September 24, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Seven - Disney's Hollywood Studios

The dreaded last day of vacation, and when that last day is at Walt Disney World after a decade away, it feels even more sobering. Why? Going to Walt Disney World anyway you shape it is one expensive vacation. Big bucks, so you want to get as much out of it as possible. 

Sure, I'll follow this up with another post on some cost saving ideas, but it is still going to take a significant outlay of hard earned cash to make even the most frugal trip happen. Totally First World problems, right? 

We had only a few precious hours before we had to be checking in for our flight at Orlando International Airport, so what better place to spend it than going to Disney's true half day park, the remnant known as Disney's Hollywood Studios. We were at the gates at opening to make the most of it. 

Be gone, Big Hat!

Walking into the park was a mixed bag. I love seeing the Chinese Theater again. It's about time that Big Ole Hat (this is a family site, after all, or I'd say BAH) was gone. Now, you can once again see what the Imagineers had in mind- Hollywood in its glory days. Then, I began noticing how faded the building were, how poorly they were maintained and how the street itself had so little shade or tree cover. There was no Red Car Trolley to found be as in the rebuilt California Adventure. That addition gives the park kinetic energy and life. 

Sid's is always a fun stop- when you have more time.

How different this park felt than when I first visited at opening! I'd estimate 90% of the park is gone or at least drastically changed. (Wanna check out the history of this fascinating little park? Take a look at this lengthy post sharing concept art, my vintage photos, and more. 25 Years of Change!)

OK- Mickey does belong in the park
but not at the expense of the Great Movie Ride!

The majestic but lovely Chinese Theater is a fitting "castle" for the park. It was perfectly cast in its role, looking great from a distance and wonderful up close. The detail is strong, setting the mood for adventures to come. The hat is gone, but the stage needs to disappear as well. Perhaps in the future that is something in the planning. 

At this point in time, we only had a few hours, so we had to plan our Fast Passes well. This meant Rock n Rollercoaster followed by a hopefully quick queue for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Our other choice was Star Tours, as it is a favorite of my grandson, and I wanted to make sure he didn't miss out due to our limited hours. 

Only the music headbangs here.

Since the coaster height limit was too much for the kids, we split our party, and they used a golden ticket for Toy Story Midway Mania later in the morning. Big hint here- it was about four days prior to our departure that I was able to snag Fast Passes for the beloved Toy Story ride. It had been sold out the entire planning period. Always check at the last minute! You never know what becomes available if you time it right.

Time for a new act.

Continuing our three hour tour (a three hour tour). Do you get the reference? If not, do a little research.) The weather wasn't getting rough, but it was already pretty hot and humid. No matter, we hit the hub, the plaza, whatever they call it here and took a quick look at the theater, future home of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, the replacement for the epic original, The Great Movie Ride. (Why Oh Why?)

Gertie and Indy make quite a pair.

This is where the charm of the park kicked in, almost making me forget there is just so little left of the place. It's a beautiful area, filled with the quirkiness of Old Hollywood without the shady, seedy side you find today. 

While some of our crew got a little breakfast and a drink, my daughter and I jumped on a limo to get to the Aerosmith concert in time. The nighttime sky wasn't as darkened as I remembered, but the ride was as smooth and thrilling as always. Still a winner, even though they desperately need a new band in there. (No, not a Marvel makeover. I said a new band. If you want a ride like that, you have to -unfortunately- head to Epcot in a couple of years.)

Time to anger a few parents. We took the kids on Tower. They seemed a bit apprehensive, but we assured them it would be ok. Let's say even though it really wasn't their favorite, it didn't cause any meltdowns. Man, they are easy to travel with! ("Nice job!" said Grandpa.) 

As for me, this version remains the definitive one. Even without the Fifth Dimension room, everything about it screams Headliner Attraction. The whole approach down Sunset Blvd., the correct placement in the park, the spookiness of the boiler room- and the cars that work like a real elevator- make it top notch. Does Twilight Zone Tower of Terror have a place in a park that will be dominated by Star Wars and Toy Story? Absolutely- but it is time for enhancements and refreshed special effects. Well worth the needed investment however. 

