We got close to a full night of sleep that night (if you missed our previous installment at Epcot, click here to start from the beginning), but I was still up fairly early the next morning. Unfortunately, Sarah had some work-related stuff to deal with, so we couldn’t get an early start on the morning. While she was doing this, I went out and wandered around the Contemporary, trying to find some interesting photos. Once you get past the cool a-frame building, there isn’t a ton of photographic interest, so I basically just wandered. Sort of like the rooms themselves, it’s just a modern looking hotel with a really cool hook in the design.
As a kid, I always thought the Contemporary was about the coolest hotel ever, an impression formed entirely as we whisked through it on the monorail. Even when we first returned to Walt Disney World as adults, it was a dream to stay there. Now that we have stayed at many other nice modern luxury hotels around the world, the luster of the Contemporary has sort of worn off for me. Like I mentioned in the first installment, Sarah really liked it, and I love being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom, but it just isn’t a top hotel for me on a list of Walt Disney World hotels at which I’d personally want to stay.
For me, where Disney excels is in the creation of hotels that blend nice accommodations and interesting themes, with an emphasis on the themes. You can get luxury hotels anywhere in the world; frankly, many brands and boutiques do these types of hotels much better than Disney does. Themed hotels are rare, and themed hotels that are well-executed (rather than just a light bit of window-dressing to differentiate the supposedly ‘themed’ hotel from countless other hotels in an area) are exceedingly rare. For this reason, I’d much rather stay at a hotel like Port Orleans Riverside or Wilderness Lodge than the Contemporary. I still liked the Contemporary, but Sarah is enamored with the hotel, and it just doesn’t quite do that much for me.
We got a really late start that morning, and headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekends just before lunch…
We met Len Testa of TouringPlans.com fame for lunch. He had recently joined some new cult or something that dictated he not dine at Walt Disney World table service restaurants, so we grabbed lunch at Fairfax Fare. I’m actually surprised it took Len this long to join a cult, and as far as cults I could see him joining, not being able to eat at table service restaurants doesn’t seem too rough.
With the exception of breakfast, we had never eaten at Fairfax Fare or any of the little stands back in this market area. They always seem hot and busy when we’re there, so we skip them. We for some reason wanted to eat food at a busy locale without any shade, so Fairfax Fare it was. Plus, what better meal to eat in such an environment than a mac and cheese hot dog and chicken & ribs?
The mac & cheese hot dog was shockingly good. I don’t mean that it was really good, but compared to what I expected based on the taste of Disney’s “gourmet” hot dogs elsewhere, well…I was expecting the worse. It was actually a pretty decent option.
The chicken and ribs, on the other hand, weren’t so good. The portion was really small (about 2-3 ribs) and the ribs were so drowning in generic BBQ sauce that it was tough to taste the flavor of the meat.
We parted ways with Len and went to start checking out the Star Wars Weekends offerings.
The last couple of times we had done Star Wars Weekends, we were really enthusiastic about it, spending most of our time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios those days partaking in Star Wars activities. This time, not so much.
Part of that was because we decided to skip the Star Wars Weekends Legends of the Force Motorcade, which always seems to be about a 2 hour “process” to see. We also had booked both of the character meals, meaning that it was unnecessary to focus on meet & greets.
Essentially, that left just enjoying the “ambiance” of Star Wars Weekends and the presentations. As far as costumed guests and a fun Star Wars ambiance, both seemed to be less noticeable than in previous years. Perhaps we just weren’t looking for it.
The park was insanely busy, so we headed over to MuppetVision 3D for a respite from the heat and crowds. I had missed the news that the pre-show had changed here to become a tie-in for the new Muppet movie, and I was really disappointed by the changes. They were unfunny, disjointed, and did I mention unfunny? Since I rate MuppetVision a 10/10 attraction and call its pre-show the highlight, it should be no surprised I’m upset about these changes (that, admittedly, most people will overlook…but most people have poor taste, so let’s not use that as a barometer of what’s right, wrong, good, or bad). Hopefully the old pre-show is restored soon.
One of the good things about being in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a crowded, 90 degree day (okay, the only good thing!) was that Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction was open! Granted, they just serve ordinary ice cream…BUT THEY SERVE IT FROM A LARGE APATOSAURUS! Any day you have ice cream served out of a dinosaur is a good day.
Great Movie Ride is a must-do for us, and we had noticed its wait time ranging from around 30-45 minutes that day. Compared to the norm, that’s just a little long. We learned that this was due to FastPass+ tiering, which has since been adjusted. When we saw it “dip” to 25 minutes, we decided to bite the bullet and queue up.
After that, it was off to see Warwick Davis: An Ewok’s Tales. Warwick Davis is a fairly well known guy, and I’m a big fan of his. However, unlike 99.9% of the guests at Star Wars Weekends who probably know him from Star Wars (barely remember them after A New Hope), Harry Potter (have only seen one film), or Willow (haven’t seen it), I am a big fan of his for his work in the seminal Leprechaun film series.
For those unfamiliar with the Leprechaun movies (for your own sake, that’s hopefully most of you), these are terrible B-movies that have attained cult status with…well, probably just me. They are laugh out loud bad. Somehow, we started watching them in college for Halloween, and turned them into…ahem…competitive drinking events. We don’t drink competitively when watching the movies these days, but I still make sure to watch Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood every Halloween. It’s the worst and most ridiculous film in the series, therefore making it the best. No one should watch these movies, but those with delicate sensibilities really should not watch these.
