This past Monday was another July 4th holiday that I got to spend in Disney's Hollywood Studios and year after year, I'm astounded by how uncrowded the park is (relatively speaking) and what a pleasure it's become to enjoy Disney World quality Fourth of July fireworks without the hassle of the mega crowds that plague the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
This year I wanted to test a hypothesis, that crowds at Hollywood Studios for July 4th are so low, that I can show up at 5pm and get a last minute sit down restaurant reservation. Given it is July 4th, one of the busiest days of the year in all of Walt Disney World, this was a bold idea given that park closure due to crowds is a possibility as well as the fact that reservations for restaurants go quickly for this time of the year.
There wasn't much I could do to avoid a park closure, although I knew the Studios wasn't going to close due to capacity since Hollywood Studios hasn't closed because of capacity in all the years I've been there for July 4th, New Years Eve, or even the recent opening of Star Tours 2. There was something I could do to increase my odds of a restaurant reservation though.
I had two theories of how I could snag a reservation. On the morning of July 4th, I logged onto the Disney World Dining Reservations site and booked an ADR for 3:40pm at 50's Prime Time Cafe. My idea was the Cast Members might not be taking walk ups, but they do typically honor guests with an ADR, even if you're past your time. Granted, this is a "gray area" of being honest since I knew I would be arriving nearly an hour or so after the time slot but thought it would be a good back up.
I should note there was lots of availability at the Hollywood Brown Derby despite it being July 4th, but I opted not to eat here simply because I did not want to drop $100 for dinner for 2 people. A good tip to keep in mind is if you ever need a last minute reservation, the Brown Derby is almost always a great choice. I did, however, manage to get an ADR at 7pm for the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater after checking the dining site later in the day. 7pm was later than I wanted, but I figured I could show up early and sneak in when I wanted to dine.
With both of my ADRs in hand, I arrived at Hollywood Studios at 5:30pm. The line to get into Hollywood Studios was marginal so we went right in. My wife made a "command decision" and decided she would rather eat at the Sci-Fi than Prime Time, so I never got a chance to try out my idea of blowing past my ADR time for a meal. Oh well, it might make a good Hollywood Studios MythBusters column in the future!
We headed over to the Sci-Fi and after getting to the check-in desk, told the Cast Member I had an ADR for 7, but wanted to know if we could eat earlier. Initially, she kindly told me they were backed up and I'd have to wait for 7pm. I responded I didn't care about what table I got and in fact, prefered the picnic tables in the back of the restaurant that were usually reserved for walk ups. After a few smiles, a joke thrown in and a few checks of her computer, she talked to her manager who basically told me the same thing. I smiled, said thank you and prepared for a wait. As it turned out, no later than 5 minutes after I left the check-in desk, our name was called!
With my dinner idea complete, we took some time to enjoy Hollywood Studios and walked around the park a bit. By about 8pm, we decided to stake out a spot for the 9:45pm fireworks. To be honest, we could have easily shown up at about 9pm or so and gotten a spot I would have been happy with, but because I'm a Type-A , Super Disney World nerd, I needed to have my spot in hand well before that.
The fireworks were a great show, as they've always been, with this years show having a classic rock theme. Songs such as "Great Balls of Fire", "Born to Run", "Don't Stop Believing", and culminating with a finale synched up with Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic "Freebird".
Any time I try something new at Disney World, I like to look back and evaluate how things went to see what worked, and what didn't work. My plan was a success and as I mentioned earlier, I could have shown up much later in the day and seen the fireworks quite easily.
I've written before encouraging people to forget the fireworks at the other parks and come to Hollywood Studios instead because of the benefits and this year was further proof of that. Crowds felt more like an average "busy day" than the peak of crowds at Disney. I attribute that to the fact most people overlook Hollywood Studios on July 4th or New Years Eve because for whatever reason, there's this idea that the Magic Kingdom is the pinnacle of celebrating any holiday. I certainly don't agree with it, and nearly everyone I talked to about their experience seeing July 4th fireworks on July 3 and 4 reported back it was miserable due to the crowds.
Each year for July 4th, the theme of the Hollywood Studios fireworks has differed somewhat in terms of the music that's played. I didn't love this year's classic rock theme, although the Freebird finale was really good. I know it's clichéd, but I wouldn't have minded a Katy Perry "Firework" or some other pop song simply because classic rock is great to listen to, but it isn't the sort of music that evokes that "Woooo! It's time to party because it's July 4th!!!" emotion like contemporary pop music can. Maybe it's just me.
Overall, anyone looking to spend a July 4th in Walt Disney World next year needs to seriously consider the Studios. Yes, you can brave the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, but be prepared for a sea of people. On second thought, nevermind. Go be a sardine at the other parks, so I can continue to enjoy the Studios on holidays like July 4th where I can waltz in when I feel like it and still be able to have dinner.