It was amazing how quickly we covered two big "E Ticket" attractions! And how strange that there was so little left to do in the park. With just about a half hour before our reservation for Star Tours, we walked a bit enjoying the scenery. 
Light speed to Batuu!

Once we arrived at the entrance, the line was still fairly short, so we saved our tickets for a second trip after the first. Smart choice on our part! My granddaughter had never been on the flight. Gotta say, it was pretty sweet to hear her big brother encourage her and give her riding tips before we took off. She loved the journey!

Certainly, we will see him again after this attraction closes.

By the time we walked out, Star Tours had a healthy line, so our plans paid off. Using our Fast Pass, we got in line and happily had an entirely different trip, including a preview of Batuu. Nice touch and a great way to sell a return visit to the Florida park. Appropriate synergy for once.

Pricey but fun.
Should be on its way to Cars Land in revised form!

After the kids fashioned their own light saber, we walked around, and I spotted Sci-Fi Dine In, one of my favorite places in the park. We had not been able to get a reservation earlier, but when I noticed the door was open, I took my son-in-law inside to get a glimpse of what I had told him about. It was absolutely empty with all the lights on. 

Truthfully, I don't think I'll be able to get a reservation next trip either. The park is not prepared for the onslaught of visitors coming when Galaxy's Edge opens up next year. There's a massive and obvious shortage of places to eat, shady spaces, and most of all, attractions to eat up the crowds. When you add in old and tired shows, you can be sure you'll be reading stories of disastrous days at Disney's Hollywood Studios or whatever the new name will be.

If you're not a big show guy, there's not much to do.

From here on out, the park began to show these weaknesses. My son-in-law and I went to find some food, something beyond a Starbucks snack to eat. Although we walked all the way around Echo Lake, not a thing was open, reinforcing my observations made above. 

Bad transition.
Really surprising this is the best they could come up with!

For as much emphasis and effort the suits seem to put into building new restaurants, the results are not so good at the Studios. The Base Line Tap House may have a decent menu and fill the void for beer flights, but little thought seemed to go into the design. The exterior on its own is pretty nice, but next to the Sci-Fi sharing a wall? It's horrible. Adding a mock third story to the Tap House would have created a better visual transition. Yep, the look of Disney Springs is just amazing, but they dropped the ball here.

No resistance here. 

While we were busy looking for food, the rest of the crew stood in line for some Star Wars themed show/mini-parade. As a long time park fan, I knew this to be filler, but you can tell by the look on this fan's face (above), that as far as he was concerned, this might as well have been a full bore "E Ticket" attraction. I can only imagine how he will feel about Galaxy's Edge IF he can actually get into the land and ride the two attractions. (And what will they do with Star Tours? And will they get rid of Launch Bay?) This is just another reminder that Disney made the right move to buy the franchise and place a full blown land in the park(s). It's the right park for the addition here, but it should have been the centerpiece of a 3rd Disney park in California. 

Coming to a Studios park near you!

For the last attraction of the day, the kids and the ladies went on Toy Story Mania. The guys stayed behind and went into Walt Disney Presents, browsed the exhibits and at the urging of a cast member, posed with an invisible celebrity. It was an odd bit of cast member interaction, bordering between plain old weird and strangely disconcerting. Clearly, the guy loved his job.

A good sport!

As I mentioned in another post, the new Toy Story Land was not yet open. We missed it by two weeks. Oh well, sounds like they'll fix up some of their mistakes before our next visit. 

We left the park right after everyone returned from their last ride. It was still relatively early in the day, and the park was filling up with guests who had chosen to sleep in. For us, it was off to the airport and our trip home.

How would I wrap up our Disney World trip after a decade away? Expensive, fun, and well worth it. Regardless of the constant downgrade in service, the truth is, there's nothing like Walt Disney World as a whole. We just won't go every few years as we used to. 

Disneyland is great for a couple of days, but it's no resort. (I'll go into direct comparisons in another post and how to save money in yet another.)

For all the glitz and glamour, Disney World is also a place with problems that may be fixable if there's a wholesale change in mindset from the suits. If not, expect more of the same tension between what is and what could/should have been. Would I go with my family again? Absolutely! A Disney trip is about family fun and making memories. Sometimes even the harshest critic finds there's tears in his eyes as he takes time to notice the people with him.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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