Walt Disney first had the idea for a park based on the movies more than 40 years ago, but it wasn't until May 1989 that the Walt Disney Company unveiled the Disney-MGM Studios, where guests of Walt Disney World could witness the inner workings of living, breathing movie and television production facilities. In January 2008, the theme park underwent a major name change and is now known as Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Through its exciting attractions, like the new Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, Broadway-caliber shows, and hands-on participation, the Studios not only entertain but educate. The Studios have nearly doubled in size in the last 10 years and continue to expand -- in fact, the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, an indoor roller coaster featuring a high-speed launch of 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds, was part of the largest property-wide expansion in Walt Disney World history.
LAY OF THE LAND
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD: At Disney's Hollywood Studios, guests enter the turnstiles onto the main street, Hollywood Boulevard, where reality blends into fantasy -- neon and chrome, art deco and modern architecture dominate the scenery. To enhance the old-time atmosphere, Streetmosphere characters like 1930s detectives, starlets and gossip columnists, populate the streets, interacting with the crowds they draw.
As you walk down Hollywood Boulevard, immediately in front of you you'll see the park icon, a gigantic Sorcerer Mickey Hat, originally built to mark WDW's 100 Years of Magic Celebration. Behind that is a replica of Mann's Chinese Theater, which houses one of the park's hallmark attractions, The Great Movie Ride. This slow-moving tram ride showcases some of the most memorable moments ever captured on the silver screen. In front of the Chinese Theater, you'll see where numerous celebrities, including Robin Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley have left their handprints in cement.
ECHO LAKE: The first left you encounter off Hollywood Boulevard takes you past Echo Lake, distinguished by the towering Dinosaur Gertie who serves up snacks and desserts. You pass by a pair of eateries -- Hollywood & Vine, home of a new character breakfast and lunch featuring the Little Einsteins and JoJo and Goliath, and the '50s Prime Time Cafe, where the servers treat you like family -- right down to scolding you for putting your elbows on the table! As you follow around the lake, you encounter the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, a live show with death-defying stunts. Nearby, Star Tours takes you on an amazing journey to the Moon of Endor, featuring some of the familiar Star Wars characters. On the other side of the lake is Sounds Dangerous, a showcase for special sound effects featuring funnyman Drew Carey. Next door is the ABC-TV Theater, currently vacant. In between these two attractions is the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, which features sculptures of famous television legends, as well as the second-largest Emmy statue in the world (14 1/2 feet from its base).
SUNSET BOULEVARD: As you make the first right off Hollywood Boulevard, you come upon Sunset Boulevard, with its specialized shops that feature gifts themed to classic films and Disney characters, especially the Disney Villains spotlighted in the night-time show Fantasmic! In fact, the entrance to the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, home to Fantasmic!, is just a little further down Sunset on the right. Light dining and snacks can be found at the outdoor Sunset Ranch Market on the left. Looming menacingly at the end of Sunset Boulevard, is the Hollywood Tower Hotel, which dares guests to enter The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Adjacent to the Tower of Terror is the Studios' hot thrill ride, the indoor Rock'n'Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Across the street from this coaster, is the Theater of the Stars, which houses Beauty and the Beast -- Live on Stage, a lovely musical stage show based on the hit Disney movie.
MICKEY AVENUE: To the right of the Chinese Theater is Mickey Avenue, home to several of the park's production facilities. At the end of Mickey Avenue, guests can board the Disney's Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour for a 25-minute tram tour that allows theme park guests to peek in at shooting on state-of-the-art soundstages and sprawling backlot sets.
ANIMATION COURTYARD: At the other end of Mickey Avenue is the Animation Courtyard. Here you'll find the popular Voyage of the Little Mermaid, delighting young and old as you journey Under the Sea. Another major attraction in real-life film making is The Magic of Disney Animation, a tour allowing guests to get an insider's view of animators. Across the Courtyard, children can see their favorite characters like the Bear in the Big Blue House, Jojo and Goliath, Stanley and Pooh in the Playhouse Disney Live! show.
STREETS OF AMERICA: To the left of the Chinese Theater is Commissary Lane, featuring several dining options, including the Sci-Fi Dine In Theater Restaurant.At the end of Commissary Lane turn right onto the Streets of America, which create the illusion of New York City, San Francisco and other cities using forced perspective techniques. The new Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, inspired by a popular show in Disneyland Paris, debuted in this area in May 2005. With stunt cars and motorcycles, and even some daring jet skis, this show, in a newly constructed amphitheater that holds 5,000, gives an adrenaline rush to the once-quiet backlot area.
Kids can spend some time the size of ants winding their way through giant blades of grass in the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids Movie Set Adventure. Nearby, the Muppets star in Muppet*Vision 3D, which combines Jim Henson's puppets and special-effects with Disney's famous Audio-Animatronics. Finally, spot your favorite Toy Story characters at the nearby Al's Toy Barn.
Disney's Hollywood Studios opens daily at 9 a.m. Closing times vary according to the season, with the park staying open later during summer months and holiday times. Plan to arrive at the Studios about 8:30 a.m., for when the gates open -- even though no attractions are accessible until the ropes officially drop, there are usually plenty of characters milling about at the park entrance!
Fantasmic! is shown nightly at park closing. During busier seasons, Fantasmic! may have two performances nightly. When this is the case, the later show is much less crowded -- consider staying for that if it's practical for you. Or take advantage of the Fantasmic! dinner package for special seating, to avoid the long wait. If you don't mind waiting, though, plan to arrive at the theater early to ensure getting a seat at this popular show.
KIDS AND CHARACTERS
Disney's Hollywood Studios has many opportunities for children to meet and greet their favorite characters, from Al's Toy Barn to the Streets of America area to stations along Mickey Avenue and the Animation Courtyard. Consult your daily Times Guide for times and locations.