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The only way I'll get to Hollywood!
Disney MGM Studios
Member Name: chocaholic110
Disney MGM Studios
Date: 17/02/09, updated on 17/02/09 (134 review reads)
Advantages: Great rides, even better live entertainment, fun for all the family
Disadvantages: None that I can think of.
Apologies once again for the review length - I do get overexcited. This review will probably be of most use to anyone planning a visit.*
Well, after reviewing three of the Disney theme parks in Florida, it's time to move onto number four... Disney Hollywood Studios (the new name for Disney MGM). I'm not sure why I left this one until last as it's one of my favourites. Ah, who am I trying to kid? They're all my favourites!
** Overview **
Disney Hollywood Studios (formerly known as Disney MGM) opened in Florida in 1989. It is devoted to the world of film and television and has a lot more live entertainment and theatre productions that the other Disney parks. This park appears to be somewhat smaller than the other parks and can easily be covered in one day.
**How to get there**
Disney Guides explain that the way to get there is take Exit 64B off I-4. Continue for half a mile to reach the parking area then take a tram to the park entrance. If staying at a Disney hotel you can reach the park by bus or boat depending upon where you are staying.
Opening hours vary according to the time of year. Current opening hours can be found at
I have chosen not to quote prices, simply because there are many different ticket types available to buy.
** The Park **
Disney Hollywood Studios is slightly different to the other theme park in that it's not built around a central hub, making it slightly more difficult to travel around it in any sort of logical manner. Luckily for our family we're not logical people and we travelled in a most illogical fashion in order to try to squeeze in as many attractions as possible with as little queuing time as possible - a little bit dizzying and certainly not easy on the feet but it worked for us!
The entire premise of Hollywood Studios, as you can probably guess by the name, is that it is inspired by film and television, making it a huge draw to many people, although it does mean that in some cases you may not recognise the film or programme that the ride is based on. Not that this really matters as the rides are so well done that you will probably enjoy them anyway.
On entering Disney Hollywood Studios, the first area you come to is Hollywood Boulevard which is set in the era of the 1930's. Mostly in this area are shops and services. This is where you will find wheelchair and pushchair rentals, Lost and Found, storage lockers, First Aid, ATMs and a baby care centre. Also on the way in, don't forget to pick up a park map and events schedule, in order to find out what time parades and shows are held and where and when character Meet 'n' Greets take place.
At the end of Hollywood Boulevard is a large replica of the hat that Mickey Mouse wore in Fantasia. It's absolutely huge and you'll be able to see it from all over the park, making it a good point to help keep yourself orientated.
Turning left at the end of Hollywood Boulevard you will find Sunset Boulevard. We made a beeline here as it is home to two of the park' top rides that acquire long queues ... quickly! (Please note that as from 2008 a new ride Toy Story Mania has opened and I have heard it reported that this could be the place to head first). In order to beat the crowds we dashed down Sunset Boulevard at a fast pace, ignoring the shops on the way in order to reach The Hollywood Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith Rock 'n' Rollercoaster. It was still early and queues hadn't yet built up. We acquired a Fastpass ticket for the Tower of Terror, in the expectation that by the time we had been on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster it would be time to ride. As it turned out we were so early that there was no queue at all, and we were able to ride it three times in a row. I would definitely recommend the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster to anyone who likes a fast ride; the initial take-off is enough to wake you up early on a morning, followed by a fast loop-the-loop rise in the dark surrounded by flashing lights and signs. (Height restriction 48")
The Hollywood Tower of Terror (height restriction 40") is situated right next to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster which is unusual in a Disney park as they normally separate the more popular rides in order to spread out the crowds. This is a ride where the queuing is an experience in itself. The whole premise behind the ride is that you're touring a hotel with a spooky past and you hear details of an elevator full of people who just disappeared. Eventually after passing through a number of hotel rooms you enter the elevator. You go up, and out, I think - it was very disorientating, before going right to the top of the ride. The doors open momentarily to give a mouth-dropping view of the park before you drop... quickly! Apparently, the lift is moved up and down randomly and even the operators don't even know how many floors it will fall. I love scary rides and roller-coasters of all kinds but I have to admit I was a bit spooked by this one. Usually on rides of this kind you can feel the air brakes beneath you but I couldn't feel anything and I wasn't entirely convinced that it would stop in time! With very wobbly legs, we rejoined my husband, who very cannily avoids rides of this nature and concentrates on topping up his tan instead!
