Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Is It Still Worth Your Time?

by on July 27, 2015 31 Comments

Filed under: Attractions, Hollywood Studios, Trip Planning

Hat demolition

The Sorcerer’s Hat is one of many recent departures from Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Another day, another closure. The Magic of Disney Animation has seen its last pen stroke, adding it to the ever-lengthening list of attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that have been shuttered without any replacements announced. Indeed, in the time it’s taken you to read this opening paragraph, Disney has probably closed 3 more attractions. With this being the state of affairs, you may be thinking that there’s no good reason to bother with Hollywood Studios in its current form and that you should cross it off your list until some time in the 2020’s — and that seems to be a popular refrain within the Disney fan community.

This perception notwithstanding, however, the reality is that most of the closures were of attractions that were already waning in popularity, while the things that have served as the backbone of the park over recent years are still alive and well. While it would be tough to argue that Hollywood Studios is a “must-do” or that you should build a vacation around it at this point in its life cycle, there remain plenty of good reasons to pay it a visit:

Top Tier Attractions

Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – a must do for many

While Hollywood Studios may not have many attractions at the moment, the attractions they do have are some of the most sought after experiences on Disney property. First and foremost, it is the home to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which was recently ranked by a panel of experts as the single best attraction at Walt Disney World. Family-friendly line-filler Toy Story Midway Mania also calls it home, as does the only roller coaster in Walt Disney World that contains any inversions: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Finally, the park hosts Fantasmic!, a not-to-be-missed nighttime spectacular that continues to fill the amphitheater every time it runs. Simply put, skipping Hollywood Studios means skipping some of the best attractions Walt Disney World has to offer.

Exclusive Properties

Disney Junior - Live on Stage! at Hollywood Studios

Disney Junior – Live on Stage!

What Hollywood Studios lacks in volume of attractions, it makes up for in gravitas of its properties. The Disney Junior characters have a small — pun very much intended –but rabid following; and unlike Mickey and the ubiquitous Princesses that can be found in multiple locations, if your little one wants to see them, Hollywood Studios is your only option to make that happen. Whether it’s character dining at Hollywood & Vine, enjoying/enduring Disney Junior – Live on Stage!, or just meeting Doc McStuffins, Sophia the First, and Handy Manny at the Animation Courtyard, the Studios is the only place to give your child this experience.

Oh yeah, and there’s also this little thing called Star Wars that only maintains a presence at the Studios. Setting aside Star Wars Weekends when the Force is exceptionally strong with this park, guests can experience Star Tours – The Adventure Continues, watch their little Padawans in the Jedi Training Academy, and take advantage of several great photo opportunities every day at Hollywood Studios. Perhaps more importantly, it’s the only park at Walt Disney World with any meaningful Star Wars presence at all, so if you’re a fan and you’re looking to get your fix, it’s the Studios or nowhere.

Frozen

While not an “exclusive” on account of Anna and Elsa still holding court at Princess Fairytale Hall, Hollywood Studios is the primary steward of the Frozen brand until the Maelstrom makeover and the Arendelle-ification of Norway in Epcot that is scheduled to launch in 2016. As of this writing, Frozen Summer Fun is in full swing, and that means that in addition to Frozen-themed parades and dance parties, the Frozen Fireworks Spectacular is happening most nights — that makes two, count ‘em, two nighttime spectaculars at Hollywood Studios, and the Frozen fireworks are truly exceptional. Even if you’re not able to make it in time for Frozen Summer Fun, you can still experience For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration. Two things are undeniably true about this show:

  • Frozen Sing Along - Elsa and Anna, at Disney's Hollywood Studios, photo credit Kylene Hamulak

    Frozen Sing Along – Elsa and Anna, photo credit Kylene Hamulak

    There’s nothing groundbreaking about it. The show is basically clips from the movie overlaid with live actors to retell the Frozen story. In my experience, the performers are talented and entertaining, but objectively speaking, there’s just not too much to the show.

  • Your Frozen-crazy kids will love it anyway. Every time I looked over at my daughter during the show, she was either singing at the top of her lungs or smiling ear to ear. It may not be a technological marvel, but it’s pretty effective for its intended audience.

