Black Spire Outpost, Batuu (aka Disneyland, Anaheim, California) (CNN) — Disneyland's most ambitious new land ever, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, opened on Friday, and my 11-year-old daughter and I were there on day one.
We learned things you'll want to know, whether you visit sooner or later -- some by following in our footsteps, but largely by learning from our mistakes.
Since we left, numerous people who noticed the custom droid my daughter carried asked us the same question: "How was it?" But pre-teens have a tendency to give monosyllabic answers. In this case, "Great!" or "Fun!"
But here's the full answer to the question of how our time on opening day went. It may have concluded with "great," but it was actually a roller coaster of anticipation, minor annoyance, excitement, boredom, thrill, impatience and excitement again, fun, full blown annoyance, happiness and ending on a perfect moment that made up for all the previous frustrations.
Until June 23, all Disneyland guests who get a reservation that includes Galaxy's Edge (Disneyland hotel stay required) will only have a 4-hour window to explore the 14-acre Star Wars playground.
Our window was from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. on opening day, and so we spent the morning and early afternoon enjoying other rides in the park, including the new and improved Space Mountain -- now an exciting Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain -- an amuse-bouche for our final destination.
At 1:45 p.m. we casually strolled up to one of the entrances for Galaxy's Edge, where we were informed we needed special wristbands with our names and times on it in order to enter. The location to get them was back at Hyperspace Mountain, on the exact opposite side of Disneyland. So we walk-ran back there and got our bracelets. It was very quick because there was no line -- everyone else had read the instructions and knew to get their bracelet earlier.
A droid oil bath on Batuu.
David G. Allan/CNN
We walk-ran back, only to file in behind a clone army of Star Wars fans marching into Galaxy's Edge. The park-exclusive John Williams score played as we entered Black Spire Outpost, the spaceport on Batuu, the planet where our 4-hour clock began ticking.
The massive line snaked through the park, past the Marketplace, Droid foundry and Cantina, with some people wisely breaking off to do those first while the majority of us were pulled toward the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, as if in a tractor beam.
I'm an OG Star Wars fan, born in 1973, the perfect age to grow up with it. I don't understand what fills people's psyche who don't have Star Wars there. I've run a half marathon, dressed as Han Solo. There's a life-size cutout of Rey in my basement and an original Kenner X-Wing and Han Solo in my office. I visited the Norwegian national park Hardangervidda where they filmed the battle scenes of Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back." I'm the level of superfan that is just one shade lighter than those 501st Legion Stormtrooper cosplayers. My daughter never really had a choice though, as I carefully and methodically indoctrinated her into the cannon. She likes it, but was more excited about Harry Potter World at Universal. J.K. Rowling is her George Lucas.
A landspeeder makes its public debut on opening day at Disneyland's newest expansion.
David G. Allan/CNN
So as we walked through Galaxy's Edge, I was more the kid than she. "Look, an X-wing fighter!" I pointed out to my daughter. "Over there is a land speeder, like Luke's in the original movie!" "That's a TIE echelon ship, only found here!" "Hey, it's Rey," indicating a character cast member who bore such a striking resemblance to Daisy Ridley I wondered for a moment if was really her. After all, I saw Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Billie Dee Williams there two nights earlier at the official dedication.
I had been in Galaxy's Edge for the press sneak preview in which a ragtag rebel army of journalists got to tour much of Black Spire without the crowds. My daughter, I thought, had the best tour guide. I even wrote a story that published that morning about the 10 things you must do when you visit. (Spoiler: We did 7.5 of them). I knew the precise coordinates to navigate Galaxy's Edge to maximize our time, I confidently thought for only the first 20 minutes.
When she finally saw the Falcon for the first time, my daughter's reaction was similar to mine. "Wow! It's so big!" Yes, the scale and detail are both impressive.
Months earlier, at the first press walkthrough in the then-unfinished land, I texted my wife, "I was just on the Millennium Falcon!!" even though she's never quite understood my devotion to this ancient religion. She replied: "The real one?"
