Thursday, June 30, 2011

Disney's Hollywood Studios: First Time Visitors


Let's face it...at one point or another, you've dreamed about being a movie star. I bet even Dr. David Phillips sometimes imagines himself in John Wayne's shoes. Lord knows he's imagined himself in the Gipper's shoes.

There's something so elusive about Hollywood. There are currently thousands of young twenty-somethings waiting tables and living in their hatchbacks, just waiting for their big break. They dream of Oscars, Emmys, and maybe even Golden Raspberries (hey...a paycheck is a paycheck). I have a suggestion: Instead of living that starving artist lifestyle on the off-chance that you'll get to experience the Hollywood dream, just go to Disney's Hollywood Studios. This theme park, which opened in 1989, combines old Hollywood glamor with just a hint of movie magic. Are you a first time visitor needing the deets on this 135 acre park? Read on and don't forget to smile for the camera!

Disney's Hollywood Studios is reachable by bus and car. No monorail service here! Also, in this busy park, Fast Passes will be your BEST friend!

Attractions
Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly known as MGM Studios) features a lot of "big boy" attractions. Some of the most thrilling rides at Walt Disney World are found here. There are also lots of shows and one of the best firework displays I've ever seen. Like other parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disney's Hollywood Studios is divided into several "lands": Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Sunset Boulevard, Pixar Place, Animation Courtyard, and Streets of America.

Hollywood Boulevard
Think of this "land" as the red carpet, welcoming you into the park. Similar to Main Street, U.S.A. Hollywood Boulevard does not feature any attractions. Instead, it is home to many stores and The Citizens of Hollywood. Formerly known as Streetmosphere actors, these Cast Members are the cream of the crop and depict citizens of Hollywoodland from the days of yore. At the end of Hollywood Boulevard, it's hard to miss the giant Sorcerer Mickey hat. It's nothing to get excited about...it's just a pin store. It does make for a great photo-op, but that's pretty much it. Directly behind the pin store you'll find a replica of Grauman's Chinese Theater which houses The Great Movie Ride. This is also where you'll find The Hollywood Brown Derby, a restaurant reminiscent of the famed Hollywood landmark.

