rides.  So all those people behind you at the gate are now trapped an hour long line.
Meeting Characters

By 8:01 we were done with the big fuzz ball.  The kids were surprised how soft he was.  Now we were off and running.

Darth Vader
Next up is Darth Vader.  We waited about 15 min for him.  By the time we were out of line the waited had easily doubled.  The lines do slowly grow over first hour as they still get through security and the gate.  

Darth Maul
Our third stop was Darth Maul.  By 9am we were done with our top 3 Character priorities.  Now we were free to hit more what we wanted.  A trip on Star Tours came next.  And more and more characters.  

Kit Fisto and Mace Windu  we missed Shaak Ti
There are so many Characters to meet at SWW that if that is all you do it would fill your day.  Many of the characters rotate. That makes it difficult to meet them all.

Anakin Skywalker
The Jedi Council characters usually had about a 20min wait most of the day.  You never really know who it will be by the time you get to the front of the line, but the cast member does a good job of trying to tell you.

Luke and Leia  we missed R2-D2 and C-3PO
We got really lucky to get both Luke and Leia.  When they switch out they might do one together.  It was pure luck!  We waited about 30 min for them.  Never managed to get either droid.  The line for these guys is in the blistering sun otherwise we might have tried to get them all.

queen Amidala
We waited about 25 minuets for Queen Amaidala.  She is by her self and you do not have to worry about her rotating out.  

Jango Fett 

Boba Fett
The Fett's always have about 20 to 30 min wait and they rotate.  If you get to the front of the line again before they switch you can just let people pass you as you wait for the next one.

Asajj Ventress
She is a little scary but the kids still talked to her.

Ahsoka Tano
Ahsoka Tano was the true number one priority for the girls(and me)  She is a female Jedi for crying out loud!

Ahsoka and Clair
Clair got a solo shot with her favorite Jedi.

Ahsoka and Samantha
Samantha with her favorite Star Wars Character!

Captain Rex we missed Commander Cody
Alden with Captain Rex.  The people 3 ahead of us got Ahsoka with Rex when they switched.  We tried and tried but never timed it right to get Commander Cody.

Captain Rex
We got a few of the boys and Rex.

To make meeting some characters easier they added two different meal options during Star Wars Weekends.  A breakfast with bad guys at the Sci-fi.  We have dining review of it HERE.  The best part is you get to sit down in air conditioning and eat while meeting characters. It beats standing in the sun and meeting them.  It is a true time saver when you look at who you meet at the meals.  Several of them are walk around type characters.

Stormtroopers are also walk around Characters out side of the meal so it was nice having an organized meet with them at a meal.

Boba  Fett and Darth Vader
When you first come into the meal you get a picture with Darth and Jango.  Between the 2 of them it is worth about an hour and a half if you did not get Darth at rope drop.  This picture alone is worth the price of the meal when you think about the time involved.

Darth Goofy
Another meal involves you favorite Disney Characters in Star Wars costumes.  This meal is at Hollywood and Vine and at Dinner time.  A full review is found HERE.

Stormtrooper Donald
Like the breakfast with Darth, this meal saves you valuable time.  If you were trying to meet all of the Disney characters in their Star Wars gear it would take a while, because the use one location and rotate.  The rotating characters makes it easy to meet one, but difficult to meet theme all.

Jedi Mickey
Dinner here was good with Star Wars themed names on all the food.  

Minnie Leia
Minnie really liked the girls hair.  
Ewak Chip and Dale
Got a picture with Chip and Dale as Ewoks.

Meeting characters that are not normal in the parks is a huge highlight for my family.  We made character meet an greets a top priority.  It is hard to put a value on a conversation with Ahsoka or Anakin.  It is not even close to all we did during SWW, but it started the day and then gets sprinkled throughout.  The location and availability of characters changes from year to year.  One of the best online resources for characters is Kenny The Pirate.  Here is his SWW page.  He up dates it as soon as the first park map is released.  So, if you are heading to the very first day you will have to see whats new or changed.  Everyone after that has the aid of people that went on day one.  

