An update to this post for 2017 is available here.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a park in transition and will be throughout the course of 2016. Two years ago, the backlot express tour forever left the park and Hollywood Studios lost a lot of its identity. Honestly, the park had lost most of its identity before that point, as the tour didn’t show guests anything exciting, the shows were overdone, and the theme park rides were few in numbers. There was a big hat sitting in front of the park’s icon and the theme of the park was, more or less, gone. Once a park that tried to make guests feel as if they were on set of a working studio, the reality of that theme just wasn’t realistic to continue for decades upon decades. The park grew stale recently and it was clear that Hollywood Studios was in need of a major facelift.
We can blame Disney for letting the park sit and rot for too long before deciding to do something. With that in mind, they do deserve credit for finally deciding to do something instead of letting the park become even worse. Unfortunately for guests and Disney, Hollywood Studios has to get worse before it gets a whole lot better. The year that this park probably hits rock bottom is 2016.
As major construction projects begin for Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, areas of the park have to completely close down. More attractions are being yanked out of the rotation to pave the way for what’s to come. This is all a good thing in the long run (unless the Animation Academy never comes back, then it’s just mostly a good thing) as Hollywood Studios will almost be a brand new park in 5 years. But, what good does that do guests visiting in 2016? Not much, is the short and hard answer. For guests who frequent Walt Disney World regularly, these construction zones will be a promising sign. For those who don’t get to go as often, the construction walls and cranes will be fairly frustrating. While that is too bad for those infrequent visitors, I do have to caution that there is no perfect time to go to a Disney theme park. There will always be construction going on as these parks change with the times. I know that’s frustrating, but it’s also a good thing.
With all that being said, should guests completely skip going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2016? Let’s take a look at what is offered before we make a final judgment.
Now, I know that Disney doesn’t call them rides but instead refers to them as attractions. I typically do that, as well, but for this post I’m using the term ride literally. These are the attractions that are open that you physically get on to ride.
- The Great Movie Ride
- Rock N’ Roller Coaster
- Star Tours the Adventure Continues
- Toy Story Midway Mania
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Yikes. Five. The worst land in Walt Disney World (DinoLand U.S.A.) has 3 attractions that you physically ride. This whole park only has 2 more open than the lowly DinoLand. While all of these attractions are much better than 2 of DinoLand’s offerings (probably all 3, honestly) what we’re really dealing with is capacity issues. Walt Disney World attracts a lot of people and if a park is open then people will go to it. The more attractions that are open, the more the park spreads people out and keeps wait times down. That simply doesn’t happen when there are 5 attractions to ride, especially when they’re all fairly popular. If 100 people are going to go get food at a baseball game then having more concession stands open will limit the lines, even if one of the concession stands is selling pizza that tastes like cardboard (insert Pizza Planet joke here).
Here’s where this comes down to if you’ve been to the Studios before. If you haven’t, most of these open rides are must-do’s. Tower of Terror is quite possibly the best attraction at Walt Disney World. There’s not much like Rock n’ Roller Coaster in WDW so if roller coasters are your thing, it’s probably a must-do as well. Toy Story Midway Mania has it’s critics but is generally adored and is the park’s most popular attraction. Star Tours is a classic Disney attraction. The Great Movie Ride is the least popular of the five but is the attraction that best fits the park’s theme. I’d argue that all 5 are probably must-do’s for a first time guest (or an infrequent visitor). Get there when the park opens and you’ll be able to complete all of them before noon (at the latest), if you take advantage of FastPass+. For a frequent visitor, I’m not sure it’s worth a trip to the to Hollywood Studios to do these five attractions although it does depend on how long your stay is.
There are a few more options of things to do at Disney’s Hollywood Studios than just rides. There are a decent amount of shows. Here they are:
- Lights, Motor, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
- One Man’s Dream
- Muppet-Vision 3D
- Beauty and the Beast
- For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- Star Wars Launch Bay
A decent list, right? Well… Let’s break it down a little more. Lights, Motor, Action! is ending in April and probably wasn’t worth your time to begin with.
