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Today I am going to take you through Disney's Hollywood Studios
. This fun park is geared towards feeling like you stepped on the set of a movie; it is also home to the Pixar characters (Cars, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up, A Bug’s Life, etc.) I don’t think it is possible to fit it all in to a day, but you may not want to see it all either. But if you want to see most of it, you will want to be strategic in your order.
Note: One of my top 2 favorite shows is at this park – Fantasmic. It does not run every night so make sure you pick a day to come where it will be showing!
What our day at Hollywood Studios looks like. . .
We eat breakfast early at our hotel so we are at the park 20-30 minutes before it opens. Like all the parks you will need to go through security before entering. Hollywood Studios does a cute “show” to open the park where someone dressed like a movie producer gets you (the extras) read. When he yells action the park opens. Even though it seems like a lot of people there when the park opens, it will get waaaay more crowded – trust me! (Try to do this park when you get morning magic hours!)
AS SOON as the park opens immediately go to the Toy Story Mania ride! Don’t know where it is? Follow the crowd; they do! It is an incredibly popular ride, and for good reason! You will want to grab fastpasses right away (or you may not get on the ride again that day, unless you want to wait in an hour wait!!) . After you get your fastpasses - ride the ride on standby. Everyone can ride this lighthearted fun ride. After walking through the cutest line with larger than life toys you will get in a car, put on your 3D glasses, and get ready to use your shooter/canon. As you go through there are different screens where you shoot rings, darts, pies, etc. But it is better than 3D because if you hit a balloon air will blow at you, etc. This is SUPER fun for kids and adults of all ages!
If you are into seeing characters I would get in line opposite the ride to see Buzz & Woody. The line gets longer throughout the day. You will probably wait up to an hour, but there are fun photo ops along the way. (Your party member should be back in time to jump in line with you!) In that area you will also see the green army men who will pose for pictures or sign autograph books too.
- Tower of Terror – The theming on this is INCREDIBLE! You will enter an old hotel that is all dusty as it is no longer open. Then you will watch a short movie from the Twilight Zone (it is cheesy so my son wasn’t scared – he thought the big eye was hilarious!) where you learn more about the hotel’s past. You will then head to the ‘basement’ where you will get on the ‘only working elevators’ – the freight elevators. In this ride you will go up and see different floors with the ghosts of the family that vanished in the elevator long ago. Your car will actually move forward through a floor (super cool how they made that work!) It is all dark. Then comes the thrilling part – as you face outwards so you can see the Hollywood Studios park (and how high up you are) your elevator will drop quickly then bounce back up & drop again. I think it is GREAT! But if someone doesn’t like the dark, slightly scary content, or the quick drop/bounce & drop – you may decide to skip this. You need to be at least 40” tall to ride and not be too frightened. My just-turned-6 year old LOVED it! He wanted to go again & I was happy to do so!! (My hubby who has a more tender stomach did not go on this)
- Rock ‘n Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith – Step into a recording studio where you see Aerosmith wrapping up a practice session The show is at the other end of town and they are going to be late; they invite you to come along and board your stretch ‘limousine’. This ride is FAST from the moment you move! FYI- It goes upside down. There are some neon signs you pass along the way as you are zipping along. You need to be 48” tall to ride (my kids were all too short to ride). I love roller coasters and enjoyed riding it once, but I don’t think I’d feel the need to ride again. Why? It is very jerky and my neck ended up being sore afterwards. It is also VERY loud (Aerosmith music) with 125 speaker, 24 sub-woofer, 32,000 watt, onboard audio system. So although I love the speed, I could pass on the noisy neck pain. (Do I sound older than I am or what?!)
- During the first 2 hours the park is open ONLY there are characters under the iconic Sorcerer’s Hat. You find classic characters in Hollywood costumes or unique groupings where you can get a picture with Donald & Daisy.
- The Magic of Disney Animation – This 20 minute video will show you how Disney brings their characters to life. If you are looking for a way to get out of the heat, this may be a good option for you. I’ve never thought my kids would really be interested and didn’t really want to spend the 20+ minutes… so we also have never done this.
- One Man’s Dream – is a self guided tour through memorabilia helping you to learn more about the man who started the happiest place on earth – Walt Disney! The grandparents enjoyed browsing around and said they’d gladly go back. I never really wanted to spend the time and though my kids were too young to appreciate it. We will plan to do this when our oldest hits mid elementary.
- The American Idol Experience – I’ve never even been tempted to do this. I LOVE to sing, but with the auditions and then if you get picked I feel like it would just eat up a bunch of your time. But if singing is your dream you may want to try. I’ve heard that if you actually make it to the finals you get a special pass that allows you to get on attractions with little to no wait.
- Backlot Tour – This is an interesting ride/attraction. You will start by standing in three rows to see how they do a stunt scene in the water. There will be a couple folks picked to participate: think missals that make water spray and fire from explosion. My kiddos were all okay, but ready to move on. Then you will go through an old warehouse with lots of props from movies (that was pretty cool) and board your tram. The tram will take you on a tour of the backlot – you will see the mickey water tour, costume department, see old planes & props, and hear about the Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Show. This 35 minute attraction is interesting & fits in with Hollywood Studios well. We try to do it every visit, but it is not one of my top attractions.