Echo Lake
The architecture surrounding this lagoon is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Be sure to grab a quick snack at Gertie (I promise you can't miss her) and if you get a chance, eat at the '50's Prime Time Cafe.
  • The American Idol Experience: Auditions are open daily at this unique attraction! Work your way through to the finale and you may win a Fast Pass to an actual American Idol audition!
  • A.T.A.S.: This little plaza is home to busts of Hollywood greats including Andy Griffith and, of course, Walt Disney himself. Great for photo ops!
  • Star Tours: The Adventure Continues: This ride just received a major refurb and is now a 3D simulator ride. This attraction will randomly send you to a destination made famous by the George Lucas films. You may see a few familiar (and scary) faces!
  • Jedi Training Academy: Warning...this is not for adults! When my husband discovered this he was really disappointed! Let your kids train to become Jedis and they'll receive a free lightsaber and robe. Don't forget...girls can be Jedis too!
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular: Click the link to learn more about this neat show!
Sunset Boulevard
This land is home to some of the biggest chills, thrills, and spills at Disney's Hollywood Studios! Only quick-service eateries are available here (i.e. burgers, turkey legs, etc.).
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: I love, love, love this attraction. The themed queue is attractive (and somewhat air conditioned) and on especially hot days they turn misters on to keep guests cool. After watching a "lost" episode of The Twilight Zone, guests are ushered onto service elevators. Never mind that ghosts of former doomed guests haunt the elevator passages! You'll free fall faster than the speed of gravity, so hold onto those Mickey Ears!
  • Rock-n-Roller Coaster: *Side note: my husband, an avid Entourage fan abbreviates everything that he possibly can. So we often refer to this attraction as Rockin'.* This themed coaster, featuring Aerosmith, is fast, fast, fast! Unlike traditional coasters, this one does not climb a hill before releasing riders onto loops and curls. It launches you from 0 to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds! Pair that with an awesome soundtrack (from Aerosmith, natch) and this ride will quickly become a family favorite.
  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage: This beloved movie comes to life on stage. Be sure to check the times in the morning so you can plan accordingly!
Pixar Place
I've made it well-known that I'm not okay with the Pixarification of Disney World. With that being said, if there's a niche for computer animated characters, I suppose Disney's Hollywood Studios is the best place. Pixar Place is fairly new and very, very busy.
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!: This new attraction is super fun and challenging. Guests don 3D glasses and load up into whirly-twirly ride vehicles that take them through a series of 3D midway games. Using a toggle switch, guests compete with their ride vehicle partners in a series of games like Hamm & Eggs (throwing eggs) and Rex and Trixi Dino Darts (throwing darts). You'll also compete in a ring toss, suction cup shooting gallery, and and a baseball throw. This attraction is incredibly popular, so before doing ANYTHING else at the park, run and grab a Fast Pass for this ride.
Animation Courtyard
This area is all about...you guessed it animation!
  • Walt Disney: One Man's Dream: This exhibit is beautiful and chock full of information about the man of the hour, Walter Elias Disney. Baby Boomers will especially appreciate the displays from movies and shows that were popular during their adolescence. Be sure not to miss the Julie Andrews narrated film, One Man's Dream!
  • Journey into Narnia: Check out props from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian.
  • Playhouse Disney Live on Stage: I don't have kids, so I don't know a lot about this stage show. I do know that it features characters from Mickey Mouse Club House and Handy Manny...whoever that is.
  • The Magic of Disney Animation: Learn about the art of animation alongside a helpful Cast Member and Mushu the dragon (from Mulan). You can also learn how to draw Disney characters, meet characters, play interactive games, and see props/stills from upcoming Disney flicks. This attraction/show is often overlooked but it's really a lot of fun. My favorite? Recording dialogue from a famous Disney movie and seeing it played back. Grayson and I have a lot of fun with that one...he he he.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid: This live stage show features lasers, water, and puppets that help tell the story of Ariel, Eric, Sebastian, and Flounder. Don't sit too close to the stage or you might see the puppeteers.
Streets of America
These backlot sets make you feel like you're really strolling the streets of NYC or San Francisco. This area is perfect for taking fun pictures. Eateries include the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, Pizza Planet, and the ABC Commissary.
  • Muppet Vision 4D: This 4D show is super fun! I highly recommend it! Don't forget to glance around the holding area for some Disney jokes. A net full of Jello? Say it a little faster and it sounds like Annette Funicello!
  • Studio Backlot Tour: Take a ride through Catastrophe Canyon and check out lots of props and sets from movies and television shows. Warning...you might get wet!
  • Honey I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure: This playground puts tots at a "bugs-eye" view of a backyard. Grayson and I loved this playground growing up and your kids will too! I would suggest letting them actually watch the movie first.
  • Lights! Motors! Actions! Extreme Stunt Show: Anything male that moves will be excited about this awesome show! Learn all about the movie magic surrounding stunt cars, motorcycles, and even jet skis!
Parades
The current parade at Disney's Hollywood Studios is certain to delight the youngsters, mainly because it's short (6 minutes) and features only Pixar characters. Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun is very similar to the Magic Kingdom's Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! parade. It's high energy and lots of fun. If you're lucky enough to be visiting during a Star Wars Weekend, a special parade featuring characters from the films/tv shows is lots of fun for boys (and girls!).

Shows
During the summer, various music groups will perform for an all-out dance party complete with characters! My favorite group? Mud, Sweat, and Shears, a landscape performing group. If your kids need to expend a little energy, this nighttime dance party is the place to do it.

Disney Channel Rocks! is another show currently housed on/near the Sorcerer's Hat/Pin Store. Although we have The Disney Channel, we're more HBO/Cooking Channel people, so I'm really not sure what this show entails. I'm sure that tweens and Justin Bieber fans will enjoy it.

Fireworks
The most epic water/firework display EVER is housed at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Fantasmic! features almost every Disney character ever, including a 60-foot Maleficent and Jafar in cobra form! During the busy season, two shows are scheduled nightly. During the "value" season, there's typically only one showing. Either way, it's well worth it. Due to its popularity, you'll want to grab a seat about an hour before showtime. If possible, go to the second showing because it's usually less crowded. If you sit near the front, you may get misted. If you don't get a center seat, don't worry! There isn't a bad seat in the house! As long as you can see the stage (the giant island in the center of the lagoon) you'll be able to catch all of the action.

I don't want to give away too much of this awesome show, but I will say that it's probably going to make your kids cry. At one point it's completely dark and there's lots of villains, fire, a giant dragon (that breathes fire), a giant snake (with spotlights for eyes), and loud booms. If they do get scared, just remind them that they'll be able to see lots of good characters (all the princesses/princes, Mickey, and dozens of others).

Short anecdote: A friend of mine accompanied his family to Disney World, along with his young cousin. At the end of this show, something magical happens and Mickey Mouse appears at the top of the mountainous island. After the show, the little girl sat, wide-eyed for several moments. When her dad asked her if she liked it, she cried, "Daddy, I think Mickey Mouse is God!" Yes, people, that's how awesome (and maybe blasphemous) this show is.

If you're an old pro and feel like I've left out something important, sound off in the comment section below! Happy movie making!

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