An Insider's look at Disney World's upcoming Toy Story Land

March 12, 2018, 12:02 AM · LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After years of languishing as a construction zone masquerading as a theme park, Disney's Hollywood Studios this June will take its next step toward becoming the must-see destination that Disney is spending billions of dollars to create.

Toy Story Land opens on June 30 at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort, kicking off a year (or so) in which the park will add two other major attractions: Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway and this little thing people are calling Star Wars land. But just like Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy's gang raised a little computer animation company called Pixar into an entertainment juggernaut 20 years ago, Disney is hoping that their new land in DHS will boost that park's fortunes, too.

Saturday morning, I was invited along with fewer than a dozen other reporters to go behind the construction walls and take a sneak peek at Toy Story Land, under construction. The glimpse culminated three days of previews of upcoming Pixar-themed attractions at Disney's parks in Florida and California. (See my other post for the California news.)

Toy Story Land construction wall
Even though Disney let me behind this wall, it didn't permit any of us to take photos or video on the other side.

If you're looking at Disney's publicity video of the completed Slinky Dog Dash coaster track, and now reading about media like me being invited into the land, don't let that delude into thinking about an impending soft opening. Chill. This land ain't anywhere near done yet. The coaster might be built and testing, but nothing else in the land is close to ready. Structures are up, but facades are barely started. Yes, Disney will make its announced June 30 opening, but if softs happen, they will be during that month, IMHO. If you're visiting in April or May, I would not advise holding any hope of getting into the land. Of course, Disney will tell you not to plan on visiting a new land until its announced opening date anyway. (That's always good advice. Never book a trip for a maybe soft opening.)

But even if Toy Story Land isn't anywhere near its final form yet, it's still a treat to have that rare opportunity as a no-longer-cast member to step behind the construction walls for a sanctioned look at the progress. Getting to walk an attraction construction site is the theme park equivalent of looking at an ultrasound of your future child. Sure, it's a blob, but you can't help but falling in love with the potential.

Slinky Dog Dash

We "walked" through the land in advance of our trip to Orlando in Walt Disney Imagineering's "The DISH" virtual reality room in Glendale.

By now, the basic contents of the land might will be familiar to Theme Park Insider readers: The entrance to Toy Story Mania (dropping the "Midway" from its name) flips to the now-back side of its building, which will become its front as part of Toy Story Land. A new Mack Rides family launch coaster, called Slinky Dog Dash, will wind through the land. A Little Green Men-themed "Mater's Junkyard Jamboree"-style whip spinner called Alien Spinning Saucers will round out the land's rides.

(Oh, Disney, about that name. Could you please at least try to remember than fans abbreviate the names of every attraction in your parks? Did you learn no lesson from naming the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor? Or are you just trolling us here?)

With the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land next door under construction for an opening in 2019, Toy Story Land will be a dead-end cul-de-sac at the end of the Animation Courtyard in Disney's Hollywood Studios at least for now. But at 11 acres, the land should have the capacity to hold plenty of fans, whether they choose to queue for any of the land's three rides or not.

Taking that virtual walk through the land, I saw the outlines of what promise to be Instagram-worthy moments with each step. There's Woody, standing atop the entrance sign. Look ahead, and there's Jessie and Rex atop the Slinky Dog Coaster. Round the corner and there's the colorful new entry to Toy Story Mania on the left. A giant lunch box stands down the street from that, with its lid held up by Andy's Thermos, revealing the counter service windows of the IRL restaurant within.

Look to the right, and there's Alien Swirling Saucers, with its light show flashing underneath its roof, from which The Claw descends to try and grab an LGM. Tinkertoys stand every few steps throughout the land, providing the support for the land's lighting, which includes Christmas lights strung across the pathways. Various Toy Story characters stand as icons above the attractions, while some of the characters will walk the land for meet and greets, as well. On the actual construction site, Jessie and Rex are in place, joined by Wheezy this week. But Woody and the rest of the gang are still to come.

Wheezy

You are an "honorary toy" in the land, which is themed as Andy's backyard, where he has mixed various toys and playsets to create a pretend amusement park that Disney has made real. But it's Andy's footprints you will see all over the land, stamped into the pavement. In Disney's backstory, he strung the lights over the Tinkertoys. He was the one who put a Slinky Dog on a build-your-own-roller-coaster track set.

Let's talk about that coaster. In Orlando, I got the opportunity to strap on a VR headset for a virtual ride on Slinky Dog Dash. (Yes, I now have ridden a VR roller coaster at Walt Disney World! Okay, well, sort of....) While this won't have the on-ride story elements that Disney is adding to the Incredicoaster, Slinky Dog Dash promises a frisky ride for a family coaster. The Imagineers explained that Andy liked the effect of watching Slinky Dog stretching over hills, so there are plenty of potential airtime elements on what's basically a terrain coaster.

