Disney's Hollywood Studios: A Park of Hot Takes

November 6, 2020, 7:16 PM

Reflecting back on my visit to Florida last month, I don't think my opinions of any park shifted more than those of Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, many of them don't quite gel with those widely held among the fan community. Here are several realizations that some might consider controversial in this day and age.

Hot Take #1: Disney's Hollywood Studios is the best second gate park

Before everyone grabs their torches and pitchforks, let me preface this by saying Tokyo DisneySea is excluded as I have not visited that park. However, among the other five non-castle parks in the world, after this visit I firmly believe DHS to be the best. Here's why...

Back when I visited in 2017, the park was in the middle of a massive renovation, and had a limited number of attractions operating. Even with the light crowds of that visit, I was easily able to do everything of interest in a half day. Since then, however, the park has added two full themed areas, an additional E-Ticket on top of that, and a couple smaller attractions that help to round out the park's offerings. It has grown enough that even on a lighter day, most guests should be able to fill the better part of a day without running out of attractions, and on a busier day it is definitely a full day park.

Unlike some of the second gate parks, DHS's attraction lineup truly caters to everyone. For those seeking thrill rides, Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and Rise of the Resistance deliver, as do the pair of simulators in Star Tours and Smuggler's Run. Those looking for a less thrilling experience can enjoy Runaway Railway, Toy Story Mania, or any of several shows scattered throughout the park. Toy Story Land as a whole drastically improves the park's offerings for younger guests, with three attractions that can all be experienced by the average preschooler. Beyond just the variety, the quality is high as well. Many DHS attractions are considered among the best of their type in the industry, and while a few of the shows are on the dated side, nothing at the park leaves guests walking away feeling that they just wasted an hour of their day. Every other second gate either suffers in attraction variety (Epcot, WDSP), attraction quality (DCA, Epcot, WDSP) or quantity of offerings (DAK, WDSP), making it difficult for them to fill a full day on their own.

When it comes to theming, it is true that DHS does have a little bit more of a concrete feel than some of the other parks. However, the newer sections of the park (especially Galaxy's Edge) are incredibly well done, and even if the theming elsewhere isn't the most immersive it is perhaps the most consistent. DAK does have the edge in this regard, with immaculate theming throughout and a nice even flow from one area to the other, but every other second gate park has significant sections that either lack theming or are poorly themed in the first place.

No, DHS isn't the perfect park. They could use a few attractions to bridge the gap between the (generally) high intensity E-tickets and the kid-oriented smaller attractions, several of their shows could use an upgrade, and it would be nice if the park had a bit more shade. However, when looking at each park as a complete package, I would name this one as the best non-castle Disney park outside of Japan.

Hot Take #2: Runaway Railway is a better ride than Rise of the Resistance

The key word in this statement is "ride." I will not deny that Rise of the Resistance is perhaps the most ambitious attraction ever created, with multiple pre-shows (including one that could qualify as a ride itself) that do an amazing job of making guests feel they are actually prisoners inside a star destroyer. However, the actual ride portion of this attraction has always fallen a little flat to me. It consists largely of a repeated motif of run down a hallway, turn a corner, encounter an obstacle, then reverse away and try something else. The sets are highly detailed, but a majority of the action takes place via screen effects, which means the full capabilities of the trackless ride system aren't fully utilized. Other than the very first scene (in which vehicles interact with each other), nothing here would be difficult to perform using a motion base vehicle and some track switches. Lastly, there are a couple dead zones on the attraction where little is happening for 20-30 seconds, which do interrupt the flow a bit.

Meanwhile, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway puts the full capabilities of the trackless vehicles on display. What begins as a normal-seeming train ride quickly becomes a frantic journey as the cars leave the tracks and pursue their own paths through a number of scenes. Which car you're in will affect how certain sequences play out, with different groups of riders seeing different elements as they make their way through the ride. While the scenes themselves are a mix with limited logical flow between them, it works for a cartoon world and there is never a dull moment or a way to guess what may happen next. Projections are utilized and enable some of the most creative elements of the attraction, but a fair number of animatronics and set pieces are also utilized within. Is it the perfect attraction? No. However, it's an outstanding all-audiences E-Ticket and one of the few attractions I've waited over an hour for twice in one day.

Hot Take #3: Slinky Dog Dash is Disney's best attraction for small children

Yes, it is just a basic roller coaster, but Slinky Dog Dash doesn't get the credit it deserves among the Disney fan community. Here, you've got a version of SeaWorld San Diego's Manta that is tamed down to safely accommodate the average 3 year old. The ride features two launches, several helixes, and numerous small hills, all of which feature enough force to be exciting but not enough to be terrifying. Now, as an overall attraction, this is definitely not on par with the E-tickets that even small children can experience. However, visual and auditory stimulation found within those attractions may be scary to younger riders, so the absence of such things here is actually a plus for that age group. Additionally, if they aren't scared, kids may be bored by slow-moving dark ride scenes, and if they haven't seen the source material it is likely to be an incomprehensible jumble in any event. Sometimes, the raw sensations of physics outweigh all the detail in the world, and for those in the 3-5 year old group that can't fully appreciate immersive attractions yet, something like this might be more their style.