**Sorcerer's Hat Area**
Happy in the knowledge that we had two of the most major rides under our belt before the day was very old we headed back along Sunset Boulevard to the giant hat. A number of characters were gathered here; it's a very good place for filling up an autograph book, but they were quite commonly found characters and my daughter had already met them, so we crossed the plaza to The Great Movie Ride. This is located in a replica of Mann's Chinese Theatre and begins with a huge queuing area. We were lucky that the queues were still relatively short and giant film screens show film clips the whole time, so you are entertained while you wait. The doors opened and we were allowed into the main attraction, where we sat in huge ride vehicles manned by a tour guide as we rode through scenes from some of Hollywood's most famous films, including Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, Alien and Casablanca. The guide gave interesting facts and information and the ride has a fantastic twist that really makes the ride memorable. I won't give it away here though as it would completely spoil the surprise!
From the Great Movie Ride we wandered, somewhat aimlessly into the Studio Backlot area where the children played briefly in the Honey I Shrunk The Kids Movie Set, a giant adventure playground where everything is hugely oversized so that you feel as if you have been shrunk. It was an interesting area but our children were far too keen to get on more rides so we didn't stay here long and moved instead to the Studio Backlot tour. Visitors to Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris will be familiar with this ride, but as ever, the Americans do it bigger and better. The ride begins with a walking tour where guests are shown how special effects are created for films, before boarding trams and travelling though a large working wardrobe unit, camera and props departments. Film buffs will be able to see how many props from their favourite films they can see. The finale to the ride is a visit to Catastrophe Canyon, a chance to experience film special effects first hand! There's no actual height restriction for this ride, although children could be a little scared. Oh and you might get a tiny bit wet!
With excellent timing (or pure good luck!) we completed the Backlot tour just as crowds were entering the Lights, Motors, Action show. We visited during Disney Theme Parks' 50th Anniversary Celebrations and to commemorate the occasion Disney had built a ride or attraction at Florida from each of the parks around the world and this was the attraction from Paris, where it is called Moteurs...Action! This was my husband's favourite part of the day and he revelled in watching various stunt drivers complete feats of danger. In my view it was a little bit boring, especially having already seen it at Paris, but if you're a car or motorbike fan, or a fan of action films it may well suit. It's a nice sit down though!
After leaving the show - and holding tightly on to the children as the crowds departing are enormous! - we arrived on the Streets of America.
** Streets of America **
Once we arrived here we were waylaid for a while by the fact that the Power Rangers were signing autographs and my daughter the avid collector (and at the time Power Ranger fan) wanted their autographs. It took ages, not least because they were in five different areas, with five separate queues, plus every few minutes a siren would blast and they would all run off to a car and disappear. Finally, we realised the way to do it was for myself, my husband and our eleven year old to each queue in line, then my daughter would run with the autograph book to whoever was nearest the front of the queue - much quicker! Other than Power Rangers there wasn't a lot in this area apart from shops and restaurants, although Buzz Lightyear and Woody were sigining autographs outside Al's Toy Barn.
** Echo Lake **
After a quick lunch at Pizza Planet (as a big Toy Story fan I couldn't resist!) it was back on the trail of rides and attractions. Situated close to Pizza Planet is Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3D, a clever theatre presentation, again with a cleverly disguised queuing area. We donned 3D glasses and in a theatre much like that on The Muppet Show, complete with Statler and Waldorf heckling from the balcony, we enjoyed a very amusing show, filled with special effects. Queues should be quite reasonable here as a lot of people can enter at the same time and shows run continuously.
Opposite the Muppets we then proceeded to one of the only rides at Disney I haven't enjoyed. The name of the ride is Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey and other than to say we had to wear headphones and it was in the dark I can't remember a thing about it. If you're visiting here and are short on time just don't bother, it's not worth it!
One ride that is worth while, especially for Star Wars fans is Star Tours (another ride which can also be found in Disneyland Paris). Visitors enter a flight simulator where they are supposed to be going on a journey with a rookie pilot. Obviously it all goes wrong and visitors are taken on a fast paced, turbulent flight through space. This ride has a 40" height restriction and visitors with back or neck problems (or pregnant ladies) shouldn't ride, but really it's not that scary and even my coaster-phobic husband will quite happily ride it.
Once outside again, it was almost time for the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Show, a half hour stunt show in which visitors also get to discover secrets of how stunts are performed. Audience members can be chosen to take part in this show. Wave your arms like a lunatic if you want to get picked!
**Animation Courtyard **
Upon leaving the show (again, hold onto your children tightly!), we headed back behind the Sorcerer's Hat to catch up on some of the rides we missed earlier in the day. This area is currently home to the new Toy Story ride but when we visited it was the home of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and guests actually got to take part along with the person in the hot seat. If I had been in the hot seat that day I would have done pretty badly, but in my defence a lot of the questions had an American slant (lots of questions about presidents, states and baseball teams). It was a lot of fun though and very amusing when they did Phone a Friend, which was actually Phone a Stranger with a phone ringing randomly somewhere in the park!