Slinky Dog Dash track

My first thought was that Slinky Dog Dash feels a lot like a junior version of Mack Rides' Manta at SeaWorld San Diego, which is one of my favorite underrated coasters. That first banked hill after the initial launch looks a lot like Manta's, but Slinky then transitions into a helix before another banked turn. From there, the coaster stages for a second launch, but then clicks back a few feet on the track, like a an old Hot Wheels car getting ready to launch. Visitors waiting in the Alien Swirling Saucers queue (this is Disney's plan to keep me from ever abbreviating an attraction name again, isn't it?), should have a great view of this launch, which will send Slinky Dog riders up what looked to me like the highest hill on the ride. The coaster turns to the left from there, offering what should be a sweeping view of the entire Toy Story Land.

From that vista, the coaster track descends through a series of bunny hops which should keep fans bouncing in their seats on the way to a final pair of turns that set up their return to the station.

Look, none of Disney's Toy Story Lands — here, or in Hong Kong, or Paris, or soon Shanghai — ever has tried to create the visceral, emotional experience of a Flight of Passage. Or to build a fantastic world like Pirates of the Caribbean or even fellow Pixar franchise Cars Land. Toy Story Land is a hyped-up call-back to your childhood imagination. It's what you might have built if you had had millions of dollars and crack engineering and construction teams to scale your humble hack-up backyard amusement park into something big enough for you actually to ride.

Pixar's Roger Gould said that we guests were "honorary toys" in Andy's backyard world of Toy Story Land. But hard truth is that, we're really Andy here. Before we can pretend to be toys, we have to create the world for the characters of our imagination to play within. When Toy Story Land works, it reminds us of being Andy — playing with our toys in our yards or our rooms — and excites us with the opportunity to shrink down and walk inside a world of our imaginations.

Toy Story Mania's new entrance

Because if we can't our minds into that place, Toy Story Land is just a collection of basic carnival rides, surrounded by makeshift decorations. Okay, really, really big and wildly expensive depictions of makeshift decorations. Fortunately, even by that less imaginative standard, Disney delivers more with Walt Disney World's Toy Story Land than it has with its previous installations. TSM remains one of the most popular family dark rides in Disney's portfolio and the whimsical new entrance should only add to the fun. SDD looks like the best original attraction from any of Disney's Toy Story Lands. And with its light show and multiple original musical tracks, ASS should provide a great ride. (There! I did it. C'mon, if we're all eight-year-old kids like Andy here, you totally know he's making that joke. Please.)

But if remember the point that Toy Story 2 drove home, toys shouldn't be ends to themselves. Forget the thing. Think instead about what you do with it — what you imagine it becoming. Because when you reduce Buzz to his base identity, he not only is no longer Mrs. Nesbitt. He's not even a Space Ranger. He's a piece of plastic — a soulless collectible, maybe stored behind glass, or dusty on a shelf, or forgotten in a box in the attic.

Toys come to life only when you play with them. With Toy Story Land, Disney is hoping to entice you to remember being Andy and inspire you to come back into the yard and just play. How successful will this new land be at that? We will find out when it opens this summer.

Previously: A preview of Pixar Pier and Pixar Fest at the Disneyland Resort.

Replies (21)

March 12, 2018 at 4:27 AM ·

Winning! Around 18 months from now DHS will be a brand new theme park. With Toy Story. Star Wars and the new Mickey Mouse dark ride.

March 12, 2018 at 6:55 AM ·

First 'Toy Story Land' in in the next 18 months Galaxy's End and 'Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway'. Disney Hollywood Studios will once again be a full day park and WDW will maintain its standing as the leader in Central Florida themed entertainment. Incredible!

March 12, 2018 at 7:07 AM ·

cheap and lazy

March 12, 2018 at 7:14 AM ·

Wow, I really love this. I'm so glad we didn't get Carsland, this looks so much better for this world class destination.This are 11 acres filled to the brim with quality only Disney can order. It is stunning in so many ways.

March 12, 2018 at 7:20 AM ·

Robert - I'm curious if you got any sense of how much "slinky" there will be in motion of the trains. The concept videos seem to indicate that the individual cars have some play in the interlockings between them, but it's hard to tell how much of that the riders will feel. The swinging on 7DMT was billed as a key feature of the coaster (I seem to recall quite a few pre-construction videos of Immagineers showing off the motion), but in reality the swinging on 7DMT is very minimal, and more than anything just makes getting in and out of the coaster a pain for some.

So, do the individual cars still spring, or has that feature (wasn't really touted that much, but was definitely highlighted in the initial release) minimized in the final product?

Also, did Disney give you any sense of the throughput of the coaster? It looks like there are maybe 3 blocks on the track, and if you include a load block, unload block, and transfer block, that would allow for at most 4 or 5 trains on the track at any given time to allow for reasonable turnover at the load platform. It looks like there are maybe 20 seats per train, so with dispatches every @45-60 seconds, that would allow for a theoretical maximum capacity of 1,600, which isn't terrible, but may be low initially for a park starved for actual rides. I assume that this will be on the FP+ system, but will it be a Tier I attraction (meaning guests would have to choose between this, TSM, and RnR for pre-visit FP+ reservations)?

