Right off the bat, the biggest change for Disney's Hollywood Studios is the new name. No longer Disney-MGM Studios, due to an extremely long brewing feud between Disney and MGM. The short story is MGM allowed Disney to use its name for a soon to be opened movie themed park. Disney pissed MGM off due to its operating of another movie studio on the park’s grounds, and eventually banned Disney from using its name. How magical!
While the new name might be a bit nicer, I must complain due to the fact that "Hollywood" has way more letters than "MGM". At the same time, maybe I can use that as the reason for it taking so long to post this article. That seems like a good enough reason, right?
The last article I wrote about then-MGM studios was a perfect example of how to let bitterness cloud over everything. I took my unhappiness over the Tower of Terror being closed, and managed to surround everything else I wrote about with it, like some evil Saran Wrap. In my defense, having that ride being closed with no warning did suck, but I should have tried to be a little more fair to the rest of the park. Although maybe not, since every normal person knows it is much easier to write while insulting something than while praising it. Or that might not be what normal people think, I'm not sure.
On the complete opposite end of the negativity spectrum, this time when I went into Hollywood Studios with a very positive bias. The last I was in Disney World was on my honeymoon. Honeymooners are those people you see, usually wearing the bride and groom ears, looking all happy. Everyone else is thinking "Hey, no one cares about you. Take those stupid ears off, you look ridiculous." Then as soon as they are on their honeymoon, they are thinking "Hey! Look at us! Pay attention to us! Give us free stuff!" The transition between those two states of mind is startlingly sudden.
I had no problem wearing the ears, since basically you can do whatever you want in Disney World, and you don't have to worry about looking stupid. First of all, it is because Disney World is a fortress where unhappy people are not welcome, and are quickly and forcibly removed if discovered. So, you can feel free to do whatever makes you happy, so long as the Walt Disney Company receives some sort of monetary compensation for your happiness. Second, you don't have to worry about looking dumb because no matter what you are doing or wearing, there is someone doing or wearing something even more stupid.
Even if you don't get the bride and groom ears, they give you "Just Married" buttons to wear. Disney seems to be big on buttons; they have them for people celebrating a multitude of different events: honeymoon, birthday, anniversary, and first visit. I think wearing a "My First Visit" button seems a bit unnecessary, as you can usually tell who is there for the first time anyway. They are the people waiting on a 100 minute line for Space Mountain instead of getting a Fast Pass, the people watching that dreadful show that takes place in front of the Castle approximately every ten minutes, or getting to Fantasmic (Hollywood Studios' firework/stage show) at show time, not realizing the seats filled up about two hours prior.
Cast members go out of their way to make honeymooners happy. Everywhere you go, you hear "Congratulations!" coming from everyone, until you begin to get a debilitating neck injury from having to keep turning to say thanks. Of course, being told congratulations is wonderful and all, but the real reason I was wearing my itchy cardboard hat in the Florida summer heat was so I could get free stuff. We got a fair amount of intangible benefits, including priority seating for a show, and got to skip a lot of ride lines (more on that later). As great as all that was, without a doubt the best thing we got was free ice cream, basically whenever we wanted.
The concept of getting anything for free in Disney World sounds fictional, but indeed, it is true. We hadn't gotten anything for free for the first couple of days, but once we got one thing, they started pouring in. It started at Animal Kingdom, when I was ordering a frozen banana at one of those ice cream / soda carts they have every ten feet or so. I had done this a few times already, but instead of paying cash, I used my key to charge it to the room. They said the machine for charging things was down, but I could just take it, and said congratulations. Boo yah.
After Animal Kingdom got the ball rolling, the other parks seemed to be going out of their way to out do each other. Oddly enough, we had no luck with free stuff at the Magic Kingdom, but that was okay since Epcot and Hollywood Studios more than made up for it. It got to the point where if one of us wanted a snack, the other got something too just because it was free. Eventually, while eating lunch we had cast members walking up to us to give us stuff. It was incredible.
So yeah, Disney does a great job of making people on their honeymoon feel special. I wasn't looking forward to the next time I would be back, since I would have to go back to being just another faceless part of the cattle herding through the parks, unloved by cast members.
