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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Disney's Hollywood Studios (AKA Disney MGM Studios) And A Muppet Twist

I bought Disney Vinylmation figures for the first time during my August 2011 visit to Walt Disney World in Florida. This Disney's Hollywood Studios figure is part of the Park Series 6. This particular set is sold blind-boxed, so you can't choose the design you want. For the sake of this trip report, I'm glad I got the Disney's Hollywood Studios one.

Day Three (Saturday, August 27th, 2011): Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom and Epcot.

Part One: Disney's Hollywood Studios: Let's Do Launch!

On this vacation, I stayed at Disney's Yacht Club Resort, which is so close to Epcot that I felt like I was staying at the park's World Showcase. The Yacht Club has a boat to Epcot, but it's faster to use the walkway to Epcot's International Gateway. Check out the map from 1991 to see how close everything is, and how things have changed.

Disney's Yacht Club also has a boat launch to Disney's Hollywood Studios, which I got to experience for the first time on this visit. It was a wonderful way to start the day. If you've got lots of energy, there's also a walkway to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The transportation boat also stops at the Walt Disney World Dolphin and the Walt Disney World Swan. The Swan is topped with two giant Swan statues, and the Dolphin has two Dolphins (as in the fish, not the mammal).

For more of the Swan and Dolphin, check out Winnie the Pooh and the Swan and Dolphin, Too!

The boat also passes by Disney's Boardwalk Resort. I visited the shops there later that night. You can see the tower from Disney's Beach Club in the background (with scaffolding, as it was getting refurbished).

Early announced plans for Disney's Boardwalk included the possibility of midway rides, and it sounded a bit more like Disney's old Pleasure Island nightclub district. The Boardwalk has shops and restaurants that serve Epcot Resort Guests and visitors. Perhaps the concept was scaled back because it would have been in competition with Epcot.

The boat finally reaches Disney's Hollywood Studios!

I've never seen the park from this angle before.

Disney's Hollywood Studios has changed quite a bit over the years. A big new change for this park, which opened in 1989 as Disney MGM Studios, is the new name.

Disney MGM Studios used to be a real working film production facility. Many visitors will remember watching animators at work at The Magic of Disney Animation, or seeing The New Mickey Mouse Club being taped at one of the park's Sound Stages. Note the gangster getting gunned down in this artwork. This place sure ain't The Magic Kingdom!

Another big change to the park is obvious right when you walk in. The "Cinderella Castle" of Disney MGM Studios used to be the Chinese Theatre, home of The Great Movie Ride.

The Chinese Theatre is still here, as is the ride inside. Considering how short the line for the ride was, maybe people just don't know about it. It could be due to the fact that there's a giant Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse hat sitting right in front of the Chinese Theatre now.

The first stop of the day was to pick up a Fast Pass for Toy Story Midway Mania. This 3D interactive ride had a 60 minute wait. Yikes! It seems like the only way to avoid a long wait for the Toy Story attraction is to get a Fast Pass, which "sells out" quickly. We'll discuss this later. Toy Story Midway Mania is located behind The Great Movie Ride at Pixar Place, which used to be home to the working Sound Stages on Mickey Avenue.

After picking up a Fast Pass for Toy Story (for 4:35 pm) I walked through the Streets of America on my way to catch a ride on the new version of Star Tours. The Streets of America used to be called New York Street, and it used to be off limits to Guests. It was part of the old Backstage Studio Tour, and the Trams used to weave past the fake city and Residential Street. New York Street would become a home for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1991.

Yes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a mobile show and meet and greet at the Disney MGM Studios.

The Turtles joined the ranks of quite a few licensed non-Disney characters appearing at Disney MGM Studios.

When you see the giant AT-AT Imperial Walker, you know you've reached Star Tours.

Here one of those Robot Camel things chases after one of those Snow Kangaroos (yes, I know it's called a Tauntaun, because I had the action figure, which had a trap door on its back so the characters could ride it). This image is from the Marvel Comics The Empire Strikes Back Comics Adaptation, which is huge!

The New Star Tours is my favorite ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

This is my favorite ride for a number of reasons. The first is that the line for this moves very quickly. The Starspeeder 1000 vehicles can handle large crowds of people. I never waited more than five minutes for Star Tours.

