It’s 6 a.m., the sun is still waiting to make its appearance in the Florida sky, and we’re sipping hot coffee in front of Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa at Walt Disney World as we wait for our transport to whisk us away to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Currently, the park doesn’t open till 9 a.m., but as media we’re getting an early morning peek at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway attraction.

Entering the park without the crowds, of course, is magical in itself, and entering it so early as the sun starts stretching across the sky and the natural morning light bounces off the “props” and “sets” in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge only adds to the otherworldly setting. We’ve stepped off Earth and are plunging, eagerly, into the “Star Wars” universe.

First stop is Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo, one of the dining venues in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where our breakfast is a feast of galactic dimensions, complete with Rising Moons-inspired overnight oats; Blumfruit muffins; Iktotch toast with maple syrup, berries and whipped cream, and of course, Batuu’s blue and green milk (we had both).

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Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (photo: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

After breakfast and way too many selfies with Millennium Falcon as a backdrop—I mean, who could resist—we ask Amy Ardelean, GM, entertainment and DPI at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, what surprises her the most every time she enters Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. “The attention to detail. The kind of detail that you see here is really one of the most immersive things I’ve ever seen our company ever be able to produce. Imagineering has done such an incredible job. I think also surprising to some is that you don’t have to be a core ‘Star Wars’ fan to really appreciate and love and believe that this is a really special place.” (Check out that Coca-Cola stand we took a pic of – talk about detail).

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Coca-Cola stand in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

And when it comes to details, well nothing quite beats the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction, which uses four different ride systems and is being hailed as one of the most technologically advanced rides ever created for Walt Disney World. To say the attraction is immersive is to put it mildly. As my daughters remarked after disembarking, “That truly felt as if we’d walked onto the movie set.” How to get in on the action—tell your clients to download the My Disney Experience app (handy for a number of things while exploring Walt Disney World, including wait times for all the rides) and look for “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue” on the home screen. Your clients will then be able to view the current status and next steps for joining the virtual queue. The app will indicate when there is no availability for a specific distribution time. Some guests may join backup groups. As long as your client’s My Disney Experience account is linked to their group’s park tickets, and everyone has a valid ticket or Annual Pass and a Disney Park Pass Reservation for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they can enroll everyone in the virtual queue at the same time.

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Voila…you’ve got a droid! (Photo: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

Another highlight while exploring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge—aside from the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction as well as the countless character appearances and hidden gems everywhere—is the Droid Depot, where your clients will get to build a customized droid that they can then keep. With its droid noises, droid parts moving by above you, seemingly abandoned droids piled as high as the ceiling and factory-feel set-up, the shop is mesmerizing, and making the droid is a magical experience…then you get to walk around with it through the Star Wars land and see how it interacts with other droids—it’s pure fun. We also highly recommend making reservations at Oga’s Cantina (we weren’t able to peek in, and we were so bummed, but it’s definitely on our list for next time).

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Exploring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (photo: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

Skipping out of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and back onto the more familiar Earth-bound streets that make up Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, you’ll find Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway—the main attraction on Hollywood Boulevard. The attraction debuted right before the pandemic turned the world upside down, and it’s just the right antidote to what we’ve all gone through this past year. It’s actually the first attraction to feature Mickey and Minnie. We’ll let Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Ardelean tell you all about that.

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Entrance to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway on Hollywood Boulevard. (Photo: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

“When you think about the hero that is Mickey and the heroine that is Minnie, it’s shocking to me that we haven’t [created an attraction that features Mickey and Minnie] before. And so for us at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we are really proud of that attraction. Not only is it really immersive and it’s got a lot of technology in it that is seamless and adds to this whacky train ride, but the fact that it features our boss and that they finally have their own attraction at our parks has been really a terrific addition.”

We won’t give much away about Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, but just a morsel of information from one of our favorite moments—Daisy Duck as a dance instructor, teaching riders the waltz and the conga. Use your imagination…it’s a zany, adorable ride.

We Recommend…

  • Download the My Disney Experience app and use it for mobile food orders. We hadn’t made reservations at any of the restaurants prior to heading to Walt Disney World as we weren’t sure of our daily schedule and wanted to play it by ear, but we placed our mobile orders and the experience was seamless (always found an outdoor table outside the restaurant for dining).
  • One restaurant where we did opt for table service was at Epcot’s Spice Road Table in World Showcase. The setting is lovely and the food, cooked to perfection.
  • We also used the My Disney Experience app to check all the wait times on the attractions—we chose which attraction to ride next based on the wait time and it was always on target.
  • The return of the Park Hopper option—totally worth it. We had Park Hopper tickets and were able to visit all the parks—so long as your clients have a Disney Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit and have the patience to wait until 2 p.m. to visit one of the other parks. Also, they need to enter that first park prior to visiting another. Note: Park Hopper availability might change daily.
  • Great new addition—the new walkway from Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa to Magic Kingdom. It’s about a 10- to 15-minute walk, and it’s definitely convenient if your clients are staying at this hotel. Also, it’s a very pretty walk.
  • A stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa—our family loved its proximity to Magic Kingdom; we love the decor; that it offers access to the Monorail; and the rooms are quite spacious—my family of four was quite comfortable. Also two pools—can’t beat that!
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Safety protocols on board the Monorail (Photo: Paloma Villaverde de Rico)

Safety Protocols in Place, Magic Still Abounds

I hadn’t visited Walt Disney World since they reopened last summer, and yes, I’d seen all the social media posts, videos upon videos, the whole gamut, and heard that when it came to COVID-19 protocols, it was even safer than one’s home, but you know as well as I do that there’s nothing quite like experiencing something first-hand to truly understand how well or not it works.

It works. We were told that there’s a 35 percent capacity at the parks at Walt Disney World, and if the lines to get on most rides is any indication, this is certainly true. Yes, there’s no FastPass+, but the wait times aren’t exceedingly long—although tell clients not to be surprised if they come up against an hour-long ride for the more popular attractions. There is social distancing at all attraction lines (all outdoors), and so the length of the line can be misleading. A reminder to wash one’s hands is everywhere throughout Walt Disney World, hand sanitizers abound, and queues and tables at dining venues are constantly getting wiped down. Face masks are a must, except when actively eating or drinking while stationary, all arriving guests go through temperature checks.

We loved, too, the mini-parades, or cavalcades, that spontaneously pop up throughout the parks—ideal for COVID times as it allows for social distancing without no set times. Also, the Monorail and Walt Disney World buses have safety screens between groups of riders (check out the Monorail image).

For more information, visit disneytravelagents.com.