Disney Parks 101: Disney's Hollywood Studios
First Things First
Disney's Hollywood Studios, or as it was known when it opened 'MGM Studios, opened in 1989. This is the smallest of the four theme parks at Disney World. The rumor behind the quick opening of the park was that Universal was planning to open a studio themed park in Orlando. As Disney had plans for a studio and park for their Orlando property on the back burner they were suddenly made a priority.
The entire park is themed around the golden era of Hollywood, the 1930s and 1940s. Walking down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard is a unique experience. It really does feel like you have gone back in time. All of the cast members are costumed in time appropriate dress, and if you are there at the right time you may even be 'casted' in a movie!
The park was designed to give guests insight into how movies are made. Various rides and attractions are centered around the secrets behind special effects. There are even live stage productions that guest can view, like the Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
Even though it is the smallest of the parks Disney's Hollywood Studios does have one advantage over the other parks: there is more to do on a rainy day. If there was one day that I knew it was going to rain non-stop on my vacation I would make sure that I spent it at this park. Don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic park to visit when there is nice weather too. But, when compared to the other three parks there is more that can be done inside at this park than the others.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
What Should You Bring?
Even though this is the smallest theme park on the Walt Disney World property you will still want to bring a few things with you to make your day more comfortable. There are the basics: water, rain poncho, snacks, and a camera. The very nice thing about this park is that, unless you are victim to a sudden downpour, chances are very high that you will not get wet so you don't need to pack bathing suites. Some people prefer to pack their items into a beach or pool bag, but I find that my shoulder gets tired and I have to keep switching sides that the bag is on all day. I prefer to use a small backpack, my mother uses a cross body purse, my brother prefers a simple drawstring backpack. Vera Bradley makes several different bags that are useful carrying your items in the parks, if you are into that kind of thing. One very nice thing about the Vera Bradley bags is that they are easily identifiable since they come in so many different colors and patterns. Drawstring backpacks are cheap, you can get them in different colors, and they are light weight.
I strongly recommend using a stroller if you have stroller aged children. Most strollers have places where you can store your diaper bag as well as other necessities for the day. This way you have a quick and effective way to get your family from point A to point B and you don't have to carry your bags. One of the biggest complaint non-stroller people have about stroller people is that they are often rude. Now, most of the time it is unintentional. A perfect example of this is waiting for the bus. 9 out of 10 families with strollers will not prepare for the bus until it is their turn to get on. This takes up time. You know the bus is coming, go ahead and start folding up your stroller before the bus gets there. Trust me it will save time, and your fellow travelers will thank you. I can speak from experience when I say that it is the most annoying thing, especially at the end of the day when you are tired and just want to get back to your room and sleep or if you are trying to make it to your reservations on time, when the bus gets held up because a family with a large stroller doesn't fold it up before their turn to board the bus. Its even worse if they can't figure out how to get the stroller to fold up.
Taking the Boat
If you do not suffer from motion or seasickness then taking the boat is one of the most relaxing ways to travel at Walt Disney World. It is often less crowded than the busses, since the dock is off to the side and not a lot of resorts can use it. Also depending upon where your room is located at your resort walking to the boat dock might be closer to use than walking to the bus station.
How Will You Get There?
If you are staying at one of the many resorts on the Walt Disney World property you have a few different option for transportation. All resorts offer bus services complimentary to their guests. If you stay at any of the resorts along the back side of EPCOT (Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, and the Swan and Dolphin Hotels) you can take the boat over to the park. You can also walk, if you are feeling up to it. Of course, if you find yourself eating breakfast at one of the cafes along the boardwalk then you too are welcome to use any of the transportation services available to you. You can also drive to the resort if that is your preference, as a Disney resort guest you get complimentary parking at any of the Disney parks.
If you are not staying at one of the resorts on property then you will need to drive in. Unless, of course, where you are staying does offer transportation services. You will need to pay for parking. Like all of the other Disney parks Disney offers a tram to take you from one of the parking lot to the other so that you don't have to walk the entire distance.
What is your favorite ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios?
The Different Sections of the Park
The park itself is broken down into six different sections: Echo Lake, Sunset Boulevard, Streets of America, Hollywood Boulevard, Animation Courtyard, and Pixar Place. Each one has different rides and attractions to fit within its theme.
Echo Lake is where you will find Star Tours. This ride is a classic. If you or anyone in your group is a fan of Star Wars or thrill rides this is a must do. As the line can get particularly long during the busy season I strongly recommend getting fastpasses. It is a simulation ride that puts you right into the Star Wars movies. Several times each day they also do Jedi training sessions, Darth Vader even makes an appearance. It is a great activity for boys and girls, in a way it was Disney's solution to finding something for the young boys to compete with the princesses that tend to be much more popular with the girls. The other main attraction located here is the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. In this show they show you how they created the special effects and stunts used in the Indiana Jones movies, its really cool since they pull up people from the audience to participate.
