Disney’s Hollywood Studios Top 25

Saw a screening of Iron Man 3 last night. Very good, lighthearted popcorn flick that didn't take itself too seriously with some sharp-tongued humor. I have the feeling that it's going to cause a lot of false rumors about Disney doing an Iron Man attraction in Grauman's Chinese Theater at Disney's Hollywood Studios to replace Great Movie Ride!


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

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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 at Disney's Hollywood Studios sells authentic Hollywood memorabilia.

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

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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

The Echo Lake Apartments are one of my favorite little details in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

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

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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

Would you miss the Disney's Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour if it were to go

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Leia, protrayed here by Minnie Mouse, is the newest Disney Princess! Read about Star Wars Weekends: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/star-wars-weekends-tips-photos/

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

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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!More on Disney's Hollywood Studios' much-needed

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 new (as of 2011) canopy of lights at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This Osborne Lights are probably one of the most mesmerizing 'attractions' at Walt Disney World, and this is the new highlight of the display!More photos of the Osborne Lights: www.disneytouristblog.com/osborne-family-spectacle-of-dancing-lights-tips-review/Click to view full size!

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!

For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

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Your Thoughts…

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!

 

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27 Responses to “Disney’s Hollywood Studios Top 25”

  1. Maria says:

    I think this is pretty close to Magic Kingdom as my favorite park. Probably because it’s very nostalgic and it brings back memories of my childhood with my whole family.
    But this was a great post. Saw some new things that i’ve missed and have to check out next time i’m there!

  2. Stephanie says:

    When I was little, it was always my dream to live in the Echo Lake apartments! Who am I kidding, it’s still my dream :) (I’m sure they go for a lot, you know what they say, location, location, location!)

    I really liked this post, especially what you said about the Tower of Terror. I couldn’t agree more, the queue and the pre-post show are the main attraction!

    As always, thanks again for sharing your beautiful photos!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, but they are located right above a bar…that has to decrease the property value a bit, right? ;)

  3. MrsM says:

    I completely agree with you about Tower or Terror! I like the ride but LOVE the queue. It was the only ride as a kid that I would happily wait for over an hour in line and enjoy it. Unfortunately no one else in my family will ride this ride and I now have a medical condition that makes long lines impossible. With the GAC/ DAS I don’t get to fully enjoy the queue anyway so this ride now usually gets skipped.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      That’s too bad. You might consider trying it first thing in the morning or at the end of the night, the actual wait is only about 10 minutes, and it allows you to experience the fun queue AND avoid the wait!

  4. Robyn says:

    I actually think this is my favorite park. As a kid I loved rock and roller coaster and tower of terror above all other rides in WDW. I also remember loving sci-fi drive in. Over all it’s a pretty fun park.

  5. Lauren says:

    How would small children do in this park? We just did MK and AK last time, but wondered if we’d branch out on our next trip. My boys will be 2 and 5 on our next trip.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Disney’s Hollywood Studios is definitely not the best park for small kids, but it’s not bad by any means. Just be aware that 3 of the best attractions there (Tower of Terror, Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster, and Star Tours) small children can’t do.

    • Laura B says:

      My cousins are 5 and 3, and I just took them to WDW for the first time in Sep 2013. I really thought they’d be bored at DHS, but surprisingly, both boys absolutely love it – and when we went back for a long weekend in Feb, they wanted to go back! They still talk about the Great Movie Ride, the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, Pizza Planet, Toy Story Midway Mania, and Fantasmic. I agree with Tom, as it’s not the best of the parks for kids, but you should be able to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it.

    • Jennifer S says:

      We have a 5 yo and an 18month old we took and they both liked the park pretty well. Our 5yo is a huge Star Wars nut so he did the Jedi training and Star Tours and that kept him busy with the park. I also agree that it’s not the higest ranked for young kids there are still plenty for them to enjoy

  6. Jess says:

    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!

    I actually think that is a great idea! I never thought having Pizza Planet so far away from the Pixar area made much sense thematically. It also looks nothing like the Pizza Planet in the film. Making it Muppet themed would be fantastic. As for Mama Melrose’s, anything would be an improvement there…and you really can’t go wrong with Swedish Chef-themed anything! I wholeheartedly support this Muppet Courtyard expansion idea!

    • Jess says:

      Opps, forgot to close out my italics! Didn’t mean for the whole thing to be italicized!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I wish I could take credit for the idea, but this was part of an unrealized Imagineering plan for that area to turn it into “Muppet Studios.” They should revisit the idea, in my opinion!

  7. Tammy says:

    We were there for the 25th and they had a few fun things going on, but it seemed like maybe it got overshadowed by the Mine Train media event. They really could have done a better job celebrating this.
    That being said, I think this is the first time I have been there when Gertie was actually open!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, it was a shame that the Mine Train media event wasn’t scheduled for another time so they could have fully focused their PR efforts on both.

  8. Erin says:

    I’m glad you mentioned how amazing the Osborne lights are. I was fortunate enough to get to see them on the Osborne family home a few years before they stopped them. It is still one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen. It’s only fitting they are now on display at the most magical place on earth.

  9. Daffystardust says:

    I would definitely recommend Sci-Fi Dine-In as a great place for a milkshake in a wonderful air conditioned environment. The theming is fantastic. Unfortunately, I’ve never had food there that was better than passable.

  10. Daisy says:

    I really like all the links you put throughout your posts. I usually read through the whole post then go back and click on every link. It really adds a later of depth to your posts and I appreciate that. Also, it helps me find older posts from your blog that I haven’t read yet and I love that!

  11. Mitch says:

    Minus one million Disney Blogger citrus swirl points for Mickey’s Sorceror’s Hat not being numbers ten through number one.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m saving my praise for the hat for a separate post entitled, “OMG, THE HAT IS MUCH MAGIC, SO AMAZE!” watch for it in May of the year that pigs fly.

      • Laura B says:

        It’s my first day back to work after an 8-day vacation (that wasn’t to any Disney park – how was that even legal?!), and that comment just provided a MUCH-needed bout of laughter. Thanks!!

  12. ERS says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I am such a big fan of the Great Movie Ride. Does it need to be updated? Yes! Is it kind of corny? Absolutely! That being said, it is probably my earliest Disney memory. Can’t wait to ride it in October :)

  13. Marnie says:

    Your blog is the one I come to time and time again to get great, up-to-date information and suggestions.

  14. Beth says:

    I dread spending time in this park so thanks for the list. Usually I go in there and just wander aimlessly. These are great ideas!!

  15. Jordan says:

    Would love to see similar lists created for the other parks. And as much as I love the Osborne lights, is it fair to place it so high when it’s a seasonal ‘attraction’? (Same point for the Star Wars Weekends too)

  16. Susanne says:

    Our new favorite? The animation class!

  17. Igor Komar says:

    Wow!!Incredible post.Loved every detail about Disney’s Hollywood Studios.Now Walt Disney World will be my next destination to visit :)

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