To Studios or not to Studios
To Studios or Not to Studios… that is the question that is buzzing around the Disney fan community. At D23 Expo back in August, Disney announced that Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS) will not only be getting a new name but will be getting two new completely immersive lands The first, an 11 acre Toy Story Land promises to shrink guests to the size of a toy and explore Andy’s backyard with an expansion to Toy Story Mania, a new family friendly coaster, and an alien saucers attraction. The second, a much anticipated Star Wars Land - the largest single land expansion in Disney history - transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life. Disney announced further details back in February including that guests will be able to step aboard The Millennium Falcon and actually pilot the fastest ship in the galaxy.
The way Hollywood Studios is situated, they weren’t able to add to the park’s current infrastructure. As a result, a lot of the Studio’s old and tired as well as many beloved attractions have been permanently closed to make way for the exciting immersive experiences. The closings began back in September, 2014 when the Backlot Studio Tour took its last drive around the backlot and culminated with a mass closing at the beginning of this month. On April 3rd Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure, Mike & and Sulley Meet and Greet, Prop Shop, Studio Catering Co., Watto’s Grotto, High Octane Refreshments, New York News, Youse Guys Moychindise, and the Streets of America welcomed their last guests. While many guests are excited to see construction walls go up as a sign of the new things to come, many families are debating if a day at Hollywood Studios is worth the price of admission. My short answer is absolutely!
If you only had one day in Walt Disney World would I recommend you spend it in DHS- no I would not. If you are spending more than a few days at the parks and have invested in a Park Hopper should you skip it? No - especially if someone in your party is:
A Star Wars Fan
Disney's Hollywood Studios has been the home of Star Tours since it opened in 1989. The motion simulator ride was given an updated storyline and randomized ride sequences in 2010 becoming Star Tours- The Adventure Continues. From the moment Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, rumors were rampant about Star Wars getting a bigger presence in the theme parks. When the Star Wars Land announcement was made in August, there was no surprise that Hollywood Studios would be the location of the anticipated expansion. With the premiere of The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars Film with Disney at the helm, the company could not wait until the 14- acre expansion was complete to start bringing Star Wars into the parks. In December, Disney introduced Star Wars Launch Bay, an interactive exhibit filled with movie props, game stations and character meet and greets and Star Wars: Path of the Jedi, a dramatic short film behind the scenes of the Jedi Order’s rise and fall. A new ride sequence was added to Star Tours: The Adventure Continues and a new storyline and effects were given to the Jedi Training Academy- giving even more young padawans an opportunity to join an interactive show and be trained in the ways of the force. On April 4, an all new Star Wars stage show, “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” began playing out iconic moments from the film saga on the stage in front of the Chinese Theatre complete with incredible special effects.
This summer will bring Star Wars fans “the most elaborate fireworks display to ever take place in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.” combining Fireworks, pyrotechnics, special effects and video projections for a truly unique experience.
Disney Junior is often where most young children’s love for Disney begins and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the only place with any experiences based on their children’s programming. The ultimate experience for Disney Junior fans is the Disney Jr. Live on Stage show. This interactive stage show that features all of your preschooler’s Disney Junior favorites and encourages them to dance and sing along. Doc McStuffins, Jake and Sofia can be met after the show in the Animation Courtyard or you could make reservations at Hollywood and Vine to meet Doc, Jake, Sofia plus Handy Manny for breakfast or lunch without the line. (Parents be warned the food at Hollywood and Vine is not the best but during busy times the time saved from waiting in line to meet your child’s favorite character could be worth the buffet’s cost.) Another preschooler favorite, Toy Story is also featured at Hollywood Studios. Pixar Place is home to Toy Story Midway Mania, an interactive 4D moving midway game. This ride remains one of the most popular at Walt Disney World and has extremely long standby lines. They are in the process of adding an additional track to alleviate the crowds a bit but for now ride as soon as the park opens or use a FP+. Also in Pixar Place is a Buzz and Woody Meet and Greet, perfect for young sheriffs and space rangers. Also sure to delight your preschool princess are Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.
