Formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Hollywood Studios was hatched from a corporate rivalry and wild, twisted plot. At a time when the Disney Company was weak and fighting off greenmail--hostile takeover bids--Universal's parent company at the time, MCA, announced they were going to build an Orlando clone of their wildly successful Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Behind the scenes, MCA was courting the real-estate rich Bass brothers of Texas, hoping to secure the brothers' investment in the project. The Bass brothers, however, defected to the Disney camp, helped Disney squelch the hostile takeovers, and were front and center when Michael Eisner suddenly announced that Disney would also build a movie theme park in Florida. A construction race ensued, with Universal and Disney each intent on opening first. Universal, however, was in the middle of developing a host of new attraction technologies and was no match for Disney, which could import proven concepts and attractions from its other parks. In the end, Disney's Hollywood Studios opened more than a year before Universal Studios Florida.
The End of the MGM Connection
So what happened to "Disney-MGM Studios"? Disney purchased Pixar Animation Studios after partnering with the company on a series of highly successful films, including Toy Story; A Bugâ€™s Life; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; and The Incredibles. The cost of continuing an association with MGM, coupled with Pixar's arguably greater popularity, probably convinced Disney to rename the theme park. But rather than replace MGM with Pixar, Disney decided that Hollywood represented a more generic reference to moviemaking. In practice, however, many folks drop the Hollywood entirely, referring to the park simply as "Disney Studios" or "The Studios."
Comparing Hollywood Studios To Magic Kingdom And Epcot
The Magic Kingdom entertains, modeling its attractions on Disney movies and TV. Epcot educates, pioneering exhibits and rides that teach. Disney Studios does both. All three parks rely heavily on Disney special effects and audio-animatronics (robotics) in their entertainment mix.
Disney's Hollywood Studios is about the size of the Magic Kingdom and about half as large as the sprawling Epcot. Unlike the other parks, the Studios is a working motion-picture and television production facility. This means, among other things, that guests are permitted access to about half of it only on guided tours or observation walkways.
When Epcot opened in 1982, Disney patrons expected a futuristic version of the Magic Kingdom. What they got was humanistic inspiration and a creative educational experience. Since then, Disney has tried to inject more magic, excitement, and surprise into Epcot. Remembering the occasional disappointment of those early Epcot guests, Disney fortified the Studios with megadoses of action, suspense, surprise, and, of course, special effects. The formula has proved so successful that it was trotted out again at the Animal Kingdom theme park. If you want to learn about the history and technology of movies and television, Disney's Hollywood Studios will teach you plenty. If you just want to be entertained, you won't leave disappointed.
Self-Promotion Run Amok
While it's true that Disney Studios educates and entertains, what it does best is promote. Self-promotion of Disney films and products was once subtle and in context. It is now blatant, inescapable, and detracting. Although most visitors are willing to forgive Disney its excesses, Studios veterans will lament the changes and remember how good it was when education was the goal instead of the medium.
How Much Time To Allocate
It's impossible to sell all of Epcot or the Magic Kingdom in one day. However, Disney Studios, is more manageable. There's much less ground to cover by foot. Trams carry guests through much of the backlot and working areas, and attractions in the open-access parts are concentrated in an area about the size of Main Street, Tomorrowland, and Frontierland combined. Someday, no doubt, as Disney Studios develops and grows, you'll need more than a day to see everything. For now, the Studios is a nice one-day outing.
Because Disney Studios is smaller, however, it's more affected by large crowds. Our touring plans will help you stay a step ahead of the mob and minimize waiting in line. Even when the park is crowded, however, you can see almost everything in a day.
Disney's Hollywood Studios In The Evening
Because Disney Studios can be seen in as little as 8 hours, many guests who arrive early in the morning run out of things to do by 4 p.m. or so and leave the park. Their departure greatly thins the crowd and makes the Studios ideal for evening touring. Lines for most attractions are manageable, and the park is cooler and more comfortable. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and productions at other outdoor theaters are infinitely more enjoyable during the evening than in the sweltering heat of the day.
DHS is the home to Fantasmic!, arguably the most spectacular nighttime entertainment event in the Disney repertoire. Staged at least twice weekly, weather permitting (three to seven plus times a week during busier times), in its own theater behind the Tower of Terror, Fantasmic! is rated as not to be missed. Unfortunately, evening crowds increase substantially when Fantasmic! is performed; some guests stay longer at DHS and others arrive after dinner from other parks expressly to see the show. Although crowds thin in the late afternoon, they build again as performance time approaches, making Fantasmic! a challenge to get into. Also adversely affected are the Tower of Terror and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, both situated near the entrance to Fantasmic! Crowd levels throughout the remainder of the park, including Toy Story Mania, are generally light.
Arriving At Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's Hollywood Studios has its own pay parking lot and is served by the Disney transportation system. If you drive, Disney's ubiquitous trams will transport you to the ticketing area and entrance gate.
Getting Oriented At Disney's Hollywood Studios
Guest services, on your left as you enter, serves as the park headquarters and information center, similar to City Hall in the Magic Kingdom and Guest Relations at Epcot and the Animal Kingdom. Go there for a schedule of live performances/Times Guide, lost persons, Package Pick-up, lost and found (on the right side of the entrance), general information, or in an emergency. If you haven't received a map of the Studios or a Times Guide, get one here. To the right of the entrance are locker, stroller, and wheelchair rentals.
About one-half of the complex is set up as a theme park. As at the Magic Kingdom, you enter the park and pass down a main street. Only, this time it's Hollywood Boulevard of the 1930s and 1940s. At the end of Hollywood Boulevard is a replica of Hollywood's famous Chinese Theater. Lording over the plaza in front of the theater is a 122-foot-tall replica of the sorcerer hat Mickey Mouse wore in the animated classic Fantasia. Besides providing photo ops, the hat is the park's most central landmark, making it a good meeting place if your group becomes separated. In case you're wondering, Mickey would have to be 350 feet tall to wear the hat.
Though modest in size, the open-access areas of the Studios are confusingly arranged (a product of the park's hurried expansion in the early 1990s). As you face the hat, two guest areas--Sunset Boulevard and the Animation Courtyard--branch off Hollywood Boulevard to the right. Branching left off Hollywood Boulevard is the Echo Lake area. The open-access Backlot wraps around the back of Echo Lake, while Pixar Place's attractions are behind the Chinese Theater and to the left of the Animation Courtyard. You can experience all attractions here and in the other open-access sections of the park according to your tastes and time. Still farther to the rear is the limited-access Backlot, consisting of the soundstages, technical facilities, wardrobe shops, administrative offices, and backlot sets. These are accessible to visitors on a guided tour by tram and foot.
What To See
Try everything. As we have with the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot, we identify attractions as "not to be missed." But Disney rides and shows usually exceed your expectations and always surprise.