March 4, 2016

Our WDW Christmas Vacation Part IV: Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hooray for Hollwood, that screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood…

Okay, maybe those weren’t the exact words running through my mind as I entered Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it sure fit the bill! I know this park is perhaps the most divisive among Disney theme park aficionados (including our own Mark Taft)! Again, my perspective comes from a guy who’s only visited this park three times in the last twenty years, so my rose colored glasses are the size of coke bottles. That being said, both my wife (a non Disney fan) and I really enjoyed our time here. Yes, there are issues noticeable even to the casual visitor. The disjointed feel of the park and lack of a strong narrative drive are quite evident as one walks the grounds. Transitional cues are basically non-existent so visitors exiting the Hollywood Brown Derby can suddenly find themselves face to face with an AT-AT from Star Tours. But did this aversely affect our overall park experience? Based on the fun both Sue and I had, my answer would be no.

Old Hollywood come to life.

The relatively lighter crowds (as opposed to those in MK) made for a more relaxing and leisurely stroll in the park. I found myself stopping in shops more often while my wife enjoyed having the availability of alcoholic beverages.

50's Prime Time- Free Disneyland included!

Lemme just go out on a limb here and say that HS has the best themed restaurants in the park! Yes, I said it and now I will back it up with two examples… 50’s Prime Time Café and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Prime Time’s food has yet to disappoint, and ‘Uncle” Jimmy from England took extra care to humiliate me at every chance possible! The servers here are always on their ‘A’ game, inhabiting their roles with much gusto and mean glee. With clips from Andy Griffith, Bewitched, and Leave It to Beaver (all in glorious black and white) appearing on your family TV set, what’s not to like? The concept of Prime Time is so simple (home cooking in your mother’s kitchen) that it must have been hilarious when the idea was being pitched. “ Okay, get this, you’re sitting in a kitchen from the 50’s. Some oddball and rude relative ends up being your waiter…insulting and scolding you at every turn…it’ll be a goldmine!”

Both the author and the blog owner love this place!

And then there’s the magic of Sci-Fi Dine-In - a nostalgic blast from the past done in the inimitable Disney style. This restaurant’s immersive theming is picture perfect, from the cars serving as tables, to the neighborhood homes seen in the distance. The only negative for us back in 2004 was the food. I remember our burgers being dry and bland, while our shakes came half melted, and fully runny (I’m a thick shake type of guy). Boy, did the menu take a 360 degree turn for the better. Burgers were hot and juicy, fries crispy, and shakes nice and thick! If I had any reservations about the grub here, they’ve gone the way of the dodo, and ironically, the local drive-in theater!

We also enjoyed the shows at HS- the old standbys Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Fantasmic, and the now defunct Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

If Spectacle has a name...

The Indy show never fails to entertain. There’s always something about live performances that give it an extra energy that is unique to each show. Maybe veteran WDW park goers might disagree, but I think the sets, visuals, and stunts are well executed. This does not feel like a cheap, flavor of the month type of deal (looking at you Frozen Sing Along). 

The quality of the food at the Studios is top notch.

I’ve seen Fantasmic several times, but my main goal this time was to shoot it with my new camera gear. We did the package deal and chose The Hollywood Brown Derby for our dinner. Great food, excellent service, and an incredible atmosphere made this restaurant another win for HS. Come to think of it, HS scores 100% for all our dining experiences,
a rating both MK and Epcot did not achieve.

Peace on Earth and all the lights to go with it.

Finally there is The Osborne show. We had never ever seen it before as our last two trips were in late October/early November. We were blessed to be able to experience Osborne prior to its permanent closure. While the lights are indeed amazing, I was actually more impressed with the hard ticket “Merry and Bright Dessert Party”. Yes, we paid that $70.00 per person entry fee, and yes, I was grumbling about it up to the night of the event (seventy bucks for some cookies and punch???). But color me impressed and corrected. The choice of desserts, including one incredibly delicious hot apple pie, was overwhelming. Buckets of ice-cold coke and Dasani water available for the taking. But the biggest benefit was the reserved seating area in the midst of a tidal wave of human bodies. I’m not sure I would have been able to photograph and soak in the lights over a two hour period without returning to that oasis of space every now and then.  Hard ticket events are costly, and whether they’re for everyone is an individual decision.
I can say without hesitation that the packages for Fantasmic and Osborne were worth every cent!

Shades of Star Wars lands to come.

Not to say that everything was peachy king at HS. Streets of America is one of the most problematic areas there. Once used as a back lot studio for filming, it now serves no purpose other than to house the now defunct Osborne Light show. During the day, the place seems devoid of people and activity. I can see why this place maybe earmarked for replacement by the impending Star Wars Experience.

And don’t get me started on Frozen Sing-Along! I’m not a Frozen basher by any means, but this was a strangely disappointing show to me. It mostly consists of two host narrators retelling the story via a slideshow. Anna, Elsa, and Krifstoff appear sporadically and have one big number at the end. No Olaf whatsoever. While the actors playing the hosts are fairly entertaining, that’s not who I wanted to see for nearly the entire performance. This really feels like a slap together production meant to cash in on the movie’s popularity.

The original is still Number One!

As for ride attractions, HS again, has two of the best! If you read my prior installment on the Magic Kingdom, you know one of my biggest gripes was MK feeling like Disneyland-lite especially in regards to their truncated ride versions of Pirates and Small World (mainly to do with the queues).  Here, Tower of Terror is clearly superior to its California counterpart. From the beginning where the elevator cage moves forward to an ethereal montage of Twilight Zone images to the appearance of doomed passengers caught in an electric storm, this TOT was a high water mark (and still is) in the great annals of Imagineering ride concepts and execution.  In comparison, the DCA version feels like a basic thrill ride done on a budget.

Rock on.

Imagineers hit the ball out of the park again with Aerosmith’s Rock ‘N Rollercoaster. I remember being a bit turned off when I first saw the ride and its underlying concept. I like Aerosmith, but hard rock & roll and Disney seemed like a mismatch to me (and I think Walt might have agreed).  But from the moment the audience is treated to a recording session with the band and up to exiting into the back garage to be picked up by stretch limos, I knew Disney had a winner.  The queue had sold me even before my breath was taken away with the 0-60 acceleration in 2.8 seconds! Forget Space Mountain, this ride has  the LA freeway whizzing which ups the visual experience. Up until the premiere of Radiator Springs  Racers, this was my favorite thrill ride of all the parks.

What a difference a lost hat makes.

Finally, the big conundrum for me -The Great Movie Ride. I loved this attraction on our last two visits and was looking forward to revisiting fond memories. There are still some key scenes that wow me…the Wizard of Oz, Busby Berkley’s Footlight Parade, and Mary Poppins.  But a lot of the scenes need refurbishments and upgrades. Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark are problematic in that it caps the ride’s history at the late 70’s giving the attraction a dated feel. It’s probably not feasible to constantly add new scenes, but perhaps an update every decade might not be out of the question?

The photo stud himself- and his lovely wife.

All in all, Hollywood Studios ended up being one of the more enjoyable parks for us.  Because of the dining venues and hard ticket events, we spent more time there than originally planned.  Perhaps low expectations were a factor, but the undeniable fun we had was all too real!

I will be back with Part V featuring Epcot…

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)


Len said...

Thanks Mark for the photo selection and really, your best captions yet!

Mark Taft said...

Thank you, Len, for the great photos and text! I wish readers could see all 1000 photos you took!