My Disney Top 5 - Disney's Hollywood Studios Tipsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and that means that seasonally, if not scientifically, summer has officially begun. It also means that we have officially passed the 60-day mark for our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World this summer. As most of you experienced Mouseplaneteers know, 60 days is when those of us that are wisely staying on Disney property can make our FastPass + reservations. We had our trip planning dinner on Friday night and then on Monday morning, I was up at 7:00 am snagging those all too important FastPasses. Now, I really feel like it's getting closer.
This series of Walt Disney World park tips now comes to a close. So far I've covered the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom in that order. Now I come to the third park that Disney built in Orlando, the park formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Hollywood Studios. I'd rather not start this article off on a negative note, but it does need to be stated: Disney's Hollywood Studios is my least favorite of the four Walt Disney World theme parks.
That may come as a surprise considering that the Star Wars franchise and my beloved Muppets both call the Studios home. I think I've always felt that having spent the last near 30 years in different aspects of the film and TV business, a theme park about the film and TV business just doesn't float my boat. It's just not my idea of an escape. Imagine if you can, a plumber going to "Plumberland" theme park. It just reminds me of work too much and I'm there to escape work, not be surrounded by it.
Despite that, Disney's Hollywood Studios has plenty to make me happy, and it has plenty to offer just about everyone. As we move into the summer of 2016, there will be a lot going on behind construction walls to prepare for Star Wars and Toy Story, but I'm quite sure I can muster up a list of my Top 5 Disney's Hollywood Studios tips, so let's get started.
5 – Eat at Starring Rolls Cafe for breakfast and lunch
Staring Rolls is one of those unassuming Disney cafés that packs quite a wallop into its tiny space. Tucked away on a little corner where Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards meet, Starring Rolls is the place for counter service breakfast and lunch in Hollywood Studios. It's become famous for its cupcakes, but there are so many delicious pastries and sandwiches to be had here.
Starring Rolls Cafe looks to be a seating area, but when you walk down into the seating area you can discover a complete cafe in the back. Photo by Donald Fink.
You will be quite surprised once you scope out the menu, or better yet, walk right in and taste with your eyes as you stare at the deliciousness to be had in the display cases. You can't go wrong with one of the killer cupcakes, but while you're at it don't ignore the decadent pain au chocolat, the yummy Napoleons or the famous banana split pastries. For lunch, how about the turkey focaccia sandwich? Don't forget a cappuccino, espresso, or maybe even a glass of chardonnay to wash it all down.
4 – See Walt Disney: One Man's Dream while you still can
My twins enjoy the vintage television sets in One Man's Dream. Photo by Chris Barry.
The exhibit known as Walt Disney: One Man's Dream has had its obituary written and rewritten several times over the last year or so. Indeed this summer it is scheduled for a brief three-day closure in July starting on the 16th and re-opening on the 20th. As the park undergoes its massive changes, there is evidence that this wonderful attraction may shut its doors. That would be a shame.
This exhibit is a wonderful place to spend some time in Disney's Hollywood Studios. The historical pieces, models, props, toys, and concept art are more than worth your while. For big fans of Walt and his many dreams, it's a must. For the casual visitor, it's a glimpse inside the mind and history of the man that created the very world that you're currently enjoying. It's rarely crowded and completely worth your time. Catch it before it's gone forever.
3 – Take advantage of the Fantasmic Dining Experience
I've heard it said that entry into Fantasmic is worth the price of admission to the park alone. That may or may not be an overstatement. Fantasmic is simply amazing. It's not the best show you'll see in a theme park. It's probably the best show you'll see of any kind anywhere. The special effects, fireworks, music, characters, and sentiment all combine and deliver an explosion to the senses. However, all of this amazement comes at a price, not in dollars and cents but in time. You could easily wait in line for 90 minutes to see a Fantasmic performance. Is it worth it? Ostensibly, yes. You'll hate sitting there in line for that long, but you will barely remember the wait once you see the show.
Fantasmic has been playing to a packed theater ever since it opened. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Those in the know will book the Fantasmic Dining Experience. With it, you get a meal at one of three full service restaurants in the park and entrance to a specific seating area for the show. Booking the package allows you to show up about 30 minutes ahead of time if you want a closer seat instead of 90 minutes in the standby line. My advice is to choose the least expensive option, Hollywood and Vine, especially if you have kids. The buffet is quite extensive. If you're going to eat anyway, you might as well eat and cut a good hour out of your wait time. The packages do fill up fast. Try booking very early on in your window unless you want to eat dinner at four o'clock.
