It’s the park that everyone loves to hate on right now. Piece by piece we’ve seen change after change come to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Earffel Tower? Gone. Backlot Studio Tour? Long gone. Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Show? Outta here! In fact, the whole Streets of America area is a thing of the past. All these closures, without timely replacements, have made Disney’s Hollywood Studios an easy target for criticism. Admittedly, it has been my least favorite Walt Disney World theme park for quite some time.
There is no question that Hollywood Studios is in a transition period. It is reminiscent of puberty. Or perhaps more poetically, like a caterpillar in a cocoon waiting to emerge as a butterfly. Nope, I’m sticking with puberty because Hollywood Studios is not wrapped up and in hiding waiting to emerge. It is still here, in its awkward phase, just trying to make it through and show the world that they were wrong to pick on it.
I recently visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios with the purpose of enjoying as much of the park as possible, and to take a big step in my journey to overcome my fear of any and all thrill rides. I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed my time in the park. Granted, I am a big time Star Wars fan and there’s lots and lots of Star Wars stuff now added to the park. Still, there’s enough to enjoy even though the park’s best days seem to be on the horizon.
Arriving at 12:00 PM I knew the park would be in full swing, but the action would have to wait a moment. Driving into the parks means the added process of parking your car and either boarding the parking tram or walking to the park entrance. With the added safety measures of the doors and the recorded departure spiel, it can take ten minutes or so just for the tram to depart once you’ve boarded it. This was the case on my visit, and I regretted not walking to the entrance.
The glitz and glamour of the Mann’s Chinese Theater standing proud as the park’s main entrance “weenie” is still a sight I am getting reacquainted with, happily so. I feel as though I can enjoy Hollywood Blvd more, that it feels more of an actual place meant to be enjoyed and explored now that the big blue hat has been removed.
One of the main reasons for my visit was to finally ride Star Tours… for the first time ever! I had never gone on Star Tours before, including the original version. I get motion sick just from being in the car when someone else is driving. It’s rough. That discomfort then leads to a fear of any ride that isn’t considered a “kiddie ride.” However, I am slowly trying out rides I previously ruled out, seeing if I can face my fears and become some sort of ride junkie. To celebrate the occasion I stopped inside one of the merchandise shops and asked for an “I’m Celebrating” button. I proceeded to unabashedly write “1st time on Star Tours” on my shiny new button.
Just as I slipped my button on the new Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away stage show began. As though the Force called to me I was immediately drawn to the stage and made my way up Hollywood Blvd to get a decent view. It didn’t take long for me to get goosebumps. This stage show is not overly impressive, it is merely a collection of montages shown on three large video screens with appearances of live Star Wars characters and a few pyrotechnics. Those that aren’t Star Wars fans will be nonplussed by this show. However, there was plenty of positive reactions from fellow fans all around me and that made the show even more impactful. It is also neat having the Mann’s Chinese Theater as the backdrop because Star Wars originally premiered at the actual theater in 1977.
Feeling inspired and nearly ready for my first adventure in space travel thanks to the Galaxy Far, Far Away show, I anxiously awaited the arrival of my fellow space traveler as well as the arrival of our FastPass+ window. Perhaps a visit to Tune-In Lounge, would be a good way to spend some time. A Star Wars universe cantina isn’t ready yet, but the boisterous Tune-In Lounge is often noisy, bustling, and full of all manner of life forms so it works in the meantime.
At 1:00 PM not a single bar stool was available at the lounge, not surprising. I ordered a Dad’s Electric Lemonade to go. This drink is listed as one of the cocktails that comes with a glow cube, an unnecessary decoration in my opinion. So I ordered it without the cube, which reduced the price by about $2.00 making it $9.32 with tax (before tip).
The Summer heat and humidity are starting to make their presence known, so if you will be visiting Orlando soon make sure you mentally prepare for hot, steamy weather. Thankfully during my visit the weather was still bearable so I enjoyed my Electric Lemonade outside. A pleasant stroll near Echo Lake was in order. Then I felt it again, the call of the Force. The new Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple show has one of the most frequent show times I’ve ever seen at Walt Disney World.
It does have a bit of an assembly line feel to it, but it allows so many younglings to become padawans, it’s hard to fault it. During the early days of the Jedi Training Academy there were many, many disappointed guests who wanted their children to be able to get on stage and be part of the show. Now, with such an increased capacity for participants there are hopefully less disappointed Jedi moms and dads. One addition made me giggle: a merchandise cart at the back of the crowd selling lightsabers. It’s funny to me to see the kids on stage wielding lightsabers only to have to give them back. This cart has one heck of a location!
