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Updates to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Ride Ratings

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A mother from Ellicott City, Maryland, sent us this question last week:

Do you provide a description of how you come up with your star ratings for rides?  I’m not talking about the age-related ones, but the authors’ rating.  This question came up when we were reading about Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

As it happened, last week was also when the Unofficial Guide staff got together to review the ratings for every attraction in Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

The authors’ rating is the consensus opinion of the Unofficial Guides’ authors. And while everyone’s got personal favorites and criteria, all of us agree that the basic rating system functions something like this:

***** Attractions rated five stars  are iconic attractions by which all others are judged. These are generally combinations of great storytelling, attention to detail, and technical achievement, all done on a grand scale. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal is a good example, as is Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.

**** Four-star attractions are generally either done on a smaller scale attraction, like Mickey’s PhilharMagic, or it’s a headliner attraction that has aged technology or content (e.g., Living with the Land).

*** Three-star attractions are usually budget-friendly rides that Disney uses to increase the capacity of a particular area. Magic Carpets of Aladdin was the example we discussed most often here.

** Two-star attractions are usually older, lightly-themed carnival rides, such as Mad Tea Party, or in the case of Stitch’s Great Escape, a rare attraction with so little merit that it can’t be recommended.

* One-star attractions are either simple diversions that Disney promotes as an attraction, like Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, or the ride has material weaknesses in story, theme, ride experience, and maintenance, and should be avoided.

There are no zero-star attractions in Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. Also, an attraction can earn (or lose) half a star if it’s slightly better (or worse) than similar attractions.

Here’s a list of the Disney’s Hollywood Studios attractions whose authors’ ratings have changed in the 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a short explanation for the change:

Citizens of Hollywood *** 1/2  One of the best sets of roving street performers in any Disney park, you’ll find this comedy troupe on Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, dragging unsuspecting tourists into the antics. Previous rating: none

Fantasmic ****1/2 Not quite as good as the Disneyland version, which integrates existing park elements better. Some of us thought that for the hassle involved in getting a good seat, the script should be better. Previous rating: *****

Mulch, Sweat, and Shears ***1/2 This band of landscaping “brothers” plays loud classic rock cover songs from Journey to AC/DC, with a healthy dose of comedy and audience participation. Previous rating: none

Muppet*Vision 3-D **** We love the script and the gags, but Waldo, the “new” 3-D effect in the film, debuted in 1991, four months before Nirvana released Smells Like Teen Spirit. Technology has changed a lot since then, the film not so much. Previous rating: ****1/2

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights ****1/2 The best holiday event in Walt Disney World, Osborne Lights has fantastic effects, a great soundtrack, and it changes every year.  The debate over whether it deserved 5 stars centered around better crowd control and the lack of a story or narrative. Previous rating: none

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue ****1/2 Greatly improved by its last refurbishment, which included a different script, more classic Star Wars characters, better visual effects, and a different ride experience every time, we gave Star Tours an extra half star. Previous rating: ****

Studio Backlot Tour ***1/2 Several of us wanted to rate Backlot Tour lower than this. Residential Street is gone, as are the tours through the movie sets. Most of the movie props date back two decades. Previous rating: ****

Voyage of the Little Mermaid ***1/2 The performer who plays Ariel has to be one of the strongest singers of any in the Studios, because she’s the central singer in most of the show. But it’s a relatively small show whose effects and script haven’t been significantly updated in years. Previous rating: ****

Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream **** While most kids today probably think of Walt Disney as the man who drew Mickey Mouse, the first part of One Man’s Dream highlights the technical innovations, such as the multi-plane camera, that Walt and his staff brought to movie-making. From cartoons, to movies, to railroads, to theme parks and urban planning, the attraction shows that Walt had passion and interest far beyond what most people realize. Previous rating: ***

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Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

15 thoughts on “Updates to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Ride Ratings

  • One of my favorite posts to date. Great stuff! I love understanding the methodology of your research (Can’t help it, I’m a NERD and Disney fan!).

