We’re here with a review of the newest addition to Walt Disney World! Toy Story Land brings two new attractions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers. In this post, we’ll discuss how fun the new roller coaster and whiplash ride are, critique the overall quality of Toy Story Land, and discuss the strength of these offerings at DHS.
Honestly, if you’re here only for an up/down take as to whether Toy Story Land is worth visiting, you might consider closing this window. It’s a new, relatively large scale offering from Walt Disney Imagineering featuring two new attractions plus the ever-popular Toy Story Mania. Of course it’s worth your time.
Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers are both a ton of fun. They’re cute, and Slinky Dog Dash is a strong family coaster. If fun is your only measure of success for a Walt Disney World theme park offering, you’ve got your answer. Both attractions are “successes.” With that said, the rest of what follows is critique for fellow Disney nerds who enjoy thinking critically about Disney parks. You’ve been warned…
Personally, I hold Walt Disney World to a standard higher than just fun. I can have fun on thrill rides at a regional amusement park, or even throwing a tennis ball against a wall. Given what Disney charges and how the company prides itself on being a premium guest experience, I think expecting something more than just fun is totally reasonable.
Even those who share my perspective on Walt Disney World and expect something more than ‘just fun’ may not gain anything by reading the rest of this review. By now, you’ve undoubtedly formed your own opinions and preconceptions about Toy Story Land.
Nothing I write here is going to change anyone’s mind about this land. For better or for worse, Toy Story Land is exactly what you’re expecting. As opposed to Pandora – World of Avatar, there aren’t really any surprises with Toy Story Land. It’s very much ‘what you see is what you get.’
The thing about stepping into the world of toys is that world is simply the real world. Toy Story does not exist in some distinct universe apart from our own. Literally anywhere could be the jumping off point for a Toy Story attraction. Unlike the planets of Star Wars, Pandora, or Radiator Springs, the underlying source material here did not call for a transportive environment. Disney could’ve created one–but there are no such lofty ambitions with Toy Story Land.
To some extent, an effort has been made to present Toy Story Land as if you’re in Andy’s backyard, shrunk down to the size of toys amidst other toys. I think this was more ex post facto story for the land than a concerted design consideration or even the actual backstory.
The other problem with this explanation is that everything is a different scale. Even if the scale were consistent, it just really doesn’t seem like Imagineering made an effort to sell this conceit. Even “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” Playground (hardly the paragon of themed design itself) put a lot of effort into the over-sized blades of grass and other small details.
There are some very cute touches around the land and clever nods to classic toys throughout, and guests will definitely appreciate these touches. However, Toy Story Land doesn’t seem to make a serious effort at suspending disbelief.
There are just some toy elements to look at in this passive land. That’s another of my main critiques of Toy Story Land. On the land level, Toy Story Land is mostly static and doesn’t really engage guests. There’s kinetic energy from the two attractions, but aside from that, I never had even the slightest feeling that I was in a ‘world of living toys.’ It was more like an amusement park area with a layer of extra polish and clever details thanks to a healthier Disney budget.
In fairness, this very well might work for kids. What my eyes see as a fairly static area that lacks immersion, kids might view with more bright-eyed imagination. I think there’s definitely the potential for that, but to that end, I think it would’ve been pragmatic to include a large play area where children could blow off steam and have fun on their own without having to wait in hour-long lines. (On a tangentially related note, the land could really use more shade and indoor environments to provide shelter from both sun and rain.)
With that said, I doubt a ‘world of toys’ was chosen to achieve an immersive environment, but rather, because it’s easy. The approach is relatively simple and straightforward: pull characters from the movies–a series for which many people reading this no doubt have a lot of emotion and nostalgia–plus other toy brands that are staples from most childhoods, and plop that into the land.
The end result is a theme park land that is emotionally pre-loaded. That’s probably an understatement–more like emotionally super-charged. No matter what the substantive quality of Toy Story Land, it was bound to have a lot of appeal thanks to the emotional capital of the properties and brands it’s showcasing.
This is not exactly criticism. Disney should absolutely be leveraging its most emotive stories and using those to evoke nostalgia from guests. Some might argue that this is manipulative, but I disagree. Synergy does not necessarily have to be a dirty word. Imagineering should be taking movie IP with baked-in emotions and nostalgia for many guests and piggybacking on those feelings to make really powerful attractions.
The problem is not when Disney does that, the problem is when Disney coasts on the emotional laurels of the underlying IP while bringing little, if anything, new to the table. Situations where there’s nothing new or special about the theme park experience, and the emotional response is solely a result of memories of the films rather than the substance of the land or attraction.
Ultimately, this is my problem with Toy Story Land. There’s no there there. It’s an amusement park land masquerading as a theme park land; it just has a bit more flashiness. Plenty of guests will conflate their emotional response for the Toy Story movies as being a response to the land, but the reality of this land is that it’s emotionally hollow.
There will be a positive guest reaction to Toy Story Land (and long wait times for the rides), but the reaction is one that’s unearned by the land itself. Six Flags also has roller coasters with long waits. Popularity does not make them artistic successes. It just makes them roller coasters–something that is popular everywhere they’re built.
As for the individual attractions, Slinky Dog Dash is very good. It’s a smooth roller coaster with some mild thrills and is longer than I expected. It also has some cute moments in queue, good views throughout the ride, and a fun little moment at the end.
