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What to Know: A First-Timers Guide to Hollywood Studios

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Preparing for and eventually taking a Walt Disney World vacation can cause anxiety – especially if you’ve never visited before. You’ve got to make the most of your budget, and ensure that everyone has a magical time. Hollywood Studios, with its slate of incredibly popular and high-wait attractions, can be especially difficult. There are the big draws in Galaxy’s Edge for Star Wars fans, Toy Story Land for the young and young-at-heart, and on Sunset Boulevard for thrill-seekers.

So what is important to know when you visit Hollywood Studios for the first time? There are lots of resources to help you with that (The Unofficial Guide is one of our favorites). But here we’ll share some special tips and tricks that I wish I knew on my very first trip to Hollywood Studios. You might also give it a skim if you’ve visited before, but haven’t been back in 5 or 10 years.

Hollywood Studios Geography 101

Hollywood Studios is divided into an impressive – and perhaps unnecessary – nine “lands” (themed areas) in three main parts of the park. Like at Magic Kingdom, the big park icon – Grauman’s Chinese Theater – is near the middle of the park. Unlike Magic Kingdom, the other lands aren’t really arranged in spokes around the icon. Instead, the layout is quite a bit more confusing.

As you enter the park, you’ll be on Hollywood Boulevard with its shops and other important guest services. About halfway to Grauman’s Theater (officially the end of Hollywood Boulevard), Sunset Boulevard splits off to your right. This is where you’ll find Tower of Terror, Rock’n’Roller Coaster, the Fantasmic amphitheater, and more. Opposite from Sunset Boulevard across Hollywood Boulevard is Echo Lake, home to several dining locations, shows, character meets, and Star Tours.

If you get all the way to Grauman’s Theater, the rest of the park is roughly a loop. If you proceed clockwise around the loop, you’ll first encounter Commissary Lane, with more characters and restaurants. Keep going and you’ll find Grand Avenue, with its … characters (specifically, Muppets) and restaurants. Pass through the tunnel and you’ll finally find yourself in Galaxy’s Edge, home to all things Star Wars (other than poor Star Tours). Once you make your way through that planet, you’ll pop out in Toy Story Land, home to some more kid-friendly attractions and a few dining options.

Pixar Place is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alcove to your right as you exit Toy Story Land on this clockwise tour. You can buy cookies or meet many Pixar characters. And finally, before you get back to Grauman’s Theater, you can find Animation Courtyard. It houses the highest concentration of characters in the park (of Star Wars or Disney Junior fame), and a dance party.

A map of the lands of Hollywood Studios in 2024

Downtime Awareness

Hollywood Studios typically has the most unplanned attraction downtime of any Walt Disney World park. The rides here use cutting-edge technology, and handle tens of thousands of guests every day. There is rarely a good time for maintenance or refurbishments. And all of that combines to a lot of downtime that can impact your day at the Studios.

How bad is it? On average, there is enough downtime at individual attractions to be the same as the entire park closing half an hour to an hour early … every single day. Rise of the Resistance is typically the worst offender, averaging between one and two hours of downtime a day just by itself. Rock’n’Roller Coaster also averages over an hour of downtime each day, and Runaway Railway and Slinky Dog Dash both average almost an hour of downtime each day.

If that seems like I just listed most of the headliners – I did. It’s important to appropriately set expectations that at some point during a day at Hollywood Studios, something that you want to ride (or something that you’re already in line for) will break down and be unavailable. Have a backup plan to your backup plan and be flexible.

I don’t know who is responsible for all of the downtime at Rise of the Resistance, but I’m going to go ahead and blame this guy. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Starting the Day Right

Since so many of the attractions at Hollywood Studios have such high wait times, arriving early and starting your day strategically is more important here than at any other park at Walt Disney World. Early Entry can be your very best friend. And because of those attraction downtime issues, it can also feel like your very worst enemy.

Hollywood Studios regularly opens well before the advertised time for early entry. When this happens, it’s usually because Rise of the Resistance is already up and running and Disney wants to start absorbing the crowds there. It’s the only attraction that reliably opens well before early entry “officially” begins. Even if the gates open significantly early, guests will be held before or in the queues for other attractions, but they’ll actually be allowed to ride Rise – if it’s open. It averages 25% downtime during early entry.

If you can make it to Rise of the Resistance before early entry starts, your day is off to a smashing start. After that, you should head to Slinky Dog Dash before things get unmanageable over there. As long as you make it to the queue before early entry ends, you’ll experience some of the shortest waits of the day for this popular coaster.

Once the park is officially open for the day, make your way to Runaway Railway or the Sunset Boulevard attractions as most people are still stuck at Rise of the Resistance or Slinky Dog Dash!

A line backing up like this before Slinky opens for the day isn’t unusual

Know Your Lightning Lanes

Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane purchases are both incredibly popular at Hollywood Studios since everyone wants to avoid the lengthy standby waits. But that means that reservations for return times book up quickly for the whole day, so if you aren’t prepared, you may be stuck with only one or two worthwhile reservations during your Hollywood Studios day!

Your first decision is whether or not you want to purchase Individual Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance. Thankfully, other than the most crowded days of the year, wait times at Rise are long but manageable. And if you can rope drop Rise during early entry, you can ride with minimal wait. But the problem is unpredictable downtime. In this case, purchasing Individual Lightning Lane is more about safe-guarding your opportunity to ride – and less about skipping a wait. If you want to make sure you can ride, your safest bet is purchasing Individual Lightning Lane.