While Disney has never been known for the most daredevil attractions, what are to be considered Disney’s best “thrill rides” are located in Hollywood Studios. Rock n Roller Coaster features an attention-grabbing 0-57mph launch in 2.8 seconds. And it is the only Walt Disney World attraction to feature inversions all in a darkened ride building with onboard audio tracks featuring Aerosmith. Right across the path from Rock n Roller is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, an elaborately themed free fall. Featuring multiple freefall drops and launches and sensations of weightlessness, what I love most about this attraction are the psychological thrills that one associates with the Twilight Zone. Even if you aren’t adventurous you have to try this ride at least once to experience the storyline, Twilght Zone memorabilia and special effects. Lastly in the trifecta is Star Tours, even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan this 3D Motion Simulator is a ton of fun. With randomized ride sequences you could ride over and over without experiencing the same thing.
A Lover of Old Hollywood
I fall into this category- the theming of Hollywood Studios has always been my favorite. I love the allure and glamour of a bygone Hollywood. The atmosphere as you enter the park just transports you to another time. Make sure you take your time walking the streets and exploring the shops.
My favorite ride in any Disney park is the Great Movie Ride. As cheesy and outdated as many find this ride, I love entering the vignettes from many of my favorite movies. The new pre-show and narration by TCM’s Robert Osborne is absolutely captivating; they also did a wonderful job updating the closing sequence. There are more changes to this ride in the works. I only hope they don’t change it too much. The Hollywood Brown Derby is also one of my favorite restaurants on property. The Hollywood theming continues into this establishment, an authentic replica of the Hollywood Hotspot complete with caricatures of Hollywood’s greatest. Famous for their cobb salad, the restaurant offers an exclusive wine list, timeless fine entrees, and their signature grapefruit cake. Although this is considered a signature restaurant and requires two dining credits from the Disney Dining Plan, even on a budget I love to go in for a salad and a glass of wine. Can’t get a reservation? Try their outdoor lounge for small bites.
A Few Other Things Not to Miss
With the new sitcom on ABC the Muppet’s have seen a resurgence. Muppet’s 3D is a perennial favorite. Although I have an irrational fear of 3D Movies (Thanks Honey I Shrunk the Audience) my fiance loves this attraction, especially Sam Eagle’s Salute to All Countries… but Mostly America. There are rumors that the Courtyard will be updated and a Muppet’s themed restaurant added.
For me and my family, a trip to Walt Disney World would not be complete without a trip to 50’s Prime Time Cafe. I love Aunt Liz’s Fried Chicken and my fiance dreams about the meatloaf. The atmosphere is fun and kitschy and though we both remember ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’ (your servers) being a lot more strict when we were kids, we would not skip this.
In a similar vein, the Sci-Fi Drive-in is also a really cool way to consume theme park food. Seated in your own classic car, you can enjoy your retro burgers and shakes while watching campy sci-fi clips.
With all of the closures there are less ‘filler’ attractions pulling crowds, this has lead to an influx of people in the standby lines. To avoid waiting in these long lines it is extremely important to have a good plan in place before entering the park.
Because we love DHS so much, we like to re-ride many of the attractions and often make multiple Advanced Dining Reservations there we typically spend two half days there. If you do not have enough time or don’t want to devote much time there you can adapt either of these approaches.
The Early Morning
The first visit we will utilize Extra Magic Hours to ride Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster. Once the park officially opens we do the Great Movie Ride. (If you are not going back I suggest you make FP+ reservations for Toy Story Midway Mania and Star Tours.) Then we catch one of the shows do do a few more attractions until our lunch reservation. We then go back to the hotel for a rest and hit another park or take the boat over EPCOT to walk around World Showcase.
Dinner & Fireworks
After our first park (I suggest Animal Kingdom as I find I don’t often need FP+) we will head to DHS for our late lunch/ early dinner reservation. We use a FP+ for Toy Story Midway Mania, Tower of Terror (I always have to do it at least twice) and another one of our favorites that we want to do again. We then get in line to see Fantasmic or find a spot for the fireworks.
Keep in mind we are typically traveling with adults. If you would like more personalized advice for your family, contact your travel agent.