January 2012: Hollywood Studios rides can be enjoyed by walking in a circle with a small amount of backtracking. The order of attractions here assumes you walk straight down Hollywood Boulevard after entering the park, ride the Great Movie Ride (behind the big Mickey sorcerer’s hat), and then turn left to tour counter-clockwise.
For a quick guide that doesn’t include descriptions or ruin surprises, go directly to the Ride Guide: Hollywood Studios.
Ahead and then left inside the park
The Great Movie Ride
On opening day, The Great Movie Ride was the park’s signature attraction, and its robotic recreation of famous movie scenes still makes guests feel as if they stepped into the movies. A few suggestions: Take note of the movies playing onscreen in the line queue – each one appears in a scene later during the ride. Also, the attraction uses two ride vehicles on busier days. Each one is the size of a small auditorium and moves slowly through the scenes, but each also stops along the way for a short drama. (The first car stops in the Wild West and the second one stops in gangland-area Chicago.) As a result, the ride is slightly different in each vehicle, so request a different one if riding twice. While the ride can be enjoyed by anyone, certain scenes along the way – horror movie monsters and the witch from The Wizard of Oz, for example – could frighten very small children.
American Idol Experience
Anyone with a modicum of talent that wants to pretend they’re vying for the title on the American Idol TV show can do so here, though most tourists prefer to just sit in the audience and watch. Performers must “try out” beforehand.
Sounds Dangerous Starring Drew Carey
Open sporadically, this theater presentation shows how moviemakers add sounds to movies after filming is completed, though the show is more entertaining than educational. Most seemingly real sounds, such as footsteps in a hallway, are actually dubbed in during postproduction. While visitors do nothing more than sit in a theater with headphones on, some of the show takes place in total darkness, and the movie could scare younger children.
Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
On the one hand, Indiana Jones is another movie-making demonstration – in this case, how stunt people fake violence. It looks scary, but the audience’s fear is mollified somewhat when a “director” explains what will happen and how it’s faked before some of it begins. Only children who have difficulty separating fiction from reality should be put off by the show, which takes place theater-style in a large, covered outdoor area.
Star Tours (Fast Pass)
Updated in 2011, Star Tours celebrates all things from the Star Wars movies, and some of the original cast appears during the ride or the queue line. The ride is a motion simulator, which means about 80 people sit in an enclosed, windowless compartment that moves according to the visual cues from a 3-D movie playing in front. If the movie suggests that the entire car is falling down a cliff, the compartment tilts forward, forcing riders to tilt forward in their seat. The ride can be rough, but not the equivalent of a coaster. A unique twist: Each ride is different. The movie is actually three or four independent scenes separated by a switch to hyper-drive. Since the scenes are random, each ride visits dissimilar places and encounters different dangers. Height requirement: 40 inches/102 cm
In the back of the park
Muppet Vision 3-D
Today’s kids may not remember the original Muppet Show, but parents do. This 3-D movie, accompanied by some Muppet robots and live actors, seems to take place in the same television theater with the usual vaudeville-style format. While guests may bob and weave to avoid a 3-D cream pie, this theater show doesn’t have anything that should scare young children. Most jokes appeal to kids, and some jokes aim for the adults.
Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show
A huge covered outdoor theater overlooks a handful of storefronts and lots of macadam. During the show, small cars zip across, through, and over stuff and come within inches of hitting something. (Once or twice they have.) While a bit loud, this explanation of movie stunt driving entertains even guests who care little for cars. If sitting near the top of the theater, take a minute to look over the back, which offers a birds-eye view of Catastrophe Canyon.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set
While this playground caters to kids, it’s worth a look for adults who have a smidgen of imagination left. Giant stalks of grass, bus-size bees, and a huge dripping garden hose make visitors feel that they shrunk to the size of an ant.
Behind and to the right of the giant Mickey hat
Studio Backlot Tour (Catastrophe Canyon)
There are two parts to the backlot tour. In the first half, guests walk, and then stand, in front of a pool of water with small ships. Hosts explain how they create disaster sequences in movies by filming a miniature version first and tinker with it in postproduction to make it appear life size. Guests then walk through a prop storage warehouse and board trams for the full backlot tour. The trams pass a few big props used in actual movies, and then (stop reading if you want to be surprised) onto a “live set.” (“Live set” is one of those wholesome Disney lies.) In Catastrophe Canyon, the tram wraps around an outdoor stage that includes oil rigs, trucks, water towers, and more. It stops, the director “accidently” yells “action,” and the tram riders find themselves a bit too close to actual fires and floods. The tram rocks a bit during the show, but not enough to make anyone avoid the ride. Kids may be a bit scared, but it’s generally fine for all guests. At the end of the ride, guests walk through a small museum of movie memorabilia.
