Insider's Update: Disney World closes its Studio Backlot Tour next weekend

September 19, 2014, 10:18 PM · Maelstrom isn't the only attraction closing soon at the Walt Disney World Resort. In a Friday night news dump, Disney confirmed that the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios would close in one week, on Sept. 27. With that, the final remnant of the movie-and-television-production theme for the original Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park will be whisked away.

Catastrophe Canyon
It all goes terribly wrong in Catastrophe Canyon. Every few minutes, in fact.

Not much is left of an attraction that once dominated the park. Patterned after the enduring Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood (and let's quit denying that, everyone), Disney's Backlot Tour once included a drive through extensive residential and streets and a tour of production facilities, in addition to the Catastrophe Canyon set piece that remains to this day. But Disney never had enough filming happening at the park to justify devoting so much space to those production facilities. I've told this story before, but during the park's first summer, my future wife and the rest of the Disney All-American College Orchestra practiced in one of the Backlot Tour soundstages, simply so Disney would have some activity in it to show tour-goers.

Rehearsing in the soundstage
The 1989 Disney All-American College Orchestra, rehearsing in a soundstage at Disney-MGM Studios. That's then-Miss America and now-Fox News host Gretchen Carlson playing violin, in the middle of the photo.

Those soundstages long ago were converted into the Toy Story Midway Mania building. The residential streets were torn down to make room for the Lights, Motors, Action show. Disney opened the New York Streets to foot traffic and built the Muppets theater and Mama Melrose's there. That left the water tank special effects demonstration, a drive through the boneyard and the costume department, and Catastrophe Canyon as the remaining elements on the tour. (The animation production facilities at the park closed long ago, standing in what's now the The Magic of Disney Animation pavilion.)

The tour's fate was sealed a couple of years ago, when Disney first slated the area for the east coast version of Cars Land. When Disney management changed its mind and killed the Cars Land plan, it was simply a matter of deciding what else would move into this space. The consensus is that Pixar Place will expand into the remaining Backlot Tour area, perhaps with a clone of Toy Story Playland, or a Monsters Inc. ride from California Adventure or Tokyo Disneyland, or one of many other Pixar attraction concepts that Walt Disney Imagineering has "blue skied" over the years.

Toy Story Playland
The entrance to Toy Story Playland at Walt Disney Studios Paris

In other news, Disney's announced that the Legends of Frontierland game will close at Disneyland, also on Sept. 27. Disney's latest attempt at creating a massive, multi-player, in-park role-playing game has been running since July.

Busch Gardens Tampa is now offering a photo package deal for its visitors, along the lines of Disney's PhotoPass and Universal's Photo Connect. Busch Gardens' Photokey will allow visitors who purchase packages to download on-ride and in-park photos, buy prints, and share photos with a Photokey app. Packages start at $29.95.

Earlier this week, before Cedar Point announced the Rougarou coaster, the Ohio amusement park revealed what happened with its offer to rename a roller coaster after basketball star LeBron James if he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which he did. James declined the opportunity to have a coaster named after him, but Cedar Point will partner with James' foundation to host children participating in foundation programs at the park for a day. In addition, next spring Cedar Point will have a ride auction with the proceeds going to help pay for foundation programs, which support Akron-area public schoolchildren.

What news and rumors are you hearing, from your latest trips to the parks? Share 'em with us, in the comments.

Replies (27)

September 19, 2014 at 10:44 PM · I haven't compiled my full trip report from spending 12 days in Orlando, but I'll say this about the backlot tour.

Good riddance.

I decided to go on this attraction while I was there just to check it out. I knew what state the current version was in before going on, but it was horrible.

Working in the film and television industry, this park was an important factor pushing me towards my career when visiting this park for the first time back in 1993.

The backlot tour specifically is out of date and lazy. The audio on the tram was out of sync, the Canyon effects and tram audio were out of sync, and the visual & special effects in the water tank portion can be better created with an iPhone and a bath tub.

