I visited Walt Disney World this past summer, and it was just as magical
as always. This was my 14th trip to the Disney parks in Orlando,
and the people I went with relied on my expertise to make our way around
the parks in an efficient manner (read: they used me to optimize the
number of rides and attractions we rode/saw in each park). Since they
considered me a Disney expert, I figured I’d share my knowledge of
Mickey’s realm to help others plan their trips to the most magical place
Looking for some old-fashioned glitz and glamour in all of Orlando’s hustle and bustle? Visit Hollywood Studios, where there’s no business like show business.
Of the four main Disney parks, Hollywood Studios seems to be the one that’s changed the most over the years. (I, for one, still call it MGM, since I began visiting before the name change.) But that’s what happens when a park is designed around show business—as the times change, so must the attractions. It’s not a bad thing, it just means more work to assure things stay current, and Disney has done a great job of designing rides and shows that fit societal trends while also keeping that famous Disney magic.
Like the other parks, Hollywood Studios is composed of sections, but unlike the other parks, the sections don’t exactly fit together, making a stroll around the park feel a bit disjointed. On the other hand, each individual section is so well done, with unique shops and shows and restaurants that really make you feel like you’re somewhere (or somewhen) else, whether you’re exploring under the sea in the Voyage of the Little Mermaid or experiencing the majesty of the great classic films of the past in the Great Movie Ride.
Favorite Ride: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Take a trip into the Twilight Zone and ride a cursed elevator straight to the bottom. Try not to scream.
The Tower of Terror is the ride I love and hate in equal measure: I love that the Tower of Terror is more an experience than just a ride, but I hate the fall. Yes, that’s basically the entire ‘ride’ part, but it’s everything before that that makes me forget about the heart-in-your-throat-not-even-touching-the-seat-screaming-at-the-top-of-my-lungs drop.
For starters, the atmosphere of the queue takes you right back to 1939. The line winds through the old hotel grounds, with worn signs for various amenities scattered between the overgrown outbuildings and the crumbling statues. But my favorite part is that they play authentic 1930s jazz music throughout the entire wait. It’s such a simple but effective way to put you in an old-time mindset.
(Seriously, I love the music. I made note of all the songs played the last time I was there and then came home and downloaded all of them. If you’re that sort of nerd, too, the songs can be listened to here and here.)
The music continues into the hotel proper, where everything again has been designed to make you believe that the hotel has been abandoned for years. I’ve always wondered how long they put fake dust on the props until enough real dust build up to give the right look. You’re quickly ushered into the library and shown a ‘lost episode’ of The Twilight Zone, which describes the fateful lightning bolt that sent five unsuspecting people on an elevator ride into the Fifth Dimension.
Of course, that’s the set-up for the ride itself, which you get to experience as you claim a spot in the service elevator and find yourself pulled, quite literally, into the Twilight Zone. The Tower of Terror is unique from ordinary drop rides in that the drop isn’t technically a freefall; the elevator is actually pulled downwards, giving it more speed. On top of that, the drop sequence for each ride is randomized, so the number of drops and lifts are different each time. No two rides are the same, but you’re always guaranteed a full drop, straight down all 130 feet at 39 mph.
Between the decrepit atmosphere, all of the references to The Twilight Zone, and the uniqueness of each ride, the Tower of Terror is easily one of the best rides at Hollywood Studios and possibly in any of the Disney parks. It’s well worth the wait.
Underrated Ride: Muppet Vision 3D
It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to meet the Muppets in this 3D show full of zany characters and some good old-fashioned laughs.
Not everyone is a fan of 3D shows or animatronics, but this one is worth it—if you can find it. The building is in an out of the way corner of sorts, so a lot of people miss out, which is a shame given that Muppet Vision 3D is quite fun. The Muppet Labs entrance sets the stage for the reveal of the new 3D film technology that Bunsen and Beaker have developed.
Of course, because it’s the Muppets, things don’t go quite as planned, leading to some fun 3D and even some 4D gags. The animatronic characters are admittedly not the best Disney has to offer, but if nothing else, you can at least get in on the heckling with Waldorf and Statler, and there’s air conditioning and comfy seats, so you can relax a bit while you watch the silliness.
Other Recommended Rides:
Rock’n’Roller Coaster: Hold on as you’re blasted off in a super stretch limo to join Aerosmith at their show. Ups and downs and upside-downs are all accompanied by neon lights and the music of Steven Tyler and co.
Toy Story Midway Mania: Take aim, partner! Ride through a virtual carnival and try your hand at a series of midway games featuring the beloved Toy Story characters.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular: See your favorite scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark live as stunt people bring the iconic film to life. If you’re lucky, you may even wind up as an extra on the streets of Cairo.
Star Tours – The Adventure Continues: A tour through space ends up being more than you bargained for as you help deliver a Rebel spy to safety. Face down Darth Vader, join a podrace, or crash land on Coruscant—with 96 different possible ride scenario combinations, you get a new experience each ride.
Hollywood Studios lives up to its name by putting you right in the spotlight of its movie-themed atmosphere. Things are always changing, but that only means you’ll have something new to look forward to every time you visit. And if you’re a Star Wars fan, you can look forward to the new Star Wars expansion coming in the next few years, which promises to add a whole new level of awesome. There’s no telling what else will have changed by then, but you can bet that you’ll have fun no matter what. Whether you’re looking for some major thrills or some fantastic shows, check out Hollywood Studios. And maybe build your own lightsaber while you’re there. ‘Cause everyone wants their own lightsaber.