Orlando… a day at the park
Hollywood Studios
Bob, Terry and Ellen visit in 2011


The Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Located at: Disney World


Richard had to work. So he couldn’t join us for our Wednesday visit to the Hollywood Studios. Instead, I was left with Ellen and Terry… meaning I was in for every ounce of trouble you could imagine. We also had a great time. Only way to improve it would have been Richard being able to join us.

We’ll get into more about it as we move along, but make no mistake… I do recommend visiting the park. It can be a lot of fun. The Magic Kingdom always ranks as my favorite. I don’t believe it can be challenged as the best of Disney World, even given signs of aging. Epcot always surprises more than you expect it to. And then the other two, well…

Like many people I have always felt that the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios were strange given their size. By that I mean neither feels like an all-day park. (I should probably note that this is my first visit to the Hollywood Studios… it was always the Disney-MGM Studios on previous visits.)

I guess part of that opinion for me starts from experience. When I first visited Disney World, back in 1979, the Magic Kingdom was divided across two days for our family. We started with Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, and then later went to Frontierland and Adventureland (and Liberty Square).

It would be Epcot… with two very distinct and separate areas for Future World and the World Showcase… that became Disney World’s second theme park. Again, a fairly big park… you could visit it in a day, call it a success, but you wouldn’t see everything.

Despite some basic design consistencies and theories, both the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are somewhat less defined and structured. More to the point of this idea though, and less a result of the park map, I would contend that these two parks have less “must” and “nostalgia” rides involved. You could see “everything” in a day. As I mentioned, I am not alone in this view, so I won’t expand on it greatly here. I do feel it’s worth pointing out though, since the admission price is the same as the other parks.

Rides we went on:

The Great Movie Ride
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
Muppet*Vision 3-D
Studio Backlot Tour
Voyage of The Little Mermaid
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show

All three of us had been on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster previously, and we decided to pass this time. Only two attractions were new… the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, which none of had seen… and Toy Story Midway Mania, which didn’t exist on any previous visit.

We walked through the Pixar area around noon, and the FASTPASS for Toy Story was already closed for the day. The wait at that time was 70-minutes, so we decided to check in again later. On our way to Lights, Motors, Action! The wait was down to 65-minutes. After that show, as a drizzle began across the park, we watched as the wait jumped from 45-minutes to 90-minutes.

We never made it on Toy Story Midway Mania! during this visit.

In order to get us to Lights, Motors, Action! we had decided to skip the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular on this visit.

(Hmm… no Toy Story… no Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster… no Indiana Jones… no Fantasmic!… you do the checklist like this and suddenly Hollywood Studios is seeming a bit bigger.)

Of final note for this section, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue was effectively a new ride. While it existed before, the attraction went through a major overhaul and reopened just last May. For those that may be interested, what I remember of our show opened with the Darth Vader segment, continued to the Wookie forest on Kashyyyk, and then ended on Naboo.

What we ate:

We only ate one meal inside the park, and that was at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Loved it. Just over 12 years ago, Terry, Ellen, Richard and I went to the 50’s Prime Time Cafe and had a great time. So, Terry and I have been kicking around trying the Sci-Fi ever since. It didn’t work out in 2005… long story… but this time we got there as it opened and were able to get a table pretty much right away despite a full log of reservations.

Terry and I shared an appetizer (buffalo chicken potato skins… jumped right out at us, were priced perfectly, and delicious) and a sandwich (grilled chicken sandwich… Ellen ordered it too, in general we liked it but all three of us found the roll to be a bit dry). The setting was fantastic, and I would definitely recommend the restaurant.

Events we saw:

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

The best of the best:

Jamie… met in Youse Guys Moychundice.

Terry had stopped while we were in the Osborne area for the lights. She spotted something she wanted, but couldn’t find a holiday Mickey Mouse to join with three other characters (Minnie, Donald and Pluto).

Jamie was an associate in the shop that night, and she started working (with a supervisor) on finding an outlet that might have a Mickey in stock. When they did, she escorted us to a shop tucked in behind the Muppets. She started a conversation with the person in that store, helped wrap our items, and then brought us back over to the Osborne area on the Streets of America.

Now the trick to all this was the personalized service…

Without the efforts of Jamie and her supervisor, Terry likely wouldn’t have made the purchase. And though we had bought other things, I’m willing to say that without Mickey there wouldn’t have been some replacement purchase made instead of this one. In fact, at the other shop, Terry even found a couple of small items to add. So the purchase not only took place because of their efforts instead of being lost, it was increased.

Because of traffic flow, some of the ways to cut in and out of the Streets of America area are blocked or limited during the light display. Jamie slid us quickly around, navigating perfectly back to the area.

