My Disney Top 5 - Things to See on Sunset Boulevard in Disney's Hollywood Studios

by Chris Barry, contributing writer
Advertisement

Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. I've just returned from yet another amazing trip to Walt Disney World. A huge group of us went down to celebrate my 50th birthday. I can't even begin to recount just how magical it was, but I will try in some future articles. In the meantime, I needed to get back on track with my land by land tour of the Walt Disney World theme parks. We've gone on quite a journey touring through the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and most recently, Disney's Hollywood Studios. We left off last time with the Animation Courtyard, a corner of the park that most of you out there seemed to feel has lost its way over the years. Despite still loving The Voyage of the Little Mermaid and being as happy as I can be in the Star Wars Launch Bay, I do happen to agree with that sentiment. I'm always hopeful, however, that as the park continues to morph, this area will receive a makeover of sorts. Leaving the courtyard behind, it's time to head down to what's probably the most popular section of the Studios, Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset Boulevard was the first major expansion to the park. It opened in 1994, five years after opening day in 1989, and was a continuation of Disney's homage to the Hollywood that "never was—and always will be." Named after one of the most famous thoroughfares in Hollywood lore, Sunset Boulevard is a beautifully themed street offering a multitude of shopping, dining, and attraction options, and has become a huge part of anyone's visit to Walt Disney World. For many, it's hard to imagine a trip to Disney without being dazzled by Fantasmic or dropping in on the Tower of Terror. There are two headlining attractions and two major shows in this corner of the park. One of them, Fantasmic, has been described by a leading Walt Disney World guide book as, "worth the price of admission alone." I'd have to agree with that, and while I've made no bones about Hollywood Studios being my least favorite of the Walt Disney World parks, Sunset Boulevard is one of Disney's best executions of theme, design, and place-making.

We spent some good time on Sunset Boulevard over the last week or so and enjoyed our time there. My one big complaint would be food. Sure, there's stuff to eat, but it's mostly theme park food—pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, etc. For an area this rich in theming, I'd love to see an air-conditioned dining spot with a little more variety in food choices. There are plenty of other places to eat in the Studios, but I think Sunset Boulevard deserves another choice. Other than that, for someone that's not too crazy about Hollywood Studios, I really do enjoy my time on Sunset Boulevard. Let's take a closer look with my Top 5 things to see on Sunset Boulevard in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

5 – The Route 66 sign

This sign is one of those classic little pieces of Disney detailing that makes the parks and resorts so special. It's a small thing, but I love the inclusion of the Route 66 sign and the stack of vintage suitcases surrounding it.


Get your kicks on Route 66 on Sunset Boulevard in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by Chris Barry.

We all know the mystic appeal that Route 66 has in this country, and it's very cool that the Imagineers decided to throw the sign onto Sunset Boulevard—which technically is a piece of the famed route itself. Stop and take a photo the next time you're there.

4 – The Carthay Circle Theatre

Why build just another gift shop when you can place one inside a replica of a building steeped in both Hollywood and Disney history? The Imagineers took the high road when designing Sunset Boulevard's shopping district by paying tribute to actual architecture from Hollywood. You Disneyland fans have a fairly full-blown version in Disney California Adventure. In Walt Disney World, the Carthay Circle Theatre houses the Once Upon a Time gift shop. I'm quite sure most guests don't realize that Walt Disney's first full length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, had its premiere at the Carthay Circle in 1937. The clues are there. There's a Snow White movie poster in the window. There's also a fairly fleshed-out facade of her cottage in another window. Head inside to the main register and see photographs of the actual premier itself.


Try and catch an empty register and you'll get a great view of some classic photos from the heyday of the actual Carthay Circle. Photo by Chris Barry.

Fantasia also premiered in the Carthay Circle with an incredibly elaborate sound system installed just for Walt Disney's masterpiece. Next time you head down Sunset Boulevard, stop at the Once Upon a Time shop before you hit the attractions and shows at the end of the street and check out these wonderful references to Disney history.

3 – Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage

When we talked about the Animation Courtyard and Voyage of the Little Mermaid, I owned up to being a sucker for Ariel and her songs. I'd say I'm an even bigger sucker for the music of Beauty and the Beast. Personally, I think it's the most impressive masterpiece from the second golden age of Disney animation that also brought us films like The Lion King and Aladdin. The music of Beauty and the Beast gets to me, and it's no wonder that I enjoy seeing them performed live.


The Theatre of the Stars located along Sunset Boulevard, is the current home of a stage production of Beauty and the Beast, which shows several times a day. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

After all, who doesn't want to hear "Be Our Guest" at full volume over a theater-quality sound system? It's one of Disney's best collections of songs performed in one of their best live shows in any of the Disney parks. Don't miss it.

