Plan your day at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World
Written by Robert Niles
Opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Hollywood Studios was the Walt Disney World Resort's third theme park. Intended as a working movie and television production studio to counter the Universal Studios Florida park that would open the next year, Disney's studio park today just uses its studio setting as a thematic device. Disney abandoned live production in the park years ago.
But not using the park for filming means more space available for rides and shows. Today, Disney's Hollywood Studios includes some of the most popular attractions at the Walt Disney World Resort, making early arrival and advance planning a must to get the most value from your day at the park.
What to do before you go
Please see our guide to the Magic Kingdom for advice on booking hotels and buying tickets to the Walt Disney World Resort and its four theme parks. Disney's Hollywood Studios also offers two of the resort's more popular tale service restaurants: The Hollywood Brown Derby, a recreation of a classic "old Hollywood" restaurant, and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, where you dine in booths made to look like convertible cars while watching cheesy old sci-fi movies on a drive-in theater screen on one wall of the restaurant. Call +1-407-WDW-DINE or visit Disney World's website to book, up to six months in advance of your visit, to ensure you get a table at the time you want.
As with all other Disney World theme parks, avoid visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios on days when the park is hosting Extra Magic Hours early admission for Disney hotel guests, unless you're one of those guests. Check Disney's parks hours online to find those days.
If you want to stay for the Fantasmic! show at the end of the park day, you can save yourself some time holding a seat for the show by reserving space in a VIP seating section. To do that, book a Fantasmic! Dinner Package in advance, at one of four participating restaurants in the park. Note that you must book this specific dining package to get the Fantasmic! seating -- just eating dinner at one of the four restaurants won't get you those seats.
Special events at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's Hollywood Studios hosts the wildly popular Star Wars Weekends in late spring each year, drawing tens of thousands of Star Wars fans to the park on those days. In November and December, the park also hosts The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, a massive holiday lights display that draws huge crowds to the park in the evenings. Plan accordingly, either to catch these events or to steer clear and visit at a less crowded time, if you're not interested in them.
What to do when you get to Disney's Hollywood Studios
Parking prices have risen to $15 a day at the Walt Disney World Resort, but Disney's Hollywood Studios is accessible via motor boat or walking paths from the Disney's Boardwalk and Epcot resorts area, as well as by driving or taking a bus from elsewhere in the resort. Remember that once you pay to park at a Disney World theme park, your parking ticket is good for parking at all other WDW theme parks on that day, at no additional charge. Just so your ticket to the parking toll booth attendant.
Getting to this park before it opens in the morning is essential in avoiding long waits for its top rides. The toughest attraction wait in all of Walt Disney World is at Disney's Hollywood Studios, for Toy Story Midway Mania, for which all Fastpass ride reservation times for the day often are distributed before noon. You can find a clone of this ride at Disney California Adventure, with a much shorter wait. If you've been to California Adventure or planning a trip, we'd recommend riding Toy Story there, and using your time at Hollywood Studios on other attractions. But if you aren't going to California anytime soon, and you must ride Toy Story here, make it your first stop of the day. If the standby wait is under 20 minutes, go ahead and ride now. If not, get a Fastpass return time for later in the day.
After Toy Story, head over to Rock n' Roller Coaster to pick up a Fastpass for that ride, if you didn't get one for Toy Story. If you did, and the standby wait for Rock n' Roller Coaster is under 30 minutes, ride it now. Otherwise, note which time you're able to get another Fastpass (it's noted on the bottom of your Fastpass ticket), and plan to come back to Rock n' Roller Coaster then to get that Fastpass. Next, go next door to ride the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Remember that you must use Fastpasses during their specific time window now. You can't simply choose to return at any time later in the day, after your return window opens.
The next three Hollywood Studios attractions highly recommended by Theme Park Insider readers are Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, the Lights! Motors! Action! auto stunt show and Walt Disney: One Man's Dream. The Walt Disney show is a walk-through exhibition followed by a short movie about Walt's life, and rarely attracts a wait. Enjoy it at your convenience later in the day. Check the day's show schedule for auto stunt show times and plan to arrive 20-30 minutes early to get in line for seats.
That leaves Star Tours, for which you should get a Fastpass time once you've eligible to get another one after collecting your previous Fastpasses. (Of course, if you show up at an attraction to get a Fastpass and find a standby wait of under 20 minutes, just go ahead and get in the standby line to ride now. Or, get the Fastpass first and bank it for a re-ride later in the day!)
Theme Park Insider readers prefer the original version of Fantasmic!, which plays at Disneyland in Anaheim, over the Disney's Hollywood Studios version. But if you'd like to see this version of the show, plan to arrive at least one hour before show time to claim a seat (two hours or more during the summer or holiday seasons), if you've not booked the dining package described above.
If you're looking for a free souvenir and a unique hands-on experience, visit the Animation Academy in the park's Magic of Disney Animation pavilion, to learn how to draw a Disney character, that you can take home with you.
Visit Theme Park Insider's Disney's Hollywood Studios page for a list of other attractions in the park, which you can enjoy at your discretion during the rest of your day. If you get Toy Story, Rock n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror out of the way early in the day, seeing everything else worth seeing in the park shouldn't be a problem, nor should it require stressful down-to-the-minute planning. Just keep in mind the day's show schedule if you'd like to see the Indiana Jones, Beauty and the Beast or auto stunt shows.
Where to eat
The park's counter service options are pretty ho-hum and indistinguishable from one another -- mostly predictable theme park burgers and pizza -- so you'll find much better meals by calling to book advance dining reservations at the park's sit-down restaurants.
Rumors are flying that Disney will close the auto stunt show and backstage tour to clear space for an east coast version of Disney California Adventure's wildly popular Cars Land. But there's no confirmation of that yet, much less a timetable.
Next week: Universal's Islands of Adventure
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