The Best of Walt Disney World - Disney's Hollywood Studios

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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This is the third in my series of “Best of Walt Disney World” articles. The first two focused on the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. This article is, perhaps, the most difficult. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a park that has confounded me since it opened its gates in 1989.

It was billed by then-CEO Michael Eisner, in his dedication of the park, as “a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.” At the time, it made some sense. In its early years, Disney-MGM Studios (as it was called until 2007) offered several soundstages that were involved with filming television shows. The Art of Animation attraction not only offered an introductory film and exhibits but a chance to observe animators as they worked on production of feature films. While touring, I can recall seeing artists working on Mulan and Hercules among others. Today, the soundstages are silent and the animators were relocated a decade ago.

On our first visit to the Studios in early 1990, I recall being impressed with what I experienced—I loved attractions like Star Tours, Muppetvision, and the Great Movie Ride, but left thinking there really wasn’t enough there. That’s certainly changed; in some ways for the better, in others… not so much.

Nevertheless, the park does offer attractions and restaurants—so let’s get on with it.

Top Three Attractions

Only three? I offered seven for the Magic Kingdom and five for Epcot—but honestly, I believe the Studios only has three top-tier attractions (although I’m absolutely certain many will disagree).

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror


The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Photo by Steve Russo.

I have a video of my family and friends in the Tower of Terror queue while waiting for our first-ever ride. Everyone is staring up at the tower with a look of absolute dread. The only clues we had for what was in store were the screams every time an elevator reached the top of the tower and the doors slid open.

Many years, and dozens of rides later, this remains one of my favorite attractions on the planet. While I don’t get the same sense of foreboding, the theming is just that good and randomizing the drop sequence was a stroke of genius.

Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

Most of you know that I’m a sucker for flight simulators and the newest version of Star Tours delivers. The original attraction was great but after 20 years, there was a bit of staleness on that same trip to Endor’s moon—a destination we never seemed to reach.

The random elements of the new ride, and the inclusion of 3D video, has “plussed” this attraction tremendously and it will remain a favorite for many years to come.

Toy Story Midway Mania


Mr. Potato Head welcomes you. Photo by Steve Russo.

I know this attraction is number one on many lists, evidenced by the rush to it each morning and the shortage of Fastpasses as the day goes on. The new Fastpass+ system is helping but this is still an attraction that riding Standby is usually only an option the first thing in the morning; any later and you will have to endure some very long waits. However, at the risk of offending many, it’s not at the top of my favorites list.

Understand… I like the ride. I just don’t think it warrants the extreme attention it has received since they opened the doors. At its heart, it’s a video game. A very entertaining one, I admit, and I am forever in awe of the design and implementation work that produced the ability to toss 3D rings at targets by pulling a cord.  But… and there is a “but,” it’s still a video game.

Muppetvision 3D


Muppetvision just never seems to get old. Photo by Steve Russo.

Now wait just a second. I said Top Three and here I am listing a fourth entry? This film is old, dated, and maybe even a bit stale for those of us that have seen it 100 times, but  it’s still funny. The pre-show alone is worth the price of admission. And who among us doesn’t laugh when hearing, “A salute to all nations, but mostly America”?

Honorable Mentions


Too bad this is hidden behind that hat! Photo by Steve Russo.

  • Great Movie Ride – is a wonderful attraction that sits in a beautifully-themed building, but it needs updating. Please!
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – is likely high on many lists. I will give you its thrill factor, especially the takeoff, but I contend the human body was not built for inversions—at least not this human body.
  • Beauty and the Beast – it’s been there forever and I don’t see it every trip, but this stage show has held up well. While on this subject, does anyone else miss The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
  • Fantasmic!is still a favorite, after all these years.
  • One Man’s Dream – should be seen at least once by everyone that sets foot on Disney property. My preference is at least once per trip. The displays and artifacts throughout are wonderful but you must see the movie at the end. This short film, narrated by Walt Disney himself, is a look at the hardships and successes he endured over the years.
  • Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – is not really an attraction, but it's a holiday season must-see.