- Nearby the Backlot Tour you will find a photo op (no autographs, sorry) opportunity with Mike and/or Sulley from Monsters Inc. My kids thought this was GREAT!
LUNCH – I suggest eating early or late to avoid long lines, crowds, and trouble finding tables. If you are looking for some recommendations for lunch, don’t miss my post on Dinning at Disney. I HIGHLY recommend 50s Prime Time Café (sit down, super cute themed restaurant, with delicious food and HUGE portions). If you are looking for quick counter service meal try Backlot Express (with free drink refills), ABC Commissionary Lane, or Toy Story Pizza Planet (just like the movie!).
After lunch I recommend using your fast pass to ride Toy Story Mania again. Then do whichever of these shows/attractions look interesting to you & your family:
- Looking for more autographs & photo ops? Go inside The Magic of Disney Animation building. There are always a variety of rotating characters here. There are usually 5 characters at any one time, and by the time you get through them you may be able to get in a line to see the new ones. Here are some characters we’ve seen here in the past: Captain Hook, Geppetto, Pinochio, Mr & Mrs. Incredible, Sorcerer Mickey (we call him Magic Mickey), Meeko, Frozone, and characters from Winnie the Pooh.
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid – is a WONDERFUL 15 minute show. You will appreciate the air conditioning! This show runs continuously throughout the day – no need for fastpass. Your favorite characters come to life as the live actors retell the story with songs! I love the special effects, props, and large Ursula – one of the meanest villains in my book. My kids really enjoyed it! I wouldn’t miss this!
- Indiana Jones Stunt Show – it is outdoors so it gets hot towards midday (although a few fans do a nominal job at keeping the air moving). This is really fun look at how movies do stunts. They run through various scenes in this 30 minutes show. I still remember seeing this as a kid!
- The Great Movie Ride – begins when you enter a replica of Hollywood's historic Grauman's Chinese Theatre. As you weave through the line you will see costumes from rotating movies. Then while you wait you will watch clips from classic movies (note that while there is no age/height requirement, some of the movie clips or live actors as part of the ride may be too scary for younger children). When it is your turn you board large vehicle with your guide. You will go through scenes from some classic movies like Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, Alien, Tarzan, Radars of the Lost Ark, and more. When you get to the 1930s gangster area there will be a shoot out with live actors popping out of the scene and your guide will pop out to interact with them (my preschoolers were a little startled, but okay sitting on Mommy or Daddy’s lap). This is a fun look back if you like movies and will take about 20 minutes (assuming there is a minimal line).
- Star Wars Jedi Academy – this show run throughout the day. I really only recommend it if your kid is in the show (you got tickets earlier in the day ) then it is AWESOME and the experience of a lifetime! It is free! Your kid will go up with other kids, learn about using a light saber, get a chance to fight Darth Vadar, and get a certificate – pretty cool!! But unless your kid is up there you may walk by & watch for 5 minutes and be done. (Note: if your child is participating there will be a Disney Photographer who will take pictures and give you a number to claim the images to add to your photopass if you like – he took some cool pictures. Plus then you know you can focus on getting a video of the memorable event)
- If you have young children they will be delighted to get some play time in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area. The will love sliding down a blade of grass or climbing up the giant ant. It is a LOT of fun, but it can be hard to keep track of the kids as the pathways interconnect. So make sure you keep a close eye on them.
- Disney Junior Live on Stage – is another show aimed at the preschool crowd. If your kids watch Disney Channel shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Handy Manny, and more they will be delighted to see them come to life. Note you will sit on the floor. There is 1 or 2 Disney actors that interact with the 3 foot tall animatronic characters that pop out of the floor (the characters look bigger when you are sitting on the floor). It was cute & okay to see once, unless you have a HUGE fan you may want to skip this. (Note: there are a couple benches at the back of the room for grandparents or people with mobility issues. This show has a LONG line usually.)
- Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show – We have actually never seen this. I’ve heard it is hot (not just from the open air seating, but the stunts they do) and noisy. I’ve never thought it would be a good fit for our family of young preschool/infant children. With that being said, it now features Lighting McQueen so the next time we visit we will probably try to plan to see this 33 minute stunt show.
- Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey – We’ve also never done this. There is no height requirement, but Disney describes it as a show for big kids. I guess it is a mystery that uses sound – so there are large portions of the show in the dark. I don’t think we’ll attempt this for quite sometime. And again, there are so many great SHOWS here, you can’t possibly do them all.
Don’t miss the 3:45 (check for current times) Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade. This is the only park that features all your favorite Pixar friends from Toys Story, A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Monsteres Inc, and Up. Hint: If you stand by Star Tours (on the Star Tours side of the street) you will see the parade at the beginning and then be able to hop on Star Tours after the parade passes, just remember to use your Fastpasses as other guests will have the same idea.
