Ah, the things we do for friends. I'm always the sort of person who tries to help a friend out whenever I can because of course real friends always are there for each other. A few weeks ago Len Testa, coauthor of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, asked me to help out with Star Wars Weekends. Naturally I gravitated towards the opportunity as I'm always there to help Len with any Studios related challenges. Testa then told me he wanted my assistance in putting together some touring plans for the Studios and I instantly said "Sure!" but it wasn't until when I sat down to write these touring plans that I quickly realized the problem of trying to create some good touring plans for Star Wars Weekends.
There are two major issues for anyone who wants to plan their Star Wars Weekend touring and I ran into both of them when I came up with my touring plans. First, there's a lot of different events and some only occur a couple times or just once per day. The other problem is the 2009 schedule of events is not available and the times of events, and even what events will be held, change from year to year. Given these obstacles, I consulted the last few years schedules and used them as a guide to coming up with my touring plan. It's a lot like how a weatherman predicts the weather; they look at where the storms have been and based on that gauge where it will go next and similiarly, I used event information from the past few years to come up with what I'd reasonably expect to find in 2009. So keep in mind that these touring plans may not be perfect once the event comes but Len will be the first to admit even the worst touring plan is better than no touring plan at all.
The first touring plan is the plan for Parents with Small Children. Basically, this plan is aimed at families with small kids that want to take advantage of Star Wars Weekends with an eye for keeping the kids happiest. The touring plan includes all of the stage shows and character encounters, however, I opted to skip the celebrity autograph sessions. The reasoning for this ommission is that I feel that small children are likely to find the lines long and the process tedious. Let's face it, showing up 3 or more hours before the park opens to snag a FASTPASS for some guy that likely won't mean a whole lot to a 6 year old is a recipe for disaster when the child loses their patience. Instead, the plan focuses on the events and characters that are at Star Wars Weekends and trying to sneak it all in. The event has somewhat shifted in recent years in my opinion to focus more on children than adults and so there's a lot for kids to see and do. Keep the events as a priority and use character meet-n-greets as fodder between events to take up time. Keep in mind that nearly all the character meet-n-greet opportunities are outdoors so it's important to give kids a break from the elements, such as having one parent wait with your kid(s) in the shade somewhere within viewing of the line and the other parent actually wait in line.
The second touring plan is for adults who want to get a celebrity autograph. Of everything there is to see and do at Star Wars Weekends, getting an autograph is the most difficult simply because of the large demand for autographs. You will find many guests showing up as early as midnight of the night before the day of events. Last year, there were even some guests who simply never left the Studios and camped out by the entrance beginning when the Studios closed the night before. The good news is you don't have go to those extremes to get an autograph but you will be sacrificing some quality sleeping time to be assured of getting one (besides, you can sleep at work when you get back home!). I suggest arriving about 3 hours before park opening, so that's about 6am. You will find a large line already there when you arrive. Last year columnist Glenn Sonoda arrived at about 6:30am and found this line waiting for him, if you don't believe me. One thing to keep in mind is go for the celebrity line you want to see the most. I've found that sometimes even after you get your FASTPASS, there will still be an opporunity early in the morning to get a FASTPASS for another less popular celebrity, such as the celebrity host.
Beyond what I've included in the touring plans, it's important to keep in mind that Star Wars Weekends is three days long. You don't have to try to do it in one day. Believe me, it will be MUCH easier to experience it all if you split what you want to do up over the span of the three days. Due to the fact that Florida in May and June gets very hot, get to the Studios early and do what you can in the morning and then take an afternoon break to get out of the heat. If you break up Star Wars Weekends over three days with afternoon breaks, I think you will find the entire experience much more manageable and enjoyable.
Lastly, once the schedule of events for 2009 comes out, take some time before you go to prioritize what you want to do to make certain you get what's important to you and your family done. Be sure to enjoy the Stormtroopers show that is above the park entrance each morning and check out the wonderful costumes that fans have in the morning Star Wars parade. Hopefully these plans will help with getting it all done and certainly I hope that my buddy Len appreciates the thought that went into all of this, although I'm sure I wont mind much after the next meal at Disney World he brings me to.