I still think DHS would have been better served with a version of Carsland, but it definitely needed something to bring it up beyond the half-day park it has been for almost 5 years now. Galaxy's Edge is obviously the big game changer, but it should not be the end for modernizing a park that has been neglected for far too long. Rock 'n Rollercoaster becomes a bit of a odd-ball in the attraction lineup (ToT is as well, but Disney knows it will be crucified if it changes it), and takes up/blocks some valuable real estate in the NW corner of the park. Also, the Indy stunt show is a relic that is similarly a space hog in a park that is already too small. Disney is definitely moving in the right direction, but DHS still needs a lot more investment to match what the other WDW parks offer.

March 12, 2018 at 9:10 AM ·

Great preview! I especially liked the comparison to an ultrasound! It kind of feels that way when looking at all of these construction photos. As of right now, it's hard to imagine DHS as a fully realized destination, but this gets me very excited, especially because I have a 4 year old that LOVES Toy Story. What a cool opportunity to go behind the walls. You know, next time an opportunity like that comes your way, if you're feeling sick and tired of all those prestigious press events, feel free to contact me; I'd be happy to take your place (because that's what loyal readers do)!

March 12, 2018 at 10:31 AM ·

Russell,

The "slinky" on the trains is purely an optical illusion, but the train and track design is intended to evoke that. We asked about this, and Imagineering confirmed that there is no play in the interlockings between the seats. But you're spot on about the capacity. This isn't going to be a people eater, but it's not another Dumbo, either.

Long term, TSL is the supporting cast to Galaxy's Edge, absorbing the families with small children who aren't going into Star Wars land. In that role, I think the capacity here will be fine, especially when considering that the photo opportunities in the land are as much an intended attraction as the rides. But for the first year, when Runaway Railway and Galaxy's Edge aren't yet open, yeah, this is gonna be Toy Story Line Land.

March 12, 2018 at 10:33 AM ·

I cant believe Disney is still charging top dollar for admission to this park right now. There is so little open! Can’t wait to see this new addition in operation

March 12, 2018 at 11:44 AM ·

Any indication from Disney about FP+ Tier 1 status? Guests could theoretically start grabbing reservations for this in about 6 weeks, so it would be good to know ahead of time if they will have to choose between this, TSM, and RNR. Will ASS have FP+ (I presume that if it does, it will not be Tier 1)?

March 12, 2018 at 2:53 PM ·

I was not looking forward to this land because I viewed it as stated above: "Toy Story Land is just a collection of basic carnival rides, surrounded by makeshift decorations." This article does cause me to take a different look at the whole thing and I'm intrigued. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

March 12, 2018 at 2:50 PM ·

If anyone has actually seen the pitiful versions in Paris and Hong Kong they would be embarassed.

March 12, 2018 at 2:50 PM ·

Just checked with Disney on Fastpass tiers, and the official word is... there is no official word yet. "Stay tuned," was the exact quote.

And thank you for your comment, Barry. That's why I do this stuff.

March 12, 2018 at 2:54 PM ·

Well this is much better than the lazy rethemes that Anaheim is getting.

March 12, 2018 at 7:35 PM ·

Looks like a great addition to what will be a very well rounded park come 2019 when DHS will be THE destination to visit in Central Florida.

Robert, did you get any hints about the rumored Monstropolis expansion that is supposed to come along after Star Wars Galaxy's Edge?

March 12, 2018 at 8:54 PM ·

Value resort land?

March 12, 2018 at 11:01 PM ·

This looks great, very long on charm, photo ops and family friendly attractions.

March 13, 2018 at 1:25 AM ·

Land sounds immersive, which I hope it is. This park's land/attraction expansions are crazy exciting!

March 13, 2018 at 12:57 PM ·

This is very exciting. I have a 2 year old obsessed with Toy Story. Did they give you any inclination about if they will do previews like they did with Pandora. I thought those went well.

March 13, 2018 at 5:36 PM ·

Yes we are heading there for our only second trip to walt Disney world in 2019 coming from Australia its a fair cost of money but just to stand in the middle of the magic kingdom to watch the fireworks is all well worth it. As a family of 2 girls under the age of 18 its a dream come true to go and visit and for me a big star wars fan looking forward to the 2 new parks. Yes last year Hollywood studios was lacking new stuff and epcot was a bit on the old side. and the healthy choice of food was almost non existent along with real frothy milk coffee its still a wonderful enjoying holiday.

March 13, 2018 at 11:30 PM ·

If you're coming for Star Wars Land, be aware that the new land is only expected to open in LATE 2019 -- probably around October or November.

March 16, 2018 at 9:32 AM ·

24.44.212.118 need to remember that most people do not pay a full days admission for the park. Most visitors to WDW are either passholders or vacationers that are staying for multiple days. Disney ticket structure makes it so that multi day pass holders get a discounted per park per day low price point.
I really doubt that many go to WDW and pay the full one day park ticket for Disney Hollywood studio park.

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