It seems the only type of person they go more out of their way for besides honeymooners is children on their birthday. I can't even begin to comprehend how special they would treat a pair of children honeymooning on their birthdays. It is just too amazing to imagine.
Despite the poor experience here I wrote about the first time, I have come back around to being a fan of Hollywood Studios. This is something of an interesting statement, since it always seems like there is really not that much to do there. Sure, there are a handful of rides and shows, but it just feels incomplete. Animal Kingdom is like this as well, but at least Animal Kingdom will fill in some blank spaces with bird exhibits, even though no one cares about birds and just walks right past them.
While Hollywood Studios isn't packed with attractions, that is also a benefit, since it allows you to take in the whole park without having to always feel pressured to move on to the next thing. This concept isn't so good if you only buy a one day ticket, and this park is all you can do all day. However, if you get a Park Hopper ticket, which allows you to go from park to park whenever you want, it's nice.
While I have been on it many times since then, the depressing ending of my first article about this park now has a happy epilogue regarding the Tower of Terror. And as far as happy endings go, this one is a good one. On the honeymoon, we had already gone on the ride a few times before the day of awesomeness occurred. We were heading over to the Tower to grab a Fast Pass, when we were stopped by a cast member who told Amy he had been looking for her and there was someone on the phone waiting to talk to her.
Normally, this type of confrontation with someone would frighten you until you were able to get a safe distance away from them, and even then you'd be looking over your shoulder for a while. However, since this was happening in Disney World, we were happy to go along with it. Apparently the "call" for her was a recording of various characters congratulating her. And while I have no problem giving in to Disney goofiness (no pun intended), listening to that call would have been a bit much for me, so I'm glad I wasn't passed the phone.
After a quick chat with the guy, whose name was Kirk, we headed over to grab our Fast Passes. Unfortunately, the return time for the Fast Pass was for a time after we had to leave the park, so we didn't bother getting one. While heading back from the ride, we put on our best 'defeated' faces, and Kirk took the bait. And while I do admit I don't like the idea of tricking possibly the nicest guy I have ever met in my life, sometimes you just have to push the situation in your favor a bit.
We assumed he would just give us a Fast Pass, and we would go on our merry way, onto the ride. Instead, Kirk walked us through the back entrance of the ride, and handed us off to one of the cast members working on the ride, whose official title was Bellhop Ross. At first, it was a little odd interacting with Ross; he actually seemed like he wanted us to be happy, just like in the commercials. Of course, we had never run into someone like this at Disney World. We had met a lot of people who smiled and talked in a sing-song voice, but actually seeming interested in us? Truly, truly shocking.
He led us through some back corridors and through a (real) elevator to get us onto the ride, all while being incredibly friendly and talking us up. When we were finished with the ride, he was waiting for us, and gave us a card. It was a little souvenir Tower of Tower card that he had filled out with our last name. I couldn't for the life of me remember how he had gotten our last name, since I didn't remember saying it. I was a little frightened, but mostly impressed. After that, he asked if we wanted to go back on the ride, to which we agreed. It was mostly me agreeing to go back on, but Amy agreed as well, since she knew if she didn't go on I would have sulked for the rest of the day.
After the second time through, it was a bit much for her stomach, so that became our final ride on the Tower for the day. Ross then handed us a handful of Fast Passes to use during the rest of our trip, and told us if we came back later that day to ask for him, and he would let us right back on. Ross is awesome.
Our luck had not ended there, as we ran into Kirk on the way out of the park. He told us he wanted to make sure we were able to see everything in the park so he gave us more Fast Passes. While talking to him, I noticed on his name tag his official job title was "Dream Giver". If there is any job title that sounds cooler than that, I have yet to see it.
Okay, enough flashbacks. The current Hollywood Studios didn't change much at all since the last time I was there, but it has changed since I last wrote about it.
Since I have yet to actually describe the ride itself, I should start with the Tower of Terror first. The good news is that after the great disappointment of it being closed the first time I reviewed the park, the ride more than lives up to its reputation. I always thought it would basically be an indoor version of Free Fall at Six Flags Great Adventure. Of course after going on the ride, I remembered why Disney is Disney and Six Flags is... kind of dirty.