Hot Take #4: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror remains the best attraction at Walt Disney World

It's been an icon for nearly 30 years, but the Hollywood Tower Hotel continues to house what I still consider to be WDW's best single attraction. As I'm betting very few readers have not experienced this one, I'll skip the description and cut right to the reasoning. Of all the other attractions on property, none are as immersive as this one while being a self-contained experience.

Think about it like this: Flight of Passage is spectacular, but would it work if it were plopped in the middle of a theme park without any other Avatar-related content? Not really...it needs the surrounding elements of Pandora to make sense. As good as Splash Mountain is, you never get the sense that you're in another world and are always acutely aware that it's just a theme park ride. Many other great attractions fall victim to one of these two flaws in immersion or containment, or they might simply require knowledge of the source material to be comprehensible.

Tower of Terror, however, manages to avoid them. From the second you step into the hotel, everything is convincing enough to make it feel like you've stepped away from Disney for a brief period and are in an old, abandoned hotel. No concessions are made for the practical or mechanical needs, as everything is built around the perfect ride system for such a setting...an elevator that may not always obey the rules of elevators. And when you briefly glimpse the park from the top of the tower, it is in context of the attraction rather than an incidental view. Lastly, once the ride is over, you step out of the hotel and back into the park with no feeling of disconnect.

Agree or disagree with these takes? Or have some of your own to share (either about DHS or any other Disney park)? Let me know below, and look for a few more posts related to my recent Florida trip in the next couple weeks.

Replies (10)

November 7, 2020, 6:53 PM

Huh - I rode Tokyo’s and while it was very fun, I wouldn’t call it the greatest attraction Disney has built (would go to RSR for me if you couldn’t tell from my username). Haven’t been on the one at DHS but will try to get there ASAP after this is all over.

Edited: November 9, 2020, 2:09 PM

Sorry, AJ, I just cannot agree with your 3rd take. SDD is one of the most underwhelming roller coasters I've ever ridden. I thought 7DMT was tame, SDD takes coaster lameness to a new level. 7DMT is a far superior experience to SDD even if for younger kids (still has a 38" height requirement though). The launches are flat out boring and overhyped, and unlikely the under-performing swinging on 7DMT, the trains that look like they might "slink" around the track, actually don't do ANYTHING.

I'm totally on board with #4. ToT is a masterpiece, which is why I was so impressed with GotG:MB at DCA. Even though California's tower was vastly inferior to Florida's, GotG:MB actually ends up nearly on level terms with its Florida cousin. However, the ambiance, theming, and overall ride experience, accentuated by the random drop patterns, is a complete package that is tough to beat.

I haven't ridden MMRR yet, but I actually think MFSR is a better ride than RotR. RotR is just missing that extra something to sell the complete experience. I think the whole attraction is ambitious, and has the potential to be the homerun that Disney had envisioned, but after 3 tries, we never got the perfect run from start to finish. There are just too many spots for something to go wrong and to take you out of the moment, and I highly doubt Disney will ever reach a point where they can deliver that complete, seamless experience on a consistent basis.

As far as your first take, I think DAK is still my #2 park at WDW. The one big problem I have with DHS is that while the food has significantly improved over the past few years, there's still not that great table service restaurant to warrant spending an entire day at the park. For me, a top theme park needs that draw to keep you from wanting to leave for a sit down meal somewhere else. EPCOT and DAK both have those amazing sit-down restaurants that keep you in the park from open to close. I'm also not a fan of the haphazard flow of the park and the clustering of attractions in certain areas with lots of dead space in between. The overall layout of EPCOT and DAK are far superior, and instead of walking from attraction A to attraction B, you actually feel like you're going on a journey somewhere when walking between rides.

Edited: November 9, 2020, 9:01 PM

YES, AJ, YES! MGM was great back in the day and now the new DHS is wonderful, and the park has a bright future. Plenty of room to grow in the backstage areas off Sunset and the current Animation Courtyard. The Golden Age Hollywood theme is well done here, more so than DCA. Walking through the turnstiles always feels special. The attractions are great, the food IS very good, and the excitement is back at The Studios!

November 10, 2020, 2:45 PM

AK is by far the best Disney park, then Magic Kingdom.
So DHS is #3...

I was hoping for Disney management to close the entire DHS for two years and make it a Star Wars park. The board of directors at Disney listened attentively during my presentation but ultimately decided to just add a few things.

Just image an area with two suns, we already have one, just need to add one more… Tatooine was going to be the centerpiece of the park.

November 10, 2020, 6:01 PM

AJ: "Think about it like this: Flight of Passage is spectacular, but would it work if it were plopped in the middle of a theme park without any other Avatar-related content? Not really..."