As I looked around, Disney’s Hollywood Studios exhibited a behavior I had previously encountered only in one other theme park destination: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Every fifth or sixth guest had some sort of Star Wars apparel, it seemed–and a similar ratio carried some sort of Star Wars merchandise in their hands. A line of about 30 people waited to build their own lightsaber inside Tatooine Traders. In fact, the store was packed! I had a hard time resisting temptation and not making like a Jawa, snatching up all kinds of galactic treasures.
My friend arrived in the park and it was time to board a Starspeeder! Nervous and excited don’t seem to be strong enough words… I was borderline hyperactive. Each Star Tours cast member that saw my button smiled, though I am sure a few chuckled at my childlike behavior. It took about four minutes from the time we entered the FP+ touch point to the time we were assigned our row and ready to board.
Before I knew it we were jumping into lightspeed and I lost it immediately! The pressure, the motion, the sound overwhelmed and I laughed a very uncomfortable laugh, immediately averting my eyes away from the screen. I instead focused on the vehicle itself. This helped until my friend, in hopes of helping me enjoy the ride, told me to look at the screen. There it was… Jakku! And Finn up on the screen?! I did my best to watch this scene, but I continued to alternate between looking at the screen and looking at the vehicle. It was intense and a feeling I will have to learn to manage it in order to ride again, because I definitely want to ride again.
For those playing the at home game, I’ve only been in the park for an hour and a half, I’ve seen two Star Wars stage shows and rode Star Tours, plus enjoyed a beverage. My appetite to consume as much Star Wars stuff as possible was not yet quenched. With showings about every 10 minutes, Star Wars: Path of the Jedi is a quick and easy diversion. Non Star Wars fans will probably be confused by the short collection of important and thematic moments across all seven Star Wars films. I personally enjoyed the journey and found it a nice punctuation mark to cap off my achievement of finally going on Star Tours.
Our FastPass+ window opened up for The Great Movie Ride. Normally I wouldn’t suggest using one of your initial FastPass+ picks for this ride, but seeing as I currently have no interest in Rock n Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Midway Mania was already booked up, it’s a decent choice. When we approached the theater the standby wait time was posted at 30 minutes; we boarded our ride vehicle at just about six minutes.
This attraction is one of the main reasons this park was built. In an age in which we are seemingly bombarded with attractions that rely on projection screens and 3D effects, Great Movie Ride stands as a monument to the days of practical, physically effects and sets. It almost doesn’t feel like a proper trip to Hollywood Studios without going on The Great Movie Ride.
We exited the attraction just after 2:00 PM, time to see Captain Phasma and the Stormtroopers march from the Launch Bay onto the main stage. This quick occurrence isn’t something I’d recommend setting in your schedule, but since it happens on the hour every hour, it is easy to catch if you’re anywhere in the Launch Bay or icon area. It makes for good photo opportunities, though I only managed to snag a short video for tweeting.
The call of the Launch Bay could not be ignored. We opted to enter through the merchandise shop. Doing so saved us time by not waiting for the brief movie presentation, as well as by not becoming part of a group that enters the area at the same time. The biggest time saver of all is the special Disney Visa Cardholder meet and greet of Kylo Ren. We waited less than two minutes and suddenly we were face to face with the Master of the Knights of Ren himself. I enjoyed the interaction, he really is imposing, and don’t get me started on the voice (swoon!)
It was bittersweet being inside The Launch Bay when it was once the Magic of Animation attraction, a place full of Disney magic and memories. But alas, the only constant thing in life is change. I am thankful I am a Star Wars fan, otherwise I’d resent the Launch Bay. Instead I found it to be a cool area to explore, especially the cantina-like room now that walk-around Jawas playfully trade treasures with guests.
The amount of props, models, and memorabilia is pretty impressive. I would’ve liked to meet Chewbacca, but his posted wait time was 30 minutes. I’d probably pop back into Launch Bay to browse around again and try to meet Chewie, but there isn’t much to pull repeat visits. However, as progress is made on Star Wars Land we should begin to see some cool concept art and such on display here.
So let’s see, I’ve been in the park three hours and have done three shows, two rides, a character meet and greet, and a walk through attraction. Not too shabby. The time had come for my friend to zip off to see Aerosmith aboard the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. I may have conquered Star Tours, but I’ve got a long ways to go before you’ll see me strapped into that coaster. While I waited I browsed the goods available for purchase in the courtyard.