Toy Story Mania (Fast Pass)
Fast Pass this one – it has Hollywood Studios’ longest line. The cars move smoothly and can be enjoyed by anyone, since they do little more than transport guests to a 3-D movie screen, stop, and then move onto the next screen a minute later. The key to Toy Story Mania is that guests interact with the 3-D scene. A gun-like thing (you pull a string in the back) hurls 3-D balls (or pies or rings) at 3-D targets. Individual rider’s scores are announced at the end of the ride.
Journey into Narnia
This walk-through attraction, like the backlot tour, shows guests how movies are made. However, the topic sometimes changes – it’s currently the Narnia series – and this one focuses on a single movie or franchise. It usually includes costumes and large props, making it a must-see for any guest who loved the movie.
Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream
A museum dedicated to Walt Disney, this walk-through attraction includes a history of the Disney name, the movies, the TV shows, and the parks. It shows movie techniques used in early animation, includes scale models of park attractions, and has other oh-that’s-kinda-cool stuff. One Man’s Dream is not for everyone, however, and kids probably won’t enjoy it as much as parents – and even some parents won’t care. It’s a good choice for a busy afternoon when other lines grow long.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid (Fast Pass)
This theater show tells the entire Little Mermaid movie in only a few minutes and spends the rest of its time recreating the movie’s top show-stopping songs. If you want a full story, see the movie first. However, it has great special effects, such as waving overhead laser lights that suggest the audience is sitting somewhere below the ocean surface in the world of mermaids. It’s arguably the most popular show in Hollywood Studios. Darkness and the evil octopus-like Ursula could scare younger children, but it’s generally appropriate for everyone.
The Magic of Disney Animation
Movie making, and specifically animation, made Disney a household word – and this exhibit shows how he did it. At the end of the tour, however – and ignored by many – a large room has hands-on exhibits, character meet-and-greets, and a drawing class. In the drawing class, each guests gets a workspace, pencil, and piece of paper. An instructor shows how to draw a single Disney character circle by circle, and visitors get to keep their masterpiece.
Disney Junior – Live on Stage
This theater-style presentation is the go-to place for kids devoted to the Disney Channel who wish to see favorite cartoon characters that never appeared (most times) in a movie. These kids and their parents know the characters well; guests without young children don’t know them at all. The show changes over time as TV characters come and go.
Right side of the park (Sunset Boulevard)
Rock ‘n Roller Coaster (Fast Pass)
While this coaster-in-the-dark has connections to the Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain, it adds stereo speakers behind each rider and blasts out Aerosmith tunes. It also goes upside down without warning. For coaster fans, it’s a must-ride. Height restriction: 48 inches/122 cm
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Fast Pass)
The main thrill of Tower of Terror is advertised in ads: You drop straight down more than once. Each ride is computer controlled, and one ride might have two small drops and two large drops – or any combination of freefalls. The drop, however, is the only rough part of the ride. At first, the elevator rises higher, stops on a floor of the fake hotel, and riders simply view strange things. Doors shut, it rises higher, and – to many first-time riders’ surprise – it moves forward and leaves the elevator shaft. After a short trip filled with special effects, the elevator locks inside a second elevator shaft for it’s final yo-yo journey to the bottom. Height restriction: 40 inches/102 cm
Beauty and the Beast
This theater show is inspired by the movie of the same name, and the show itself inspired the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast. It has bright colors and, like most park shows, encapsulates the movie plot down to about two minutes while spending the rest of its time recreating the movie’s show-stopping songs.
Hollywood Studios’ end-of-the-night show pulls out all the stops. Everyone can enjoy the theater show, though the first few rows could get a bit wet if there is a slight breeze. Much of the show takes place on a stage surrounded by water, which has two functions: At times, boats with Disney characters sail past the audience; at other times, flat sprays of water become movie screens with images projected against them. The theater itself is massive, and while central seats have a better angle for seeing the entire production, seats to the far right or left still give guests a fairly good view. A few effects involving Disney villains could scare younger children.