Granted, Tower of Terror isn't that much more than an indoor free fall ride, but the little extras truly set it apart. Besides the details actually making it look like an elegant but abandoned hotel, the visual trickery and details within the ride itself are almost enough to warrant waiting on the usually long line (although I do stress almost). What I found most surprising the first time I went on the ride is that the elevator shaft you initially ascend is not the actual shaft you will be in during the falling and rising. While this moving of the elevator around inside the attraction adds more depth to the ride, I must say I kind of wished the elevator I would be plummeting in was fully secured from the get-go.
As you were probably able to guess, I didn't die, so the ride is safe, despite the elevator commute. One significant change the ride has gone through is the rapid ascents and descents are random, so each ride will be a different experience. Unfortunately, this means you will occasionally get a weak sequence, where you only drop a little bit before going up a little and so on. You are guaranteed at least one good drop per ride (for the opportunity to sell you a $25 picture of you on the ride, of course), but after that one big drop, you never know what the rest of the ride will be like.
The other big ride in the park is the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, which I have mentioned before. For the record, I'm not going to do that 'n' anymore... it's annoying.
I always think the Rock & Roller coaster sucks, but then when I go on it I have a good time. I'm sure the main reason I have low expectations is mostly due to the presence of Aerosmith. The ride always gets off to a rough start because I start over-analyzing the pre-show. You walk into a recording studio where Aerosmith is mixing some songs before a concert. (Spoiler alert: they aren't actually there; it's a movie screen... sorry to ruin the surprise.) It actually gets off to a good start, since the guitar line playing when you walk in is from Walk This Way. That is, until you start wondering why they would be recording a song that was released decades ago. Are they doing an updated version? DMC can't even rap anymore, so that wouldn't work.
The pre-show only goes downhill from there, but the good news is the ride itself is always better than I give it credit for. Although I do take issue with the ride's usage of the phrase "Traffic jammed... NOT!"
Leaving Rock & Roller Coaster, we came upon a truly depressing sight. The turkey leg booth opened at eleven, and it was nearly time to open. Despite the fact that the booth was closed and all the windows were shut, there was a line of over ten people. Just standing there waiting for turkey legs. How badly do they need these? I laughed at that, but it was that BBC version of The Office kind of laughter mixed with sadness and depression.
One attraction that is no longer with us is "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?... Play it!" I'm not sure if the punctuation in that name is accurate, I know there were some ellipses in there somewhere, but I must admit that looks a bit odd. I didn't love Millionaire, but I certainly had no issues with it. Even if I don't go in them frequently, I'm a big fan of any attraction that takes a lot of people. Because the more people in those attractions, the less people walking around bothering me.
Millionaire's replacement is not yet open, but it looks promising. Toy Story Mania is a shooting ride similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride or Men in Black. There are also 3D glasses involved somehow. This ride needed to be created because Hollywood Studios was falling drastically short of their quota of Pixar related attractions. This will be the first Pixar attraction for Hollywood Studios, while every other park has at least two.
As much as I love Pixar movies, I only begrudgingly welcome all their attractions to the park. Although on the other hand, the last time Disney made a push to have one of their new, non-Pixar characters in the park, we wound up with Stitch all over the place. So I guess when it's put that way, I'm more than happy to see Pixar characters. Although I am surprised that Disney never created a ride based on their blockbuster hit Home on the Range. Some real missed opportunity there.
I will stop wasting your time, and get to what we all really want to talk about: The Great Movie Ride. Here is an update since the last article: it is still terrible. I continue to go on it... I continue to look forward to going on it. Then, as soon as the car starts moving and it's too late to get out, I remember the ride sucks. The power Disney has shown over the human mind is impressive, but not all powerful. They are able to erase your bad memories of this ride so you want to go on it again, but it is not completely effective. You never want to go back on the ride in the same vacation. However, next time you are there, it's all "Hey, Great Movie Ride!"
In the "We Do Learn Our Lesson Sometimes" department, Sounds Dangerous! starring Drew Carey was skipped over with extreme prejudice.