I noticed the temporary tattoo kiosk offers a selection of Guardians of the Galaxy tats, right under the shadow of the Tower of Terror. I don’t think this has anything to do with the rumors going around that this Marvel movie will take over the Twilight Zone theme, but found it amusing nonetheless.
My friend had a FP+ for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and reported that she was seated in the “super stretch limo” ride vehicle about six minutes after her ticket was scanned. After her ride through Hollywood, it was time for some nourishment. She craved a carrot cake cookie, one of the most cravable snacks there is, while I wanted to check out the new snacks and beer and wine selections at The Writer’s Stop.
This is one of my favorite places inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Surrounded by books and tucked into a corner of the park, The Writer’s Stop is a gem. One thing that was missing on this visit was any music inside the shop / cafe. There is a small couch and chair facing a small TV that usually plays clips from various movies and TV shows from the Walt Disney Company. On our visit however, the same two minute advertisements for two TV shows kept playing. The atmosphere was definitely off.
However, the snacks and drinks did not disappoint. The carrot cake cookie is as good as ever, my friend was kind enough to share. It is such a rich and decadent treat, and at $3.99 is a decent price. We also indulged in two new savory options: a large soft pretzel served with warm cheese dip ($5.69) and a charcuterie board ($7.49).
The charcuterie board won out over the pretzel. The pretzel isn’t a poor choice either, it was soft and tender, and the cheese dip was a nice enhancement, but for two dollars more I’d rather have the meat and cheese board. It is great to have some quick snack choices geared towards adults in a relaxed atmosphere.
It became time for friend to head back to reality. We bid ado as I headed to visit royalty from Arendelle. I’ll admit it, it felt weird attending the For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration alone. The newly re-named Hyperion Theater and I have a small history. I was a trainer for the opening team of the American Idol Experience. I may not have been a huge fan of the concept, but the theater received some major high tech upgrades when Idol moved in, so it is great to see the theater put to good use.
Overall, I enjoyed the show for what it is, and really appreciated the Arendelle “historians.” Many longtime Disney entertainers fill these roles, including some performers from the glory days of Pleasure Island. I wouldn’t return to the show on my own though. With my nieces, given the chance, I’d be there with bells on! It is a great show for families, no doubt.
After the show I strolled around Echo Lake again, contemplating what else I wanted to enjoy in the park. Time was running out, I had pet sitting duties to return to. I couldn’t resist venturing into One Man’s Dream. It is a must-visit walk through experience for any Disney fan, especially those with an appreciation for Walt Disney. This was the first visit to this attraction in a long time in which I did not take any pictures. I simply absorbed the history, nostalgia, and pixie dust. This is a meaningful exhibition and I hope it stays well into the future, or if not, it will be replaced on a grander scale.
I had now been in the park for six hours and experienced four shows, two rides, two walk through attractions, a character meet and greet, and had relaxed and dined, I was feeling pretty satisfied. If I did not have pets to get back home to I easily could have stayed and enjoyed more shows (ok yeah, you do need to be a fan of live entertainment to really enjoy Hollywood Studios – especially in its present state).
Having enjoyed myself so much, I wanted to savor it one last time before heading out. I knew exactly where to head to: Brown Derby Lounge. The final Galaxy Far, Far Away show for the day was about start, if I was lucky I’d get a table with a partial view. I love the Brown Derby Lounge because it is first come, first served. I’ve been visiting the Lounge since it opened nearly three years ago. It has been enhanced over the years as well as experienced a few menu changes, with a renewed focus on delicious small plates and specialty cocktails.
At 6:30 PM there were three tables available as I walked into the patio area. I selected a high top table for two and had an acceptable view of the show, right as it began. I ordered the new Grapefruit Cake Martini ($10.25) because it is a twist on the classic Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake, and I feel if I drink anything, but wine or a martini at the Brown Derby Lounge I am doing it wrong.
This martini would make for a great after dinner drink, though it is not nearly as sweet or creamy as I expected it to be. Naturally, I order the Brown Derby Cobb Salad ($10), staying in line with my classic Brown Derby flavors thing I had going. The service was fairly efficient, the weather was great, the Star Wars show pulled on my heartstrings… I was blissful.
I enjoyed myself at Disney’s Hollywood Studios… and I didn’t even ride any of the three major E-ticket rides, and skipped out on Muppet Vision 3-D, and three other live shows! Yes, this park has yet to reach its full potential, but I argue that there is still plenty to enjoy during this transition phase. Of course, I’ve often been accused of being a hopeless optimist, but my recent afternoon at Hollywood Studios is one my best ever!