Saturday, October 7, 2023

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Day three of our orchestra trip brought us to Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, a park I last visited in 2018. I did not have high expectations going in, as I did not remember it as a full-day park. I was most looking forward to seeing Galaxy's Edge on the East Coast, but I wondered if the park would still feel like it was lacking in attractions overall despite the recent additions. To my surprise, that wasn't the case at all, and it ended up being my favorite park on the trip. This is going to be a comprehensive look at the whole park, so hold on tight!
Although we didn't ride the Skyliner, I was able to watch the gondolas quickly entering and leaving the DHS station as we walked toward the park gate. It looks great and appears quite efficient too!
The Skyliner, which connects Hollywood Studios with EPCOT and some of the resorts, has stations that each fit in with their respective park or resort. The teal paint scheme carries over into the park entrance.
The Chinese Theater sits at the end of the well-themed Hollywood Boulevard. The plaza it sits on is a little barren, but it certainly looks better without the gigantic Sorcerer Mickey hat that blocked the view of the theater for 15 years! If you know where you're looking, you can still faintly see the outlines of the marquees for The Great Movie Ride, but the attraction that recently replaced that classic was all new to me. 
Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway has a fantastic neon sign, and the ride is plain fun! A perfect example of trackless dark ride technology, the theme song is an earworm that will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. However, I really miss the Great Movie Ride despite having only ridden it once in 2014. I'm sure Disney was not happy with the properties represented in that live actor-heavy attraction, but I wish that they had recognized it as the Pirates of the Caribbean of the Studios park that it was. So even though we couldn't have both the old and the new, at least I'll always have my memories of that amazing Wizard of Oz scene and the entertaining "capture" of the tour guide on that "spectacular journey into the movies."
I didn't take many pictures of Hollywood Boulevard in the daytime, but it's a great showcase of recreated Art-Deco buildings, which is probably my favorite style of architecture.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was an E-Ticket attraction that was exactly as I remembered it. I prefer this version over the Guardians of the Galaxy retheme at California Adventure, and it fits in much better to its surroundings here than on the West Coast.
Despite being simply the world's fanciest drop tower, the Eisner-era Tower of Terror is intricately detailed with its theme as the abandoned Hollywood Tower Hotel. 
Besides the thrilling free falls, the best part of the Tower of Terror is the "5th dimension" scene where the elevator car moves forward across the floor (even though that scene is really just a rehash of the preshow if you think about it)! I'm sure that the Tower of Terror won't receive a Guardians retheme here, but it would be cool if it received the randomized "New Dimension of Chills" sequences like at Disneyland Paris.
Even though Hollywood Studios has lost any semblance of being a functioning movie studio, this statue remains as an homage to when the park was more focused on the "Golden Age of Hollywood" than Star Wars.  
The well-worn plaque spells out the old mission statement for the park, and it might be the last place where you can still see the Disney-MGM Studios logo.
One of the highlights for me at the park was the Walt Disney: One Man's Dream exhibit, which was as entertaining as the last time I had viewed it. Although most people are likely unaware of the significance of many of these pieces, it is so cool to think that the advanced theme park attractions of today have their roots in simple things like Roger Broggie and Wathel Roger's "Project Little Man" from 1949. 
You can also walk behind the display case and see the mind-numbing system of cables and cams that operated this one little figure. 
There's this model of the west side of Disneyland's Main Street, which is slightly different from how the final product turned out. This model can be seen in the first episode of the original Disneyland TV show, where Walt explains it while looming over Main Street Station.
The Crystal Arcade is called the Crystal Palace in the model and is closer to the actual location of the Penny Arcade. You can also see the China Closet porch to its left, which ended up being located on the other side of the street. However, the facade remained the same.
This wonderful model of Sleeping Beauty Castle includes several details that have been lost today, like the ivy-covered walls, swans in the moat, and even the benches in the outcoves along the bridge.
I find it impressive that the castle courtyard was built almost exactly as-is in the model, right down to the tiny decorative raven over the arch at center (unless the model was made after the park opened).
This model of the Jungle Cruise also includes how the rest of Adventureland looked when the park opened. It is fun to think that Disney likely has many other models like this packed away somewhere in "the vault."
