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Star Wars Weekend 2009 Weekend One Impressions

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The first Star Wars Weekend is officially in the books. And as usual, SWW did not fail to impress. While there are still three weeks left to go, I wanted to share some of my impressions, especially for those you are planning to attend in the next few weeks.

The first major change was the distribution of celebrity Fastpasses. As I mentioned last week, in previous years guests lined up by the turnstiles for one of three celebrities. As the line grew, cast members then escorted the line into the park in order to avoid overcrowding. The line inched to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular Fastpass distribution before the park opened. At rope drop, while the majority of guests were headed to rides or signing up their kids for the parade, people in search of a Fastpass were stuck in line until they made their way to the machines at Indy. This year, however, was a different story.


The lines started next to the ticket booths on the ride side of the Studios entrance. From there, lines for Ray Park, Jay Laga'aia, Warwick Davis, and ther merchandise line snaked their way toward the security check point. There was no needless shifting of the line, no inching toward the middle of the park. Once you got in line, you stayed there. An added bonus this year was the fact that cast members intended to hand out passes well in advance of park opening; 8:15 am to be exact. The idea being that people could get their fastpasses for autographs, then get in line for park opening. Finally, guests are able to join the rest of the crowds and grab a fastpass for their favorite attraction early on, or, more importantly, head to the Event Information table so parents can sign their children up to march in the parade later in the day. The new distribution method is a huge improvement over last year's, and I hope they continue it.

The only criticism I have, however, is the unruliness of the guests. This is not necessarily a Disney problem, but an unintended consequence of the new distribution method. I found that as overzelous fans got their Fastpass, they immediately went back into line for another one. And that's fine, in fact, I think its a fantasic opporunity for guests. The problem I have is that these guests that jump back into line seem to forget that other people are around them and bump into them, cut them off, or cut in front of them altogether. Its not the most magical way to start the day off, and hopefully can be addressed with a more defined queue system perhaps.

I have found SWW to be usually planned very well. Last year I thought there few hiccups, even on the first Friday of the event. However, this year, I found the event to be lacking of information. On several occasions cast members either had no idea what I was talking about or refused to share information. For example, when I went to Wicket's Warehouse, the first cast member I spoke to about a merchandise list insisted that one did not exist at all. Another cast member did not to hand it out at all. When I went to the information table and asked to see a schedule of SW characters, the times they would be appearing, and their locations, the cast member said she couldn't share anything like that with me. Of course last year, I was able to look at the schedule with no hassle at all. In another example, I arrived at the Premiere Theater before the first showing of the Behind the Force show. While I remembered that last year, crowds mostly waited in line behind the Muppets Theater, on other occasions, the line started right outside the Premiere Theater. This year, the cast members stationed at the entrance told me a number of things. One even told me that the entrance to the Premiere Theaterwas actually on the other side, near Lights, Motors, Action. It was frustrating.

While individual cast members are not to blame, Disney's poor distribution of SWW event information to its employees is to blame. While not necessarily something that will ruin the memory of SWW 2009 for me, the lack of information and the reluctance to share it ws really dissapointing. Hopefully this can be chalked up to the fact this was only the first weekend and such a big event can be a bit overwhelming. However, if this problem persists as SWW continues, then Disney needs to re-examine how it informs its cast members to better prepare them for SWW next year.

Finally this week, what stood out was the failure of the merchandise line. As was mentioned previously on our sister site, the first Friday of SWW is usually the most crowded in terms of merchandise. No other day you will find such a line of people trying to get into Wicket's Warehouse for limited edition merchandise. Last year, the merchandise line proceeded much like the celebrity autograph Fastpasses. This year, however, guests received a wristband with a color on it. Depending on who you asked, Disney planned on limited the amount of people in Wicket's at 20 at a time (or 100 at a time...again, the problem of misinformation really made it hard to figure out what was really going on). Guests were supposed to report to Wicket's no later than 9:15 am with their wristband. Depending on the color, you would have priority for entry. Well, that all self-destructed shortly after park opening. There were no limitations on the people entering...just a very long line that did not move much at all. After a while, it seemed as if standby guests were just allowed in with people with wristbands. It was as if Disney decided the system wasn't working and gave up on it altogether.

Disney's idea for getting people into the merchandise line was a "one step forward, two steps back" situation. The first Friday of SWW is madhouse at Wicket's and some sort of system that lessens the never ending line would go a long way to improving the event as a whole. But when that system is immediately abandoned, then you are a lot worse off. Disney had something there with their wristband system, but the idea needs to be improved on for next year.

Last weekend's SWW event was just as fun as last year's. Some major improvements to the Fastpass distribution really made the event that much better. But the event is still not free from problems. A proper plan for the merchandise line and making event information more readily available can really make this event nearly flawless.