As Robert mentioned, there's really nothing left of the behind the scenes concept of the park. The two stunt shows (Indy and Action) give the illusion of being behind the scenes, but sadly they are far from it. The "crew" in these show act in one position, but perform the duties of several.

What was once a park that could inspire a younger generation to become Imagineers with several how-it's-done attractions is now attempting to catch up to Universal's "Ride The Movies" slogan.

September 20, 2014 at 1:24 AM · oh I hope they replace it with a Frozen attraction so everybody can pretend the tour was their favorite
September 20, 2014 at 1:29 AM · It's great news the backlot tour is leaving. This ride is for at least 15 years a travesty and takes up to much space in this tiny half day park.
I hope Disney not again (like Frozen) cheaps out and gives the Studios a copy of the Toy Story carnival like Disneyland Paris has because that's horrible.
I hope Carsland will hit the Studio (would be a reason for me to visit Disney again), or something on the same level and scale.
September 20, 2014 at 1:39 AM · Personally, I think this is a great idea. The studios definitely needs a few more rides to bring down the massive queues. Toy Story Playland is amazingly themed, even if the rides aren't anything special. Plus, that land is beautiful at night - I promise.
September 20, 2014 at 1:51 AM · I hope they make an original attraction in its place. I'm tired of Disneyworld taking Disneyland Resort attractions. It's lazy and gives me less of a reason to visit both resorts. I love seeing the differences between each one, with each having their own special joy for me. If they put something new, be it from a movie or not, I'd be very pleased. Or at least put the Frozen ride in place of the Studio Tour! WHY MAELSTROM?! Why Norway? Terrible idea. Hollywood Studios featuring a Frozen ride? Makes total sense. At Epcot? NOooooooo.

R.I.P. Maelstrom. :(

September 20, 2014 at 3:59 AM · Thats great news, all that space! I do hope they put Crush's Coaster as thats such fun (they would have to put 2 or 3 in to cope with capacity! Perhaps Remmy will make it over from Paris as its a cheap big attraction and cool set up with the resturant too (so FL fans will finally get the trackless ride they have been moaning for). I doubt they will bring anything original in as too expensive with Avatar and Star Wars in the works. But hopefully this should give the park something to re energise it untill Star Wars arrives eventually!!!
September 20, 2014 at 6:11 AM · Once again, I have the unmistakeable feeling that Disney is going to muck up this opportunity. Closing the Backlot Tour once and for all is absolutely the right thing to do because it takes up precious space in a small park.

I'm all for an expansion of Pixar Place, and would love nothing more than for them to resurrect their plans for Cars Land East, which would require the LMA area as well. If not Cars Land, then I'd love to see them clone Ratatouille's ride from Paris, or build a Monsters Inc dark ride or roller coaster.

Alas, as is the case with all of their opportunities, they'll probably go the cheap route that appeals to...well, nobody really. But they think it's for the little kids.

On the one hand, I give Disney props for shutting down Maelstrom, Backlot Tour, and American Idol Experience. But on the other hand, unless they're going to put in adequate money and creativity, it's money that would better be saved for another day and another project that actually gets done to the level that they had been known for in the past.

I don't hold my breath for anything Disney related any longer. But I'm always cautiously optimistic that they can pull something together at WDW that rivals Cars Land or DisneySea. They can do it. They just fail miserably in Orlando time and time again.

September 20, 2014 at 6:29 AM · The Studio Tour is barely a husk of its former self, and if Cars Land is coming to WDW that will be a definite improvement.

That being said, what is up with Disney announcing everything at the last minute these days? They waited until September to say that Maelstrom closes in September, and they still say that Captain EO is returning to Disneyland even though I think it's clear that they just plan to run movie commercials in there. Do they not plan things in advance anymore? Are they just flying by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go along? What happened to long-term planning? Is that not a thing for Disney anymore?