    Kinda wish you’d knock another half star off the Great Movie Ride; like Muppet Vision, it’s also painfully ignorant of the last decade+.

    Also interested in changes at EPCOT, which is really starting to disappoint me…. Feeling more and more like totally non-strategic amalgamation of Disney animation, the original concept of EPCOT, and corporate sponsorship content… and it’s impacting the ride quality and context.

    • I agree that The Great Movie Ride is now more of “The Sort-Of OK Movie Ride.” DHS is really stuck with a keep it or bulldoze it decision. I can’t see them spending the money it would take to update all those scenes only to see them become outdated again in a few years. I guess one thing they could do that would help without spending a fortune would be to edit in a new montage for the last room before the end of the ride. That could be done with a couple of decent editors in a fairly short time (after the copyright lawyers were done approving the new scenes). At the VERY least, I wish they could replace the existing grainy out-of-focus clips with better quality copies. The big jump to the widescreen color clip of Showboat is disappointing since it looks to me like they shot it with a super-8 camera off of a fuzzy low-def television screen tuned into a UHF station 50 miles away using a coat hanger as an antenna. (I’m practicing my snarky hyperbole, but I hope you get the idea…) Some of the clips in the queue area are pretty low quality as well.

      • Couldn’t agree with you more. (And appreciated the snarky hyperbole too – strong work!) It would seem some “facelifting” of the Great Movie ride would go a really long way.

      • Though I fel texactly as you do about The Great Movie Ride, when we finally got to it on our third trip, the kids love it. They insisted on going on it a second time. They loved every bit about it. I guess it still works for some guests. They had never even seen any of the movies.

  • My mom discovered Citizens of Hollywood by accident while the rest of us were on Rockin’ Rollercoaster. She insisted we wander the park so we could all see them and much to my surprise it was totally worth it! They are a great improv troupe and a good chance to sit and laugh for a few minutes.

  • Someone should tell the kids Ub Iwerks was the guy that drew Mickey Mouse, including every single frame of Steamboat Willy.

  • I’m glad to see One Man’s Dream get upgraded; it’s really a fabulous attraction. Surprised to see Backlot Tour still rated that highly. It’s just a shell of what it once was.

  • Funny to see this question today. I was reading the guide last night and wondering how the authors decide the “Scope and scale” for the attractions. Space Mtn and Splash Mtn need no explanation as “super headliners”, but Tomorrowland Speedway is described as a “Major attraction” while Buzz Lightyear is a “minor attraction”?

    • I think maybe the fumes got to us. Thanks for reading the book!

  • Backlot Tour should be at most 2 stars. I’m pretty sure they have been using the same pre-show for close to 20 years. It’s a complete waste of 45 minutes of park time.

    FWIW- I really likethings like the shooting gallery. It’s a lot of fun to play, certainly more fun that “riding” Stich.

  • We live in Tokyo, but visited WDW last summer. We inevitably compared attractions at the MK against the similar one at Tokyo Disneyland. My wife and I agreed that the one attraction that stood out as vastly inferior at WDW was the Little Mermaid. At Tokyo DisneySea, it is presented as theatre in the round. Ariel swims/flies above the crowd suspended by a harness and wires. Huge puppets and a monstrous Ursula are spectacular.

    • Oh, I was at Tokyo Disneysea and that Little Mermaid show was fantastic! At one time, she was right above me, she opened her arms and rays of light appeared from behind her. It was magical!

      I was pretty disappointed when I learned that WDW doesn’t have this show.

      • Tokyo’s Little Mermaid was a great show (it closed April 6, 2014). However, unless you get the translator or speak Japanese, you’ll never realize that Ariel decides that she shouldn’t go to the human world because it is better to stay at home where she’s meant to be. That version of the Little Mermaid would never work in the US.

    • Another show that I absolutely loved (and that convinced me that my next international trip would be to WDW) is One Man’s Dream II: The Magic Lives On ( ). I don’t think WDW has a version of this one either, does it? Hollywood Studios’s Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream sound like it’s much more on the informative side.


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