Disney’s Hollywood Studios
If a theme park could experience something of an identity crisis, it might be Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This park, originally named Disney-MGM Studios, opened in 1989, one year ahead of Universal Florida when it first showed up in Orlando. Its original intent was to compete against Universal. In doing so, it borrowed the MGM name to give the fledgling Disney studio greater identity. Then it modeled its signature attraction around the key ride attraction found at the original Universal Studios out in California. That movie studio park identified itself with going behind the movies to see just how they were made. Its big ride was a tram-style tour that whisked you away through actual studio backlots showcasing decades of films Universal had created over the years.
So Disney followed suit by opening with an extensive tram tour and backstage walking tour. It also added an animation tour—after all, it was Disney. Added to that was several shows and a ride known as The Great Movie Ride, which resided in the park’s icon, The Chinese Theater. This was found at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, which acted as a Main Street U.S.A. to the park. It is now home to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
There are lots of Disney character meet ‘n’ greet experiences to be found at this park. But some of the best character interactions are not with Disney characters, but with the Citizens of Hollywood. These are live streetmosphere-style characters. They roam around Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard. If you come across them, take the time to interact and experience their individual performances. It will be a highlight of your stay.
Meanwhile, Universal Orlando took a cue from Disney’s parks and opened with major rides and attractions, and only a modest backstage tram tour. Never mind, Disney’s Hollywood Studios still had so many guests staying on property that attendance continued to be greater than Universal. Moreover, Disney continued to build out the park, by adding attractions like Star Tours, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Midway Mania.
The king of all these exciting attractions became the venerable Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The premise here was a 13-story drop in a 1930’s hotel. Together, these are some of the best thrill rides Walt Disney World has to offer.
Then there are the shows. A favorite is Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. It continues to deliver amazing stunts and special effects.
The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast both offer shows, and there is For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along. It’s great to watch moms and dads sing right along with their kids while they watch this fairly hilarious show, thanks to Arendelle’s two royal historians. Afterwards you can line up to visit Olaf.
Youngsters will enjoy Disney Junior—Live on Stage! Muppet fans are sure to catch Muppet Vision 3D, the last film project that Jim Henson personally labored on.
Walt Disney Presents is a great showcase for Disney fans old and young. It looks at the life of Walt Disney, but then offers previews of attractions and movies coming in the near future.
With all these offerings Disney went head to head with Universal in competing against them. It continued for many years. But the magic of making the movies with soundstages and back lots eventually gave way to making movies digitally behind computer screens. Guests lost interest with the behind the scenes experiences, favoring instead more immersive experiences into movie-like experiences.
Then Universal Orlando came up with a strategy that would make Disney re-look big time at its studio park. Universal created the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an experience so immersive that it included not only great rides but experiences like buying magical wands and drinking butterbeer.
Disney knew that it had to do something very different than what had worked successfully for so many years. Over the course of a couple of years, enormous changes came to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The first was Toy Story Land, similar to attractions built in Hong Kong, Paris and Shanghai, but this one including a major roller coaster based on Slinky the Dog. That opened in 2018.
Toy Story Land, is where guests are the size of a toy as they enter Andy’s backyard. The space is colorful with plenty to see and enjoy. Bigger than life size versions of Woodie, Jessie and Buzz can be found.
Slinky Dog Dash is a roller coaster has two launches during its quick but family-friendly run. It’s pure Disney fun, and an enjoyable coaster in its own right.
Another new attraction at Toy Story Land is Alien Swirling Saucers, comparable to the Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Disney’s California Adventure. These saucers really whip you around.
This entire land joins the ever popular Toy Story Mania. It has a new entrance here. And it’s capacity has been added by 50%, allowing for a lot more riders. Toy Story Mania! is one of the most popular attractions in all of Walt Disney World.
Another minor attraction that came at this time was Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. The plot is a simple one, more of a highlights film emphasizing teamwork. But it features Lightning as a fairly phenomenal animatronic car coming to life.
2019 was a huge year was the opening of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. The park always had a simulator experience based on Star Wars, but this project would be an entire land immersing you into a galaxy far, far away.
The entire land covers the back half of the park–what literally was the production & backstage tour in the early years. In its place came a planet called Batuu, and a village called the Black Spire Outpost. As guests meandered through the streets they would not only come upon the Millennium Falcon.
The chance to fly in Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run seemed like a dream come true. The wizardry behind creating an experience where thousands could fly the legendary ship was truly impressive.
And yet, this was nothing compared to what came next. Nestled in a forest glenn is a resistance camp. This humbled establishment hides an extraordinary experience where you join in to fight Darth Maul. Rise of the Resistance is truly one of the most remarkable attractions ever created by Disney, and the experience of being in the space in the middle of a battle is quintessential Star Wars.
All this and a glass of blue milk, and you have the makings of a never-to-forget experience. But if that were not enough, in the works is also an immersive hotel/resort experience connecting guests to Star Wars. This will sit adjacent to the park.
With all of this happening, 2020 brought about a new ride called Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It replaces The Great Movie Ride at the Chinese Theater. Here you step through the silver screen and onto a locomotive ran by Goofy. What follows is an assortment of colorful cartoon-like excursions as you accompany Mickey and Minnie.
What follows all this are the nighttime spectaculars. The shows in the evening are amazing, but you have to make a tough choice as to which to visit. There is the infamous Fantasmic! It’s played out in a full-size amphitheater and is Disney magic at its best with characters, music, pyro, fireworks, fountains and more.
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is a fireworks nighttime show that plays out above the Chinese Theater. It too is amazing, and is preceded by Disney Movie Magic, a nighttime projection show that showcases Disney’s live action films from Tron to Mary Poppins, From Pirates of the Caribbean to Herbie the Love Bug. You won’t go wrong with either choice, but given its timing, you will probably have to choose between one and the other. Or, you’ll have to visit another evening.
For those wanting to know about this phenomenal park addition, we have a more in-depth outline of all of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Until then, check out our complimentary Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: A Complete Guide. It’s available when you subscribe to Magic at Play.