What to know if you go

By I12BAJEDI

The ABCís of Disneyís Star Wars Weekends

A five-year veteran shares tips on how to make the most out of your Star Wars Weekends

The Star Wars Weekends at the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida is one of the huge high points in my year. As a lover of both Star Wars and Disney, I am always more than delighted to get the chance to attend this huge event. 2008 will be my sixth year, and over the course of the last five events Iíve compiled a list of the most important things to remember for those who are just joining the fun. So, sit back, relax, and find out the ABCís of the Star Wars Weekends.

Autographs: Every weekend during the event, Star Wars fans are joined by at least two of the people that made Star Wars happen. In 2003 and 2004, these celebrities only included actors, but in 2005, Disney brought a new dimension to the autograph experience; true behind-the-scenes people like John Goodson (concept modeler) and others. 2006 and 2007 went back to actors only, and each of those years also included a celebrity host (Warwick Davis in 2006 and Jay Lagaíaia in 2007) who was present all four weekends as a sort of Master of Ceremonies. Spots for autograph sessions are very limited, so many die-hard fans are at the park entrance at 2 a.m. to guarantee themselves a spot. 

Hereís how it works; you stand in a special line for the celebrity of your choice (in 2007 Disney modified these lines so that they begin outside the park; four turnstiles were marked off, one for each celebrity and one for the merchandise area). Before the park opens, your line will slowly advance to special FastPass ticket booths, located by the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, where your park entrance ticket will allow you to receive one Autograph FastPass, good for a certain autograph session. At the time stamped on your ticket, you will return to the location specified and meet the celebrity one-on-one for autographs and photos. But remember, EVERY member of your party that wishes a particular autograph MUST physically be in line; no one person can receive more than one FastPass ticket, no matter how many entrance tickets they show.

The special guests will (usually) autograph almost anything, from postcards to t-shirts to lightsabers, but black-and-white celebrity headshots are provide free of charge for those who just canít find the perfect thing to get autographed.

BringÖ

                Öplenty of water, or plenty of money with which to buy the overpriced water for sale around the park. The summer temperatures here in Florida rarely drop below 80 degrees at night, and can soar well above 100 degrees during the day, so it is very important to keep hydrated.

                Öa camera. With Star Wars characters strolling the streets, cool Star Wars backdrops, and celebrity appearances, you will definitely want to have a camera handy. Kids will love to have their pictures taken with Princess Leia or Darth Maul, and so will adults! Plus, a camera is essential for celebrity encounters, so you can prove to your friends that, ďYes, I really did meet Jake Lloyd!Ē Keep in mind, though, that some attractions donít allow the use of cameras.

                Öan umbrella. Florida weather is quite unpredictable; one minute itís sunny and scorching, the next, itís cloudy and thunder is rumbling. One day last year I neglected to bring an umbrella with me and ended up soaked to the skin after a short but heavy downpour. And no matter how good it feels to be wet when youíre outside in the sun, itís absolutely miserable once you get inside to air conditioning.

                Ösunscreen. Even on the cloudiest days, the UV index is extremely high, and unless you are very resistant to sunburn, you will get cooked. Iím sure everyone has gotten a terrible sunburn on the first day of their vacation one time or another, so youíll know what I mean when I say that sunscreen is a very good idea.  Make sure to reapply it every four to six hours, even if you donít feel like you need to. Itís better to be safe than sunburned.

Come early: The park opens at 9:00 a.m. most days, but with die-hard fans arriving at 2 a.m., by that time the lines can stretch to well beyond the security checkpoints. I find that the best time to arrive at the park is 6:00 to 7:00; usually the lines are moderate in size and you can be sure of getting a guaranteed or early standby autograph return time. Of course, the wait can be very boring, especially if you have small children with you. Be sure to bring something to occupy your time; a staple to bring for kids is a lightsaber or two for dueling with siblings, or Gameboys. Teens and older folk can read the latest copy of the Insider or an EU novel, or chill to their iPod. Star Wars background music is playing the entire time, but the selection repeats every 15 to 30 minutes and can get somewhat tedious. (blasphemy! :p)

For those staying at Disney Resorts, each park opens one hour early on one day of the week. Usually, Disney-MGMís early admission day is Friday; the park will be open at 8:00 but none of the Star Wars events will start until 9:00. On these days the autograph lines will begin moving through the turnstiles at about 7:30 instead of 8:30 like other days.