Moving on:  Meeting Celebrities!
Lines for meeting celebrities at 6:30am on a Friday
One of the neatest things during SWW is meeting celebrities from the Star Wars Universe. Unlike many Star Wars conventions it is free to meet them and get an autograph.  You just need a FastPass to do it.  Getting that FastPass can be rather easy or difficult depending on the person you want to meet.  The weekend we were there in 2014 the celebrities were Ray Park(Darth Maul), John Ratzenberger(major Bren Derlin), Taylor Gray(Ezra Bridger), Ashley Eckstein(Ahsoka Tano), and the host of SWW James Arnold Taylor(voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi).  The lines for Eckstein and Taylor because they have done it for years and are there most weekends.  That eliminates most locals or regulars from wanting to meet them again.  But the other 3 rotate and you see three different people each weekend.  

Lines at 6:45 on Saturday.
We got in line about 6:45 on Saturday for Ashley Eckstein and had no problem getting a FastPass.  In the times guide they tell you what times they meet.  She only had one time slot.  So we knew how to plan our day so we could see her.  If we had wanted John Ratzenberger we would have need to get in line at about 10pm to 4am.  Some where in that range.  The first people in his line said they got in line when the park closed the night before.  When we arrived by 6:30 his line was all the way back to the boat dock and not everyone was guarantied a pass.  Ray Parks line was also ridiculous.  I heard 5am was when his line got long.  The other three 6:30 to 7 would work.  

The Fastpass is not like other paper fast passes.   It is a wrist band.  Each celeb has a different color.  They wright the date on it so you can't cheat and use it tomorrow.  Everyone that wants to meet the celeb has to be in line to get their own pass.  You are not allowed to transfer passes either.  You can also only hold one pass at a time.  So you cannot just jump in another line as soon as you get through one.

We met Ashley Eckstein the voice of Ahsoka Tano.  She is the character that has gotten my girls so interested in Star Wars. With out her this could have been just a guys trip.  I am so glad that we experienced SWW with the whole family.  Clair got right up next to her, you can just see the top of her head under the "s"  Sam had some great questions for her.  One was how she did such different characters.  She gave half of the answer talking like Ahsoka and the other half talking like Mia the Blue Bird from Sofia the First.  Clair asked her if she had meet Sofia.  We talked for about 3 to 4 minuets.  

At the end we got a family picture.  She was really nice and both kids and parents thought it was really neat to meet her.  She also really liked my shirt and the girls, because they are ones she designed.  She has a clothing company called Her Universe that sells woman's and girls clothing.

Biggest draw back is they don't start passing out Fastpasses until 7:00am so when we got in line for the gate we were back a little ways.  This was our rope drop view.  Compare that to the other day and you can see a significant difference.  Good thing is we got all our top rope drop priories done yesterday, this day we actually headed to Toy Story Midway Mania.
The best part after the trip and at home the kids would bring up their conversation with the "real Ahsoka"

Parade Time

The parade is extremely cool and is not to be missed.  With that said no one else wants to miss it either. It is not a very long parade route either.  This creates lots of demand and very few spots on the curb to watch.  Also one side of the street starts in the shade and the other stairs straight into the blazing hot Florida sun.  So we spit up  Doug took the stroller and Clair and camped out in our spot while Sam, Alden, and I continued to meet characters.  Doug headed to find a spot at 9:00 after meeting Darth Maul for an 11:00 parade.  The picture shows his location.  From the stage down this is as close as he could get to the stage and still have the curb.  The best spots were already taken near the stage.  50 min later he tweeted this picture out of boredom.

From about 9:30 to 10:00 the Stormtroopers harassed guests as they came in.  It was a constant stream of people coming through the gates.  They had just moved into place when Doug took this picture so people stopped to watch.  They mostly told people they missed the best show of the day(the opening) and that all the Darth Vader cupcakes were gone.  On a normal day at the Studios the park would have just opened, but today people had been through the gates for almost 2 hours already.  This picture also illustrates the shady side already occupied while the sunny side is open at 9:30am.