Dinner- I HIGHLY recommend reserving a Fantasmic Dinner Package! These go quickly so call 180 days before you plan to be at the park to reserve a package at one of 3 participating restaurants: Hollywood Brown Derby, Hollywood & Vine, or Mama Melrose. (See Dinning Options for my review). The package means that you have reserved seating for the show! It also means you don’t have to stand in the LONG, CROWDED line with lots of people pushing for an hour before the show. With this ticket you get in a special door where you walk right up.
We usually use this time to see the Beauty of the Beast live show (right next to Fantasmic)– This is the last show of the day & is the least crowded & least hot. We love this 25 minute live show with the catchy music and beautiful costumes from a movie we all love. This is an open theatre that gets warm during the midday. We always try to catch the last show of the day when it is cooler and we are in that area anyway waiting for Fantasmic to start. This is really good!
If there is anytime left before Fantasmic feel free to try and ride Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n Roller Coaster that are in this area. Or take the time to get your picture taken in front of the Hat, Tower of Terror, or by street props. You are welcome to bring snacks or drinks into Fantasmic, so feel free to grab something to keep your kids entertained while you wait for the show to start!Fantasmic! This is one of my top two shows – DON”T MISS it!! It doesn’t play every night so plan carefully! Some nights it plays at 7pm and 9pm, others it only plays once. If you haven’t got a Fantasmic Dinner Package plan to line up 1 hour early to be sure you get a seat or try going to the later show that will be less crowded (line up 30 minutes early for this time). You will sit in an open air theatre for this show. It is Magic Mickey fighting off the Villains (so there are parts that can be scary for toddlers or preschoolers (my 4 year old was scared & we left, but my 3 year old was fine & LOVED it). You will see fire tricks, water tricks, images in the water, fireworks-ish, Villains, and Princesses riding by on boats in the water – this show has EVERYTHING!! It lasts 25 minutes .
If you have any time left this is a great time to see:
- Muppets Vision in 3D – I don’t know why, but I was never a huge Muppet fan, but my husband is! SO we try to catch this 12 minute show. It is in 3D with special effects that will fill the theatre. Your kids will not be frightened as they may be in other 3D shows (one of the few shows still open)
- Get a nighttime picture in front of the iconic hat
- Ride your favorite rides again (they are all open for evening magic hours)
What to see if you are squeezing it into a 1/2 day: I know some people try to do Animal Kingdom in a 1/2 day along with Hollywood Studios in the other 1/2 day. Although you would be missing a LOT of fun, you might be able to squeeze in the top attractions in 7 hours (in order with my #1 choices first):
- Toy Story Mania (you may have trouble getting on this as the fastpasses are often gone by noon, but try to get a fastpass)
- Star Tours
- Tower of Terror
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- See characters or pick one of the other attractions
- Fantasmic (try to do the 9pm show so you have longer to see other attractions & don’t have to wait as long to get into the show)
Star Wars Weekends: If you coming during the super fun (but VERY busy) Star Wars Weekends, don’t plan on having time to see many ‘normal’ shows. Your time will be spent seeing unique characters, parades, and waiting in line!! Plan to spend 2 days at Hollywood Studios! If you are a Star Wars fan this is a lot of fun – you will find characters all over the park and just strolling around. Expect to stand in line – we waited 2 hours to get a picture with my hubby’s favorite Chewbacca! There are stormtroopers that guard the entrance to Hollywood Studios when you arrive – it’s a hoot! The Star Wars Disney friends come out under the iconic hat around midday and rotate every 20 minutes – you’ll have to jump back in line several times to get all the characters or the character you were hoping for. The parade is VERY cool! Would I do it again? Jury is still out – it was VERY cool! But it was unbelievably crowded and you need to allow 2 days to see Studios.
LOOKING FOR MORE?!?
Check out other helpful topics in the Dreaming of Disney Series below!
- When to take your kids (what is the 'perfect' age)
- Planning for your trip (time of year, how long to stay, Disney hotels, and affordability/deals)
- Tidbits (20 tips from the best place to see Mickey to strollers to super cool Disney features you may not know about)
- Dinning: My top picks for snacks, quick meals, and reviews on 12 restaurants (including character meals)
- Magic Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland, CA
And if you are ready to book your next magical vacation may I recommend:
Lori Watson, of Watson Vacations, is a stay-at-home, homeschool mom to 5. Watson Vacation's services are always FREE to you when you book your Disney/Sandals/Cruise/or any other vacation stay with us and our prices are the same as if you'd book directly through Disney and other vendors! Why use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner? We offer so MUCH more for free! Our concierge services include (but aren't limited to) resort booking, dining reservation arrangements, ticket purchases, special events, special park itineraries and planners to help you avoid crowds. We also offer weddingmoon and honeymoon planning, family reunion planning and Much MUCH more! For your FREE, no-obligation quote, email Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/