I Respond: Which is tantamount to conceding that FOP is a theme park attraction and that TOT is a carney ride that can succeed operating in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Not sure what to think about that.

Edited: November 10, 2020, 11:40 PM

Glad to see this generated some discussion. As for a few of the comments...

Russell, from a pure coaster perspective, I actually think Slinky is a better ride than Seven Dwarfs. There's a lot more going on than the two short coaster sections Seven Dwarfs has, and in my opinion it's the more intense coaster as well (though both are very tame since they're junior coasters). I will agree that Seven Dwarfs is the better overall attraction due to the queue and dark ride elements, but I'm not sure how much young children particularly care for such things.

As for your food comment, I will say that I give very little weight to dining options, particularly full service options. When I'm at a park, I rarely take the time to do a full sit down meal, and while I will give a park bonus points for unique counter service offerings, I won't take away if they're merely satisfactory. For those who weigh more heavily on the culinary part of the day, DHS does fall short. However, I disagree with your assessment of layouts...to me, Epcot and DAK feel like they've got far more dead space than DHS, even if the park doesn't take the time to fully transition between sections.

Keith, I do think DHS has the most untapped potential of the four Florida parks without majorly altering what's there, and I'm very interested to see where Disney takes the place. After this visit, it has leaped all they way from 4th to 2nd at WDW and also jumped ahead of DCA in my Disney park rankings. I don't think it will ever surpass the Magic Kingdom, but without major investment in Epcot or DAK it will probably remain comfortably in 2nd place.

TH, by that logic much of what Disney built pre-2010 is a carney ride, which isn't actually that far off given how many of their earlier attractions were tied to the World's Fair. That said, if carney rides are equally as enjoyable as full fledged theme park attractions (or in some cases more enjoyable), that raises a question as to why it's worth paying exorbitant prices for Disney when one day there will get you two years at Six Flags.

Edited: November 11, 2020, 11:47 AM

I think carnivals and theme parks are completely different experiences. The same way public pools and waterparks are completely different experiences.

November 11, 2020, 1:11 PM

I won't get into #2 as sadly, haven't been able to ride either to judge although videos of both are impressive.

I'll agree on Tower of Terror. I still remember being there when it opened in 1994 and the fantastic mood (and this was when it was just the one drop before they realized going up and down a few times better). It nails the mood of the show perfectly to draw you in (I know they had to change Disney Seas' version as Twilight Zone isn't popular in Japan) and the entire experience wonderful.

And yes, always loved the Studios, even (showing my age) when it was an actual studios with the tram tour and Great Movie Ride and Star Tours the only real rides. Even after all the changes, still enjoy and can't wait to finally get back there to enjoy Galaxy's Edge and such. Good write-up for a fine park.

November 11, 2020, 11:15 PM

#1- DHS is a great park if you can plan accordingly. While MK is the "day park" at WDW, I'm sure you can spend a whole day at DHS (pre-covid) waiting in lines, so theoretically, yeah DHS can be a day park. Without being harsh though, DHS is an amazing park with different areas that "feel" different. AK, while highly immersive, is an outdoor animal park. Epcot can literally feel like an oven with all the constant concrete. Apart from World showcase, EP really doesn't have much to offer in terms of park immersion. While AK is the "better" park, I think I'd rather go to DHS because theres so much to do.

#2- Haven't been on MMRR and I'm avoiding watching videos of it. I have ridden ROTR, and yeah it's amazing, but I think I agree with Russell here. The pre shows were amazing, but the ride felt like it was missing something. I've been trying to figure out why for the longest time. However, I'd rather wait an hour for ROTR than MFSR, unless I'm with a group of 6 people.

#3-SDD is definitely a fun coaster for kids. To a kid, the launches are fun, its not too high up, and the forces are good. I'd say 7DMT is a solid second. Yes the swinging motion is unique, it barely swings. The best use of it is at the end before going into the brake run. When you think it's finally getting fun, the ride ends. The drops are significantly smaller than SDD, it has a slower speed, and the camelback hills at the end provide more (even though it's very small) pops of airtime than 7DMT. However, I would say that 7DMT has better theming, I think we can all agree on that.

#4- I do agree with you AJ and believe that a full area experience pushes TOT to a much better attraction, but isn't Galaxy's Edge an isolated highly immersive area? Yes you may need to know star wars to fully be immersed, but both attractions set up both stories within preshows. If I knew nothing about TOT, I would know it once I finished watching the preshow. The when I enter the attraction, I understand the background and the tension. It's the same with ROTR. If I knew nothing about star wars, went into the preshows and was about to enter the ride vehicle, I know exactly what's at stake and the background to the attraction. You do bring up a point that when you get off TOT you still don't feel like you're at Disney. I do attest to this, but I think thats because TOT is so different from what Disney usually is. The Twilight Zone isn't a brand that Disney uses, but Star Wars is.

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