The Lights, Motors, Action show is one of the better additions to the park in a while. My biggest complaint about shows is that since they only run certain times during the day, you wind up revolving your schedule around them. Even still, this show is certainly worth seeing. It has all the elements of a typical stunt show: gratuitous explosions, shooting, punching, and bad comedy. The obvious difference here is the addition of cars. Much of the show involves watching little cars drive around dangerously and loudly, while trying to cut one car off and make it crash. This is very similar to driving on Long Island, except Lights, Motors, Action involves custom built cars driven by talented drivers, unlike on Long Island which tends to be people who spike the back of their hair driving Honda Civics with dragons drawn on the doors.
Muppet Vision 3D is another good attraction. And since I warmed you up with that wonderfully descriptive introduction, I will elaborate. Muppet Vision is, as you already guessed, a 3D attraction. The queue area is absolutely crammed with little details and hidden jokes, so if you don't want to watch the introductory video again (which itself is very funny), you can look around for things you haven't seen before. I always make the fact that I'm a loser quite evident as soon as I walk in. At the entrance, there is a box office with a sign saying the key is under the mat. If you check under the mat below the window, there will be a key. Even though there is always just a key there, I look. I don't know why, maybe I'm assuming there might be some prize below the mat for people who think to look. I have contemplated stealing the key as a souvenir, but it is just a normal looking key so the collector's value is pretty low. Also, it would be a bit of a jackass move.
The show itself is quite enjoyable. They make it more than just a 3D movie, as there are animatronic characters in the theater with you, as well as a 'real' character walking around at one point. Without a doubt, the best part of the attraction is in the opera booth of the theater, where Statler and Waldorf are sitting. I would be fine if there was no 3D movie, and it was just them insulting things for twenty minutes. On the flip side, the absolute worst thing about this attraction is Miss Piggy. I hate her.
In the "Thank God For Small Favors" department, the "Harbor Attack" part of the Backlot Tour, where people from the crowd act out a scene, was not performed due to the cold weather.
Despite having been to Hollywood Studios a good number of times, as well as being a Disney nerd, I don't think I have ever done Walt Disney: One Man's Dream until the last time I was here. This walk through attraction first tells the story of Walt Disney's life, with pictures and artifacts from his life. As the timeline goes on, more and more memorabilia from the Disney company is put on display. Some of these items are truly interesting, including animatronic models that you can (sort of) control. After this very comprehensive tour, there is also a documentary movie at the end. Whether you are a Disney nerd or just somewhat interested, this quick film is very entertaining, moving, and (dare I say) moving.
While we are on the subject of hidden gems in the park, The Magic of Disney Animation is another great attraction that a lot of people don't bother with. Until recently, this included me. I know I have done this when I was a kid, but I didn't remember it at all. The attraction is made up of many different parts. First, you are shown how characters evolve during the creative process by one of the Disney animators.
The character they are discussing is Mushu from the movie Mulan. While this part was enjoyable enough, I've got to figure Disney is pretty unhappy with Eddie Murphy. I've never seen Mulan and never will because it looks awful. Murphy also made the Haunted Mansion, which did terribly. Adding further insult, Murphy does Shrek, which wound up being ridiculously successful.
As a preface to the next section of the attraction, I should clarify one thing. Every time you see a commercial for a Disney park, they always show some little kid running up to Mickey and giving him a hug. As anyone who has recently attempted to get a picture with Mickey knows, that is a complete fairy tale. And not the good kind of fairy tale, like Disney encourages. The kind of fairy tale that has its image of running up and hugging Mickey running through your mind, as you wait on a ninety minute line in order to have a picture taken with him. While there is a line to get a picture with almost any character, a picture with Mickey will invariably have the longest line.
His popularity is obviously due largely to his ubiquity in all things Disney. I like Mickey well enough, but I almost like him by default. You see ears on everything (and almost everyone) in the parks. Should you stay in a Disney resort, your whole day revolves around him. After a long day in the parks, you see his face on the soap and shampoo. When you get a wake up call at six in the morning, he is calling you.
So for those people who truly love the Disney parks (and despite my pissing and moaning, I do), you associate Mickey with the good times you have. Do I like Mickey? Not really. I mostly like what he represents.