2 – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

While waiting in the queue for the Tower of Terror last week, I struck up a conversation with a rabid fan next to me who referred to this attraction as, "the last great Disney attraction, before everything became about projection." While, I don't necessarily agree with that assessment, I do see his point about the significance of this particular attraction. The Tower of Terror is one of Disney's all-time best. It's a masterpiece of design, combining elaborate theming, incredible props and details, special effects, and impressive ride technology.


Turning down Sunset Boulevard from Hollywood Boulevard you can't miss the looming Hollywood Tower Hotel, the home of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

I remember Free Fall at Six Flags Great Adventure in nearby New Jersey. It was literally a tower that had a similar "elevator" style ride car. They brought us up fast and then essentially just pushed us out and down. It was a thrill, and that sense of free fall was a jarring blast of energy. The Imagineers took that simple ride concept and to quote Spinal Tap, "turned it up to 11." The details are second to none, the special effects are always impressive, and the random drop sequence makes it a different thrill each time you ride. It's amazing.

1 – Fantasmic!

Fantasmic just might be, as I previously quoted, "worth the price of admission alone." I hesitate to even print that because I don't want Disney getting any ideas of ever charging separate admission for this one-of-a-kind show. The point is, Fantasmic is extremely worth the effort—and it can be an effort. The park practically empties into the Hollywood Hills theater during Fantasmic. There are 6,900 seats, and room for another 3,000 people standing. Think about that for a moment. That's just shy of 10,000 people potentially enjoying Fantasmic each and every night. It's a staggering number for any theme park.


Mickey's nightmares come to life in Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The show has everything; fireworks, projections, lasers, flames, water screens, music, floats, Disney characters, giant fire breathing villains. I challenge you to not be impressed as Mickey battles the forces of evil and triumphs. I also challenge you not to get emotional when Steamboat Willie appears and ferries his ship full of Disney characters around the lagoon. It's not just one of the best Disney shows I've ever seen, it's one of the best shows of any kind I've ever seen... period.

The funny thing about this last trip was we were so jam-packed with things to do and see that I didn't even get to see Beauty and the Beast or Fantasmic! Unthinkable for me really, but we had 23 of us traveling together and it wasn't always easy to fit everything in. I did get on the Tower of Terror twice and one of those times was actually the first time for my daughter and my wife. They were pretty blown away by this classic attraction, and it was great to experience it with a handful of first-timers to see their reactions. The pictures and ride video from Photpass are worth their weight in gold. All in all, despite missing out on two of Sunset Boulevard's major attractions on this trip, I did thoroughly enjoy my time in the Hollywood Tower Hotel and meandering my way down the street, popping in and out of shops and admiring the details.

I can pretty much guarantee that many of you out there are saying, "What, no Rock 'n' Roller Coaster?" Yes, that's right. I listed a Top 5 of Sunset Boulevard and chose to include a street sign instead of the famed Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. I like it. It's a great coaster. The added dimension of being in the dark makes it an even cooler coaster. I just don't really get on it that much.

No one in my family wants to go upside down on a coaster. I don't really mind inversions, but I'd rather go on a killer coaster like Everest that doesn't need to go upside down to thrill me. Plus, the wait is always huge. Don't get me wrong. If you're a coaster fan, especially the looping variety, it's as good as they get, but it just doesn't make my boat float. They could knock it down and build something else there and I probably wouldn't complain.

They did an awesome job with Sunset Boulevard. Considering the park itself is in such a state of upheaval, it feels like this is an area that will remain intact for some time. The attractions and shows are immensely popular. It still looks and feels fresh. I don't think I've ever heard an Internet message board rant about Sunset Boulevard needing an update or anything like that. It seems to be holding its own. It continues the original vision of the park and I think people respect that. Make sure to spend some good quality time on Sunset Boulevard on your next trip to the Studios. I'm sure you won't be disappointed either.

As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below. Let me hear your thoughts about my Sunset Boulevard picks, and I'll see you next time as we wrap up our tour of Disney's Hollywood Studios with the latest addition, Toy Story Land.

 

Comments

  1. By BrandonH

    I would swap 1 and 2. Tower of Terror is one of Disney's best attractions, bar none. I love the Fantasmic show, but Anaheim is closer to me and has a slightly better version, so I do not prioritize it when I am in Florida.