Donít bring or buy more than you can handle: In 2004, I made the mistake of bringing handheld Disney merchandise bags to carry my lightsabers and autograph materials around with me. It turned out to be very annoying, as there was no way to carry it except in the hands. In 2005 I got some sense and packed all necessities in a backpack, which I promptly ďpersuadedĒ my twin brother to carry for me (can you say Jedi Mind Trick?). :p Also, I wouldnít buy anything huge unless youíre planning on returning to your hotel room right away; some of that stuff, like the Big Figs, is way too enormous to be hauling around a theme park all day. Iíve seen plenty of fans who buy giant bags full of merchandise (think about as big as a large rolling suitcase) and have to carry it with them for quite awhile. The most-used option is sending your package to Parcel Pick-Up (near the entrance; where you can pick it up at the end of the day), or you could store it in a locker on theme park property for a nominal fee. Another thing to remember, folding chairs are not allowed in the park. In 2007 many people brought their chairs to wait in line with and were told they could not bring them inside the park.

Eating: Food is very important. (Like, duh.) There are plenty of choices around the park, from ice cream and pretzel stands to sit-down restaurants. If youíre in a hurry, a snack or counter service dining area will be best. Most of the sit-down restaurants take quite awhile and the waits are very long. However, if you wish to eat in a table service restaurant, you can get Priority Seating for the restaurant of your choice at Guest Services when you enter the park. Make your reservations early, locations like the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater fill up fast! Counter service places are more numerous, and offer a good selection from hamburgers and hot dogs to tabouleh wraps and fish and chips. Unfortunately, the quality of food at the Counter Service locations is average at best. If you donít have a big appetite, or (like me) tend to get too excited to eat, there are snack carts selling popcorn, pretzels, fruit, McDonaldís fries, and ice cream all over the park. Of course, nearly every location has vegetarian selections as well.

Fans: Of course, the greatest thing about the Star Wars Weekends is the opportunity to meet thousands of your fellow fans from all over the country. Iíve even seen people from Great Britain come to the weekends! And no matter how much of a fan you are, or whether itís your fourth year or your first, most will welcome you gladly. (See: Are You a True Star Wars Fan?) Itís truly a pleasure to be around so many other people that love the same universe; itís the only place Iíve ever been where adults can carry lightsabers and not be thought of as weird! Also, many fansites have meets set up in which fansite members all get together for group photos and real-life chat. Itís a great way to meet fellow Star Wars fans, so if youíd like to meet some of us, follow the links to sign up at the message boards and let us know youíre coming!

Great Music!: This goes without saying. How can you not love hearing Star Wars music booming out of speakers every minute of the day from before the park opening until 7:00 at night? Itís paradise! (Well, almost.) My only complaint is the fact that they rotate the same 6 or 7 tracks in each location, and when you like to keep your favorite track ďspecialĒ by not listening to it all that oftenÖ well letís just say you arenít a happy camper!

Hyperspace Hoopla: At the Star Wars Weekends, every day (weather permitting) closes with this wacky stage show. Includes singing (a Star Wars version of Y.M.C.A.: Y.O.D.A.), dancing (the audience is encouraged to join in), lots of Star Wars characters, and corny Star Wars jokes (example: Why couldnít Luke use the Force to pin his note to the bulletin board? Because the Force is used for knowledge and defense, never for a tack.)

*rolls eyes*

Go at least once, and if you like it, itís certainly worth a second viewing!

