Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the park of many names. Previously known as MGM Studios until 2008, it is rumored to be adopting yet another label in the near future, after the additions of the highly-anticipated Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land.
The theme of the park, however, has remained constant despite its ongoing identity crisis. This is a place devoted to the magic of movies. Walt Disney was, after all, one of world’s first animators.
Today, Hollywood Studios attracts over eight million yearly visitors. Even the restaurants have character. Diners who neglect their vegetables at the 50’s Prime Time Café, for instance, are sure to get reprimanded by the wait staff. Alternatively, if you’re looking for movie with your meal, try eating at a car booth in the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre Restaurant.
No matter the season you choose for your visit, a day in Hollywood Studios is always a big production with these 10 must-see attractions.
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Everything about the Tower of Terror is meant to induce chills. This ride is like a scene out of the Twilight Zone—literally. You enter the Hollywood Tower Hotel and are greeted in the library by Rod Serling, the famous Twilight Zone narrator who introduces the ride despite having been dead for 20 years when it opened in 1994. You’re then ushered into line to take an elevator up 13 stories, 199 feet, before the doors reopen and the elevator drops and lifts unexpectedly, repeatedly, giving you a unique and heave-worthy view of the park. Thrill seekers will be delighted to learn that Disney’s Imagineers designed it so that you never take the same ride twice, with a different set of drops every time.
Join Aerosmith on one of the coolest indoor roller coasters ever created. Besides having a killer soundtrack, riders go from zero to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds right from the get-go. The coaster/limo continues, on a hurry to get to their concert, past neon street signs and with multiple upside-down loops on the way. You’ll arrive with your hair a mess, a la Steven Tyler, demanding an encore.
At first glance, this attraction is underwhelming. It’s in a nondescript area of the park and doesn’t include a ride. However, seasoned Disney-goers know it’s actually one of the more interactive opportunities guests have while in the park. You sit through a small 5-10 minute introductory video, hosted by Mushu from Mulan (voiced by Eddie Murphy) then head to an art studio. There, you are taken step-by-step through a sketch drawing of a random Disney character. It’s not uncommon for groups to go through more than once, skipping the introductory part with the help of a cast member. The chosen character rotates and the sketches make for a fun, free souvenir.
Three-dimensional shows are ideal for a midday break from the parks. The large auditorium holds 500+ people at a time so the lines are never long, and you get to enjoy air conditioning for 30 minutes through the pre-show and main event. Older guests will appreciate the familiar characters of the Muppets and younger park-goers will be amused by the live action characters appearing onstage.
Fans of the Buzz Lightyear ride in Magic Kingdom will enjoy this nearly identical 4D shooting game where you board a themed car on an ever-moving conveyor belt and take aim at various Toy Story targets along the way. While the line for this ride should move quickly in theory, wait times can easily surpass 90 minutes at any point throughout the day so try to get a Fast Pass and skip the line if possible.
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If you’ve never seen Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, this show has similar production standards and summarizes the classic tale in just 25 minutes—making it ideal for those who missed the Broadway production for lack of interest or time. The show has been performed in the park since the movie debuted in 1991 and features vocals from the original cast. Fast Pass tickets are not necessary due to the capacity of the theatre and multiple performances throughout the day, but try to get there early for the best seats.
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The Great Movie Ride is housed inside a replica of the famous Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. It is the new landmark that guests see as they enter the park, after the 2015 removal of the once emblematic Sorcerer’s Hat. Inside, guests take a trip down memory lane as they observe animatronic figures, movie clips and live actors on a journey through the history of film. Those who love the classics, like Casablanca or Singing in the Rain, will find this ride nostalgic.
If futuristic adventures are more your style, head to Star Tours for your chance to travel with Hans, Chewie and the rest of the Star Wars gang across the galaxy. The ride was recently renovated to include new locations, even from The Force Awakens, and features a random selection of destinations every time so you never know what mission you’ll be headed on next.
The force is strong in Hollywood Studios. This summer, Disney decided to take their Star Wars obsession to a whole new level by creating a 180-degree laser, light and fireworks spectacle (pictured at top) that takes place on the surface of the Chinese Theatre replica mentioned above. The lasers look like natural extensions of the lightsabers in the movies so you are immersed in the battle. If you’re looking for a VIP experience, check out the Dessert Party option, which, for $69, includes cupcakes and a souvenir stein served inside the Star Wars Launch Bay.
Pyrotechnics and one million gallons of dancing water make Fantasmic one of Disney’s most memorable shows. At the show, which takes place several nights a week at Hollywood Studios, you join Mickey as the Sorcerer and watch villains and heroes alike from classic Disney movies parade by on floats on the water. If you purchase merchandise at the show, it glows in sync to the performance. Also, be aware that the first few rows are in the splash zone.
Jen Ruiz is a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer and blogger.