The easiest way to get a picture with Mickey, or many other characters, is to go to a character breakfast or dinner. I'm a big fan of these. I'll touch on these at a later point, since my favorite ones take place at other parks. But since we've already covered Animal Kingdom, I guess I can mention that. Also, this will get us back to the original point, which is something I am rarely able to do, so I'm going for it.
The only character meal I have done at Animal Kingdom is Donald's Breakfastosaurus (there is no way spell check is going to let me get away with that). It got off to a good start because Donald is running it. Mickey always gets all the glory, but Donald is far superior to him. Donald rarely catches a break; the attraction in the Magic Kingdom is called Mickey's Philharmagic, even though Donald is the main character for 95% of the show. Granted, it is Mickey's orchestra, but who cares? We are being entertained by Donald, not you Mickey, you attention starved egomaniac.
The breakfast itself was pretty good. There was one dish that combined all of the unhealthiest aspects of diner breakfasts into one convenient slop. It involved hash browns, melted cheese, sausage, and some other ingredients made up solely of fat and salt. It was delicious.
At these character meals, even if the food isn't that great it's okay, because you are being treated to the truly American way of meeting characters. Instead of standing on your feet to wait in line, the characters come up to you while you are sitting and eating.
This was actually the only character meal we've done that Chip and Dale were not part of. They are certainly the hardest working characters in the business. They may not have lines out the door to meet them like Mickey, but they are busting their tails at about five simultaneous restaurants, all while walking around the parks and doing parades. What the Breakfastosaurus had that made it great was Donald and Mickey.
The only problem is you don't get them in their classic outfits. All the characters are wearing jungle attire. I certainly understand why this is, for a couple reasons. First of all, they are in the jungle, so their dress is appropriate. More importantly, if people are going to multiple character meals, while taking character pictures elsewhere, no one wants Mickey in his normal outfit all the time.
It is like when they release a new line of Batman toys. After they make regular Batman, they can't just keep releasing plain Batman. Kids buy one normal Batman, and that's it. That is why by the time a toy line has reached a few months old, you start seeing "Deep Sea" Batman and "Wild West" Batman.
So despite my sadness at being unable to get a picture with classic Donald and Mickey, it was still good to get an easy picture with the two characters with the longest lines.
Hoooooly crap that was a long setup for this next part of the attraction. Which is The Magic of Disney Animation, in case you forgot (which is understandable). After we exited the studio with the animator, we walked into a large room filled with what looked like a lot of activity stations. What immediately seemed odd was out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mickey in his sorcerer outfit from Fantasia just standing there. It was the strangest thing I have ever seen. Mickey was standing in front of a backdrop, obviously ready to pose for pictures, yet he had no line.
There had been too much time wasted, already the little kids had started to notice him. We ran over, and after a two minute wait, we had our elusive picture with Mickey. Success!
I have since found out that this is usually a meet and greet area for various characters; however they tend to be much lower down on the Disney food chain. I am not suggesting Mickey eats the characters (although I have never seen any characters from Fox and the Hound in the parks...hmmm), I guess popularity hierarchy would be a better term. They still had a backdrop for Ratatouille up, so I am assuming those are the other characters that populate this room.
Besides a character photo, there is a fair amount to do in this room. They're all activity stations, and a lot of them were stupid. One was essentially the paint bucket function from MS Paint, where you could make Disney characters wacky colors. Or just be boring and make Flounder yellow. There was also a "Which Disney Character Are You" booth which sounded cool but wound up being kind of lame. They take your picture to start, so I thought they would morph you into that character at the end. I'm not sure why they need your picture; it's never used for anything. The booth itself is a glorified version of those Quizilla polls you see on Myspace. I wound up getting Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast (what the hell?). I wasn't happy with that, so I did it again, putting in all the jerk answers, and wound up getting Scar from The Lion King. I was satisfied with that.
The most fun activity allowed you to dub your voice over a scene from various movies. People always say you never realize how stupid your voice is until you hear it recorded. To clarify, that should be extended to say recorded while acting out cartoons. I found out I do a terrible job of being Jafar, Scar, and one of the characters from Bambi.
Finally, the last portion of this attraction allows you to follow along with an animator, as they show you how to draw a Disney character. I was hoping for an interesting character, but no, we had to draw Mickey. This wouldn't have been such a problem except for the fact that I spent more than half the time just filling in the shading, and I still wasn't even able to finish.