Fantasmic! Photo by Steve Russo.


Everyone should see this at least once. Photo by Steve Russo.


If you're there during the holidays... Photo by Steve Russo.

Top Three Table Service Restaurants

I offer the same caveat I offered previously—that selecting favorite restaurants is difficult because our tastes are so varied. With that said, writing this article has led me to the realization that I don’t dine very often at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I’m not sure why but my tastes typically take me outside the park for nourishment. Nevertheless…

Hollywood Brown Derby


The wall of celebrity caricatures. Photo by Steve Russo.

I’ve actually only dined here once and it was for lunch, but I came away very impressed by the décor, food, and service. It’s on the pricey side but, at Walt Disney World, what isn’t? Also, it’s new and I haven’t yet a chance to try it, but I’m hearing good things about the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge.

Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano

I suppose it’s the vowel at the end of my name that forces me to choose one Italian restaurant in each park (yeah, that may be a challenge at Animal Kingdom), but I’ve eaten here several times and enjoyed it. Again, it’s not going to hold a candle to your favorite neighborhood place back home, but the food is good, the theming is nice, and there’s a certain consistency to it.

50s Prime Time Cafe

This place is not for everyone, but I enjoy the 1950s vibe—Formica counters, black-and-white television, and linoleum floors. Some don’t take kindly to being told to “get your elbows off the table,” but I enjoy the schtick. The menu is comfort food at its best.

Honorable Mentions – Sci-Fi Drive-in Theater

  • I see many negative reviews of the Sci-Fi Drive-in Theater, but I’ve always enjoyed it. The “show” is as unique as it gets in restaurant theming, and I’ve found the food to be quite good—as long as you stick to the basics (burgers and shakes are my go-to meal here).

Top Three Counter Service Venues

Honestly? If I’m looking for a good counter-service meal in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the best bet may be a walk to Epcot. I’m kidding, but only partially. There was a time when our touring here always took us to the ABC Commissary for a mid-morning breakfast. Unfortunately, they stopped serving breakfast, and my single foray there for lunch was a huge disappointment. From my list below, you’ll see I’m typically down on the counter service meals here.

Starring Rolls Cafe

This has replaced the ABC Commissary for our mid-morning break. They do offer items such as sushi and sandwiches, but I’ve restricted purchases here to coffee and some very nice muffins.

The Writers' Stop

Formerly called Buy the Book (fans of Ellen Degeneres will get that), this is a fairly small bookstore offering books, a few kitchen items, and some very good coffee and pastries. It’s a very nice place to take a break from the park, and refuel.

Toy Story Pizza Planet

It’s well-themed, offers a few video games for the kiddies and has a decent salad/pizza combo. Personally, I wish it wasn’t so noisy, though.

Honorable Mention – Dinosaur Gertie’s

  • Dinosaur Gertie’s has ice cream and, well… it’s ice cream. There are also a few good snack stops along Sunset Boulevard, such as Anaheim Produce, Catalina Eddie's, and Toluca Legs Turkey Company.

It seems, as I work my way through the parks, I find a bit less to enjoy. Not that they aren’t loaded with fun but it reinforces my unofficial rankings—there seems to be more that I enjoy in Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. We’ll see what next month brings when I attempt to break down Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The feedback on the previous two articles was great. I truly enjoy hearing of your favorites and how they differ from my own and, as always, thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. By Jimbo996

    No mention of the shows and entertainment. I went in May this year. Unfortunately the rain kept me from staying longer than a few hours. Nonetheless, I was impressed by how alive the park felt from the street entertainment especially the morning mini-parade with star impersonators and the announcers. The park needs more family attractions since we could not visit your top two plus Rock n Roller Coaster. The Little Mermaid should be in your honorable mentions.

  2. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    No mention of the shows and entertainment. I went in May this year. Unfortunately the rain kept me from staying longer than a few hours. Nonetheless, I was impressed by how alive the park felt from the street entertainment especially the morning mini-parade with star impersonators and the announcers. The park needs more family attractions since we could not visit your top two plus Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. The Little Mermaid should be in your honorable mentions.