The new ride is quite humorous. Our pilot is now C-3PO, who sort of stumbles into his new job. R2-D2 is on board, too.
The original pilot in Star Tours was RX-24 (Rex) voiced by Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman). Rex can still be found in the queue, but the line moved so quickly that I could not get a picture of him.

The New Star Tours is in 3D, and features a mix of destinations and character encounters.

The queue for Star Tours has hidden surprises everywhere.

The Pre-Show to the ride is quite comical, though I did not really get to soak it all in. The G2 Droids from the original Star Tours are back. This one is voiced by Patrick Warburton.

There's also a new Star Tours agent in the Pre-Boarding video named Aly San San (voiced by Allison Janney).

I rode Star Tours three times, and each ride was different. On one trip, we were part of an AT-AT battle on Hoth. On the next ride, we were in a podrace on Tatooine. The last trip was my favorite, as we flew through Kashyyyk, the Wookiee planet, and one of Chewbacca's friends landed on our Starspeeder windshield.

One element that was the same on all three trips was an Incoming Transmission from Yoda. Other riders may get the transmission from Princess Leia or Admiral Akbar. This transmission involves the new "Rebel Spy" interactive element of the New Star Tours, and Yoda's dialog changed to reflect the spy's gender.

Star Tours empties into a gift shop, which sells a wide range of merchandise. In the early 1990s, when Star Tours was still new to Disney MGM Studios, you could find these PVC Star Wars figures in the Star Tours shop.

These figures are based on the 1985 animated Ewoks/Droids Saturday Morning cartoon. There was another version of C-3PO sold with the paint scheme used in the Droids cartoon.

There really should be a Star Wars Land expansion at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It would be insanely popular.
Just think of all the cool shops, rides and restaurants they could have in a Star Wars Land (or Lucasfilm Land, or Skywalker Ranch).

Up next, it was time for a visit to MuppetVision 3D, my favorite Disney theme park 3D show.
The film itself got a digital upgrade, and it looks fantastic. The attraction opened in 1991 and was one of the last projects that Jim Henson worked on.

Look up during the Pre-Show and you'll find some "Easter Eggs."

These Soldier Puppets are seen during the MuppetVision 3D film.

They are part of Sam Eagle's "A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America."

MuppetVision 3D was going to be just one component of a Muppet Studios "Land" at Disney MGM Studios. This included a Gonzo Pizza Parlor and a Muppets Movie Ride (a spoof of Disney MGM's Great Movie Ride).

In the Pre-Show, you'll also find the USS Swinetrek from the "Pigs in Space" sketch from The Muppet Show.
The sunblock I was wearing ran down my face and into my eyes just in time to watch this. Ouch!

MuppetVision 3D is not just a film. You'll also see a Live Muppet of Sweetums, plus Audio Animatronic versions of Statler, Waldorf, the Swedish Chef and an Orchestra of Penguins (they took the job for the halibut). Bringing the Muppets to life with Audio Animatronics was one of the big reasons that Jim Henson teamed up with Disney.

The Penguins are supposed to rise up from the Orchestra pit and back down. On my visit this time, they were visible during the entire show, and motionless when they weren't in performance mode.
I got this Vinylmation Muppets Series 2 Penguin on this trip. The artist for this figure gave the Penguin orange feet, but the Muppet itself has no feet! The Mystery Chaser for this set is Waldo, the 3D Muppet from the MuppetVision film (that's the one I wanted, but you don't get to choose the figure in a blind-boxed set like this one).

Disney MGM Studios was pretty small when it opened. The place had to expand.

This is what the park looked like before there was Sunset Boulevard, home to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock 'N' Roller Coaster and Fantasmic!

This map from 1994 shows the new section under construction.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was so popular that it was eventually added to Disney's California Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea, and The Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris Resort.

I've also been to the Tower of Terror at Disney's California Adventure. I know for a fact that some of the creators of the original Tower of Terror think that the California version is an improvement over the original, but I think Florida's is better.

Tower of Terror has been reprogrammed over the years. The elevator car used to only have one big drop, but now the ride has random multiple drops.

