Just before school started this fall we took an end of summer break trip to California. Although we were originally just going to visit with friends in the San Jose area, we decided to make a hop over to Disneyland before heading home. We hadn’t been there in six years. At that time our now four-year old hadn’t been born yet and the last time we took a trip to Disney it was to Orlando two years ago. One of the big draws for us as big Star Wars fans was of course Galaxy’s Edge. Carsland, which is unique to California was also an big draw for our boys. Disneyland did not disappoint!
We were happy to be in Anaheim as we knew that the Galaxy’s Edge opening happening 2500 miles away in Disney World was going to be crazy busy (we heard about the 300 minute wait to ride the Millennium Falcon) and although we like new shiny things as much as the next person, we are more likely to hang back a bit until the hype dies down a bit. I had been reading on several Disney travel blogs that Galaxy’s Edge crowds in Disneyland were not as insane as had been predicted, possibly due to only one ride — Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run currently being open. (The second ride which is supposed to be one of the largest productions in Disney history – Rise of the Resistance is not due to open until January 2020 in Disneyland and December 2019 in Disney World.) That fact, coupled with the start of school for many parts of the U.S. meant that we should be in pretty good shape in terms of Disney crowds. And happily that was the case.
In terms of photography, Disneyland is a photographer’s dream, well at least it is for me. Disney is just so comprehensive in its theming that I want to take photos of every little detail and the fireworks productions are really second to none. Galaxy’s Edge is especially transportive. Disney really wants you to feel and believe like you’ve landed on another planet – Batuu to be exact. If you talk to any Cast Member (the term Disney uses for its park employees) – he or she will speak “in character” as a citizen of Black Spire Outpost – the settlement which is the setting for Galaxy’s Edge. Any reference to anything in Galaxy’s Edge will not refer to it as a theme park, but as an actual locale on a different world. Before we get to the photography tips for Galaxy’s Edge, I want to share with you some general tips first. I mean, you gotta get there first before you can take photos right? Okay here we go…
General Tips for Getting Into and Successfully Navigating Galaxy’s Edge
- Download the Disneyland app on your phone before you go. One of the most useful parts of the app is to check out is the map with the wait times for rides. Although you won’t know for sure what crowds will be like until you are there, there are general trends, as well as days which are most likely to have large crowds such as holidays and special events. Websites like WDW Prep School and Undercover Tourist also offer Disney crowd calendars which are especially helpful in planning your trip.
- Boarding passes will most likely not be needed (for now). When I was first researching Galaxy’s Edge, I read that it might reach capacity at which point Disney would issue “boarding passes” which would give people appointed times to enter the land. Also, your stay in Galaxy’s Edge could be limited to 4 hours. This was not the case during our visit on Tuesday and Thursday of the last week of August. We lined up to get into Disneyland just before the park opened at 9:00 a.m. which is known as “rope drop”. Neither day had capacity issues so we could walk in and out without issue. As of late, it doesn’t seem boarding passes have been necessary (easily checked in the Disneyland app). Crowds are lighter than normal from what I’ve read and experienced firsthand. However, when the new ride Rise of the Resistance opens in Disneyland on January 17, 2019, expect this to change. Crowds may be artificially lower now as folks might be waiting for the second ride to debut before planning a Disneyland visit.
- Magic Morning is not really that helpful if your first stop is Galaxy’s Edge. You may be familiar with Magic Morning which allows Disney hotel guests to entry an hour earlier to a specific park (either Disneyland or California Adventure on alternating days) than those not staying in a Disney property. However, not all lands are open for Magic Morning. Only Tomorrowland and Fantasyland were open early went we went. So logically, we figured that we would go to the Galaxy’s Edge gate that borders Fantasyland/Frontierland. Upon our arrival there before the park’s official opening at 9:00 a.m. we thought we were in good shape until a Cast Member arrived and told us that this gate would not be opened until 30 minutes to an hour after the others. He said if we waited here we would be behind everyone else at Galaxy’s Edge. Okay – like how were we supposed to know that? It ended up okay though as we walked around to a small path on the west side of the castle where only a handful of folks were ahead of us at a smaller side entrance to Frontierland. Presumably, only Magic Morning people were at this gate. At 9:00 a.m. the ropes were dropped and we made the mad rush with hundreds of others toward Galaxy’s Edge. We made our way around the riverfront past New Orleans Square and through Critter Country into the Smuggler’s Run queue and it took us about 45 minutes to finish the wait and ride. We had two young kids in tow, one in a stroller so we weren’t moving super fast, just a brisk pace. Most people were going around the same pace as us. So, my big tip if your first objective is to ride Smuggler’s Run in the morning, is to go before rope drop to the main Frontierland entrance and wait there. According to park staff which we clarified on our second day, the Frontierland gate is opened first. That’s why even though the walk is longer as it shows on the map, you’ll get there first because they open the Frontierland gate first. I would suggest asking a knowledgable park staff person when you get there for changes or updates. The second day we got through Smuggler’s Run in about 35 minutes including ride time.