  2. By wdwchuck

    You challenged me to not be impressed by Fantasmic and I will take on that challenge. Never really cared for it. My wife likes it and we go once in awhile but I don't see what all the hub bub is about. But that is the great thing about WDW. Enough variety to keep everybody occupied. I don't worry too much that Sunset Boulevard doesn't have a lot of good food choices. When we go to Hollywood Studies we usually have at least one meal at the Brown Derby. We love that place. One of our top 5 at WDW.
    I agree with you that showing WDW to people who have never been and seeing their faces during and after certain attractions is priceless. Thanks again for taking the time to write down your 5 series. Good food for thought.

  3. By davidgra

    Count me as another person who isn't all that impressed with Fantasmic!. It's fun and I like the soundtrack, but our family rarely hangs around for it at the Studios. I doubt we've seen in for at least five years. Part of it is simply dealing with the crowds afterwards, but part of it is the uncomfortable seats and long wait.

    Sunset Boulevard used to be my personal favorite part of the Studios. I love thrill rides, so both the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror were on my must-do list, and the shopping used to be phenomenal along there. Back problems have forced me to give up most of the thrill rides, though, so I only go on the Tower of Terror maybe once every three or four years -- usually if we have guests with us who aren't family -- and I haven't been on the Rock 'n' Roller Coasters since we went to Disneyland Paris several years ago (where it wasn't nearly as good as Florida's version).

    Sadly, even the shopping on Sunset Boulevard isn't very good anymore. The all-time greatest store ever, Villians in Vogue, lost most of its "villain" theming several years back, and then they did away with the name altogether. The stores on the other side of the street used to have great merchandise, too, but then they seemed to just fill them with the same generic merchandise you can find in every other store.

    Not a fan of the Beauty and the Beast show, either. I find it uncomfortably loud, and it certainly lacks appeal among the rest of my family, who haven't wanted to see it in more than a decade.

    Probably our favorite part of Sunset Boulevard in recent years is the food. Anaheim Produce, Fairfax Fare, Cantina Eddie's, Hollywood Scoops, Rosie's -- all places we enjoy for a counter-service meal or snack. Other than that, our family doesn't spend much time along Sunset Boulevard anymore. I guess we should enjoy it while it's still relatively quiet, because I'm sure the Studios is going to be packed to capacity for quite a few years after Star Wars Land opens...

  4. By Dave1313

    They could knock it down and build something else there and I probably wouldn't complain.

    Yup, sacrilege! I do enjoy RRC and you are right that I would have placed it above the sign (and probably the Carthay shop). I wont' argue if it's better than ToT or Fantasmic!, but I would definitely consider those the top 3 for the area.

    I'm not a huge fan of Fantasmic! at DHS, but I think that is driven by my history with the show. My first trip to any Disney park as an adult was when I visited DL in 2010 while on a work assignment after not having been since 1990. On that visit I saw Fantasmic!, and not knowing anything of any nighttime entertainment other than fireworks and the Electrical Parade before that (having seen both of those at DL in 1982 and 1990 as a kid), I was totally blown away! To me, the integration of the show within the regular area of Rivers of America (including the use of one or both of the huge boats - which you may have actually taken a ride on earlier in the day!) makes it more special. (and the current Dragon is obviously also quite a bit more impressive at DL - though I seem to recall my first viewing was very lucky as it was when "Murphy" was still going through teething problems - I think it broke down the night after I saw it!) If I had never experienced the DL version, I am sure I would enjoy the DHS version a bit more. I do enjoy it, but it's not a "must do" for any given trip (especially since it competes with being in a decent spot to see the Star Wars fireworks for the last couple of years). I will give the seating situation a "plus" for the DHS version though.

    As for food, I often enjoyed getting a simple breakfast sandwich at Fairfax Fare before the Trolley Car Cafe opened (I'm not a coffee drinker, so needing to wait in a common line with all of the masses getting their Starbucks fix is not attractive to me, though I admit the line was not too bad the last times I was there). It was nice having a simple place to go that was not actually a shared part of a Starbucks. It seemed like this location closed for breakfast once Trolley Car opened, but I believe I've seen a report lately of possibly being able to get breakfast there again, so maybe it has changed. (or it is entirely possible it's always been a seasonal thing, and I just don't know the seasons it is open for breakfast) Most of the other offerings I agree are somewhat generic. While I have no problem eating there if other options are closed early (talking to you, PizzeRizzo! ) or crowded enough that I want to avoid them.

    I do like the B&tB show here. Aside from the small negative of it being essentially outside (though decently covered for all but the worst rain storms, IMO), I enjoy it far more than the Little Mermaid show.

  5. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by BrandonH View Post
    I would swap 1 and 2. Tower of Terror is one of Disney's best attractions, bar none. I love the Fantasmic show, but Anaheim is closer to me and has a slightly better version, so I do not prioritize it when I am in Florida.