    I did mention the Beauty and the Beast stage show. Regarding the live entertainment... I truly enjoy the Streetmosphere at DHS but it seems it's become hit or miss. It used to be everywhere but now seems hard to find. I can remember stumbling into a cast member doing magic tricks by Two Guys Moichendise. We were his only audience and spent 15-20 minutes there. I almost never see that type of entertainment any longer.

    I would agree with you on the Voyage of the Little Mermaid - I always enjoy that show.

  3. By carolinakid

    The HBD Lounge is a great addition! In fact we enjoyed it so much we went twice that week! Great place to people watch and the tapas and adult beverages are fantastic. We felt like stars!

    My top 3 DHS attractions:
    1. Toy Story Mania
    2. Tower of Terror
    3. Great Movie Ride

    We really only eat at the Hollywood Brown Derby for TS. But for CS we like the Studio Catering Co.

  4. By Dave1313

    A few quick service thoughts:

    I'd add Min and Bill's, I like the Sausage and Peppers or Hot dogs in a Pretzel roll there.

    Backlot Express is decent for traditional Burgers and has a decent amount of seating.

    Fiarfax Fare pleasantly surprised me for quick serve breakfast the one morning I was there early. The sausage and egg sandwich was bigger than that you would get on the outside from the national fast food chains (had a double sausage patty - actually a decent deal).

    As to attractions not yet mentioned, I like the Lights Motors Action Stunt show, but realize it's old hat for veterans.

  5. By DwarfPlanet

    Our 3 favorites
    Tower of Terror
    Rock n Roller Coaster
    Stunt Spectacular

    Great Movie ride is one of our least favorite rides. Our problem with it is it seems they didn't put as much effort in the animatronics as they had other attractions. Star Tours got old, even with the new update the only reason you go is to see if you get a different combo not so much the ride. I agree Toy Story is just a video game and for some of us those screens can give you motion sickness.

    We really enjoyed Sci-Fi Dine in. While you reported negative reviews for it, thats the same reason we have not tried the 50's prime time due to some of the negative reviews of the CM's took to being to bossy over the top to let the guest enjoy his meal.

  6. By DisneyGator

    Trying to figure out how RnRC didn't make the Top 3. After my first visit, it was the ONE attraction that me and my wife constantly talked about. It made us go to MGM the first day on our next trip. We had to get back onto that ride.

  7. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    Trying to figure out how RnRC didn't make the Top 3. After my first visit, it was the ONE attraction that me and my wife constantly talked about. It made us go to MGM the first day on our next trip. We had to get back onto that ride.

    I thought I explained it quite well... something to do with inversions ;-)

  8. By peanutj

    I'm sure most people will disagree with me, but I really don't care for the Osborne Lights. I do agree that everyone should see it once, just to marvel at the spectacular gaudiness of it all. For me, it's just too much; too many lights too close together and too many people. It looks like a million elves blew up.

  9. By mkelm44

    I have to admit DHS has never been my favorite of the theme parks. It seems unfocused and desperately in need of updating. I think that the Orlando bosses really need to do work on it- Muppetvision and The Great Movie Ride being the most obvious in need of updating since they are essentially unchanged over the last two decades. In some ways (way too many for a simple article response) DHS has been the forgotten step-child of Disney World.

    That being said, I want to throw something in there for consideration- the Voyage of the Little Mermaid is a really good stage show. I really appreciate the puppeteering and effects that go into that show every time I see it.

  10. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    Toy story just gets my juices going . Sci fi used to be a must . But then they changed french fries brand bacon cheese burger ruined . Really at the end of the day cant beat 50s prime time cafe .

  11. By m1ckeymouse

    Another great article Steve. You are definitely the only writer that I always read. Love the list ( but I would have to add R&RC). Every time we go to the studios I plan around the Mulch Sweat and Shears shows, they are great but don't seem to get a lot of attention. With all of the interactions with the guests they create countless memories!

  12. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by m1ckeymouse View Post
    Another great article Steve. You are definitely the only writer that I always read.

    Awww, thanks. That's very nice of you.

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