Today is the 25th Anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (known for most of its life as the Disney-MGM Studios), so we figured it would be a perfect time to look at 25 of our favorite things about the park. This post will be a mix of focusing on “big” things like our favorite attractions and restaurants, but also even the little details that make Disney’s Hollywood Studios special. Basically, whatever we think makes the park special, and think others should make a point of checking out when they visit, even if these things aren’t technically “attractions” or even spots listed on a park map. Since we are big on the “Disney Details” (and since we already have a post covering Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ attractions), this post will be light on actual attractions and heavy on the little things.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a much-maligned park, and we ourselves have been critical of its recent direction. However, on its anniversary, it doesn’t seem right to fixate on the negative or the past. Rather, we’re focusing on what we still love about the park. There’s still plenty to love about the former Disney-MGM Studios, and without some of its changes over the years, we wouldn’t have excellent attractions like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, or even entire areas of the park, like Sunset Boulevard.
Join us now as we enter the Hollywood that never was—and always will be!
25. Singin’ in the Rain Umbrella
This was highlighted in our Walt Disney World Secrets post, and we’re mentioning it again here because it’s just so fun. A great photo op, and a nice surprise out in the middle of the Streets of America, it’s very minor, but also very cool.
24. Sid Cahuenga’s
Sid’s loses some points because it recently transformed from a ‘one of a kind’ shop to a MyMagic+ station, but the main draw of it for us was always the campy and eclectic look of the place. Some of that charm is gone from the inside now, but the exterior is still the same fun building it has always been.
23. Studio Entrance
This archway at the front of Animation Courtyard doesn’t make a ton of sense now, but it originally served as the entrance into the movie studio portion of the Disney-MGM Studios, where the Backstage Studio Tour began. It is stylistically similar to a studio gate that would be found at the entrance to a real Hollywood studio, and separated the “working studio” area of the park from the idealized Hollywood streets at the front of the park. Now, it’s just a pretty archway with some nice carved detail work.
22. Legends of Hollywood Theater
We like a few things about this spot on Sunset Boulevard. The movie posts showcasing favorites like Citizen Kane and Rebecca, the daylight-bright marquee, and the classic car all really make this spot pop. Great for photos, or just grabbing a park bench and gazing at for a few minutes. One of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ perfect “ambiance spots.”
21. Pan Pacific Turnstiles
You could look at it this way: that Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ turnstiles are no longer unique now that Disney California Adventure used the same design. Or, you could look at it this way: the design of these turnstiles is so awesome that Disney California Adventure had no better option than to clone them. Either way, these are the original, and they are pretty awesome, especially at night. Bonus points for the Art Deco patterned designs on the cement.
20. Muppets Courtyard
The fountain in front of MupettVision 3D is the coolest fountain at Walt Disney World. That may not seem like high praise, but there are a lot of fountains, and this one is the best. There are tons of visual gags, and just a lot going on. Add to that the Muppets music that plays here and the general kinetic energy of the area, and it’s a real winner. If Disney transformed Mama Melrose and Pizza Planet into Swedish Chef’s Restaurant and Rizzo the Rat’s Pizza Parlor, Muppets Courtyard would skyrocket up this list!
19. Starring Rolls Cafe
Thanks to an awesome selection desserts and some solid sandwiches, Starring Rolls Cafe scores points with us. It’s the cupcakes here that make Starring Rolls a real winner, as it has been the “birthplace” of many inventive cupcakes over the last few years, and it seems like they always have something new and novel.
18. Echo Lake Area
This area of the park is arguably the most overlooked and underrated part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Dinosaur Gertie and Dockside Diner flanking the lake itself on opposite sides are nice, but there are plenty of overlooked details. My favorite is this little tucked away stairway leading up to the Echo Lake Apartments. I wonder how much those cost to rent out…more or less than Golden Oak? On the one hand, they’re apartments rather than mansions. On the other hand, they’re in the park–and I’m told location makes a tiny difference in real estate prices!
17. One Man’s Dream Models
There are a ton of models we like in here, from vintage EPCOT Center ones to models of the New Fantasyland expansion and the international parks. While nothing can top the Figment Audio-Animatronics for me, some of our favorites are the models of Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea. I remember first seeing these when the international parks were very, well, foreign to me, and thinking of how crazy Paris’ Sleeping Beauty Castle and DisneySea’s Fortress Explorations looked. Seeing these models each trip was a motivation of sorts to get to those parks, and now they’re a nice reminder of some of our favorite places.
16. Great Movie Ride Queue
There are a few different awesome areas of the Great Movie Ride queue. First, there’s the entrance-area where the ceilings, walls, and lights are beautifully done. Then there are the little film memorabilia exhibits in the lobby part of the queue. Finally, inside the theater itself, where film trailers play. If you’re a serious Disney fan, chances are you can quote the trailers even if you haven’t seen the movies. “ETHAN NO YOU DON’T!”
15. Crossroads of the World
The first eyeball-draw when you walk into Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Crossroads of the World immediately sets the tone for the park in terms of style (fusing classic Hollywood with Disney). Vintage photos of it are some of my favorite views of the Disney-MGM Studios.
14. Catastrophe Canyon
A lot has changed about the Backlot Tour over the years, but one constant has been Catastrophe Canyon. I still remember seeing this for the first time when I was a kid. I didn’t fully grasp the concept of the attraction so I thought it was real, and I was legitimately scared. Now, I know it’s coming, but it’s still really cool to see happen, and then to see the ‘behind the scenes’ part.