Our animator was sort of annoying, but was completely awesome in an unintentional way. She brought up Hidden Mickeys, which are pretty self-explanatory, but they are Mickey heads hidden all over Disney World. Not like, decapitated heads, just the silhouette. The animator asked if anyone had seen some good ones, and some kids started answering. After someone mentioned a Hidden Mickey they had seen, the animator snapped, "That's not a Hidden Mickey!" It was great.
I do realize we are treading in dangerously positive waters, so now it is time to mention the worst thing in the park that isn't Sounds Dangerous! I don't want to build up the suspense too much, so to be clear: the Beauty and the Beast show is awful. To be fair to it, I am not comparing it to the Broadway show. Both versions had their pros and cons. The pro for the Disney World version is that I had good leg room, whereas on Broadway I had about six square inches. The pro for the Broadway version is that it isn't a complete disgrace where the only entertainment comes from laughing for the wrong reasons.
The show is essentially the movie while pressing fast forward. Of course you can't have the entire story take place, you have to cut some things out or speed up some process. On the other hand, Nemo abbreviated its story very well, all while adding in songs. Beauty and the Beast was like watching a sitcom where they speed up the film so they can get a house clean really fast.
Possibly the best/worst part was the fact that the Beast looked and acted like a giant stuffed animal. The parts where he is fighting were almost identical to when you were a kid and would take your stuffed lion, shake it and go "RAAAWWWR!" Actually, I think that would be a little more intimidating than the Beast.
I am glad I saw this show, mostly because now I can say I have, and there is less in the park I have never done. I am also glad I saw the show because despite the fact that it was horrible, it was incredibly entertaining. Just not in the way they were hoping for.
Finally, the most appropriate way to end the day at Hollywood Studios is by seeing Fantasmic. We didn't on our last trip, because we saw it the last couple of times we went. Seeing Fantasmic is different than any other fireworks show in the other parks. It is different for obvious reasons, since it is more than just fireworks. However, with other fireworks shows, you kind of just find a good enough spot, and you're set. With Fantasmic, you have to get there perversely early. The tram drivers advise getting there forty five minutes early, but I think that is cutting it close. People get seats for Fantasmic hours before it starts. You can not imagine how fast it fills up and what chaos it becomes until you actually go.
As far as the show itself, it is very impressive. It combines live characters with fireworks and explosions. Or am I making that up? I thought there were explosions... maybe just fireballs? Should I actually look into this and find out the correct information beforehand? Nah. Let's just say there were explosions. Lots of them.
One thing I know for sure they have are water screens. These are incredibly awesome. They are made up of a thin sheet up water spraying up, while video is projected on them. I am now wondering why I take so few pictures at this park. I have gigabytes worth of pictures from the other parks, yet the Studios only seemed to inspire a handful of them, resulting in this rather obnoxious overload of text. Although I have been known to read a book or two that doesn't contain pictures, so it is quite possible to finish reading this article. Don't give up!
I'm not actually sure what the story of Fantasmic is. I know Sorcerer Mickey comes out, then there are villains everywhere, including Jafar as the huge cobra from the end of Aladdin, Mickey does some zapping and dancing, then everything is happy. One of the best touches is at the end, when lots of characters float around the moat surrounding the stage. One of the floats is the big steamboat from Steamboat Willy, being driven by a black and white Mickey.
After the show is over, the fun is just beginning. Now you get to survive the exit! Leaving Fantasmic is another one of those experiences you need to be a part of. It builds your character. It is thousands of people all being funneled through a small exit path, while moving excruciatingly slowly. I'm quite sure you could just stand still, and eventually just be swallowed up by the mob and carried to the exit.
It is quite clear that this park is much better than it was the last time I wrote about it, which was four years ago. This is mostly due to the fact that Tower of Terror was not closed, as well as the addition of a few attractions, and also going on attractions that we didn't the first time. Although technically those attractions were open the first time as well, so that's so much an improvement as it was me choosing to do them this time. However, I'm fine with ignoring any logic that hinders my argument, so we'll just skip over that last point and end it here.
Talk to me Now or Later