Moreover, the Frozen Sing-a-Long can usually be experienced without expending a FastPass+ reservation, as most shows can be experienced stand-by without an issue.

Unique Dining Opportunities

50's Prime Time Cafe

50’s Prime Time Cafe

Hollywood Studios contains several table service dining experiences that are wholly unlike anything that you can find elsewhere at Walt Disney World. The Hollywood Brown Derby delivers consistently excellent food and is routinely ranked as one of the best restaurants by our readers — plus, it provides an opportunity to try the original version of the now-classic Cobb Salad. For those who put more emphasis upon atmosphere than haute cuisine, both 50’s Prime Time Cafe and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant provide the opportunity to dine in fun, highly themed environments that can’t be found elsewhere.

Streetmosphere

Citizens of Hollywood at Disney's Hollywood Studios - Courtesy of Disney

Citizens of Hollywood – Courtesy of Disney

The Citizens of Hollywood, a roving band of improv performers that pop up along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards at the Studios, do a fantastic job of setting an “old Hollywood” mood and giving the park a lively, fun atmosphere. If ever you’re walking into the park and hear a large group of guests laughing, there is a very good chance the Citizens of Hollywood are in the midst of a show. The performers are highly skilled, the shows are always entertaining, and because the show is driven by the interactions they have with the crowd, you’ll see a different show pretty much every time. Other parks have their own version of streetmosphere as well, but the Citizens of Hollywood are the gold standard for this sort of spontaneous entertainment.

If You’ve Never Seen It, It’s New To You

One of the common complaints about Hollywood Studios is that it is largely show driven and once you’ve seen those shows — many of which are quite lengthy — there’s not a lot of incentive to expend the time and effort to see them again. If you’ve never been to Hollywood Studios before, however, this is obviously not an impediment, and indeed, there are several classic, high quality shows such as Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage and Muppet*Vision 3D that are most definitely worth experiencing. In fact, if you’re visiting the Studios for the first time, you could very easily piece together an entire days worth of activity with the numerous shows to experience.

So, Are You Ready To Book a Weeklong Trip Dedicated to Hollywood Studios Yet?

It is no secret at this point that Hollywood Studios is poised for a significant overhaul, and that the park is going to be in a state of flux for some time. With this being the case, it would be tough to make a full-throated argument that you should plan your trip around Hollywood Studios, or that it will be on par with the other parks any time soon. It clearly needs some love.

To borrow from Mark Twain, however, the reports of the Studios’ death have been greatly exaggerated, and there are still plenty of good reasons to pay it a visit on your next trip. The thrill rides, shows and characters that have been the primary draws to Hollywood Studios are still there, and it is also home to several unique experiences that can’t be found elsewhere at Walt Disney World. The point is, if you otherwise have time in your vacation, don’t be dissuaded by the doomsayers that suggest that it isn’t worth your time!

I’m very curious to hear your take on the state of Hollywood Studios.  Do you still plan to visit on your next trip, and where does it fall on your list of priorities?  I look forward to your feedback in the comments!

 

 

Posted on July 27, 2015

31 Responses to “Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Is It Still Worth Your Time?”

  • by Jill Hofmockel on July 27, 2015, at 10:09 am EST

    Don’t forget Muppet Vision 3D! The Muppets really aren’t a presence in any other parks. We’re so hopeful that they don’t get totally cut from the park when they announce changes later this summer.

    • Agree! Muppet Vision 3D is a family favorite! Go see it every time we go to Hollywood Studios. Also love the Great Movie Ride.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 27, 2015, at 1:38 pm EST

      Oh, I didn’t forget it! Just mentioned it as one of the better shows, rather than as an exclusive (even though it is, in fact, exclusive to the Studios as well). I share your view that I hope they figure out a way to keep it!

