The theme park originally known as Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Hollywood Studios was hatched from a corporate rivalry and a wild, twisted plot. At a time when Disney was weak and fighting off “greenmail”—hostile-takeover bids—Universal’s parent company at the time, MCA, announced that it was going to build an Orlando clone of its wildly successful Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Behind the scenes, MCA was courting the billionaire Bass brothers of Texas, hoping to secure their investment in the project. The Basses, however, defected to the Disney camp and were front and center when Michael Eisner suddenly announced that Disney, too, would build a movie theme park in Florida.
A construction race ensued, but Universal, in the middle of developing new attraction technologies, was no match for Disney, which could import proven concepts and attractions from its other parks. In the end, Disney-MGM Studios opened May 1, 1989, more than a year before Universal Studios Florida.
The Early Years
Once upon a time, the Studios’ soundstages and facilities produced many television shows and films, both live-action and animated. The 2003 Disney film Brother Bear was largely drawn—by hand, yet!— at what used to be Disney Feature Animation Florida; cinema nerds will recognize the park’s landscape in the background of Jim Varney’s magnum opus, Ernest Saves Christmas. Television series filmed here spanned everything from a revival of the classic game show Let’s Make a Deal to the syndicated Hulk Hogan fiasco Thunder in Paradise. There were also attractions adapted from popular TV shows, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire—Play It! and The American Idol Experience.
The Studios also hosted attractions that educated guests about TV and film production, the best known being a tram ride through and walking tour of the park’s back lot. Others included the Monster Sound Show, which used audience volunteers to show how sound effects were added to films, and SuperStar Television, which reenacted famous TV scenes using “green screen” technology and park guests as actors.
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 Bug'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 influenced Disney to rename the theme park in 2008. But rather than replace MGM with Pixar, But rather than replace MGM with Pixar, Disney went with the generic Hollywood.
The Studios in “Disney’s Hollywood Studios” is of little significance. Movie and television production ceased here long ago, and only a handful of aging attractions remain that offer a peek behind the scenes. DHS is now simply an amusement park whose theme is movies and TV.
In a public acknowledgment of the above, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced in 2015 that the park will be renamed again in the near future. The new moniker hasn’t been chosen yet, but expect something along the lines of “Disney’s Hollywood Adventure.”
Disney confirmed several long-rumored, major expansions to the Studios park in early 2016. New lands dedicated to the Star Wars and Toy Story film franchises are in the works, taking the place of now-closed attractions in the western third of the park. We don’t expect anything to open before 2018 at the earliest, and 2019 or 2020 might be a more realistic scenario for the major Star Wars attractions. Here’s what we’re hearing: the new Toy Story Land should open first and include a child-friendly roller coaster themed to Slinky Dog; a simpler attraction themed to the movie’s green aliens; and some character greetings. The as-yet-unnamed Star Wars land will have a headliner Millennium Falcon ride; another major attraction reenacting a battle between the Empire’s Stormtroopers and Rebellion fighters; at least one restaurant (themed to the cantina from the first movie), and possibly more character greetings.
|Baby Care Center||At Guest Relations; baby food and other necessities available at Oscar’s Super Service|
|Banking Services||ATM outside the park to the right of the turnstiles, by the Echo Lake side of Keystone Clothiers, and on Streets of America near Pizza Planet restaurant.|
|Camera and Photo Supplies||At The Darkroom on the right side of Hollywood Boulevard as you enter the park, just past Oscar’s Super Service|
|First Aid||At Guest Relations|
|Guest Relations and Information||Before you enter the turnstiles: There's a window before the alternate security checkpoint at the far left of the main entrance. After you're in the park: As you face the hat, the far left of the entrance.|
|Live Entertainment and Parade Information||Pick up a park map and Times Guide at the merchandise kiosk after you enter the park, at Guest Relations, or at retail and dining locations throughout the park|
|Lost and Found||At Guest Relations. After park close, all items are taken to the resort's main Lost and Found at the Transportation and Ticket Center|
|Lost Persons||Can be reported at Guest Relations, the Baby Care Center, or to any Cast Member|
|Storage Lockers||Can be rented for day-use to the right after entering turnstiles, on the left of Oscar's Super Service|
|Wheelchair, ECV, and Stroller Rentals||To the right of the entrance at Oscar's Super Service|
How Much Time To Allocate
Whereas it's impossible to see all of Epcot or the Magic Kingdom in one day, DHS is doable: There's much less ground to cover by foot, because its attractions are concentrated in an area about the size of Main Street, Tomorrowland, and Frontierland combined.
One fly in the ointment, however is the park's perverse way of scheduling live shows. A West Chester, Pennsylvania, mom explains:
If I had it to do over, I’d skip the Studios. The shows were good, but we kept missing showtimes because either all the shows started at the same time or the walk between them was too long with little ones.
Because DHS is smaller, 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. It’ll also help with the show-schedule problem, but even when the park is crowded, you can see everything in well under a day.
Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Evening
Because DHS can be seen in as few as 8 hours, many guests who arrive early in the morning run out of things to do by 5 p.m. or so and leave. Their departure greatly thins crowds and makes the Studios ideal for evening touring. Lines for most attractions are bearable, 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 of Fantasmic! Combining water, pyrotechnics, music, and characters, it's the kitchen sink of Disney's nighttime spectaculars. Staged at least twice weekly, weather permitting, in its own theater behind The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Fantasmic! is not to be missed. Unfortunately, Fantasmic! draws crowds; some guests stay longer at DHS, and others arrive after dinner from other parks expressly to see the show. Although the crowds thin in the late afternoon, they build again as performance time approaches, making Fantasmic! a challenge to get into (or find good seating). Also adversely affected are Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster and, to a lesser extent, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, both near the entrance to Fantasmic! Crowd levels throughout the remainder of the park, excluding at Toy Story Mania!, remain 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
On your left as you enter, Guest services 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.
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.
Though modest in size, the open-access areas of the Studios are confusingly arranged. As you face Grauman’s Chinese, two themed areas— Sunset Boulevard and Animation Courtyard—branch off of Hollywood Boulevard to the right. Branching left off Hollywood Boulevard is Echo Lake. Streets of America wraps around the back of Echo Lake, while Pixar Place's attractions are behind the Chinese Theatre and to the left of Animation Courtyard. Between Pixar Place and Animation Courtyard is Mickey Avenue, with its one minor attraction.