Muppet-Vision and One Man’s Dream are both quality attractions. One Man’s Dream has some great exhibits and then a nice little film about Walt Disney. Muppet-Vision is a classic Disney attraction (it’s also the last Muppet entertainment Jim Henson worked on before he passed away) but it is getting a little tired and could use an update.
Beauty and the Beast is a nice production but nothing more. Like Muppet-Vision, I think the show is a little tired and I’m guessing it’s most interesting to first-time guests and not frequent visitors.
I am beginning to despise the Frozen sing-along. I don’t like the format of the show and while it was fine as a temporary addition, it hasn’t been temporary (it will have been at the Studios for 2 years in June). The show has the feeling of a throw together act, which it probably is. Unless you have someone Frozen-crazed in your family, I’m not sure that it’s worth your time.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Voyage of the Little Mermaid follow under the same category as Beauty and the Beast and Muppet-Vision, good but tired.
A few of these shows are probably of interest to first-time guests and rightfully so, they’re pretty good. These shows just aren’t good enough that someone who’s seen them all would base a trip to the Studios for (of course, some might argue). Star Wars Launch Bay is new and opened to average reviews. There are some interesting models but most reviews I’ve read are that it’s not worth making a special trip for.
I did leave meet & greets off this list but the Studios does offer a few unique ones, like some Star Wars characters. I guess that could be a pretty big draw to some people, but I have never thought characters meets are worth a trip to a park. Now, when you include it with a few of the other offerings here, then maybe it is worth it to you or your family. Oh, there’s also a dance party. Yippee!
My hope is that Hollywood Studios will begin to offer plenty of temporary entertainment. Whether this is a few new stage shows or many different ‘streetmosphere’ entertainment options, I’d just like to see more options for guests to do at this park.
Hollywood Studios has two nighttime spectaculars for guests to enjoy. Fantasmic! is shown in a large amphitheater. Most agree that the show just isn’t as good Disneyland’s version of Fantasmic! Still, if you’ve never seen any of them, it’s probably worth going to. If you have seen Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios then I doubt it tops your list of WDW priorities.
The ‘Symphony in the Stars’ Fireworks are also offered at Hollywood Studios right now. These are fireworks set to some of the classic scores from Star Wars. While I haven’t personally seen this show, it has drawn rave reviews. I have seen fireworks at the Studios before (just not this particular show) and I really enjoyed them. I think this show is the reason for frequent visitors to go back to DHS in 2016. While Symphony in the Stars is listed as temporary entertainment, I would be very surprised to see it go away anytime soon.
If you’ve made it this far, then you probably already can guess my verdict. I think that first time guests should go see Disney’s Hollywood Studios due to some of the classic attractions. Now, if you have a limited time at Disney World I don’t think this park should take priority over the other 3. In fact, I think 2 days at Magic Kingdom is more beneficial than going to this park, even if you are a first-time guest.
I also don’t think the park is worth spending a full day in. I would go to DHS when it first opens to get in the all of the attractions then see whatever shows that intrigued me. Then, I’d take a break to enjoy my resort, Disney Springs, a water park or another park. I would come back at night to enjoy the fireworks and maybe Fantasmic! Hollywood Studios does have a few fun restaurants, so maybe doing dinner and the nighttime shows would be a good nightcap to this day at DHS.
For frequent visitors, you’ve likely made up your mind already on whether to visit Disney Hollywood Studios in 2016. Speaking for myself, I’m excited to check out Symphony in the Stars assuming that it sticks around for my visit this year. I probably won’t spend more than half a day at the park though. There are many new items in 2016 that I’m anxious to check out at Walt Disney World (Rivers of Light, Nighttime Safari, Soarin’ Around the World, and improvements to Disney Springs, just to name a few) and I think spending ample time at Hollywood Studios would detract from seeing quality entertainment at other parks. I will be spending plenty of time in Hollywood Studios in the years to come.
What do you think of the current state of the Studios? Will you be visiting the park in 2016? Let us know in the comments!