The "real one?" I thought about that odd question for a moment. What is the real one? The scale models used in the films? The portion that they build for a movie scene? The original 1979 Kenner toy? This is the first time a full-size, 100% complete Millennium Falcon has ever been built. So, "Yes," I replied, "The real one."
The crowds quickly filed in around the fullscale Millennium Falcon on opening day.
David G. Allan/CNN
Just before we lined up to go into the Star Wars land, the wait time for the Smuggler's Run ride aboard the Falcon was 30 minutes, according to the Disneyland app. When we entered Galaxy's Edge, the wait was 75 minutes. By the time we entered the ride's building: 90 minutes. The FastPass line was not open (yet, annoyingly and inexplicably, some families were let through that nonexistent line).
Our actual time in line: 2 hours -- or half our entire time allotted in Black Spire Outpost -- just to one activity. They marked our wristbands so we could only ride once, but who would have time to do it twice anyway?
I explained to my daughter that we should do Smuggler's Run first because it was the only "must," but as time vanished down the Sarlacc pit, it became clear that we made a critical error. If we had waited until the end of our window, they wouldn't have kicked us out of line and we may have saved a precious 90 minutes to see other things. But the longer we stayed in line, the less we felt we could leave because of all the time wasted. Economists call this bad choice phenomenon "sunk costs."
The big brains at Disney had a solution to long waits, though: The Disney play app has Galaxy's Edge mode that allows you to scan the QR codes on various containers to see what's inside, create your own online character and translate signs written in Arebesh, the galaxy's common language. But because we'd been using my phone at Disneyland all day for MaxPass and wait times, my phone died 20 minutes into our long stay in line. So much for that.
The author's daughter (left) pilots the "fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy" on the Smuggler's Run ride.
David G. Allan/CNN
I slipped on my Han Solo shirt and vest just before we finally made it into the part where animatronic Hondo Ohnaka (a character from the animated Star Wars TV shows) explains the mission. Excitement was fully restored.
Then my daughter and I were given pilot cards, which relegated the family of four with us to the crew jobs of gunner and engineer. The pilots fly the Falcon. Gunners get to shoot. Engineers mostly watch.
Then excitement turned to thrill as we walked down the iconic corridor and into the holding bay of the Falcon. As we marveled at the movie-perfect interior, I offered my pilot ticket to the family in exchange for an engineer one, explaining the hierarchy and that I'd already ridden it twice. Disney cast members are encouraged to do mitzvahs like this as part of their job, which I love. They call them "magic moments," but religious traditions labeled them much earlier.
My karma was immediately rewarded because being an engineer meant I could fully soak in my daughter piloting the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. My daughter was so thrilled, grinning widely the entire time, which was my thrill.
She and her copilot flew so poorly that they broke the hyperdrive and instead of lightspeeding out of an asteroid field as I had when I flew, they had to shoot their way out. Every trip on Smuggler's Run is slightly different, based on how well you fly and shoot, and because they broke the Falcon, our adventure was extended.
Impatience and excitement again
Back on Black Spire Outpost, it was as bustling as the city-planet Coruscant, and we made a straight shot to the one thing my daughter wanted to do after the ride: build a droid. So did many others. With less than 2 hours left we got in an hour long wait to spend a $108 for a custom-designed, foot tall BB or RD unit.
At least this time we could take advantage of waiting outdoors. I got my daughter a $5.50 Sprite with an Arebesh label and in the shape of a round thermal detonator.
And I got a glass of green milk around the corner. They didn't want to sell me the sea cow milk from "The Last Jedi" because they ran out of the frozen kind. I'd already tried the Blue milk (of "A New Hope" fame) and didn't care for it, so I talked them into selling me a cup of Green (7.50 "credits") even though it lacked the frozen slushie consistency. My daughter took one sip (and only one) saying, "I don't like it. It tastes like a melted green Skittle, but creamier."