2 – Get to Toy Story Midway Mania right away
Here's what you want to see when you arrive at Toy Story Midway mania, a zero minute wait time. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Don't just get there right away. Book a Fastpass reservation for the ride later on in the morning or afternoon and still get there right away to ride it first thing. This way, you get to ride it twice. Twice isn't even enough. This is one of those Disney attractions that just get more and more fun the more you experience it. The real problem is just that, getting to experience it. I've actually had trips pass completely without riding it. I'm hoping that the addition of the new track will cut down on the lines that have never subsided since the ride premiered in 2008 and the days of two-hour waits and no Fastpasses left by noon will be over. However, this ride is so much fun and so darn popular, that I'm not banking on any of that happening.
Instead, I'll get there right away before opening. Head back to Pixar Place as soon as the rope drops and try to quickly grab a Fastpass and then get right on the line. Better yet, book your Fastpass for later in the day from home and still get there to be one of the first in line. It's a total blast and worth the extra effort.
1 – Don't miss The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Simply stated, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the best attractions that Disney has ever produced. That's a strong statement for sure, but I can promise you it definitely holds up. We're going with 12 people this summer. For some inexplicable reason, I'm quite sure that I'm the only one in the group that has ever experienced Tower of Terror. It also seems that in July, I will be the only one clamoring to go. My best explanation for this has to be the name. Let's face it; it doesn't sound appealing to most folks. That word, terror, lingers there like a warning beacon for the unsuspecting guest. Is it scary? I'd say, "Yes, it is." Is it terrifying? No, it's not…not at all.
Turning down Sunset Boulevard you can't miss the looming Hollywood Tower Hotel, home of the Tower of Terror. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The fact is if you skip out on the Tower of Terror, you are skipping a true Disney masterpiece. The special effects, the outstandingly detailed queue, and the drop sequence all come together to deliver a classic Disney experience. It's fantastic. It's fun. It's still one of the best things the Imagineers have ever built and it really shouldn't be missed.
I feel like I've left a few things off this list, but this was a hard one to come up with at this point in time. The park is in quite a bit of a transitional phase right now. A lot has closed and a lot is behind construction walls. The Muppets are a personal thing for me. I know a lot of people are tired of Muppet Vision 3D, but it's still a must see for me. If you love them like I do, then you'll be going anyway, so I left them off of this list.
Star Tours is one of my favorite things to do as well, and I guess if I could put a sixth entry on this list it would be to experience Star Tours over and over again if time allows. My family and I have done Star Tours four times in a row to try and catch as many of the Star Wars locations as we can. This can typically be done without waiting in any lines. I also wanted to leave Star Tours off of this list because of just how excited I am for the future of this park, especially when it comes to a galaxy far, far away.
I can't even begin to tell you just how excited I am that a full-blown Star Wars land is coming to the park. That will almost certainly shuffle up the theme park order of importance and turn the Studios into a home away from home for me. If they really do what I hope they're going to do, then I will probably have Star Wars land occupying each one of the rungs on this Top 5 for a future rewrite. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one. The art is promising—really promising.
Until then, I will enjoy my time on the Tower of Terror and Toy Story Midway Mania. I'll have a quick bite to eat at Starring Rolls. I hope I can take one more stroll through One Man's Dream and I will most certainly be taking in Fantasmic this summer. I've developed a kind of an odd relationship with this park over the years. It's certainly not my favorite, and yet, there's definitely quite a bit of magic left in her. It looks like there will be a whole lot more to come.
Chris, you nailed this one in my opinion. For at least the past 10 years to me, DHS has been my least favorite park, but includes what are probably two of my top three Disney attractions - Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror. Any list of tips/highlights in the park that I created would revolve around those two attractions.
IMO, this park lost all of its theming and life when it transitioned from being a working studio, where anything could happen and you could see anything, to simply rides based on past movies and shows. The theming of the park totally fell apart - while several of the individual attractions were still impressive, there was no longer any sense of being IN the movies/shows, and the excitement of the early days of the park was totally lost. For me, the one attraction that came closest to the original intent of the park since then was Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which definitely had the feel of the show (I remember sweating in the "hot seat" when I made it on stage!). American Idol also had that feel. While neither attraction would have been a centerpiece for the park, they definitely fit right in with the overall theme of living the movies/shows.
Now, at least, DHS is transitioning into a theme of being IN the make believe worlds of the movies (as opposed to being in the real world of making movies). It's a big transition, but I'm hoping the theming of the new "lands" will work, and no matter what happens, I'm confident that it will certainly be better than the lack of any overall theme!
Thanks for the kind words jms. I couldn't agree more with your assessment. Its great to see so much potential on the horizon.