This model is especially insightful for how it depicts the two-sided facade of the Plaza Pavilion prior to the addition of the Enchanted Tiki Room. It's not a shining example of the early Imagineers' work, but it's charming nonetheless.
The balcony of the lost Jungle Cruise boathouse appears to have a piece of its railing missing, unless that's supposed to be a hidden Mickey. I'm honestly not sure!
Although a significant portion of the exhibit has been removed in the past few years for a character meet-and-greet, there is still this display of It's a Small World facade studies. 
A model of the Tower of the Four Winds sits to its left.
I didn't intend for this picture to have Lincoln looming over the camera, but it turned out kind of creepy! I'm unsure, but this may be the original figure used at the New York World's Fair. The final part of the exhibit is a film on Walt Disney's life, which I was happy to see was still playing. It was as enjoyable as always for me, although one of my friends used it as a nap session. :-)
I had seen Toy Story Land in its opening year five years ago, so I let the rest of my group wait in the hour-long line for the Slinky Dog Dash coaster while I did some other attractions near the end of the evening. We did see the Green Army Men marching through the land, however, and rode the small Alien Swirling Saucers ride, which is a clone of Mater's Junkyard Jamboree at DCA. Toy Story Land could use an extra attraction or two to absorb some capacity, but it does its job as a "filler" area secondary to Galaxy's Edge, even if it's not the most thematically inspired. 
I skipped Midway Mania at DCA last year, so it was fun to ride it again after a while. This attraction still holds up really well after 15 years of operation. It's a great example of a screen-based shooting dark ride, and I could really appreciate the amusement park references painted in blacklight on one of its walls. (From left, we have the Riverview Park parachute tower as the Luxo lamp, the Riverview Chutes, Pittsburgh's Luna Park entrance, the Riverview Park entrance, and an interpretation of the Aladdin's Castle fun house at Riverview.)
I am surprised that Muppet*Vision 3D is still going strong after more than three decades. It sits in a weird kind of mini-land just outside of Galaxy's Edge that includes some vestiges of the old Streets of America "backlot" sets. The packed audience was very receptive to the show, and I enjoyed it as well as a casual Muppets fan.
I still have the same opinion of Galaxy's Edge as I did after visiting the West Coast version: intricately designed, it's perhaps the most beautiful themed land ever created (in terms of sheer scale), but it's not really my favorite as a non-Star Wars fan. That didn't stop people from flocking it to droves on this April day, however!
Galaxy's Edge also fits into DHS much better than it does at Disneyland. With long, winding paths that connect it to the Muppet and Toy Story areas, it feels completely separate from the rest of the park, and its mountains do not encroach on another area like they do in Disneyland's Frontierland. It is thanks to this area alone that I now feel Hollywood Studios can be considered a full-day park.
Rise of the Resistance still blew me away, as I had somehow forgotten about much of the attraction since riding it at Disneyland last year. This is the first of the three preshows that set up the experience.
The true scale of this room cannot be captured in a picture. And then you back into an elevator and your ride vehicle shoots up to a second level.... it's a great sequence.
Elsewhere in the attraction, the final Kylo Ren animatronic was not functioning and was replaced by a projection on an adjacent screen. I was so caught up in the rest of the attraction, though, that I didn't even realize this until after we got off the ride! I had people from school tell me that they saw the figure working earlier in the day, and from what I've read, having this final scene in "B mode" is fairly common.
No one expected that one of Hollywood Studios' few remaining 1989 attractions, Star Tours, would still be operational today, but it lives on in the shadow of much more advanced attractions. It was a walk-on for us, which was surprising given it was a busy Spring Break weekend, but this 35-year-old simulator is also not drawing the crowds it used to attract.
The park's Echo Lake area is home to a lot of restaurants and architecture from the earliest days of MGM Studios. The Backlot Express quick-serve location is straight out of the 1990s, though some of its old decorations have been removed over the past few years. They used to have the go-kart that had Benny the Cab animated over it in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but that has gone missing since my last visit.
One interesting artifact that lives on is this mold for a fiberglass spacecraft from EPCOT's beloved Horizons attraction. The actual spaceship could still be seen on the Studio Tram Tour at Walt Disney Studios in Paris for several years until that attraction closed in 2020.