I also walked next door to Savi's Workshop where you can build your own lightsaber. But I was disappointed by a cast member that explained "Savi is no longer taking appointments for the day." Kyber crystals must be hard to come by.
But the best tip, especially if you find yourself in a droid factory line, is to take turns going into the back part of the shop where a fully interactive R2-D2 resides. He talks to you and follows you around, and for only $25,000 you can pull an Uncle Owen and take him home to your moisture evaporator farm.
My daughter returned from her R2 encounter fully smitten and excited to build her own sidekick. As we finally entered the building she was enthusiastically talking a mile a minute about color combinations she wanted to try.
Guests of Batuu assemble remote controlled BB and RD droids they color coordinate themselves.
David G. Allan/CNN
Assembling a remote controlled droid was my daughter's happy place, combining some key things she loves: creativity, design, building things and toy ownership. She quickly chose BB over R2 and dithered over colors before settling on a red and silver look.
Meanwhile, I was geeking out on all the spare parts on display, pairing up heads and limbs to films. A red Threepio arm on the conveyer belt. A DUM-series pit droid from Watto's junk shop in "The Phantom Menace." And a model of my favorite droid of all time, K-2SO from "Rogue One."
My daughter took her bin of parts to the assembly area and after a minute of us realizing we needed help to get started, I flagged down one of the human attendants to help us assemble the pieces.
Full blown annoyance
Opening day means things won't go smoothly, I realize. And that became painful evident as the droid factory attendant had trouble getting the head of my daughter's BB to connect to the body. Then she couldn't synch up the remote control. She kept asking help from others who knew little more than she did. "I got a bad feeling about this," I thought.
If it weren't for the fact that we had only 45 minutes left in our Batuu window, I wouldn't have sweated it. But after the third failed attempt to make my daughters' droid work, and trying multiple new interior motors in an effort to troubleshoot what was clearly a bad motivator, I asked to talk to the Jawa in charge, I mean the manager.
I explained that our window of time was running out and due to the lines. "And now they can't get the droid to work. We've wasted another 10 minutes we don't have because folks don't know what they're doing."
The author's daughter carefully chooses her droid parts.
David G. Allan/CNN
The manager listened to my complaint and then infuriatingly asked me what else we wanted to do at Black Spire Outpost. "Everything else!" I said. "That's my point. We haven't gone to the Marketplace, Cantina, Den of Antiquities or even just fully looked around. The lightsaber shop is closed. And we haven't even eaten." I looked at my watch. "We have 43 minutes left and we've only done two things, and now we're stuck here trying to make a droid work that we've already paid for."
My hope was that he would be authorized to give us more time, but when he began to reason with me that we still had time to get some food, I thanked him for nothing just as my daughter proudly held up her operational BB,(which she later named LR for "Little Red"). She wanted to look at accessories for it but there was no time to spend more money on that.
Opening day was so crowded that some of the best views were found by looking up.
We went into Docking Bay 7 to order food, and got in a line, of course.
After weighing in on what she was interested in eating, I sent my padawan to the Marketplace to scope out a gift for her little sister who couldn't join us on this trip to the Outer Rim.
As a vegetarian I was excited to order the one thing I'd already tried and loved: the Felucian Garden Spread, a hummus, pita and veggie meatball "kefta." But when I went to order they explained I was too late. They stopped serving it at 4 p.m. I regretted not prioritizing lightsabers and vegetarian lunch.
We sat down with our dinner just as our window of time ended, assuming they would still let us eat. I ran out of the Docking Bay to purchase a porg puppet (at exactly 6 p.m.) for my other daughter at the creature shop.
We hadn't done everything I wanted, but my daughter didn't know what she was missing and was so enamored with LR that we just relaxed for a moment and enjoyed each others' company. We were both impressed by the Docking Bay's design, admiring the shipping container areas you could sit in, the tangle of light wires overhead and the rumbling sounds of transport ships taking off.
The author and his friend, Chewbacca.