A view the other way at about 10am.  We had returned as Doug claimed it was getting hard to hold the space.  You can see the sunny side is now filling in while the shady side has rows.  We brought the kids' electronics in to entertain them while waiting.  The sun was also starting to creep in on us.

10:05am we got some entertainment with some water art.  

At 10:30 you can see we are clearly packed in and it is a constant battle to telling the kids to stay in their spot and not move.  Clair has the best seat in the group.  The guy right behind the stroller kept complaining about our stroller taking up space but it really did him a favor.  We stayed sitting down, so him and his kids had a great view over the top of the stroller.  There were people that sat on the curb for 2 hours then stood up right as it started.  If you have a seat you should stay in it.  

Finally it started to roll down the street at 11:00.   You can see people on the other curb that stood up once it started.  Don't be that guy.  Watch the parade how you waited for it.  Also don't try to shove your kid in front of people.  If you really want little Sally to see it then get a spot and wait like everyone else did(ok rant over)  

It starts out with Disney characters.

Still no pants for Donald.

Now the bad guys!

Some More bad guys.  

Lots and lots of bad guys.   

Other random bad guys round it out.

Now for the good guys.

Captain Rex coming through.

Lastly the Celebrities come through.  All the Celebs that are present that weekend come through the parade.  

They are usually accompanied by their character.

Chopper is from the new Rebels show on Disney XD

John Ratzenberger.  

The parade stops at the stage for a short 10 minute show.  Nothing truly exciting happens.  We headed as close to the stage as we could with out getting to crazy fighting through crowds.  We could hear what was going on.  

I was able to zoom in and get a shot or two.  After the show the celebrities get back in the cars and head back down the parade route from where they came.  So if you want to see them go back you can.  Most people will leave once the parade is over and you can grab a spot and see them head back.  The are moving a little faster the second time but you still can see them head past.  If you were late to the curb to get a spot you can see the rest of the parade as it goes from the stage over to Star Tours.  Most of the parade heads that way.  Only a few characters and the celebrities stop at the stage.  You can get a spot in this area much later but you don't get to see the celebrities.  Either way the parade is cool loved by young and old.   After the parade we headed to a lunch reservation so we did not have to stand in line at a quick service location.


One of the best parts of SWW is the shows.  They are hosted by the celebrities and they give a great insight to the Star Wars universe.  There are several different shows to pick from.  You can also use a Fastpass+ to book the shows.  They can form huge lines so a FastPass is not a bad idea.  The only draw back of using the FastPass is that it is a tier 1 selection so you would not be able to book Toy Story Midway Mania or Rocken' Roller Coaster.  Each weekend can have different shows available depending who is there.  There is almost always one centered around the cartoon series.  We watched this in 2014 it was hosted by Ashly Eckstein.  She interviewed Taylor Gray (voice of Ezra Bridger) they also showed clips of the up coming new show.  They were extremely strict about no cameras during the show due to the sneak peeks.  

The main show is the Stars of the Saga show.  If you were going to go to one show this would be it.  It starts with the Stormtrooper pre show.  It is hilarious.  They spent time discussing their Magic Bands.  If you want to get a taste of it there are tons of videos of it on YouTube.

After the Pre show is over James Arnold Taylor comes out to host.  He starts by talking about his work as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He also demonstrates his vocal range by doing a ton of different characters in just a few sentences.  It blew the kids minds.  

Next the other celebrities come out and it is a talk show.  They go through their work on Star Wars and other TV and film.  With John Ratzenberger they talked more about Pixar and Cheers then Star Wars, because he only had 3 lines.  

At the end Jedi Mickey comes out to close out the show.

Over all the Show were very entertaining and fun to watch.  A 4 year old had no problem being entertained. 


There are lots of neat food and snacks hiding around every corner of SWW.  From the special meals to cupcakes.  The special character meals were mentioned earlier in the Character section of the post but here are the two reviews.  Jedi Mickey dinner or Darth and Company Breakfast.

