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First timer's guide to Hollywood Studios

While many who read this blog may be seasoned veterans of Hollywood Studios, there may be some folks who are completely new to the Studios, or perhaps haven't visited in so many years that it feels like a trip now would be a first trip.  Regardless, those who are new to Hollywood Studios may want to get a good overview of the park and an introduction into what to expect, the must-do's, pitfalls and highlights of Hollywood Studios.  Think of this week's article as a quick guide to the Studios before you really dive into the deep end of everything Hollywood Studios.

Let's start with the biggest concept, and that is "What is Hollywood Studios?".  Hollywood Studios is a theme park in Walt Disney World that has a centralized theme of celebrating Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole.  The park is divided up into two sections, Hollywood and the Backlot. Hollywood is the part of the park made to look like 1930's and 40's Hollywood, California.  It's modeled after the golden age of Hollywood and celebrates the glamor of the era in both attractions and decor.  As you enter the park, you will encounter this Hollywood area and it includes Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and Echo Lake regions of the park.

The other major area of the park is the Backlot.  This area of the park is meant to look like a Hollywood film studio backlot.  Imagine you are looking through a viewfinder lens of a movie camera and as you pan left, you see one attraction that tells a story and you pan in another direction, you see a completely different story being told.  The area between attractions is purposefully un-decorated and attractions have little to do with the next one over because like a Hollywood movie lot, you just need to decorate and theme the area you are shooting your film.  As you enter a given attraction, you enter that world and find a completely themed area and when you leave, it's back to the Backlot until your next story.  The Backlot is comprised of Pixar Place, Animation Courtyard, Streets of America and the Backlot.

So now that you know what the park is, let's examine the most important aspects of Hollywood Studios to know.  Let's begin with the premier attractions, the super-headliner attractions that are worth your time and a major reason to come to the park to begin with.  The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Toy Story Midway Mania and Rock 'n Roller Coaster are the top tier attractions at Hollywood Studios.  The nighttime fireworks show that is shown around the closing of the park is Fantasmic!, and it's more story than pure fireworks but one of the best displays at Walt Disney World.  An important note to keep in mind is that Fantasmic! is not shown every night and you will need to consult the Fantasmic! schedule to see when a showing will occur.

Speaking of attractions, at Hollywood Studios you will find a large number of stage shows and these shows can be a challenge to work into your touring plan successfully.  Some shows are only shown a few times per day while others are shown many more.  The key is to identify the shows you would like to see and curtail your touring plan around their show times while filling in the rest of the time with the rides.  The good news is you will have an hour or two in the morning when the park opens when there aren't really many shows beginning to see the most popular rides and then ease into the show times as you progress through the day.

There is also something else unique to Hollywood Studios that is a group of people who live in Hollywood Studios, called the Citizens of Hollywood.  These performers will perform what's known as "street theater" and are a highlight of the park.  They are talented, entertaining and very funny and you should take some time to stop and enjoy their performances.  The Citizens of Hollywood are as integral to the Studios as the Tower of Terror and just as fun.

Next on the list is where to eat.  You'll want to make a note of the two best overall places for food at Hollywood Studios.  If you'd like a sit down meal, look no further than 50's Prime Time Cafe for great food, terrific theme and fun entertainment.  If you're looking for a quicker bite to eat, then Backlot Express is the place to stop to grab something quickly to eat such as a burger, variety of sandwiches or a salad.

If you're looking to meet Mickey and some of his friends, there are plenty of places in Hollywood Studios to do so (you can refer to this character meet and greet guide) but there are two spots that stand out as the best for meeting characters.  In front of the Sorcerer's Hat, you will find a slew of characters to meet throughout the day.  Their schedule runs opposite the High School Musical 3 Pep Rally schedule so if you are near the hat and you see the High School Musical show going on, come back a little later.  The other great place to meet characters is at the end of the Magic of Disney Animation attraction, where you can meet Sorcerer Mickey, characters from the Incredibles and characters from the latest Disney film (as of the writing of this article, it is the characters from "Up").

That is the nuts and bolts of Hollywood Studios for anyone who considers themselves a first timer.  There is a ton more to learn about Hollywood Studios, but this information should be a good primer for what to expect.  Always arrive early, take breaks when you need them and don't hesitate to do some exploring.  Hollywood Studios, like the other Disney Parks, is filled with an incredible amount of detail and you should take the time to see anything that catches your eye.

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About this column

A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 by