And, she played the role of hostess wonderfully. She showed us the angel dedicated to Mr. Osborne, who passed away this year. She showed us a few hidden Mickey’s. And she told us about… and directed us to… the hidden cat.


For the Hollywood Studios, the big problem becomes show times. I have seen the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular many times in the past. On this visit, I was focused on making it to the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, which I had missed on our last visit to the park. (Which, in 2005, was the only other time I have been to the park with this show in place.) These two shows operate on a schedule, with fairly limited viewing times.

And I say that they can be limited because I swear, every time I’ve gone into the park I’ve said something like this:

“We don’t have time for the Muppets right now, because we might miss the Indiana Jones show if the line for the Muppets is longer than five minutes.”

That’s just an example. But it works. The art of the Disney line involves not just the attraction… it also includes preshows, gift stores, and all sorts of assorted and wondrous details set up to make sure you don’t notice the passing of time. So whether we are talking Muppets or Star Tours… or even getting something to eat… timing can be critical.

Let’s say it’s 10:45am. The park map tells us that Muppet*Vision 3-D offers continuous 25-minute shows. Indiana Jones might kick off a four or five show day with a performance at 11:30am.

Do you head to Indiana Jones to get a seat and lose almost an hour of park time in the process?

Do you skip that show and head to the Muppets?

Do you care where you sit?

Professional Disney visitors (and by that I don’t mean true-definition-professional, but people that have gone multiple times to the parks and know they’ll be back again in the future) have tricks. They might fit eating into their schedule during waits like this by getting food to go. They could be using FASTPASS on rides. They also think about committing to a scheduled show time, or their “must” rides, and then fitting the rest of the day in around those.

Being a professional in this sense can be fun. It usually comes from experience… which means multiple visits to the park. Nice to be able to do that.

The point is, most of us don’t do a ton of deeply in-depth on-line research ahead of time, and we don’t get to visit the park five times a year. And I believe the average visitor would look at the schedule and say something like: “Well, look, there are five Indiana Jones shows and we’re standing a few feet away from the Muppets. I’m sure we can get to another one if we miss it at 11:30am.”

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Our professional Disney visitors are shaking their heads and calling us amateurs at that thought. Because they know something… and that more or less translates to the idea if you don’t control the map, especially when talking about shows like Fantasmic!, Indiana Jones, or Festival of the Lion King (that one is at the Animal Kingdom), you might not see any of the shows.

That doesn’t mean you have to get to the first show of the day. Far from it. It simply means that you need to have some sort of a plan that is better than “we’ll come back to it later” in design.

Because you won’t.

You will instead constantly find yourself out of position (over near Tower of Terror and wanting to do the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster next), and decide not to cross the entire park for it… or in line for Toy Story Midway Mania!, and you do not want to step out of line… or you realize you haven’t eaten at all, and have to get something before heading toward Fantasmic!… and so on.

And the show times will slip on by.

Or the show will be packed and there won’t be seating because you… even arriving well ahead of the scheduled show time… are too late.

Hey… look… don’t listen to me. What do I know? I’m just passing along our experiences. But I have been here twice with Indiana Jones and the stunt show both performing, and I have never managed to see both in the same visit. It was one or the other.

(And that schedule? During our day at Hollywood Studios, the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show had a very busy day. Performances were at 1:20pm and 4:10pm. We had two shots at it.)

Special praise (or complaints):

No question about the praise part… great job Jamie! Hope to meet you again.

I want to mention Sorcery in the Sky here. I miss it. I miss the inflatable Mickey over the Great Movie Ride during the fireworks (even though I will readily agree Fantasmic! is a much better show).

See, while I understand the permanent Sorcerer’s Hat being built and used as the icon of the park, I prefer when the theater was at the end of Hollywood Boulevard and the hat wasn’t there. (Check out the entrance to The Great Movie Ride, and how it’s tucked in behind the hat. It doesn’t look right… it doesn’t feel right… and for me it’s a rare misstep in Disney park design.)

I did find that many of the rides seem to be holding up ok here. For example, where “it’s a small world” is nostalgia at its highest… and the Tiki Room had some characters with visibly broken pieces… and the Jungle Cruise fell a bit flat… the Magic Kingdom does have places that may be great, but look and even feel a bit tired. Epcot can claim the same, with rides like Ellen’s Energy Adventure earning must-not-do status.

But though a bit older now, most of the Muppet*Vision 3-D holds up as an experience, Star Tours has been remodeled very well, and the Tower of Terror works. None may qualify as cutting edge… all provide a fun foundation as the park enters its third decade.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com