Sunset Boulevard is home to two of the most intense thrill rides at Walt Disney World: the Hollywood Tower of Terror and Rockin Roller Coaster staring Aerosmith. Without a doubt these are the two most popular rides in the park, if you want to ride them without waiting in line for over an hour go first thing in the morning, during the parade, or get a fastpass. It is not uncommon for wait times to be over two hours during the busy season. It goes without saying that these rides are not for everyone, personally I am not a fan of Tower of Terror but I will ride Rockin Roller Coaster if the line isn't too long. If you feel that your young one can't handle it, or isn't taller enough yet, there is still plenty to do in this area; mainly shops along this boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. This area is also home to the Beauty and the Beast stage show, nearly every showing is a full house during the busy season the show is that good.
Pixar Place is where you can meet your favorite Pixar characters. It is also home to the ride Toy Story Mania. This ride is amazing. It is interactive and fun. Essentially you are seated in groups of two and compete in different 3-D arcade games. As you play the cart speeds up and slows down, it also will spin you around. It is one of the best rides Disney has every created, at least in my opinion.
Animation Courtyard is where Playhouse Disney comes alive. There are stage shows and opportunities for kids to meet their favorite characters. I have never been to this particular part of Disney Studios, as I do not have any children of that age and it hold no appeal to me, but I have heard of families spending hours there. The only thing I have ever done in this section of the park is the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
The Streets of America is a collection of backdrops designed to look like some of America's iconic cities, Like New York City. This is where you can watch Muppet Vision in 3-D, which is one of my favorite shows at Disney. This is also home to Lights Motors Action! a stunt show that showcases car chases and crashes.
The last section is Hollywood Boulevard. This is where you will find a lot of specialty shops with items that you will not find anywhere else in Walt Disney World. This is also home to the great movie ride. This slow moving ride takes you through some of the best movies of all time: the Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, and Raiders of the Lost Arc are just a few of the many movies you will see. There are parts of this ride that can be scary for younger riders, but there is nothing that can hurt you.
Where Will You Eat?
There are dozens of food carts scattered throughout the park, just like will all of the other Disney parks. You can get anything from a giant turkey leg, which are supposed to be amazing, to miniature doughnuts. There are also several quick service restaurants around the park that serve lunch and dinner. (The one major downside to this park is there are not a lot of options for breakfast, which is why I highly recommend trying some of the cafes along the boardwalk since it is only a short boat ride/walk away.) There are also quite a few table service restaurants found within the park as well.
Two of my favorite table service restaurants are Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre and 50's Prime Time Cafe. They are both themed for the 1950s. At Sci-Fi you really eat in cars! Its themed to be a giant indoor drive in movie theatre. At 50's Prime Time eat table is set up to look like a different kitchen, each one looks like it came out of a Better Homes and Garden magazine picture from the 1950s. The theme is that you are having a dinner at your aunt's house, and that everyone is family. There the waitstaff really gets into character. I have even seen some waitresses chase guests around for not eating their green beans and asking for dessert! Try the peanut butter and jelly milkshake, its my absolute favorite.
There is one night show at Disney's Hollywood Studios: Fantasmic. It is a combination of lasers, stage performers, water, and fireworks. It is one of a kind. The amphitheater fills up quickly, so it is recommended that you get your seats about an hour before showtime.
The show does get dark, as in there are no lights. Some kids get a little scared, but typically as soon as they see Mickey they forget about that.
Update 8/26/17: There is now a new Star Wars themed night show that takes place in the main area of the park. I have no had a chance to see it yet, but it has been getting amazing reviews. It is high on my to-do list for my next trip.
During the holiday season this parks gets decked out. In the Streets of America area of the park millions of Christmas lights are used to light up the park. Since adding this attraction to the park Disney has added to it each year. Now it is one of the highlights of a trip during the holiday season. The lights are set to music, there are snow machines that produce flurries, and cast members had out hot chocolate. This is probably the most spectacular display of Christmas lights you will ever see.
Update 8/25/17: the Osborne Family lights are no longer a part of the holiday display at the park. Sadly, you will have to satisfy yourself with watching old youtube videos of the amazing light display.
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Updates to the Park
It has been announce at the D23 Expo in 2017 that Star Wars land is underway at the park. They are also making a lot of progress on new attractions at Pixar Place. In just a few years the park will be completely different.