I'm actually on vacation at WDW now, and if I wasn't still following this site while on vacation I'd have very likely put off the Studio Tour until my second day in that park -- which is on September 28th. Fortunately word came down before I hit that park for the first time tomorrow. The Studio Tour (as much a misnomer as the park name, since nothing "studio" happens there at all anymore) may be a wreck, but it would still be nice if they gave their guests a heads-up when attractions are closing instead of springing permanent closures on them as surprises.

September 20, 2014 at 6:52 AM · "The consensus is that Pixar Place will expand into the remaining Backlot Tour area"

Huh? What about Star Wars? There will be no room left unless they demolish the streets and the shows.

"the final remnant of the movie-and-television-production theme for the original Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park will be whisked away."

Will people start complaining about the loss of original mission of the park like they did with Epcot and Animal Kingdom? I suppose maybe not as much, but still interesting that nothing stays the same. People still use DHS as the excuse to put any movie tie-in as appropriate no matter how unrelated because... studio has movies.

With DHS running out of physical space even though it feels like a half day park, I wonder how this will play out.

September 20, 2014 at 7:27 AM · While some of the TPI regulars have recently launched quite a bit of criticism aimed at Disney, the post above from Gabriel Schroll has me confused:

"Once again, I have the unmistakeable feeling that Disney is going to muck up this opportunity."


"Alas, as is the case with all of their opportunities, they'll probably go the cheap route that appeals to...well, nobody really."


"I don't hold my breath for anything Disney related any longer."


"They just fail miserably in Orlando time and time again."

So here's the confusing part ... From the same post:

"But I'm always cautiously optimistic that they can pull something together at WDW that rivals Cars Land or DisneySea. They can do it."

Um ... "always?"

September 20, 2014 at 8:05 AM · Anonymous post from the "confused" person was me.
September 20, 2014 at 8:26 AM · Lots of oft requested changes coming to WDW. These are indeed exciting times!
September 20, 2014 at 8:28 AM · I've heard that Animal Kingdom is in for a lot more than just Avatar and the night stuff. The cast member said a lot of yet to be announced, state-of-the-art attractions have been green lit for the park.

It seems like Disney World is ready for a major overhaul, between Disney Springs, Avatar,the Frozen ride, and everything is closing at Hollywood Studios quicker than expected.

Be ready folks, it seems that the Giant just might be awakening...

September 20, 2014 at 8:31 AM · So does this mean that the Flight of the Navigator ship in the boneyard is for sale? I would love to have that. Not sure what I would do with it, but it would be cool to own it.
September 20, 2014 at 9:03 AM · I highly doubt Toy Story Playland is coming since most of Pixar Place is already themed to Toy Story. Monsters Inc or Ratatouille seems like a pretty safe bet, but Ratatouille would honestly be more suitable for the France Pavilion at Epcot. I personally would love to see a Nightmare Before Christmas themed Halloweentown area there as I love the movie so much and Florida has a lack of Nightmare presence- the perfect way to compete against Diagon Alley. You'd think for Star Wars they would be retheming the already bland Echo Lake.
September 20, 2014 at 10:03 AM · Disney should double the capacity of Toy Story Midway Mania and bring both Carsland and Star Wars Land to Hollywood Studios. Let's see a vote: how many people would sacrifice Lights, Motor, Action for an east coast Carsland?
September 20, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Official announcement bug no link to the Disney article? Where is this on a Disney site? I bet thus is still rumor.
September 20, 2014 at 11:41 AM · You take the good with the bad, or in this case, the bad (Maelstrom) with the good (Backlot Tour). With all the land that frees up, I can't help but wonder how this'll affect Lights Motors Action due to it's close proximity and surrounding. As for the replacement, I'll take a major Pixar expansion along with anyone else, but I do *not* want to see Toy Story Playland. With 9 million guests a year, the last thing Hollywood Studios needs are a bunch of low-capacity, slightly-better-than-average carnival rides. I'll also cast a vote against Cars Land because I'd rather see that stay at California Adventure to help keep that park unique (though I wouldn't mind a different Cars ride).
September 20, 2014 at 4:12 PM · @ Kris V: That was my favorite part of the Backlot Tour! There's no way we'd be able to compete in an auction to pick up that little beauty nowadays, so we will have to be content with the pitchfork from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Good luck!

