Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
“The extremely popular home of Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge”
As a European, I’m not too fond of a theme park called Disney Studios. Disney is known for its fantastic theme parks, but Walt Disney Studios in Paris… that’s just sad. I had a similar feeling in the United States for quite some time. Although Disney’s Hollywood Studios had a nicer layout and considerably more theming, this used to be the country’s least interesting Disney park. Fortunately, Disney wasn’t blind to the criticism. A large-scale expansion was announced in both France and America. Parisians are still waiting for the most important novelties, but the new version of Hollywood Studios in Orlando is already up and running. The park received a whole lot of new attractions and themed lands, including the highly anticipated Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge. And so this little park grew into the epicenter of all attention at Walt Disney World.
Two roller coasters are currently in operation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The oldest one is Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the only inversion coaster at Walt Disney World. It’s quite popular, by the way. During our stay, wait times below 60 minutes are rare. However, we are able to bypass most of the queue thanks to the single rider line. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster then delivers a moment of pure nostalgia. The original Aerosmith theme (which disappeared in Paris in 2019) is still in place here. Still, the thematic approach of this American version is completely different. This ride isn’t themed as a recording studio, but it simulates the evening rush hour in Los Angeles. It’s cool that this American version actually tells a story. However, it is a shame that nightly L.A. is portrayed by cheap-looking 2D sets. All in all, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is an excellent roller coaster, but it doesn’t feature a Disney-worthy theme.
Hollywood Studios’ second roller coaster is a lot less thrilling, but it’s at least as popular. Slinky Dog Dash has been one of Walt Disney World’s most beloved attractions since 2018. The queue is always long and reservations for Lightning Lane usually fill up within minutes. The situation becomes a lot more pleasant right before closing time, though. I entered the line a few minutes before 9 pm and my wait time was just 20 minutes. My first (and currently only) ride on Slinky Dog Dash took place in the dark and honestly… I liked the ride better than I expected. Both accelerations are tame, but other parts of the layout are surprisingly good. Interestingly, I even experienced two moments of airtime in the rear car. I also like Slinky Dog Dash’s appearance. Many fans criticize the attraction for being too simple, but I appreciated the ride’s dynamics. Just about all of Hollywood Studios’ attractions are indoors, so it’s nice to finally have a ride that’s visible for non-riders. Kinetic energy in an amusement park… I love it.
The highlights of Disney’s Hollywood Studios aren’t the roller coasters. The dark rides, however, have transformed this park into a world-class destination. The most incredible one is undoubtedly Star Wars – Rise of the Resistance. It has been Hollywood Studios’ most popular attraction since its opening in December 2019. And in fact, it remains the hottest ticket in the whole of Walt Disney World until this very day. Queues of 3 hours (or more) are pretty common, so it might feel like a challenge to experience the ride without spending an eternity in line. On-site hotel guests get a huge perk, though. Hollywood Studios opens early for residents of Walt Disney World hotels, which is ideal to avoid the long mid-day lines. We make our way to Rise of the Resistance first thing in the morning and we’re treated to a comfortable 30-minute line. If you aren’t eligible for Early Access, I’d recommend joining the queue right before park closing time. Or just spend your dollars on a Lightning Lane, if you don’t mind doing so.
Is Rise of the Resistance worth the hassle? The answer is definitely yes. The pre-shows are incredibly effective and the first encounter with the First Order counts as one of the most amazing moments in theme park history. The actual dark ride makes an ever-lasting impression, as well. The ride is filled with impressive special effects and the trackless ride system shows its strengths in the most perfect way. In addition, the attraction contains some fantastic animatronics. I don’t consider myself as a Star Wars fan, but this didn’t prevent me from loving the ride with my whole heart. The Imagineers have undeniably created the most immersive experience in an amusement park… ever.
Unfortunately, Galaxy’s Edge second attraction performs considerably weaker. While Star Wars fans may love the idea of flying the Millennium Falcon with their own hands, my experience with Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run turns out to be just okay. The pre-show is entertaining, but the accompanying animatronic failed during our visit. Hondo Ohnaka informed us via video call, after which we were divided into groups of six. This includes two pilots, two gunners and two engineers. The interactive aspect of the ride was nicely executed, but not every function is equally enjoyable. The pilots undoubtedly have the best position (also in terms of view, by the way), but the engineers get a rather boring job. The ride seems a combination of Star Tours and Mission SPACE. That’s why Smugglers Run feels like a big deja vu, despite all the complex technology behind this attraction.
Hollywood Studios’ newest dark ride is Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which has been built at the former location of The Great Movie Ride. The exterior remained mostly unchanged, but the actual attraction is totally different than its predecessor. Runaway Railway makes use of a trackless ride system, similar to the one used in Rise of the Resistance. However, the true highlight of this attraction is a song called “Nothing Can Stop Us Now”. The song has a prominent role in the (surprisingly good) pre-show, but it’s also played in the station and in the various scenes afterwards. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway turns out to be a colourful dark ride with a cheerful, somewhat chaotic atmosphere. Train driver Goofy takes us to the most diverse places, which are mainly brought to life by projections. Despite its extensive use of virtual environments, Runaway Railway contains the Disney magic I was hoping for. In fact… this attraction exceeded my expectations by a large margin. The scenes are packed with wonderful effects and I discovered new details during every ride. Awesome attraction!
