This article will be the first of many where I’ll share some of the new experiences my girlfriend, Deb, and I had on our most recent Disney World vacation.
People who know us well know that we’re bigger than average Disney fans. We try to visit Disney World at least once a year and we usually book a follow-up trip before our current one ends. We’ve also been to Disneyland and California Adventure in Anaheim and soon we’ll be going to Disneyland Paris. When we’re not on a Disney Vacation we’re usually making plans for what to do and where to eat when we return to a Disney Park.
Why do I bring this up? It’s because Deb and I may not be the typical visitor to Disney Theme Parks. After visiting so many times we’re going to make completely different plans than first-time visitors, for example. With my trip reports I’ll share some of our experiences, along with some of our thoughts, but I’ll never say that our way is the only way to visit a theme park. There are some great resources (like Touring Plans or People Mover Travel) to help you manage your visit and I can’t say enough positive things about them. What I hope to share in my blog posts is more of a preview of what you might experience when you visit Disney World yourself – with a special emphasis on updates and changes. For fun I’ll also be sprinkling in a few of my favorite photo tips. So, without further delay, let’s begin…
Day One – Hollywood Studios
Normally we try to begin all of out trips at the Magic Kingdom (always a special way to start any Disney vacation) but for this trip we began at Hollywood Studios. One event we’ve really wanted to attend was the “Galactic Spectacular Fireworks”. This was our third visit to Hollywood Studios of 2016 and somehow we’ve always missed the fireworks shows. Let’s just say we were determined not to miss them on this trip. We decided to book the dessert party to ensure a good spot for viewing (and to get a chance to sample some themed desserts and drinks). I’ll talk more about the fireworks – and the dessert party – in a future article. For now I want to talk about some of the new updates to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Coffee – the Most Important Meal of the Day!
Because of a massive delay to our flight, our trip didn’t exactly start how we planned. Instead of arriving at 8:00pm we didn’t arrive at our resort hotel until well after midnight. We proceeded to order some off-property pizza delivery for dinner (thanks to all the in-resort options being closed) and finally got to sleep at a time I’m too embarrassed to share. With the previous night ending so late and our first day starting so early we made it a priority to begin our day with a strong cup of coffee courtesy of our friends at Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company:
With the important business concluded we officially began our theme park adventure.
Toy Story – Now With a 3rd Track
For as long as I can remember the Toy Story ride has been one of the parks most popular attractions. On my first visit, back in 2009, our plan was to arrive when the park opened and immediately go to the (paper) fast pass machines. This was vital because that fast pass could easily save you two hours of waiting – or more – to experience the ride. I don’t know about you, but I try like heck not to wait two hours for anything. Even with the new fast pass system you sometimes needed to wake up at midnight on the day you can book your fast passes if you want to secure one for the Toy Story ride.
With the addition of the third track those days might be long gone.
We made our way over to the Midway Mania ride first thing and, according to the sign, the wait time was 10 minutes. We walked right in and found the wait to be even less than what was posted. Since it was new we asked the friendly cast member if we could ride on the new track (and we were delighted to have our wish granted).
Upon stepping inside the queue I instantly had the impression that this new area was Disney Imagineers testing the waters for the new Toy Story Land. Everywhere you looked there were huge Tinker toy parts that made you feel like you’ve shrunk down to toy size. The walls looked like Andy’s room (from the Toy Story Movies) and there was a gigantic door that really took the theming to another level.
As you progressed into the ride queue you totally felt like you were seeing things from a toys-eye perspective. I especially loved how the gigantic electrical outlet – complete with a huge night light – were above you to make sure you felt tiny. It’s totally possible that the original queue was a lot like this but with the announcement of Toy Story Land I’m looking at details like this in a totally different way.
The ride itself was pretty much the same as it always was but the great theming – and complete lack of a wait to ride – made the third track expansion a big win in my book. After exiting the ride we decided to continue our Toy Story adventure by meeting Woody and Buzz. To our surprise the wait was longer to see them than it was to ride Midway Mania…
Their character meet area continued the Midway Mania queue’s theme by putting you in a shot that looks like you’re toy sized and standing on Andy’s bed. What a cool idea for a photo setting!
I know it’s just one new track on an existing ride and a fun character meet-and-greet but what I walked away with was a feeling that Disney has some really good ideas about what to do with the new Toy Story Land.
Now Deb and I are really looking forward to the day when the construction walls come down and we get to take our Toy Story experience to the next level (probably just in time for the theatrical release of Toy Story 4).
Star Wars – Impossible to Avoid
In the past I might have accused Disney’s Hollywood Studios of only being a half day park. Once the big announcements of expansion happened the construction walls went up and the park seemed to shrink by 30% in size. I’m going to share a secret with you – I love all the Disney World theme parks but Hollywood Studios has traditionally been my least favorite. No real reason other than just liking the other parks more.
But I’ve got to say – Disney’s Hollywood Studios kinda rocks now!
It’s not a perfect Disney Theme park by any stretch of (my) imagination but I feel like they’ve done a great job of paving the way for the addition of Star Wars land – or whatever they decide to call the new addition to the park. While not a completely immersive experience you can have a lot of fun seeing the characters from all the Star Wars movies in the park or on the large stage in front of the Chinese Theater.
Throughout the day you can see Captain Phasma marching with First Order Stormtroopers and the amazing music that accompanies them turns every march into an experience.
Additionally you might see a two stormtrooper patrol wandering around and saying things like “Move Along” to anyone who tries to get a quick selfie with them.
With the Launch Bay located on one side of the park and Star Tours (with it’s kid friendly Jedi Temple experience) on the other side of the park a Star Wars fan is sure to get some steps racked up on their Fitbit.
Inside the Launch Bay there are character meets, movies, props and some seriously cool things you can buy. In my opinion, the numerous Star Wars experiences were a great way to turn what I used to consider a half-day park into a place to stay for an entire day.
A Second Opinion
Two of my best friends, Jay and Susan, live in Florida and they often make the drive to Disney World whenever we’re in town. They’re both spectacular photographers and I like to call Jay a “born again” Disney fan (something I like to take a little credit for). I’m a pretty big Star Wars fan, but Jay’s love of Star Wars is another level above mine. If you ask me he’s exactly the kind of person who Disney was thinking of when they added all of the Star Wars experiences to Hollywood Studios. Like me he has his favorite Star Wars characters, rides and really loves the incredible music. We’ve both enjoyed the slow addition of themed experiences to Disney’s Hollywood Studios so I thought his opinion would be helpful.
Jay and I spoke just before I wrote this article and I asked him what his thoughts were about Hollywood Studios in 2016 (specifically the Star Wars additions). He summed his opinion up in about eleven words: “Love it, want more and can’t wait for Star Wars Land”. I pressed him for a little more and he added that, as a big Star Wars fan, he loves the many themed experiences as well as all the unique merchandise. Additionally, he had nothing but positive things to say about the Star Wars themed fireworks shows. He also mentioned how much he enjoyed the various Star Wars movies they show – including one that introduced him to “Star Wars Rebels”. If Jay is the person Disney wanted to attract to Hollywood Studios by adding Star Wars experiences then it sounds like they did a pretty good job…
Deb and I are a more casual fans of Star Wars (especially Deb) but we both really enjoyed ourselves at Hollywood Studios. The fun day left us both looking forward to our evening with the dessert party and new fireworks show. But those experiences will be the subject of another article…