I have to wonder what they will decide on, though. Are they allowed to do anything with the Marvel properties? Or will Universal retain exclusive ride-rights for the new movies, too? And I would loooove to have them expand the Star Wars presence in the park. There's a property that has proven to appeal across generations, and throwing money at that would be a sound investment, I think.

I do think DHS is short on thrill rides, too. Well, short on rides period, I guess. But whoever said dark coaster is definitely speaking my language!

Now that they are announcing all these changes I kinda wish Disney owned a piece of Doctor Who. Not all of it mind you, but just enough to justify a park presence outside of the United Kingdom pavilion in the World Showcase. Apparently they tried around 25 years ago.

September 20, 2014 at 5:45 PM · I'm guessing TS Playland.
September 20, 2014 at 6:17 PM · Robert, I've been trying to attach a photo to my comment, behind the scene of the early studio days - can't seem to get it attached?
September 21, 2014 at 11:55 PM · There is plenty of space at the back of the park with the costuming building (which can move out of the park), catastrophe canyon and all the old studio production buildings which can go. Would be great to see an Incredibles themed coaster, Monsters dark ride AND a few of the smaller rides that already are in other parks. Personally I don't want a replication of CarsLand, keep that special at DCA and give Florida a unique Pixar land.

This is an exciting time for WDW with the rumours of Star Wars Land going in towards the front of the park (next to Star Tours), the nighttime show coming to AK as well as Avatar, Disney Springs and the start of changes at Epcot. Let's hope they don't do it on the cheap and WDW gets its biggest expansion in 10 years.

September 22, 2014 at 4:17 AM · THANK YOU
September 22, 2014 at 8:51 AM · @ (Official announcement bug no link to the Disney article? Where is this on a Disney site? I bet thus is still rumor.) - As a CM, I can tell you this is not a rumor. They have already advised CMs what our new locations will be and told us all to keep personal opinions about the closing of the attraction to ourselves.

As for what is coming, they haven't told us either, but personally I am hoping for a coaster of some sort. Some big fast steel coaster appealing to teens/adults possibly themed to Pixar/Frozen.

Also, rumors abound of an expansion out into the parking lot area and an expansion of the parking lot toward Victory Way (where Art of Animation/Pop Century resorts reside). This park is not as bound as people think it is. If you look on the map, you can see lots of room between the parking lot and Victory Way. And, an expansion in that direction would be perfect for StarWars Attractions, as all the StarWars attaractions are on that side now. Of course rumors are just rumors until an announcement.

September 22, 2014 at 9:08 AM · I hope the studios will get a new pixar area. cars is already done, toy story is already done, ratatouille is already done and a bug's life is already done. Why not do monsters inc with a monstropolis area. Nemo should get its own area in animal kingdom. Maybe metropolis and Syndrome's island or a Wall-e ride. Of course maybe a copy of an area like cars land could work but I want more then two franchises in this land. we have toy story so don't make toy story land please and that's it so maybe monstropolis and radiator springs are the best choices for expansion here.
September 25, 2014 at 3:07 PM · Wouldn't be surprised to see lights/cameras/motors be dismantled along with this change...its one of those- you see it once or twice and thats enough.

Disney will focus on the rides/attractions that you want to do over and over again....Also Disney is focused on "automated"...not so much human reliability and intervention....Disney is the best at what they do and what ever they do, it will be an improvement.....(except in the case of captain eo @ epcot) God help us all on that decision...what a waste of real-estate...the jumping water fountains out front are more exciting.

September 26, 2014 at 6:58 PM · I feel like WDW is just making us wait (of course with minor additions like fantasyland and such) but I feel there's gonna be just a HUGE time where everything just hits all disney parks. I don't know if this is true but I mean avatar land, Star Wars land, whatever's gonna be put in backlot tour, and hopefully a great frozen ride in epcot and maybe even a wall-e ride replacing stitch (lol not gonna happen but I can wish)

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