(A version of this post was shared with Pirates & Princesses and published on February 8, 2022)
(Updated February 16, 2024)
Disney’s Hollywood Studios was created to honor the world of cinema and film. The early days of the park featured movie-based attractions, demonstrations in filmmaking, and even a working film studio. Over time the park has transitioned from a celebration of Hollywood to more of a celebration of select Disney film franchises.
After several years of expansion construction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land have opened to guests, vaulting this once half-day park into a full-on immersive guest experience. Let’s take a look at some favorite attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as well as a few overlooked treasures.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Believe it or not, there has never been an attraction in the Disney Parks fully dedicated to a Mickey Mouse story…until March 2020. So we’d be doing the top mouse a disservice if we started this list off with any other attraction. Guests of this dark ride board a train for a ride around Runnamuck Park as friends of Mickey and Minnie. Goofy is the conductor, and as you might expect, things don’t exactly go smoothly. Goofy accidentally hits a switch that breaks up the train cars. Guests enjoy a chaotic journey aboard the runaway train that travels through a carnival, twister, waterfall, big city, and factory with the trackless train cars splitting apart and reconnecting along the way. This is a joy ride not to be missed.
The only downside to this amazing new attraction is that it displaced an old favorite. The Great Movie Ride debuted with the park in 1989, and captured the essence of the movies in what was then called Disney MGM Studios. This classic closed in 2017 to make way for Mickey and Minnie, but the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre facade still shines brightly, so keep your camera handy.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Disney’s most technologically advanced ride experience to date puts riders in the middle of the war between the Resistance and the First Order. Guests in the Resistance base are forced to flee from an oncoming First Order invasion. However, the escape pod gets intercepted by a First Order Star Destroyer. Resistance hero Finn leads a rescue charge. Through a series of encounters with First Order stormtroopers, First Order vehicles, and Supreme Leader Kylo Ren himself, the guests are finally rescued and transported to a safe haven.
Due to this ride’s immense popularity, securing passage on the attraction takes some work. If you don’t win the opening siren boarding group contest, then you’ll need to put up some “credits” to pay for Lightning Lane access to insure yourself a spot in this top-level ride experience. But the magnitude of this attraction’s interior scenes, combined with the frantic pace of the breathtaking escape sequence, make this attraction worth every ounce of energy it takes to secure a spot on the transport.
Star Wars: Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run
“Chewie, we’re home.” Smuggler’s Run gives Star Wars fans the opportunity they’ve always dreamed of – piloting the legendary Millennium Falcon. Guests on this motion simulator-style attraction work together in the cockpit to perform a smuggling run of their own. Each guest gets their own role in the mission, including pilot, gunner, and engineer. Hondo Ohnaka guides guests through the mission, which can turn frantic real quick! Experienced guests can opt to complete the mission in “Chewie mode”, in which Chewbacca gives the directives (in other words, you can’t understand what he is saying). Activating Chewie mode takes a certain combination of moves at the beginning of the mission, but it’s worth it for the nostalgic experience of communicating with our favorite Wookie.
Instagrammers – the Force is with you! Aside from the ride experience, Smuggler’s Run offers the best photo opportunities in Galaxy’s Edge. Guests in the queue line can enjoy a moment at the Falcon’s Dejarik game table. Guests outside the attraction can get their picture in front of the iconic Falcon.
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
The third and final Star Wars-based attraction is the one that’s been in Hollywood Studios the longest. Star Tours opened in 1989, and was refurbished in 2011 to include updated scenes, new animatronics, and an improved motion simulator ride system. Guests board a touring shuttle en route to do some peaceful galactic sightseeing. However, either the Empire or the First Order are likely to stand in the way. C-3PO – the starship’s pilot, performs a panic-filled flight from the grasp of the dark side.
The best advantage of this attraction is its “re-rideability.” A randomized sequence of 21 different scenes spread over four acts of the adventure offers up to 700 different combinations to experience. Guests can ride this attraction many times, and still see something new!
One last perk of this attraction is the setting. While it may not be located in Galaxy’s Edge, Star Tours feels nestled into the forest moon of Endor. Guests in the outdoor portion of the queue can walk through the Ewok village, right by (and under) an AT-AT. This is another great photo opportunity.
Toy Story Mania
Load up for the rootinest, tootinest shootin’ game this side of Andy’s backyard. Toy Story Mania is – in the simplest words possible – an absolute joy. The music, the spinning, and those pop-trigger guns make this the most delightful version of a shooting attraction I’ve ever personally experienced.
Guests slide their way through several carnival-looking arcade rooms, including Hamm & Eggs, Buzz Lightyear’s Flying Tossers, and Woody’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’ Gallery, to name a few. The challenges increase in difficulty, but no worries for smaller guests. Every room includes many easier targets then even the tiniest of hands can hit. Your wrists may feel a little sore after you’ve pulled the pop string several hundred times!
If you are stuck in the attraction queue, fear not. There are tons of nostalgic toy props to tug at the heartstrings of adults, and kids and adults alike will enjoy the riffings of Mr. Potato Head.
Slinky Dog Dash
Andy built a rollercoaster around his backyard, and Slinky Dog is the only toy flexible enough to wind his way through the twists and turns. Do not underestimate the excitement of this family friendly coaster. It starts out with a launch (think Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster) and gallops around Toy Story Land for a bit. Then, it stops and launches again, sending riders through the other half of Andy’s backyard!