If you opt for purchasing Genie+, then you have to make reservations for return times at various attractions throughout the day. The number one rule to remember is to not use Genie+ reservations for shows. If you want even more guidance about which attractions are statistically the best use of Genie+, check out our Genie+ Priorities at Hollywood Studios.

An old-style plane is on fire on the show stage
Should you watch the Indiana Jones stunt show? Yes. Should you use Genie+ to do it? No.

To Dine Or Not To Dine

Hollywood Studios is a tale of two types of dining. It has some of the very best-rated counter service options of any park … and a bunch of mediocre table service options too. But if you don’t do your research and plan ahead, you may end up disappointed with your meal choices.

Here are the reliably top-rated dining options:

Table Service

Counter Service

At Hollywood & Vine you can be Fancy with Nancy (and other Disney Junior stars) at breakfast, or hang out with Minnie and some other classic characters for their “Seasonal Dine” at lunch and dinner.

A Place for Fans

Hollywood Studios as a whole might feel like a mash-up of a bunch of characters and universes, plus some tribute to Hollywood itself. But it’s undeniably a great face for fans, especially two types of fans:

Star Wars

Galaxy’s Edge is a masterpiece in imagineering. It truly does feel like you’ve been transported to another planet. There are customs and greetings that cast members stick to, the attractions are top-notch, and the roaming characters … while they could be kicked up a notch … help the land feel lived-in and real. You can even craft a lightsaber or a droid of your own to take home and remember your time in Batuu.

But even beyond Galaxy’s Edge, there are bits of Star Wars scattered throughout the park. Star Tours is located in Echo Lake, but it just received a major update with new scenes from recent Star Wars projects. And in Tatooine Traders, you can build lightsabers for a fraction of the cost of what you’ll find in Galaxy’s Edge. And if you want some quality time with Darth Vader, Chewbacca, or BB-8, you’ll need to trek all of the way to Star Wars Launch Bay in Animation Courtyard for their meet-and-greets.


Toy Story Land is like heaven for fans of that particular set of movies. You can meet Buzz, Woody, and Jessie. You ride Slinky. You get transformed into the size of a toy and get to see all of the board games and craft materials and game pieces of your childhood making up the land around you. You can eat tots and lunch box tarts and then spin around with a bunch of aliens.

But even beyond the realm of Toy Story, Hollywood Studios is the place to meet other cool Pixar characters like Sulley from Monsters, Inc. and a whole bevy of stars from The Incredibles. You can eat Jack’s Nom-Nom Cookie and chat fashion with Edna Mode. It’s fashion, dahling.

Where else can you watch Chewie and R2-D2 fix the Falcon while hiding from Stormtroopers and even hanging with Porgs?!

Wrapping Up the Night

Hollywood Studios is home to the long-running and much beloved nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic! This multi-media show is presented in an amphitheater with almost 7,000 seats and room for another 3,000 people standing. And the show is so popular, you better believe those seats all fill up regularly.

Fantasmic came back after the pandemic with new show scenes and refurbished technical details that all add up to an emotional and impressive spectacular. There are songs, water screens, water effects, fireworks, fire blasts, and more characters than you can probably count. It’s a do-not-miss experience at the end of your Hollywood Studios day.

That being said, Fantasmic is fantastic at telling its story and drawing you in. Part of that story is about challenges the heroes face, and the villains that come along with them. Since the show is presented after dark, the villain section can be scary for smaller children.

At the end of the show, you have up to 10,000 people all trying to get out of the amphitheater and then out of the park. There are multiple walkways opened up to try to accommodate this crush of humanity, but it’s still easy to get squished and squashed about, and to get separated from your party. Make sure you have a hand on your kids (or partners who are prone to getting lost), and practice patience as you waddle along to the park exit.

Buses and the Skyliner can get quickly overwhelmed when the show lets out. So if you’re near the top of the amphitheater (and therefore at the front of the pack for exiting), scurry along as quick as you can to stay at the front of the wave of people. But if you’re near the bottom of the amphitheater, or have to make stops to pick up your stroller or use the restroom, plan on lingering to get nighttime views of the emptying park, or shopping along Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards while you wait for the transportation system to clear out a bit.

One of several new scenes in Fantasmic features Moana. She knows the way!

Having a Plan is Key

Most first-time visitors to Hollywood Studios will head into the park without any plan. They’ll end up spending their entire day in 4 or 5 really long queues, and eating at the first place they come to without a long line to order. Probably a quick service spot on Sunset Boulevard, which have the worst satisfaction in the park.

A little research and a plan can take those 4 or 5 rides and turn them into 12-20 attractions in a day. Plus a good meal or two and some great snacks! If you’re a TouringPlans subscriber, you can check out some of our pre-made Hollywood Studios Touring Plans. Or you can create a personalized plan of your own and see what the optimizer recommends. Either method will give you an idea of the best way to approach your day.

If you’re a Hollywood Studios veteran, what tip would you share with a rookie? And if you’re planning your first visit, what questions do you have?

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

One thought on “What to Know: A First-Timers Guide to Hollywood Studios

  • We sat on the bleachers for about 10-15 minutes after Fantasmic and slowly walked out. The Skyliner line was absolutely manageable, but then the transfer station at CB. They had that line wrapped all over the place, pretty crazy. That was definitely something I wasn’t even thinking about until I got off the first leg.


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