Most of the attractions mentioned above belong to the new generation. However, you’ll also encounter a few rides from Hollywood Studios’ early years. This includes Muppet Vision 3D (an entertaining, but slightly dated 4D cinema) and Star Tours. The latter received a major upgrade ten years ago, but the hardware of this attraction has been there since 1989. Despite the fact that I don’t like motion-simulators, I consider Star Tours as a solid attraction. The queue is beautiful, the visuals are excellent and the ride is quite re-rideable, thanks to its changing story lines. The only downside of Star Tours is its location. I’ve always found it odd that Star Tours ended up in a studio theme park, but the situation feels even more bizarre since the opening of Star Wars Land. Star Tours is extremely close to Galaxy’s Edge, where you can find a similar attraction. Although I realize that Star Tours can’t be moved in a blink, the ride would be a better fit for Magic Kingdom.
Time for The Twilight Zone – Tower of Terror. The ride’s concept was exported to Anaheim, Tokyo and Paris, but the 1994 original can be found here in Orlando. And believe it or not: the oldest version remains the best one. The hotel tower hasn’t only become an icon for Walt Disney World, it also contains a thrill ride of an incredibly high level. The ride is a lot better balanced than the other versions. The attraction is literally built like a complete story: there’s an atmospheric introduction, an unexpected plot twist (the famous 5th Dimension) and the ride ends with a spectacular finale. Although Tower of Terror is nearing its 28th birthday, it remains one of Disney Imagineering’s greatest achievements. Fantastic!
Entertainment plays an important role in every Disney theme park, including Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In fact, this is Walt Disney World’s largest show park. Still, the covid pandemic has left some scars in this department. The popular nighttime spectacular Fantasmic and the mini-musical Voyage of the Little Mermaid have been inactive for two years. And when we attended Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, it became clear that the show was performed in a modified version. All performers maintained social distancing, which led to a rather awkward atmosphere. Can you imagine Belle and Beast’s famous dancing scene with a 2-metre distance between the actors? It just didn’t feel right.
The actors were required to maintain a safe distance, but there were other rules for guests. More than 2,000 people attend Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and the theater of Frozen Sing-Along Celebration was also packed during every single show. Both shows have their pros and cons, by the way. Frozen contains a lot of humor, but the show feels too simple. It consists of some projected scenes from the movie and there’s no live singing on stage. Indiana Jones, on the other hand, is a spectacle with impressive sets and great effects, but there’s too much talking in between. Similar shows in Paris and Shanghai had/have the same problem: fantastic stunts are often interrupted by minutes-long conversations. The opening scene of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is great, but the rest of the show is just meh.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Hollywood Studios is a park that currently requires a sophisticated strategy. The way you organize your visit may heavily impact the number of rides and shows you’re able to experience. And while this may sound strange, I wouldn’t necessarily advise you to arrive early in the morning. Despite the fact that Early Entry for on-site hotel guests is a huge benefit, the following hours are actually quite unpleasant. Hollywood Studios attracts ten thousands of guests every single day, and most of them immediately head to the big attractions in the morning. Wait times of 60 to 90 minutes are therefore quite common during the first few hours of the day. Rise of the Resistance even manages to form multiple-hour lines within minutes after the park’s official opening time. From the afternoon, however, crowds feel more manageable. The entertainment offerings ensure a better distribution of park guests and lots of people park-hop to EPCOT or Magic Kingdom for the nighttime shows. And since it’s always a good idea to do the opposite of the herd, I think that this might be the ideal time to hop over to Hollywood Studios. Especially off-site guests (who can’t enjoy Early Park Entry) should rather focus on the evenings than the mornings.
WORTH A VISIT?
Crowds are inevitable during every trip to Hollywood Studios these days. You could say that the park has become a victim of its own success, but that sounds too negative. There’s a good reason why all these people come here: the park offers an incredible lineup of top attractions. Hollywood Studios has the best thrill ride, the most thrilling roller coaster and two of the best dark rides in the entire resort. This used to be a park that was only worth a visit because of Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but times have changed. The result of the park’s recent metamorphosis is nothing less than overwhelming. The general atmosphere has improved dramatically and Hollywood Studios is currently even Walt Disney World’s best theme park when it comes to E-ticket attractions. An update in the entertainment department would be nice, but that’s my only complaint about this park at the moment. Can I summarize the Hollywood Studios story as “From Zero to Hero”? And may I hope for a similar result when it comes to Walt Disney Studios in Paris?
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Photo Gallery 2014, 2017 & 2022
STAR WARS – GALAXY’S EDGE
TOY STORY LAND
How long would you wait for Slinky Dog Dash? Is Tower of Terror the world’s best themed thrill ride? And do you know a more immersive dark ride than Rise of the Resistance? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.