As for the presentation, it was well done and hilarious, but not nearly enough focus on the Leprechaun series.
After that was Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine. This Star Wars character dinner is available during the entire Star Wars Weekends “season” (in other words, weekdays in addition to the weekends) and features Disney characters dressed in Star Wars attire. We’ve already written a full Star Wars Character Dinner Review, which you can read for full detail, so I’ll just cover some basics here.
Our wait to get inside was about 20 minutes, and it seemed like we arrived right at the tail end of a rush, because people who arrived as we were being seated got seated in practically no time.
The food was surprisingly good. We had heard some bad things about Hollywood & Vine, but it seemed like an above-average Walt Disney World buffet.
The restaurant was packed, but we still had excellent character interactions.
We were even able to see some characters multiple times!
It was also nice being able to meet them indoors after sitting around in air conditioning, rather than standing 30-45 minutes in a hot line and looking all sweaty and gross in the photos.
Even with above-average food and fun desserts, the price was a bit much. Given how quickly these meals sold out, we wouldn’t expect that to change for the better next year, though.
After dinner we had some time to kill until the Symphony in the Stars fireworks. Unfortunately, we had no FastPass+ and just about everything had a long line.
Instead, I got a head-start on some photos…
Top priority was the Tower of Terror queue. I’ve always wanted to get photos of the Hollywood Tower Hotel building through the queue, but I never remember to do it early enough in the night. While I did this, Sarah watched the Star Wars dance party in front of the BAH.
The tree coverage made this very difficult from many spots, but I found a few areas that were clear enough to get some good photos. This is my favorite shot of the bunch, as it shows the “ghosts” of guests passing through the queue and also provides just enough detail of the Tower of Terror building to give it the right context. It would be nice if the part of the sky where the Tower is in this shot were open, but it’s a dilapidated, overgrown area, so this sort of fits.
I took a ton more shots over by Tower of Terror, but almost all of them were ruined by stray raindrops. Once done with that, I staked out a spot for the fireworks.
Symphony in the Stars was absolutely awesome. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been adding fireworks shows over the last few years, but in total, they only amount to a few weeks’ worth of nights per year. I’d hazard a guess that Disney views Fantasmic as the Studios’ nighttime entertainment, but I really wish they would add fireworks to the schedule on a regular basis.
The fireworks shows I’ve seen at the Studios are very impressive (this Star Wars fireworks show ranks #1) and provide great counter-programming to Fantasmic, which regularly fills up. Here’s hoping that once the Studios receives its large scale overhaul, there is an actual need to add more nighttime entertainment, and we get regular fireworks then. The only problem with that is…we’ll be waiting a while for it to happen!
Even with the changes for this year’s Star Wars Weekends, I feel like Disney isn’t fully capitalizing on Star Wars. It’s now theirs, and it seems like Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be the inevitable home of a Star Wars Land. We’re–at best–a few years away from that, but why not something that gives the Studios more of an infusion of Star Wars?
Instead of weekends, why not do Star Wars Summers? Set up some semi-permanent infrastructure and have this be the big summer draw. I know Star Wars fans care about the celebrities at these events and it may not be feasible to have them around all summer, but I don’t think the general public even knows who many of these people are, much less cares that they are at the events. Do the fireworks every night, a couple of character stage shows, some roaming characters, etc., and you have a huge summer draw for the Studios without any star power.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios started to clear out after the fireworks, but rather than heading out and waiting on a bus with the herd, we headed over to Star Tours. We only waited about 5 minutes in line.
Sarah went into The Writer’s Stop to grab a coffee, and while she did that, I took a few more photos.
Then we headed over to Tower of Terror, did that a couple of times, and moved onto Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster.
By the time we were done with that, the park was closed, so I quickly took a few more photos.
We didn’t linger much, as Magic Kingdom was still open, and we figured we could make it there with enough time to do a few things, so we headed out.
We Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain and a couple other things before ending the night at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Everything we encountered besides the Main Train was a walk-on.
I decided to just use my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens that night, as I was having trouble creatively coming up with new ideas. Overall, I was reasonably pleased with the results.
We definitely find ourselves wanting to spend less and less time in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on each trip we take. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror remains one of my absolute favorite attractions at Walt Disney World, but we’ve lost interest in a lot of other things there. In the past few years, we’ve spent more time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends season and Christmas (for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights). While Star Wars Weekends wasn’t as big of a shot in the arm for the park on the weekend we went as it usually seems to be, it still brings a lot to the table.
Hopefully whomever is developing the long term plan for Disney’s Hollywood Studios sees the energy it’s missing on a regular basis, and takes steps to restore that whenever the large-scale changes occur at the Studios. Attractions and new lands are incredibly important, but the Studios also needs some of its character and charm restored.
It was a great day overall, but at the end of the Extra Magic Hours evening, we were ready to head back to our room and sleep. We had a Star Wars character breakfast bright and early the next morning!
For actual Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
Are you a fan of Star Wars Weekends? Ready for Disney’s Hollywood Studios to get an “Extreme Makeover”? Share your comments on any of these things–or anything else from the trip report–in the comments!