  • My boys (6 and 3) still absolutely LOVE a day at the studios. The meet and greet with Mike and Sulley from Monster’s Inc was one of the best character experiences we have ever had at a park. They gave the boys tons of time and were very funny. I sure hope they are still there in January. We have also had visits with Wreck It Ralph and others that you can only get at the Studios. I am hoping some of the characters from Inside Out will make an appearance soon?? Phineas and Ferb and Cars are also staples of our visits in the past. But even without them, my boys are primed and ready for their first Tower of Terror experience in January and absolutely love Toy Story Mania. My suggestion would be to check out what characters are available because many times they are Pixar characters who you can’t meet anywhere else.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 27, 2015, at 1:46 pm EST

      Yeah, the Studios has a great mix of characters, including some great ones, as you’ve mentioned. Best of luck with the Tower — my daughter hasn’t worked up the nerve to even go close to it yet!

  • Intentional or not, DHS makes the case for park hopper tickets. Our star wars obsessed son & daughter would be very disappointed missing out on a ride (or four) on Star Tours, but there really is not enough else to make a full day there. If you start at rope drop, you can be done early enough to have lunch/afternoon at another park.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 27, 2015, at 11:13 am EST

      Great point, and if you have hoppers, it definitely makes the decision easier — even if you only want to go over for the thrill rides, or for Frozen, or for Fantasmic, it’s easy enough to just pop over at the beginning or end of a day to take them in. Without a hopper, it can still be worthwhile depending upon what you’re into, but it is probably more well-suited for a down day where you’re not necessarily going from rope drop to close…

  • I agree that there are definitely still reasons to visit DHS. We typically go a week, and I always struggle to fit in everything. We typically hit all four parks plus the beach and some rest time. I love the headliners, Star Tours, and The Muppets. However, I’m considering skipping DHS next year for Legoland. Our kids are younger (6 and 2), so there are limits to what’s for them at DHS. It will cost more, but I think it’s worth it next time.

  • This used to be my favorite park, and while I still love the “streetmosphere”, we’ve decided that WDW in general will be skipped this year in favor of Disneyland…not sure when we’ll be back. Had 6 trips in the last five years, so we were due to go elsewhere….Between AK Avatar disinterest, and the seeming lack of interest in improving things and raising prices…WDW may be off our list for 3-5 years….

  • I love this article. When I was at WDW in the fall, I found myself gravitating towards this park than the others. I just love walking around! Watching the Streetmosphere characters is a hoot. I was incredibly dismayed when the Art of Animation closed up, because that was my go-to for AC and fun drawing adventures. However, I am looking forward to whatever gets put into the park in the future (and hopefully they announce an even bigger Star Wars presence at the D23 Expo!).

    • by James Rosemergy on July 28, 2015, at 10:01 am EST

      Thanks Claire! I would LOVE to hear what’s coming down the pike for this park at D23. Fingers crossed!

  • We went last November. My 7yr old DD , husband and I were unimpressed by the atmosphere. We did enjoy the beau and the beast show, RRC, and one man’s dream, however we didn’t have any sit down meals and left at 3pm. It’s not on our list in 96 days. 2 MK days, 2 EPCOT days and one animal kingdom is enough for us, plus 5 days of no park. We’ll wait until summer 2016.

  • Last time we went to WDW we only had time for 2 days at MK, 1 at Epcot, then either 1 at HS or AK. Our kids picked HS. We got there after rope drop, and still saw all the attractions we wanted to by 2:30. In our opinion it really is a half day park.

  • We are going to WDW in Nov for the first time (Disneyland AP for last 5 years) and originally planned 2 days at each park. With all the latest closures we changed to 3 MK and only 1 at DHS. We combined the 2 dining reservations into that one day (lunch and dinner). We really want to go on the rides there (Except Toy story mania since its same as DL) and see the shows but for us is not worth 2 days anymore.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 27, 2015, at 3:20 pm EST

      I think that’s about right, particularly if you don’t have to expend the time with Toy Story Mania. Even taking in most of the shows, you ought to be able to do what you want to do in a day — and this is coming from a guy who is an advocate for the park. It’s not so much that there is an incredible volume of stuff to do at the Studios right now, it’s that the stuff that is there is very much worth seeing, and the attractions that have been driving people to the park are still there. I know personally, no trip to WDW is complete without experiencing Tower of Terror and the Frozen show is a must for my daughter. Even if we’re only over there for a bit, we always make it a point to visit Hollywood Studios at some point during each trip.