The hills and turns are not gigantic, but they are plenty for kids to enjoy without freaking out too much, yet exciting enough to give adults a chuckle. This coaster tops out at 40 mph – not bad for a “family coaster!” Wheezy welcomes guests back to the stable at the end of the ride, serenading them with the film’s signature tune You’ve Got a Friend in Me.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Located at the very end of Sunset Boulevard, The Hollywood Tower Hotel harkens back to Tinsel Town’s golden days of the 1930s. But this is no ordinary hotel. It is haunted and possessed, and unlucky guests traveling to the thirteenth floor are in for more than they bargained for. The creepy feel inspired by The Twilight Zone, including the ominous voice of Rod Serling, adds a level of depth and danger to the attraction’s story, making it one of Disney Imagineering’s crowning achievements in storytelling and engineering. The Tower of Terror is widely considered one of the best theme park attractions worldwide, and you can learn more about this attraction’s engineering magic here.
A Little Friendly Advice: When the bellhop tells you to store your items under your seat, take their word for it. I once left a sweatshirt on my lap, and upon our descent, I found it floating in front of my face!
Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith
Ready to party? Get in your stretch limousine and take off in a mind-numbing indoor “cruise” with Aerosmith to their next gig. Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster launches at breakneck speed, reaching 57 mph in less than three seconds! This coaster is the fastest ride in Hollywood Studios, and second only to Epcot’s Test Track as the fastest attraction in the four WDW theme parks. In addition to exhilarating speed, the coaster boasts three inversions, including a sea serpent roll and a corkscrew. Your body may need a short break after this ride, before going “Back in the Saddle Again!”
This attraction has a 48-inch minimum height requirement, and is not intended for smaller kids.
Don’t Skip These Overlooked Attractions
The most popular attractions in Hollywood Studios are largely buried in Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. But in addition to those hot spots, there are several other attractions, including stage shows, that are often overlooked by guests. These attractions capture the spirit of film and performances, which was the original intent of the park.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
Ok, admit it. You’ve always wanted to be chased by that huge, perfectly round boulder at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Without being in actual danger, of course. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular shows you just how that and many other film stunts are performed. Disney performers recreate specific scenes while a Cast Member explains the magic behind the stunts.
Technically this is a show, not an attraction, and it takes place in an outdoor (but thankfully shaded) theater. It’s a giant “people eater”, accommodating up to 2,150 people per showing. However, the theater is rarely crowded. This may be because the performances are scheduled at set times of the day, and people tend to keep moving rather than hitch themselves to a set show time. Sit close to the front and you’ll feel the heat coming off the flames of the stunt explosions.
If you are lucky (and raise your hand) you just may be chosen to participate as an extra in one of the crowd scenes. This will give an even more behind-the-scenes look at the stunt process. I was lucky enough to be selected to participate in this show once, and it was an amazing experience!
The lovable Muppets have been associated with Disney for decades, and they’ve made their unique presence felt in Hollywood Studios since 1991 with Muppet*Vision 3D. This attraction is a good old-fashioned 3D show, supplemented with 4D effects such as audio-animatronics, smoke, soap bubbles, and of course the crowd favorite Sweetums.
Guests of this attraction enjoy the most humorous pre-show in the park, waiting in a comically decorated lobby, then watching several Muppetized announcements. Entrance into the theater feels quite spectacular. The initial awe of the red velvet and gold decor transforms to humor once guests start to notice all the Muppet details. 3D glasses are needed to accompany Kermit on a tour of the Muppet Studios, which climaxes in a crazy experience in the Muppet Laboratories. Being this is a Muppet adventure, there are plenty of slips, trips, falls, explosions, and bad jokes to be had. This attraction is pure joy.
Outside the theater building, Muppet fans can examine many other details in the courtyard (now part of the “Grand Avenue” section of the park). If you want to keep the Muppetational mood going after the show, grab a slice or a sub over at Pizzerizzo.
Walt Disney Presents
Disney history fans are among the relative few who frequent this gem hidden right in the middle of the park. Walt Disney Presents (formerly known as Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream) is an interactive gallery located in Animation Courtyard featuring memorabilia from the Disney archives. Artifacts and keepsakes from Walt Disney’s personal life, as well as the Disney company, are proudly on display here. Guests can walk through the attraction at their own leisure, learning a bit about Walt and his dreams, with minimal stress.
In addition to the gallery portion of the attraction, there is also a 15-minute short film of Walt’s life, including his take on the creation of Mickey Mouse. At times, the short film rotates to a preview of an upcoming Disney film. Guests can walk into and out of the small show theater at their will, so there is no lining up for seating, or waiting to be dismissed by a Cast Member. This attraction pays homage to Walt in a way few other places do, along with the Carrolwood Pacific Railroad Room in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort.
When you sprinkle these overlooked gems in with the most popular attractions, it makes for a very busy and entertaining day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And that still leaves everything in the middle (Alien Swirling Saucers, Frozen Sing-Along, Fantasmic, and more)! Hollywood Studios is a theme park force to be reckoned with, and you’ll want to return for more.