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.Tweet