Information: For any and all kind of event information, an information table is set up about mid-way between the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and the Star Tours stage. Here you can get park maps and times guides, sign up for the childrenís trivia contests, and find the character appearance times. The staff is nearly always friendly and helpful.

Jedi Mickey: The light side of the Force has a new ally; one with big ears, a tail, and a permanent smile. Who is it? Jedi Mickey! Kids and adults alike will love to get their picture taken with the newest addition to the Jedi order. The times guide will tell you his appearance times. The Sounds Dangerous area is used for this special meet-and-greet experience.

Kids: Some of the biggest Star Wars fans are also the smallest, which is why there are several Star Wars Weekends events just for kids. A big favorite is the Jedi Training Academy, where randomly selected kids (mostly under 8 years old, though a few older ones get in) get Ďrealí Jedi robes and lightsabers and learn how to fight with the lightsabers. The event ends with the students using their skills to defeat the dark side, fighting the evil of Darth Vader and Darth Maul. This event, held approximately 9 times per day, is always packed to capacity, so get there early. Every kid gets a Jedi Training Academy certificate.

The second just for kids event is the Padawan Mind Challenge, which tests kidsí Star Wars trivia knowledge. And everybody wins! This event is in high demand, so two times are available. But you still need to sign up quickly; most spots are gone before 9:30 a.m.

Lightsabers: Bring Ďem. Wear Ďem. Play around with Ďem. DONíT hit other people with Ďem! Kids love the toy sabers, but many adults prefer to bring the Force FX lightsabers rather than the toy ones. In my opinion, the Force FX sabers are too bulky and long to comfortably carry around since they donít collapse. I usually carry the fully-collapsing non-lighting-up toy saber; itís easier for me to deal with.

Merchandise: One thing about the Star Wars Weekends; thereís usually spectacular merchandise. The T-shirts, baseball caps, and mugs are great, and thatís not even exclusive merchandise. There are limited edition coins (these are awesome), limited edition pins, and more. Usually, every weekend sees the release of two more exclusive limited edition pins, which in past years have been very remarkable and in high demand. All of the limited edition stuff is in such high demand that Disney sets up an entire waiting line just for buying merchandise. Fans stand in line for up to three and a half hours just for a chance to get  inside the store and buy something.

Nighttime Events: The Star Wars Weekend event closes at 7:00 p.m. with the Hyperspace Hoopla, but the park stays open. So, what to do? There is a special laser and fireworks show at 9:00 p.m. nightly (weather permitting) called Fantasmic. You want to be at the theater at least 90 minutes early to reserve the best seats. This is a spectacular show and well worth the time.

Other Attractions: You canít spend your entire weekend doing Star Wars stuff (or can you?), so be sure to check out the many other attractions at the Disney-MGM Studios. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is very popular, as are the Rockiní Roller Coaster, the Great Movie Ride, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and the newest show, Lights, Motors, Action. There are also shows for the kids; Beauty and the Beast, Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour is a lot of fun, but itís a 45 minute ride and if you have an autograph session or some such, you wonít want to go on it because, unlike the shows, you canít just walk out. When Lights, Motors, Action joined the MGM show circuit, much of the Backlot Tour was cut, so now the ride is only about 20 minutes long. Still, plan accordingly.

Parades: The day officially begins with the Legends of the Force Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade. This parade contains costumed characters, the weekendís celebrities, and special guests like members of the 501st Fighting Legion Florida Garrison. The best place to view the parade is by the Star Tours stage, where the celebrity welcoming ceremony and spectacular photo-opportunity takes place directly after the parade. Also, a non-Star Wars parade takes place late in the afternoon: the Disney Stars and Motorcars Parade. If you love parades, fine, attend, but if you canít stand the thought of seeing Roly Poly Olie dancing down the street, I recommend you skip it. KEEP IN MIND, though, that a good portion of the park will be blocked off for this parade; you need to be where you want to be BEFORE the parade starts.