Further up the street was Disney's One Mans Dream, an exhibition of Walt Disney memorabilia followed by a film about his life, which the adults in our party enjoyed, but the children found fairly dull. Next door was another stage show, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, an enchanting little production featuring all the songs from the film, plus live performers, puppets and a large number of bubbles. Myself and my daughter loved it; my husband and eleven year old son weren't so enamoured! The final attraction we visited on that street was the Magic of Disney Animation, a short guide to how Disney Animation works, which is a lot less boring than it sounds. At the end of the show is the opportunity to work with a Disney animator to draw your own cartoon, although queues were fairly long for this so we didn't wait. Also in this building are a number of computer generated animation activities to try, including one that tells you which Disney character you would be based on your answers to several questions. I, unsurprisingly given my love of reading, was Belle from Beauty and the Beast and much more astonishingly my husband was apparently Buzz Lightyear. Not sure how they worked that one out!
A final attraction in that area was Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage. My children refused to visit here so I can't comment upon it, but we're returning in August with our littlest son, who will be 19 months. I imagine I'll be able to update this review with the details then!
** Evening Entertainment **
At the end of the day we visited the Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage show, which isn't strictly end of day entertainment as it runs shows all day, but we left it until last because of it's location. I loved it, as did my daughter, but I do like Beauty and the Beast anyway. Again, the boys weren't too thrilled!
The big event at the end of the day at Hollywood Studios is the Fantasmic show, which is probably the best finale event at any of the Disney parks. This is a huge production that takes place partly on water and partly upon an island in the water. It involves Mickey Mouse having a number of dreams and nightmares and includes water effects, music, fireworks and a whole host of Disney villains. I thoroughly recommend seeing it. It's a fantastic show but unfortunately you do need to queue early and the show can be cancelled if it's too windy. Supposedly you can book dinner at one of three Hollywood Studios restaurants and if you ask for the Fantasmic Package you get tickets for a separate area of the theatre and you don't have to queue for nearly as long as the "ordinary" guests. We're definitely going to try this next time. The whole family loved this show and the only disappointing thing about it was the popcorn. Salted, yuk!
At the end of the day, take your time leaving the park. Most guests leave as Fantasmic finishes so the streets are very crowded. Sit for a while and follow the crowds out. If you try to battle through them you'll only end up sitting in traffic anyway!
**What else is there to do?**
If all that's not enough for you, you can also collect character autographs. Make sure to pick up a guide from the entrance to find out where the characters will be. Some characters, like Mickey, or Buzz and Woody, can always be found in the same place. Others might be more random, for example, it's pure luck who turns up at the magic hat. Autograph books are for sale almost everywhere, although characters will sign any paper. Thicker pens are better for characters in costume to be able to handle.
Disney Hollywood Studios does have a parade, although it was rained off when we visited. I think the parade here has recently been changed and is now called Block Party Bash. There is also a High School Musical themed attraction which is held several times a day. Again, times will be noted on the park guide.
** Eating and Drinking **
This park is home to some of the more interesting restaurants, including the 50s Prime Time Café, designed to look like a typical 50's home, where your severs are supposedly your Mom, brother or sister, food is old-style and you might not get dessert if you don't eat all your mashed potatoes! Or if you don't fancy that, how about the Sci-Fi Dine in theatre where you eat in mock cars, supposedly at the Drive in! Depending upon time of year, some restaurants may need to be booked in advance.
Information on places to eat and a guide to prices ($, $$ or $$$) is available from the park guides found at the park entrances.
It's supposedly not permitted, but it is possible to take in your own food which works out even cheaper. Also remember to take empty water bottles an d fill up at the many water fountains around the parks.
**Hints and Tips **
Arrive early to beat the queues.
Consider taking a photo of where you are parked on your digital camera or mobile phone then simply delete it at the ned of the day ...once you've found your car of course!
Use FASTPASS where possible. This is a brilliant idea. Feed your park tickets into a machine near a Fastpass ride and receive a ticket with a stated time to come back. Come back at that time and get on the ride with a much smaller wait. You are only supposed to get one fastpass at a time but can usually get another one a couple of hours later, or when the first one has been used. Fastpasses run out early on the most popular rides so don't wait too long.
To avoid the queues, eat earlier or later than normal lunchtimes, then you can ride while others eat and eat while others ride!
It can get really hot. Don't forget sun tan lotion. One tip we were given is to wet a towel and wear it around your neck. It sounds horrid but it's really refreshing. There are lots of water fountains to keep it nice and cold.
It can be a long day in the theme parks. If you're staying nearby consider going back to your hotel mid-day for a rest or a swim. We didn't do this on our last trip, but as we're returning with a toddler I think we definitely will!
If it's your birthday while you're there, take your passport and show it at customer services for special park perks.
Summary: A great day out for all the family
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