My advice for lunch is to eat early or to book a table service meal.  11:00 is my recommend lunch time if you are eating at a counter service. If you were there at rope drop you should be plenty hungry by now and could even eat earlier as some places open at 10:30.  This is to avoid standing in line for food for an half hour.  This is true on any busy day at Disney World.   I like Back Lot Express because you can refill your drink to take with you and there is AC for most places to sit.   ABC Commissary is the other recommendation for counter service.  It is large and well Air conditioned.  Food is OK but the AC is great.  Pizza Planet has a simpler menu but is also inside.   Several other counter service locations only have out side seating and this is not a time of year you want to deal with that.
If you book a table service meal it can be any time that works for you.  We like to have a lunch booked on the day we plan to watch the parade.  

Another tip is to drink lots of water.  Ice water is free anywhere there is fountain drinks.  


Samantha and Alden did the Padawan Mind Challenge.  It is a trivia game that takes place several times a day.  Each time has a different theme.  We got the kids into the Clone Wars one.  So all the questions from from the cartoon series.  There was also a family version.  If you remember way back to rope drop Doug took them to sign up for it.  There is not a huge rush for Padawan Mind challenge first thing.  The spots usually take the first hour of the day to fill up.  It is not nearly as crazy as signing up Jedi Training Academy.  It only took a few seconds to sign up.  We pick our time and were on our way.  They give you a time to meet at a staging area and they go over the rules.  

They head to the main stage where the host goes over the rules.  

They save a spot for the parents right up front.  They raise one colored light saber for answer A and the other for B.  They are told not to look around and see what others are raising, but cheating is rampant.  In the end they all get the same prize so it really does not mater.  The cheating out of the parents is kinda sad.  Plenty of parents tell their kids the answer.  The parents even get warned a couple times.  Over all it is fun and the kids have a good time.  

here they are truing to decide what color to raise.  

After their eliminated they get in a group in the back of the stage.  They can still play along with the help of Ahsoka.   I recommend this show for the weekend because it is only available during SWW.  They also got a captain Rex action figure.  Samantha and Alden both wanted to do it again.

Jedi Training Academy is the large draw for the kids.  You must and I stress must go directly to sign up first thing.  If you want to do both shows you go to Jedi first then to Padawan Mind Challenge.
Jedi is offered everyday of the year.  So if you are in Hollywood Studios on a non SWW day I strongly suggest doing it then to free up your SWW time.  
 When you sign up you must have the child with you.  They will give you a return time. 

Its a cute show and the kids have lots of fun.  

Even Clair battled with Darth!  
The biggest advantage to doing it on a non SWW day is the size of the class is smaller.  They double up the class during the weekend.  Half fight Darth Vader and have fight Darth Maul.  They put the kids with Maul down on the ground so they are harder to see.  Plus you have twice as many parents to contend with.  

PhotoPass(Memory Maker)

If there is ever a time to take advantage of Disney's Memory Maker it is SWW!  With all the special character meet and greats you can get so many great photos!

One of the great things is you can get a picture with everyone.  We also use our regular camera.  If you give it to the cast member they will take a picture for you.  

They also had several other Blue Screen photo ops.  Here Samantha was in front of a blue screen and then you get a picture of her fighting Darth Vader.


One neat thing is using the Aurasma App.  This app allows you to point your phone at a back drop and it then puts a character in with you.  The character will walk around and move.  

The app lets you snap a picture with your new friends.  

In conclusion you should defiantly get to Star Wars Weekends.  If  you are a causal fan you will have a great time.  If you are a super fan you will have a blast.  The night ends with Fire Works to Star Wars music.  There are lots of things I didn't even cover with just this one blog post.  We were still able to work our favorite rides in as well.  

With one, two, or three days you can have fun, just plan what is most important to you.  Some people could care less about meeting characters others will skip the parade.  Find what you want to do and schedule around that.  Once you have your plan "Do or Do not, There is no try"