I loved the Ithorian Garden Loaf of veggie meat and mashed potatoes but my daughter was less enthused by that and her cold Yobshrimp Noodle Salad. She thought the sauce was too "sourish" and would have preferred it heated up but thought the coldness somehow felt more "in-universe." After one sip of fruity Moof Juice, she passed on another. But she had high praise for the chocolate cake and mousse Batuu-Bon.
When we finished, it was 30 minutes after our 4-hour window had closed but we decided to press our luck and see if we could look around before we were asked to leave.
"They should have Stormtroopers kick people out!" my daughter said, hoping we would be escorted out of Batuu like rebel scum.
Ending on a perfect moment
We walked out of the hangar and noticed there was no line at Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities. The cast member at the door didn't look at our wristbands as we entered.
We didn't buy anything, but I loved pointing out movie props hanging on the walls and upstairs. My daughter was also impressed with the vintage lightsabers and enamored by the cute Yoda walking stick. We picked two up and batted at each other. "Mine! Mine!" I shouted in my Yoda voice, an impression from his fight with R2 when we first meet the Jedi Master on Degobah in "Empire."
Then we walked past the Cantina where there was still a long line, and around the Marketplace so I could show her the Death Star trash compactor monster from "A New Hope" that lurks in a green vat of liquid above the water fountain. I noticed new Easter eggs like in the droid oil bath area where you could spot old "Clone Wars" B1 battle droids in a cage, as well as an Imperial probe droid like the kind Chewbacca blows up on Hoth in "Empire."
The cast members didn't seem to be looking to shoo us out though. The opposite in fact. They chatted us up about our porg and droid purchases and gossiped with us about how Chewie and the cantina owner, Oga, were an item but it ended badly. Another said there were signs of the Resistance close by (in the area where the "Rise of the Resistance Ride" lies unfinished for the opening, to be opened later this year). "But you didn't hear that from me," the local said, sotto voce.
The writer's daughter and her friend, Rey.
David G. Allan/CNN
An hour after our allotted stay we felt we were pushing our luck and decided to leave. I went to buy a bag of the sweet and spicy Outpost popcorn mix sold in the Marketplace, but the young man behind the counter asked to see my wristband and informed me I was too late. "You won't sell it to me?" I asked.
We realized that while they weren't going to kick us out, they also weren't going let us buy anything. We finally did something right: We made our purchases before the deadline and saved our exploring for last, when the crowds had dispersed.
On our way out we ran into Rey again, and with no one else around she chatted up my daughter, asking her if she'd seen any Stormtroopers and reminding my daughter that she could easily use the Force to control their thoughts. "This is not the Jedi you're looking for," Rey demonstrated with an Obi-Won wave of her hand. I took a picture of them talking and then Rey said "Put your hands on your hip to intimidate Kylo Ren" and they turned to me for a posed shot.
Behind me I heard a familiar bear-seal growl. I turned to see Chewie. We make eye contact and then opened our arms for a hug. "Does he remind you of Han?" Rey asked him, as I was still dressed as his best friend. Chewie gargled something a bit melancholy as we hugged.
And that was it. We had Rey and Chewbacca all to ourselves for an amazing moment of unhurried, uncrowded interaction.
So remember ...
Our advice: Save the Falcon ride until after the masses pass through, bring a backup phone charger, get to the lightsabers and drinks early, use your time on outside lines to take turns seeing and getting other stuff, don't buy a droid with a bad motivator, talk to the locals and save exploring the views until the end. And even if you forget all that, the Force will still likely be with you and you may find yourself hanging out with Rey and Chewie.
We waved goodbye to our famous friends and walked out, holding a droid and a porg, enveloped in the sounds of John William's Batuu score.
Just as we walked out we were nearly run down by a wall of people headed straight at us. It was the last wave of guests heading in. And I realized Rey and Chewie were hanging out waiting for them and that is was just our great luck (and Disney's laissez-faire exit policy) to have left just a few minutes earlier.
As the front of the crowd reached us I yelled out, "Welcome to Batuu!" and the crowd cheered back as they excitedly headed into a galaxy far, far away.