Disney’s Hollywood Studios is, in many ways, Walt Disney World’s greatest underdog story—what was once considered the resort’s most dismissible park has become one of its most popular, even rivalling Magic Kingdom.
The park has had a quirky history from the beginning. It opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios, a dreamchild of then-CEO Michael Eisner as a response to the success of Universal Studios’ parks. Ironically, it wasn’t officially linked to MGM—Disney simply licensed the name and the studios’ movie library. When Disney attempted to use the MGM name as part of the park’s stint as a working studio, MGM was not happy, and the name was ultimately changed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008.
While the Disney’s Hollywood Studios of today has drifted from its film-production roots, it remains Disney’s most eclectic celebration of cinematic storytelling, a place where guests can step into the worlds of Star Wars, Toy Story, the Muppets, the Twilight Zone, and the rock music industry to experience thrills of a lifetime.
Maybe you’re planning your first Walt Disney World vacation, or it’s been a while since your last visit. Alternatively, maybe you’re a longtime fan who has friends and family wanting to visit, and you wish there were some way you could quickly sum-up the key “need-to-knows” for an amazing Disney vacation.
This guide is the third in a series starting here at Theme Park Tourist to fulfill that need—sharing the basics you need to know to make the most of a Walt Disney World vacation. Our goal is to prepare you for what to expect, as well as help you avoid the snags that spoil too many potentially great vacations.
In our first installment, we focused on what you need to know about Walt Disney World overall—give that piece a read if you haven’t yet, as it covers some of the “big picture” facts about visiting The Most Magical Place on Earth. In our second piece, we dove into the top things you need to know about Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Today, we’ll be zeroing in on the top 10 things you NEED to know before visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios…
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: Take some time to research Disney’s latest pandemic policies. These are frequently changing, and many policies are still in place at the time of this writing, including that you cannot enter a Disney park without a Disney Parks Pass reservation. You can find information on the latest developments in Disney’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here at Theme Park Tourist and at Walt Disney World’s website.
1. It is no longer a half-day park
While Disney’s Hollywood Studios isn’t Walt Disney World’s smallest park (that honor actually goes to Magic Kingdom), it has often felt small compared to other Disney parks. Indeed, the park has long suffered from a bad reputation as a half-day experience.
In the past, this reputation was partially deserved. When Disney-MGM Studios first opened, it felt threadbare compared to other Disney parks, relying heavily on live shows and a lengthy backstage tour attraction. Over the years, Disney started filling out the park with popular rides like Star Tours, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, but these still weren’t enough to make the park feel completely full.
Two major additions changed things.
First, the arrival of Toy Story Land in 2018 provided a much-needed draw for families, bringing with it Slinky Dog Dash, the park’s only outdoor coaster. The biggest shift, however, took place in late 2019 with the arrival of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Despite a somewhat rocky opening at Disneyland Resort earlier in the year, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was extremely well-received at Walt Disney World, drawing crowds in such numbers that the park frequently had to open hours before posted times.
The turning point was the arrival of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Rise of the Resistance proved to be the win the park had needed for years—an attraction so celebrated and popular that it required the implementation of a virtual queue system (more on that shortly). The opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway in 2020 only added to the park’s appeal. For much of 2020, after Walt Disney World reopened following COVID-19 pandemic closures, Disney’s Hollywood Studios stood out as Walt Disney World’s most attended park.
What this means for visitors today is that you will find plenty to enjoy throughout your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, particularly if you take your time at the park’s immersive themed lands.
2. It is Walt Disney World’s most teen-friendly park
When we looked at the Magic Kingdom in our last piece, we mentioned that teenagers often struggle to enjoy the more child-focused parts of Walt Disney World, especially Magic Kingdom. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the opposite—in many ways, it is easily Walt Disney World’s most teen friendly park (alongside Disney’s Animal Kingdom)…
It’s not that Disney’s Hollywood Studios only appeals to teens—the park has a good balance of attractions to draw all ages. It’s that Disney’s Hollywood Studios hits all the right notes for teen visitors who tend to prefer thrill-heavy parks like Universal Orlando Resort.
For one thing, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has some of the resort’s best thrill rides including Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, The Hollywood Tower of Terror, the Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, and even (to a point) Slinky Dog Dash. Other rides like Toy Story Mania appeal to video game fans and teens with a competitive streak.
The other win for teens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is that many of the park’s attractions surround content that Gen-Z grew up loving: things like the ever-expanding Star Wars saga and Toy Story series. Even Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway offers a cheekier take on Disney’s most famous cartoon couple, one that teen visitors might find more palatable than vintage Disney fare.
3. It has some of the resort’s best rides
Disney’s Hollywood Studios stands out as the home of some of Disney’s most ambitious rides. While the park doesn’t have nearly the quantity of rides that Magic Kingdom does, it makes up for this in the quality of its attractions.
For starters, we can’t go on enough about Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance—it is truly one of Disney’s finest achievements. The 18 minute experience utilizes four different ride systems to launch guests into a Star Wars adventure so immersive that it’s actually considered part of the official Star Wars canon. If you’re able to get a place in the ride’s virtual queue, it’s an experience like no other.
It isn’t the park’s only winner. Disney’s Hollywood Studios stands out both for its richly-themed thrill rides like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, as well as its immersive and interactive attractions like Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (which puts you at the controls of the fastest ship in the galaxy), Toy Story Mania, and Star Tours. On top of this, the park has some truly incredible live shows like the stunning Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (these are currently closed but will hopefully reopen later this year).