  • This article makes a good case to go there. My 3 kids will ride Tower of Terror as many times as my stomach will allow. But I think Disney ought to either consider a) extending the Frozen Summer Fun through to the end of the year or b) discounting admission to this park.

  • It’s a hard park with little kids because you’re on the park’s schedule for all the shows rather than your own schedule. And many of the big rides have height requirements (Rock N Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours). Plus in summer, Fantasmic occurs too late at night for little kids. We always used to take breaks in the Animation Building where there was almost like a little museum to see artwork and animation from upcoming buidlings, but now that’s gone. I still like the overall atmosphere and feel of the place, but aren’t planning on arriving until 4pm to make the 4:30 Lights, Motor, Action show on our next trip.

  • Thanks for the reminders about how great Disney’s Hollywood Studios is. It has often been referred to as a half-day park – even before the recent changes. But DHS remains my second favorite park in WDW (after Magic Kingdom). I feel it has the largest concentration of must-do attractions out of all four parks – Tower of Terror, Toy Story, Star Tours, MuppetVision 3D, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Beauty and the Beast. Plus it is the home of some great restaurants. It is definitely a full-day, if not a two-day, park for me.

  • I’m a little concerned as to what is happening to my family’s favorite park. We won’t be going back to Disney World until June 2018 (yes, planning that far away!), but the plan is to send two days at DHS: one day for the everyday attractions, and one day to completely immerse ourselves in everything Star Wars during Star Wars Weekends. I fear that we won’t need two days now.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 28, 2015, at 10:09 am EST

      While I’m certainly not going to attempt to predict the future, that’s quite a ways off, and there’s plenty that can happen between now and then. I wouldn’t get too discouraged at this point…

  • Just two “quick” thoughts…first, I’d like to put in a plug for the Indiana Jones stunt show. Kids (13 & 9) enjoyed it. It was exciting, fun to watch scenes from a family favorite played out in front of us. And we learned a little about the way moves are made. Plus you get to sit down for at least a half hour-in the shade.

    Second, I think the Frozen sing a long is bunches of fun. When my family visited last November Disney hadn’t quite figured out all the ways to take advantage Of Frozen but we still had a great time…I was a little disappointed everyone didn’t stand up during Let It Go, like in the Messiah but you can’t have everything.

  • My family went last October. We arrived at rope drop and left after Fantasmic (which was after closing time). We were pretty much busy the whole time. We did do Animation Studio which is now closed but everything else we did is still open. We all had a great day there. The longest we stood in any line was 20 min for Star Tours. We did get to Fantasmic about an hour early, but it was nice to just sit back and relax for a while. The kids played with glow sticks and we adults enjoyed a beer before the show. HS wasn’t anyone’s favorite park but we still all enjoyed it!

    • by James Rosemergy on July 28, 2015, at 10:07 am EST

      Thanks for the feedback, and it really sums up the point of the article nicely. While there have been several closures recently, they have yet to close anything that was really a must-do. If you went to DHS this time last year and enjoyed it, pretty much all of the attractions that made it what it was then are still there, and the headliners are among the best attractions Disney has to offer.

  • I agree with the author, this park still has merit and the headliner attractions are awesome. The beauty and the beast show, to this day, is the best stage show I’ve ever seen at WDW…for me, it’s a MUST DO. Just my 2 cents 🙂

  • We were just having this very discussion last night as we are getting ready for our trip in September. We decided we still have to have a day at HS but I think that’s adequate. There was a time when we couldnt possibly do any less than two days at studios but there really is much less to do these days. I’d love to see a lot more Pixar presence and different shows at the beauty and the beast theater. Very timely article. Thanks!

  • I just hope that all the refurb will bring the park back to its golden age, second best behind Magic Kingdom 😉 Can we press fastfoward to this ?