This past weekend was the first weekend of Star Wars Weekends and while Star Wars Weekends is an event I look forward to every year, some of the events' flaws were starting to really show after 2010. Star Wars Weekends had become so succesful in terms of attracting more and more people that limitations were starting to show and there was definite cause for concern in 2011. After experieincing this year's event, I can tell you that the changes made for Star Wars Weekends have been a great improvement.
If there's an unofficial theme to Star Wars Weekends this year it's crowd management. I found the two biggest flaws of 2010 were addressed this year: merchandise location and crowd management. Last year we saw Star Wars Weekends merchandise sold at the Prop Shop store that is between Studio Catering Co restaurant and the exit to the Backlot Tour. It was a cramped area and a real dissapointment. It was outdoors, crowded and cramped. Since the Soundstage One location that had been used for many years wasn't available, Disney added a temporary indoor tent to the area behind Rock 'n Roller Coaster and that was wonderful.
The merchandise tent this year was quite large, air conditioned and even featured some nice photo opportunities such as Luke's speeder from Tatooine. I really thought it was a good addition, even if it was located far away from the Star Wars Weekends events. I'm willing to walk a little bit more to have the luxury of an indoor location that has plenty of room.
The other major change this year was the addition of a multi-purpose stage in front of the Sorcerer's Hat. After last year, everyone complained about being crammed into the Jedi Training Academy area for events such as the Hyperspace Hoopla. With the reopening of Star Tours, it seemed impossible to do that again so this year, Disney staff did their homework and got a stage that was installed for the opening of Star Tours as well as Star Wars Weekends but will continue to be used beyond these events for July 4th. It's a win-win situation: guests get a large venue to enjoy performances while Disney gets more bang for the buck.
When I checked out the Hyperspace Hoopla at the Sorcerer's Hat stage this year, I was really pleased with how things went. There was definitely much more space than ever before. My only complaint would be that they should have simulcast what was happening on the stage on the large television screen over the stage like they do for events such as ESPN the Weekend.
Another nice touch for crowd management was opening the park early. The official park hours for the first weekend were 8am to midnight. On Friday, Hollywood Studios let guests in a little after 6am. On Saturday, guests were admitted at 7am and Sunday saw the park open about the same time. These unannounced earlier openings really helped squash the large lines that would normally form before the park opened. Granted, much of these extended hours had more to do with the grand opening of Star Tours than Star Wars Weekends, but I hope it's the start of a trend that continues for the rest of the weekends.
After seeing the first weekend off to a great start, I want to congratulate the folks at Disney for addressing two major concerns that came out of last year's event and fixing them both. I tip my virtual hat to the people in charge of planning this year's event and if you're going to Star Wars Weekends this year, be sure to see events like the Hyperspace Hoopla because the crowd concern shouldn't stop you anymore.