13. Star Tours Queue
The old Star Tours queue was one of the best at Walt Disney World, and the new version somehow manages to improve upon that. While some fun Easter Eggs are gone, there are a lot of fun new gags. It’s also quite self-referential with tributes to the previous version of the attraction, other elements of the Star Wars universe, and other things. The line for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is rarely (at least when we visit) longer than 20-30 minutes, and we always find ourselves wanting more time in line.
12. The Hollywood Brown Derby
For a park that is notoriously lacking in dining, we think Disney’s Hollywood Studios has three standout restaurants. The first of these is its fine dining option, The Hollywood Brown Derby. This is perhaps the in-park gold standard for Disney dining, with a classy themed environment and excellent cuisine that puts the World Showcase restaurants to shame. Most Disney restaurants can only pull off classy or well-themed, but since the theme here is a real-world fine-dining Hollywood locale, Brown Derby succeeds in both regards.
11. Dinosaur Gertie
What can I say about Dinosaur Gertie that I haven’t already said? Probably not much. This “California Crazy” piece of architecture has three things going for it: 1) dinosaur, 2) ice cream, and 3) it’s just so crazy that it works in terms of theme and style. Did I mention that it’s a giant dinosaur from which you can purchase ice cream? And this isn’t #1 because…?
10. Hollywood Boulevard Art Deco & Neon
Hollywood Boulevard is one of my favorite areas in any Disney theme park because it manages to lift differing styles of architecture from various real locations in California, mash them together, and somehow make a cohesive area of it. While neon and Art Deco are the dominant motifs here, many styles are present. Best viewed at night.
9. MuppetVision 3D Queue & Pre-show
The MuppetVision pre-show > the MuppetVision 3D show. Seriously. If we walk into the pre-show area and it’s already half over or more, we come back later. Most people probably feel like it’s a small victory when they can walk right into a show without waiting, but when it comes to MuppetVision 3D, not us. While the pre-show video is what we like most, the little gags in the line and this waiting area are a lot of fun, too.
8. The Earful Tower
Once the icon of the Disney-MGM Studios, the Earful Tower has been somewhat forgotten since that big blue hunk of metal was added to the center of the park. We still love the Earful Tower, and think it’s a really icon that should be more prominent in the park. Moving it to the top of one of the sound stages might boost its profile, especially with the Backlot Tour no longer the draw that it once was.
7. 50′s Prime Time Cafe
While the Brown Derby is the height of quality dining in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 50′s Prime Time Cafe is one of two restaurants that trumps it thematically. Many guests don’t “get” what is happening, but this restaurant is essentially the 1950s sitcom version of a meal in mom’s kitchen. Not only is it a really fun premise in a setting with great decor, but the food is actually pretty good, too!
6. Citizens of Hollywood – Funniest Citizen
The Citizens of Hollywood are the various roaming “Streetmosphere” performers who inhabit Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and give it a sense of life. It’s always a pleasure to stumble upon one of their random shows, but the end-of-day Funniest Citizen “comedy-off” is our favorite. These performers are incredibly talented, and do a great job making comedy happen on the fly.
5. Star Wars Weekends
We aren’t huge Star Wars fans, but we enjoy Star Wars Weekends for the lively atmosphere they bring to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and for the special shows that come along with them. It rarely feels like a working studio these days, and that’s still true during Star Wars Weekends, but it has an energy that’s normally lacking during these weekends. Plus, fireworks this year!
4. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater
Some of you are probably scratching your heads in disbelief at this pick, screaming at your computer screens, “THAT RESTAURANT IS AWFUL.” First, we disagree–we think the food here is pretty good. Second, even if they were serving nothing but Twinkies from 1989, we would love Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. The drive-in ambiance is spot-on, and there’s something to be said for eating “outdoors” in a car on a cool summer evening…while actually in Florida on a humid afternoon.
3. Grauman’s Chinese Theater Exterior
Grauman’s Chinese Theater was once the glorious beacon at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, really tying together the front of the park with a sense of thematic cohesion. With it and plenty of other real world Hollywood landmarks, plus Disney details and design, it truly was the Hollywood that never was and always would be. Fortunately, Grauman’s Chinese Theater is just as beautiful as it has always been on the exterior, even if it now isn’t quite so easy to see.
2. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is our favorite holiday offering at any Disney theme park in the world. It’s just an enveloping, festive experience that we absolutely love. Yes, it’s way over the top and would probably make Clark Griswold blush, but that’s part of the fun. The rhythmic dancing of the lights is enthralling, and we typically spend a few hours each Christmas just wandering around, looking for details and gazing at the lights.
1. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Queue & Preshow
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Tower of Terror queue and pre-show are the main attraction, and the drop is just how you get to the post show. Just look at all of the great details in the attraction! I think anyone who primarily classifies Tower of Terror as a thrill ride is missing the point. Another great memory for me is running to the Tower of Terror the morning of our first trip after it opened, and going through the outdoor queue, which was filled with a thick layer of foreboding fog as that eerie music played. It wasn’t a big moment, but to this day, I still remember getting chills.
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we hope this post gave you at least a few new things to appreciate about the park. It may not be perfect, but it does have its highlights. And that’s a wrap. We’ll see you in the movies!
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Are you a fan of Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Have any favorite details in the park? Let us know what you think in the comments!