Queen Amidala, along with many other costumed characters from the Star Wars saga, are always present for autographs and photo opportunities. Favorites include Jango Fett, Darth Maul, and Luke Skywalker. You can even trade with the Jawas!

Resorts: Of course, itís cheaper to stay off-property for the Star Wars Weekends, but part of the Disney experience is staying at a fun hotel. There are many resort hotels on Disney property, ranging in price from the very affordable Port Orleans Riverside to the very luxurious Grand Floridian, and everywhere in between. The Pop Century resort is quite popular, as are the Fort Wilderness and Polynesian resorts. Every resort has either a monorail station or a bus stop within walking distance from any room, and if you want to drive to the park of your choice, parking is free. Keep in mind, though, the Extra Magic Hours you get from a resort stay are no longer a way to get into the Star Wars Weekends event lines early.

Star Tours: What visit to the Disney-MGM Studios would be complete without Star Tours? Itís a fun experience, even for 200+ time riders. During the Star Wars Weekends, however, the lines can get very long, up to an hour. Your best bet would be to get a FastPass, but during parades and early in the morning the wait time can drop to 10 minutes. For the best ride, request the back row (Row 5); it is far more intense than any other row, and thereís the big plus of being closer to the main exit!

Trivia Contests: This is without a doubt my favorite part of the Star Wars Weekends event, and there are several trivia events to choose from. First is the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-Play It! Star Wars Edition. This is a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style game in which the entire audience plays along and every single question is about Star Wars! Itís tons of fun; I always go to both showings every day Iím there. The loading area opens about 25 minutes before the show, and ten randomly selected guests are given special cards that allow them to sit in the Ďfastest finger rowí. (Again, the entire audience has a chance to get in the Hot Seat, not just those in the FFR.)

Second is the Tatooine Trivia Trials. This is a first-come-first-served game; you MUST register very early as all spots are usually gone by 9:45 am. Fifty contestants battle it out through three grueling rounds of play to see who gets the title of Star Wars Trivia Master! The prizes are awesome, including (in past years) die-cast replicas from Code 3 Collectibles, action figures and Unleashed figures, mugs, t-shirts, games, and more! Be careful, though. My friends and I used to enter every single weekend, but the new rule from last year is that once you win a prize, even if you take 3rd, you cannot participate in the event for the remainder of the Star Wars Weekends. Some really nice Disney Cast Members were trying to get that rule overturned, but I think that such a thing would be unlikely. So, be prepared!

Unfortunately, Disney closed down both of these events in 2007. The Tatooine Trivia Trials was sorely missed by many, and the myriad complaints may cause Disney to bring back the event in 2008, though donít get your hopes up! The WWTBAM stage has been taken over by an in-construction ride that is rumored to be based on the popular Disney/Pixar film Toy Story.

Utinni is a very popular word! Use it around the Jawas; they may find it amusing.

Video Games: For the past two or three years, a video arcade featuring nothing but Star Wars games has been available. Most of the games cost money, like Podracer and Jedi Starfighter, but in 2005 a classic Ď80ís Atari-type Star Wars game/ ďsimulatorĒ was available for free play. Unfortunately, in 2007 this attraction was also cut from the SWW schedule.

Wave your Jedi-mind-tricking hand at a Stormtrooper if it seems like heís stalking you. It works every time!

Xylophones are not permitted inside the park. At least, I hope theyíre not.

You need to seek shade often during the day, especially in the afternoons. The temperatures can reach 97 degrees, with the heat index a sweltering 110, and you donít want to fall over from heat stroke, do you?

Zebras! Okay, yeah, that was random. But I think Iíve covered pretty much everything you need to know, so go forth and have fun at the Star Wars Weekends!

For more information on the upcoming Star Wars Weekends 2008, check out the official thread on forums.starwars.com.

May the Force be with you,

-- i12bajedi :)

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