- The shortest wait times for Smuggler’s Run are at meal times and before park close. If you don’t care about getting on Smuggler’s Run first thing and crowds are not heavy where they could close up access and turn on the boarding pass system, you could wait until lunch time. (Around 12:30 p.m. we saw wait times consistently about 30 to 35 minutes the week we were there. I checked the app out of curiosity even when we were in California Adventure – the neighboring park.) Dinner time was similar. The shortest waits were at closing time. I think I saw 10 minute wait times and no visible line outside about 1/2 hour before closing – it was probably a pretty short wait time even before then too. A lot of folks probably watch the nightly fireworks or Fantasmic which frees up the normally busy rides.
How to Get Character Photos in Galaxy’s Edge
Unlike in other areas of Disneyland, you won’t find pre-printed show schedules or lines for photo ops with Kylo Ren. Character appearances and other encounters happen organically (or I should say they are “planned” to be feel organic when in fact they anything but). When we first entered Galaxy’s Edge with the throng of people who lined up at rope drop at 9:00am, we were greeted by Chewbacca who was preparing to work on the X-Wing fighter. While I slowed my pace a bit to record a short video of him with my phone, most everyone kept walking right by to get in the line for Smuggler’s Run which was for newbies like me – at some unknown point somewhere up there. (No worries – park staff direct you as you get closer. Just follow the herd.) After we got through the ride, we could relax a bit and look around for characters. Or should I say the characters were looking for us.
- Meeting Rey. Rey surprised us while we were poking around the shops by the X-Wing fighter. My son was busily exploring with the Disney Play app on his father’s cellphone – looking for QR codes to scan. She started chatting with my son. She was so casual and unassuming my son largely ignored her because he was too busy with the app. I guess for an 8 year old, getting to play with his dad’s phone was more interesting than meeting Rey. She will pose for pics but there aren’t official lines to do so. She was really sweet and I thought she bore a really good likeness of Daisy Ridley from the movies.
- Meeting Kylo Ren. Although we did not see a pre-printed schedule of “show times” I had overheard someone asking a Cast Member about character appearances who told us to hang around the TIE Echelon (Kylo’s ship) at 11:30 a.m. It wasn’t until 11:45 a.m. however that he appeared. He left the stage shortly thereafter to walk around and interact with the crowd but not before giving a less than stellar performance review to an apparently under-performing employee of the First Order. How would you like Kylo for a boss?
- Stormtroopers. You’ll see these guys patrolling Galaxy’s Edge looking for resistance rebels and accompanying their leader Kylo Ren. The key to getting a good picture is to interact with them in character. My son told a stormtrooper that he spotted some rebels in Oga’s Cantina. They thanked him and walked off while my son happily boasted that he had tricked them. Sometimes stormtroopers will photobomb. Plenty of folks just take selfies.
- Meeting Vi Moradi. You’ll likely spot Vi lurking around corners and generally evading the First Order all around Black Spire Outpost. Admittedly I had to look up the backstory on this character after we got home. My son told me who she was because he saw her photo and info in the Play app. While we were interacting with her, a pair of stormtroopers walked by and we had to help block her from being spotted by them. That was fun!
- Meeting Chewbacca. Again, no official lines. Accompanying Cast Members told us Chewie decides if he has time to pose. You’ll typically find him by the X-Wing Fighter. Whoa he’s tall!
- Meeting “Unknown Lieutenant” This First Order officer seeks information on rebel spies and attempts to draw recruits to the First Order.
Don’t forget about the other inhabitants of Black Spire Outpost. The planet hosts plenty of interesting citizens, creatures and droids to encounter!
I had to look these guys up on the Disney Parks Blog. I had no idea who or what these creatures were but my son identified the sarlacc.
More on Disney to Come
Hope you found some useful information if you’re planning an upcoming trip to Galaxy’s Edge, or that you just enjoyed getting a glimpse inside Black Spire. This is based on our personal experience at Disneyland – I can’t say firsthand if things are very different for its newly opened counterpart in Orlando, but from what I’ve read, character interactions on both coasts are the same. If you enjoyed this post, stick around – this is just my first post recapping our recent vacation to “The Happiest Place on Earth” – stay tuned for more Disney-centric posts to come!