I actually enjoyed Slinky Dog Dash far more than I expected, and think it’s a solid addition to Walt Disney World’s coaster line-up. I’m told Slinky Dog Dash looks even better at night, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it then. I could see waiting in line 30-45 minutes for Slinky Dog Dash, but probably not during the day as the queue is mostly outdoors.
It’ll undoubtedly be the less popular of the two attractions, but Alien Swirling Saucers is likewise a cute and fun attraction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty basic flat ride, but it has some charm. If you’ve ever ridden Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, this is the same thing, but with less personality–I wish there more sound effects. (Personally, I consider Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree the sleeper hit of Cars Land–the soundtrack is hilarious and the ride is more amusing than you’d expect.)
The final new element of Toy Story Land is Woody’s Lunch Box, a counter service restaurant. This is just an ordering window, which I feel was a huge missed opportunity. I know we already had a Pizza Planet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and I know it wasn’t very good, but that’s one of the few iconic environments from the films.
It would’ve been great to see Imagineering take a mulligan on the Pizza Planet concept and really turn it into something special. Now that would’ve been the immersive environment that could’ve sold this land as something more than higher-budget amusement park fodder. After the runaway success of Be Our Guest Restaurant, I have a hard time believing there isn’t the market for an awesome Pizza Planet restaurant. It would’ve been a smash hit.
Already, I’ve heard a lot of people give Toy Story Land a pass because, to paraphrase, at least it’ll mean lower wait times at other attractions in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While it’s too early to be certain, I am fairly positive this will not be the case.
In fact, this is one of my biggest frustrations with Toy Story Land. If this land were just a cheap way to add capacity via family-friendly attractions, I’d be more accepting of it. I still wouldn’t be singing its praises, but at least I’d understand its role from an operational perspective and consider it a savvy addition to a park where most headliners are aimed at an older demographic.
I think the best example of a dedicated land like this is ‘a bug’s land’ at Disney California Adventure, which features 5 flat rides and some charming details. It’s nothing special, but it’s cute, self-contained, and serves a vital role. (Unfortunately, due to lack of space in Anaheim, it’s getting the axe for Marvel Land, but at least the rides can be relocated.)
To a lesser extent, the Toy Story Lands in Paris and Hong Kong also serve this same role, bumping up overall park capacity at a low cost as a counterpart to more costly additions. Again, those lands were nothing special, but they served a purpose. Operationally, I think those additions were quite pragmatic.
Unfortunately, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Toy Story Land only adds two rides, both of which have height requirements. On top of that, there are rumors that the land is not low budget, as Slinky Dog Dash was a moderately expensive coaster. (Leave it to Disney fans–we complain when things are too cheap, and we complain when they’re too expensive!)
In other words, the Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is thus in this weird position where it doesn’t fulfill its ‘necessary evil’ aims of adding family-friendly ride capacity at a low cost because it’s expensive, has height requirements, and only two attractions. And on top of that, it’s just not that interesting of a land.
I think the concerns raised by the added capacity versus added demand are going to be the biggest surprise issue for most guests with Toy Story Land. Prior to this, Disney’s Hollywood Studios had 4 rides. Now, it has 6 rides. Thanks to it being at the center of a nationwide media blitz, Toy Story Land is going to draw people to Walt Disney World. (In fairness, the marketing is really good.) The amount of demand Toy Story Land will induce exceeds the capacity it adds.
Moreover, when these new guests come to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they aren’t just going to do Toy Story Land and leave. They’ll do the other headliners as well, leading to a spike in wait times across the board. While Disney Hollywood Studios’ many shows probably won’t be impacted, the thrill rides almost certainly will have longer wait times this summer than they did last.
This isn’t me hypothesizing; it’s a scenario that has played out multiple times in recent years, most notably last summer at Animal Kingdom. Wait times at non-Pandora attractions have increased by 25-30% year-over-year since the debut of Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey.
Part of that could be because the Pandora wait times have been so long that frustrated guests have balked at their times and instead done other attractions…but what do you think will happen when people see a 180 minute wait time for a roller coaster with exposed track and a totally outdoor queue in the middle of August?
Unfortunately, this will only get worse before it gets better at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will only add another two attractions while drawing approximately infinity guests to the park and although Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will likely have a healthy hourly capacity, it’s also the first attraction to highlight Minnie and Mickey Mouse. Suffice to say, both of next year’s additions will be hugely popular.
It’ll actually be interesting to see whether DHS refreshes any of its stages shows or adds more atmospheric entertainment between now and Late 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is expected to open. Both could be quick ways to ease the burden of crowds. If not, we could regularly see 120 minute waits for Tower of Terror and Star Tours. I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours the standby waits will be for the Star Wars land attractions.
Overall, I know this isn’t exactly enthusiastic about Toy Story Land (don’t say I didn’t warn you!), but it’s difficult to muster up excitement about a land that feels so phoned-in thematically. This is especially true when looking at other projects that are in development for Walt Disney World that actually do provoke excitement. Personally, my favorite thing about Toy Story Land was getting a better view of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which looks like it’ll live up to every bit of hype, providing an immersive land that will exceed even the most ardent Star Wars fan’s expectations…while also being fun.
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Are you excited for Toy Story Land? Is the land being ‘fun’ good enough for you? Do you agree or disagree with our review of this new land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? What are your thoughts about Toy Story Land? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!