    It's a commitment to see Fantasmic. They've also complicated it in my opinion on certain nights by having the Star Wars fireworks at 10 and Fantasmic at 10:30. Not really enough time to go get good Fantasmic seats if you want to try and see both.

  6. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by wdwchuck View Post
    You challenged me to not be impressed by Fantasmic and I will take on that challenge. Never really cared for it. My wife likes it and we go once in awhile but I don't see what all the hub bub is about. But that is the great thing about WDW. Enough variety to keep everybody occupied. I don't worry too much that Sunset Boulevard doesn't have a lot of good food choices. When we go to Hollywood Studies we usually have at least one meal at the Brown Derby. We love that place. One of our top 5 at WDW.
    I agree with you that showing WDW to people who have never been and seeing their faces during and after certain attractions is priceless. Thanks again for taking the time to write down your 5 series. Good food for thought.

    Your very welcome Chuck and I agree, there's plenty for everyone to see at WDW. I still haven't eaten at The Brown Derby. It's on the list though.

  7. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by davidgra View Post
    Count me as another person who isn't all that impressed with Fantasmic!. It's fun and I like the soundtrack, but our family rarely hangs around for it at the Studios. I doubt we've seen in for at least five years. Part of it is simply dealing with the crowds afterwards, but part of it is the uncomfortable seats and long wait.

    Sunset Boulevard used to be my personal favorite part of the Studios. I love thrill rides, so both the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror were on my must-do list, and the shopping used to be phenomenal along there. Back problems have forced me to give up most of the thrill rides, though, so I only go on the Tower of Terror maybe once every three or four years -- usually if we have guests with us who aren't family -- and I haven't been on the Rock 'n' Roller Coasters since we went to Disneyland Paris several years ago (where it wasn't nearly as good as Florida's version).

    Sadly, even the shopping on Sunset Boulevard isn't very good anymore. The all-time greatest store ever, Villians in Vogue, lost most of its "villain" theming several years back, and then they did away with the name altogether. The stores on the other side of the street used to have great merchandise, too, but then they seemed to just fill them with the same generic merchandise you can find in every other store.

    Not a fan of the Beauty and the Beast show, either. I find it uncomfortably loud, and it certainly lacks appeal among the rest of my family, who haven't wanted to see it in more than a decade.

    Probably our favorite part of Sunset Boulevard in recent years is the food. Anaheim Produce, Fairfax Fare, Cantina Eddie's, Hollywood Scoops, Rosie's -- all places we enjoy for a counter-service meal or snack. Other than that, our family doesn't spend much time along Sunset Boulevard anymore. I guess we should enjoy it while it's still relatively quiet, because I'm sure the Studios is going to be packed to capacity for quite a few years after Star Wars Land opens...

    I did love Villains in Vogue. It's missed for sure. Sorry, can't get behind the food on Sunset Blvd. Theme park food at best.

  8. By jms1969

    Chris, I couldn't agree more with your comments about DHS and Sunset Boulevard. For me, Sunset Boulevard is the #1 reason to visit what is also my least favorite park. We'll see what DHS becomes over the next few years, but for now this area (along with the new Toy Story area) is about the only reason to visit the park.

    I'd have to put Twilight Zone and Rock'n Roller Coaster are 1 and 2 in this area (and in the park as a whole), and I'm not as big of a fan of Fantasmic and Beauty and the Beast, both of which we actually skipped on our most recent trip. Rock'n Roller Coaster fills a huge need at WDW as a true thrill ride that appeals to those who like this type of thing (the only comparable ride is Expedition Everest in AK) Disney's two latest coasters (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Slinky Dog) are nicely themed, fun rides, but they certainly don't qualify as thrill rides.

  9. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by jms1969 View Post
    Chris, I couldn't agree more with your comments about DHS and Sunset Boulevard. For me, Sunset Boulevard is the #1 reason to visit what is also my least favorite park. We'll see what DHS becomes over the next few years, but for now this area (along with the new Toy Story area) is about the only reason to visit the park.

    I'd have to put Twilight Zone and Rock'n Roller Coaster are 1 and 2 in this area (and in the park as a whole), and I'm not as big of a fan of Fantasmic and Beauty and the Beast, both of which we actually skipped on our most recent trip. Rock'n Roller Coaster fills a huge need at WDW as a true thrill ride that appeals to those who like this type of thing (the only comparable ride is Expedition Everest in AK) Disney's two latest coasters (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Slinky Dog) are nicely themed, fun rides, but they certainly don't qualify as thrill rides.

    We actually thought Slinky was a lot more thrilling than we ever expected. Certainly not an Everest but I think it's much, much more than the Seven Dwarfs.

  10. Discuss this article on MousePad.