This past Thursday, I spent my first New Years Eve in Disney World and the most common question I've received since then has been "How was it?". Trying to explain how New Years Eve in a Disney Park, is like trying to explain why the Grand Canyon is worth seeing. You can describe it a thousand different ways but it's one of those experiences you just have to try on your own.
Let's start with the obvious. Yes, it's very crowded on New Years Eve. I really wasn't prepared for the sheer amount of humanity that packed itself into Hollywood Studios. The park never closed (to my knowledge) from capacity, but all day there was a lot of guests everywhere and I think you notice it more when you're walking in areas that are typically very empty like the Streets of America or near the Backlot Tour and you encounter huge crowds of people. With those crowds come some rather unbelievable wait times. You have Toy Story Midway Mania with a 3 hour wait and the Sunset Boulevard attractions sporting 1-2 hour waits, but to be honest that isn't as surprising as when you see an hour wait for Star Tours or the line for Muppetvision 3D going out of the building. That is what really amazes me because it's so odd to see. Be sure to check out photos from New Years Eve that I took to get a better appreciation of what exactly was going on.
Despite the increased wait times, Hollywood Studios never closed to capacity and it really made for a good choice on New Years Day for a few reasons. First, it had a lot of special events to offer. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights were shown for about 6 hours, there was a Playhouse Disney dance party, there were three showings of Fantasmic! that night and the wait times were all shorter than the wait times that were experienced at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Don't get me wrong, a 180 minute wait at Toy Story Midway Mania is still a really long time, but Soarin' had a 5 hour wait at one point. The really interesting aspect of the day was that nothing really went terribly wrong. Toy Story did close for about an hour at one point but it got right back up and didn't seem to be too much of a problem.
The best reason to go to the Studios on New Years Eve was the fireworks and they did not disappoint. I had been to Hollywood Studios for July 4th and the fireworks were good, but nothing amazing. New Years Eve was a completely amazing show. In addition to the Fantasmic! shows, at midnight they set off a display of fireworks behind the Sorcerer's Hat while Mulch, Sweat and Shears played famous movie themes to them. What really made the fireworks amazing was the fact they not only shot off fireworks behind the Sorcerer's Hat but also down Hollywood Boulevard. This was something I had never seen before and I only wish I had picked a spot further down Hollywood Boulevard so I could have a better vantage point. In some ways, it was like being in the Magic Kingdom when they shoot off their 180 degree fireworks displays but because you were so much closer to the fireworks in the Studios, it was a much more intense and amazing experience. Let me put it this way, I had never been so amazed by a fireworks display for the entire duration of the show like I was during New Years Eve.
After I managed to get back home after a long day (16 hours in the park), I started pondering in my mind if I would do it again. I certainly enjoyed the experience but even though the park didn't close to capacity, there were an awful lot of people in one place and the top tier attractions all had some long wait times. I think I would spend another New Years Eve at the Studios, but I wouldn't feel obligated to be there for so long. Aside from wanting to be in the park to report information back, I also wanted to ensure that I wouldn't be locked out for the fireworks and the truth was I could have easily arrived at 8pm or so and gotten into the park and gotten a great spot for the fireworks.
So I absolutely recommend the experience of spending at least one New Years Eve at Walt Disney World and don't fall for the inclination to go to the Magic Kingdom. Frankly, the experience at Hollywood Studios was phenomenal and the amount of entertainment offered, especially in the evening, is unparalleled. If you're coming down for a future New Years Eve, prepare yourself for the long waits at attractions but also take an opportunity to try out some of the other less appreciated aspects of the park such as the Citizens of Hollywood, meeting characters and my favorite activity of simply walking around the park and enjoying the ambiance of being in the park. I mentioned I spent 16 hours in the Studios and I only experienced one attraction. That's right. One attraction and yet, I had a fun time because it was fun walking around and taking it all in. Give it a try and perhaps you too will come away with a unique perspective on a day at Hollywood Studios.