This arch sports the park's updated logo, which isn't the most beautiful design but effectively negates the word "Studios" to being a tiny part of the park's identity. When MGM Studios first opened, this gate was the "studio entrance" itself, with the animation building straight ahead (now Star Wars Launch Bay) also housing the entrance to the park's original Backlot Tour, which was over an hour in length.
After the sun goes down, the park becomes considerably more beautiful, especially along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, which are like many-layered cakes of neon. Other areas of the park are photogenic too, like this boat on Echo Lake that houses a quick-serve restaurant counter.
Gertie the Dinosaur, housing an ice cream concession, is both a tribute to "California Crazy" roadside buildings and an homage to an innovative silent film from the 1910s. It's just another part of the hodge-podge that is Echo Lake (which, by the way, makes up one ear of a giant hidden Mickey).
With the threat of an approaching thunderstorm, we were treated to some dramatic clouds that made for some nice photos. I especially like how they look as a backdrop to the delightful Art-Deco architecture of Hollywood Boulevard.
The Hollywood Studios entrance is less of a replica of LA's Pan-Pacific Auditorium than the California Adventure entrance, but it still is a nice look that sets the tone for the street to follow.
I also find it interesting that the pylons are outlined in neon at Hollywood Studios, but in the original Pan-Pacific Auditorium as well as at California Adventure, they are not.
The Crossroads of the World is another replica of a famous LA structure, and while it is unrealistic that an Art Deco spire would be plopped in the middle of a town square, I love how it catches your eye as soon as you walk into the park.
I had a lot of fun capturing all the park's neon signs with my camera. Just like at California Adventure's Cars Land, it is so refreshing to see a street with every dazzling sign in perfect working order.
The Beverly-Sunset is fronted by a great neon marquee, and another tower of neon crowns its roof.
Legends of Hollywood might be my favorite of the Sunset Boulevard marquees, this one based on the old Academy Theater. That theater's huge tower has been compressed on this facade, but it still looks great. All the neon is also animated, creating a wonderful effect as the sign comes on in stages.
The Majestic Theater was a Planet Hollywood location the last time I saw it, and it's looking much better now.
I could just sit and watch these marqueees blink on and off for a long time!
The Carthway Circle Theater is part of a block of other buildings here, and it houses a gift shop instead of a restaurant like in California, but it still looks good!
Rock 'N' Roller Coaster was closed during our visit, but I still had to get some pictures.
Surprisingly, when the ride reopened a few months ago, it was unchanged despite speculation that the longstanding Aerosmith theme would be removed.
I wasn't very sad that I didn't get to ride this coaster, though, as I have done it a couple of times previously. It's not the most spectacular ride simply as a roller coaster, but the music makes it so much better.
Before we left the park, we made our way back over to Galaxy's Edge. It was lightly raining and pretty much everyone else in the park was seeking cover as lightning struck overhead. This greatly played to our advantage, however, as we rode Millennium Falcon Smuggler's Run with a five-minute wait! Since we still had plenty of time, we figured we'd do Rise of the Resistance again and were shocked to walk all the way through the lengthy queue without stopping! I'm sure that few people can say that they've done both of these popular attractions within 30 minutes.
I really love Art-Deco buildings, if you can't tell by the abundance of pictures I took of Hollywood Boulevard!
I took a video clip of lightning bolts over the Chinese Theater, and you can see one in this shot. The night's performance of Fantasmic! was expectedly canceled, but some people still seemed upset. I don't think you can blame them with weather like this!
The Chinese Theater is beautifully lit at night as well, leading to lots of picture opportunities.
I am happy to see that the park replaced the twin marquees for the Great Movie Ride with this fun neon showpiece. It is mesmerizing to watch just like the rest of the neon signs at DHS.
Our day at Hollywood Studios was the surprise of the trip for me. I was expecting that we might run out of things to do halfway through the day, but that happily was not the case. It hurts me to say this, but I enjoyed it more than EPCOT, mostly because I don't really miss the attractions that were replaced in the past decade (with the exception of The Great Movie Ride of course)! It didn't hurt that crowds were relatively light for a Spring Break weekend, and we never waited more than 45 minutes for anything. Thanks for sticking with me if you read this far, and I'll be back next month with a final trip report from Disneyland!