Walt Disney World Florida 

Disney Hollywood Studios (MGM)

"Disney Hollywood Studios" is Disney World's new name for MGM Studio, starting January 2008.  It's the same park you know any love -- it's just getting something of a facelift or sorts.

Hollywood Studios evolved from two things.  One, Disney had bought out MGM, and it was a great idea for a Disney World theme park.  Next...well, Disney wasn't about to let Universal Studios go unchallenged!  Then, with Disney and Pixar collaborating, MGM had a name change to become Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Hollywood Studios is rather a departure from the previous two (at the time) Disney World theme parks.  Hollywood Studio, at that time named MGM Studio, was the third park to open, on May 1, 1989.  It also had less of an overall theme than the two previous parks, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.  If you think about it, "movies" covers an awful lot of ground!

However, Disney Hollywood Studios has matured since those early days and seems more put together these days, if you know what I mean.  That's a good thing!

One thing that this park has that the others don't is a show like Fantasmic (didn't I say that Hollywood Studios is a departure from the other parks?)  I'm not sure how to describe it, as it's a combination music, fireworks, laser lights and parade, all in one.  And it's held in an amphitheater -- also different from the other parks.  (More about Fantasmic later.)

Tickets for Hollywood Studios are the same as any other the other theme parks (and I really recommend that you add the Disney Park Hopper option to your pass).

Come on, let's take a look at the former MGM Studio theme park.

Fantasmic

I'll start off with the last, first.  Fantasmic is held at night, not long before the park closes.  There is always one show, and on some special nights there are two shows.

Fantasmic is performed on stage, in an amphitheater.  And unlike the other Disney shows, this has a somewhat dark theme to it.  In fact, you probably don't want to bring very young children to this show!  It's about a dream that Mickey Mouse has, which turns into a nightmare from which he must escape.  In the course of the show there is music, laser lights (kinda cool), fireworks and a water parade.

Fantasmic is held at the very end of the park -- i.e., it's a long walk.  Uphill (although a pretty gentle slope). You get to sit on some fairly uncomfortable benches, and they are uncomfortable for this reason -- you should get to the amphitheater at least 30 minutes before the show to grab a spot.  Of course, once the show starts, you'll forget all that!

The Fantasmic show is neat, and I do recommend it.  There are vendors right outside the amphitheater that sell things to eat and drink, and you can bring the munchies into the theater.

Warning to parents of pre-teens -- there are vendors selling all kinds of cool lighted souvenirs before the show, and I'll bet your youngster will ask for one.  You may want to put that into your budget.  (Oh, and I saw quite a few "young at heart" grown-ups buy some for themselves, too!)

One final note:  There are some Disney Hollywood Studio "dinner and a show" packages that include Fantasmic.  Basically, you can make a reservation for dinner, and also get VIP seating for the Fantasmic show.  And the VIP seating means that you don't have to arrive way before the show to get a great seat!  Naturally there is an extra cost, above and beyond your dinner, for the VIP seating.  If this tickles your fancy, make your reservation well ahead of time, or you might end up having your dinner at 3:30 PM (yes, that's what they offered me for last-minute seating options)!

Disney Hollywood Studios "Must See" Attractions

There are a lot of neat things to see and do at Hollywood Studio. But rides top the list, followed closely by shows. Plan on spending at least some time in line, or waiting for a show to begin (it's recommended you get to it early for a decent seat). So what are the you-gotta-see-this attractions? Don't miss the following:

  • Rock 'N Rollercoaster by Aerosmith is a new twist on a coaster!  Imagine this...the phone rings and you are invited to a big Hollywood bash, but the problem is...the LA freeway traffic!  So, how do you get to the party with time to spare?  Hop on and find out!  As you might guess, the music on this ride is by the band Aerosmith.

  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror I remember when this attraction first opened -- it got a lot of publicity in Orlando.  Imagine you are in a creepy, Twilight-Zone type hotel and you need to get to the top floor (number 13, of course).  No stairs, but look, there's an elevator!  But just where does that elevator end up taking you?  It's definitely a thrill ride with a capital T!

  • Star Tours - a Star Wars Ride This is a simulator-type ride, where you are in a speeder with a rather absent-minded droid at the wheel.  Near-misses galore, to get your adrenalin pumping. Look out -- there's the Death Star!

  • Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular I really enjoyed this show, which has some audience participation.  Imagine you are a director and want to make an adventure movie, complete with thrills, traps, sword fights and...well you get the idea (it is an Indiana Jones movie you're making).  And it wasn't just me -- the rest of the audience sounded like they were just having a blast.

  • Backlot Tour is an intriguing glimpse behind movie-making.  You'll get to see lots of special effects in action, take a tour of some cool movie nostalgia and then get ready for a ride through Catastrophe Canyon.  Hint...you might want to stay away from the extreme left side of the tram for this one (you'll see what I mean when you take the tour)!

  • Lights, Motor, Action is for you if you enjoy watching car chases, motorcycle stunts, jet-skis and the like.  I'll have to admit, I missed this one due to lack of time, but it's on my list for my next return visit!

Naturally, there are a ton more attractions like Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Muppet Vision 3-D and the Great Movie Ride.  Oh, and walking through the different lots is a blast.  Word of warning -- get a map of the park and carry it with you -- it's awfully easy to get lost in the New York lot!

Tummy Growling? Places to Eat

Aside from snacks, I was surprised at how few restaurants there really were in MGM.  Then again, I had visited EPCOT the day before and that place is food central!  At any rate, here's what to look for in Hollywood Studios when your tummy starts sending you "feed me!" messages :

Casual restaurants are kind of a cross between the quick-service stands and the unique restaurants. Here are two to try.

  • Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano
  • Hollywood and Vine "Cafeteria to the Stars"

Unique/Special restaurants are themed based. There is one unique/special restaurant in MGM and it is the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.  I couldn't get into this one when I was last there, but it sounds sooooo cool!  Get this, you sit in a replica of a 50's convertible, like you were in a drive-in movie.  Yes, there is a movie screen and guess what plays -- sci-fi films, of course!  The food is light - sandwiches, salads, shakes and the like and yes, the convertible does have a table.

Signature restaurants are the top of the food chain (sorry, couldn't resist). And as you might imagine, they are a bit more expensive.  Hint - go at lunch when it is less costly to eat..  Ahem.  Anyway, there is only one Signature restaurant in Disney MGM, and it is the Hollywood Brown Derby.  My review -- the food was good, but as a whole, I don't think it was on par with the other Disney signature restaurants I've been to.  One thing you may want to consider though is that you can make a dinner and a show reservation -- dinner at the Derby and then VIP seats to Fantasmic.  Hurry, though -- the reservations go fast.

Character Dining is for when you just can't resist seeing Disney characters! Only one choice here, and that is Playhouse Disney at Hollywood and Vine. For us in the 40+ set, a word of warning -- you won't see Mickey or Goofy or any of the other familiar Disney characters here.  Instead, think JoJo's Circus and Little Einsteins.

That's Entertainment!

While most of the entertainment is in the form of rides or shows, you might want to also consider the following :

    • Beauty and the Beast Live Onstage
    • High School Musical Pep Rally

If you want to meet and greet some characters, pick up a park guide and check for times, places and who will be there.  I had a tough time tracking down Mickey, the Sorcerer's Apprentice himself, when I was there last.

Here's something that's changing -- the Disney Stars and Cars Parade will have its last performance on March 9, 2008.  Then a new parade, Block Party Bash! will start up on March 14, 2008.

If you want specific dates and times, check out the parade and fireworks schedule for the parks.

Don't Forget...

You want to enjoy your vacation to Disney Hollywood Studios day, so here are a couple of tips.

The Florida sun is strong, so bring a long-sleeve shirt (yes, even in Summer) or slather on the sunscreen. A sunburn is not a fun way to spend your Florida Disney vacation! Remember to bring a rain poncho in the summer too -- it's very likely you'll run into showers.

Drink lots of fluids -- when you get thirsty, you're already a bit dehydrated.

Do you want the best prices on Disney MGM tickets and resorts? The best piece of advice (aside from shopping around) is to make Walt Disney World reservations and get tickets as far in advance as possible.

You can also check out the Hollywood Studios park hours -- Hollywood Studios doesn't close at the same time each day.

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Dinner and a Show

There's an option for a dinner and show combination; the Brown Derby for dinner and then Fantasmic! for the show.

As with all Disney dining, make your reservations well in advance. The last time I tried just a few days ahead of time, my only option for "dinner" was at 3:30 in the afternoon. (I passed on that.)



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