This great Tower of Terror Pin is from 2004, which was the first time I got to ride the attraction.

Goofy is blissfully unaware that he is in danger. Ignorance is bliss.

Mickey and Goofy catch a ride on a Resin version of Tower of Terror, too.

This was sold at Walt Disney World in the late 1990s.

After my ride on the Tower of Terror, I had to get a pressed quarter from the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
A Haunted Hotel was rumored at the time of Tower of Terror's construction. I'd love to see this someday, or maybe a Haunted Mansion hotel.

Up next, it was time to visit Twilight Zone Tower of Terror's neighbor, Rock 'N' Roller Coaster. Here's a picture of the Tower of Terror from the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster queue.

Rock 'N' Roller Coaster is one of my favorite rides at Walt Disney World and I think it has the best queue line I've ever seen for a roller coaster. Visitors enter G-Force Records, and see (via film) Aerosmith working in a recording studio.

Aerosmith invites us to their concert across town as VIPs, and their manager (played by Illeana Douglas) orders up a stretch limo to get us there.

We then leave the recording studio and find ourselves outside, at night, at a parking garage.

We then get a look at the super stretch limo coaster cars, which are equipped with speakers.

We then watch as the limos count down to their launch into the ride's massive enclosed show building.

The launch itself is thrilling, and the ride is much more intense than any other roller coaster at Walt Disney World. This is Walt Disney World's first and only looping roller coaster. This pin, which I got in 2004, has a looping coaster car feature.

As the coaster trains hurtle through darkness and past road signs, Aerosmith music (specially recorded for this ride) blasts in our ears. The combination of the coaster and the music is invigorating. When I got home from my trip, I dug out my Aerosmith CDs and have been listening to them constantly. Rock 'N' Roller Coaster won a Golden Ticket Amusement Industry Award, and it is easy to see why.

After Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, I went to Disney's Animal Kingdom. I had lunch there, and rode Expedition Everest. My visit to Animal Kingdom was cut short, and it will have a trip report explaining why.

After Everest, I went back to Disney's Hollywood Studios. After my third trip on Star Tours, I went to the Chinese Theatre, home of the Great Movie Ride.

My last time on The Great Movie Ride was way back in 1994. This attraction features Audio Animatronic figures of many film properties, including The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan, Casablanca, Mary Poppins, Alien, and Indiana Jones.

No pictures were allowed, and since the ride has a live guide, it's tough to break that rule. So here's a picture of an Indiana Jones toy from Burger King.

This toy is from the promotion of the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull film.

Tokyo DisneySea in Japan has a ride called Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull.

The ride in Japan is not based on the 2008 movie starring Harrison Ford and Shia LaBeouf.

Tokyo DisneySea's ride opened in 2001, and is based on Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure attraction. For more about this ride, check out Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye.

The Indiana Jones Adventure attraction has been rumored for Walt Disney World in Florida for years. I would love to see the ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, as part of a Lucasland expansion, or its own Indiana Jones mini-land.

It was finally time to ride Toy Story Midway Mania. Because I had a FastPass, I missed seeing the Audio Animatronic Mr. Potato Head in the queue. This attraction had the longest wait in the park, for a number of reasons. It's new, it's fun, it's family-friendly, it's interactive, and it can't handle large crowds like most of the other attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Stand-By Line can get really long because of all the FastPass riders.

There have been rumors swirling for years about Holiday themed versions of Toy Story Midway Mania. This would be so much fun.

I wanted to see the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show nearby, but it wasn't operating on my visit. This features actors, puppet and animation, and opened in 1991.

After my ride on Toy Story Midway Mania, I left Disney's Hollywood Studios and went to Epcot. There, I experienced Spaceship Earth and Test Track. After eating dinner at the Land, I left the park to explore Disney's Boardwalk. I'll cover the Epcot visit in another trip report.

On my Walt Disney World vacation, I did get this Vinylmation Disney Villains Series 1 Ursula. This series is blind-boxed, and has some great characters. I wanted Prince John from Robin Hood or a Pink Elephant from Dumbo (which is the Mystery Chaser, and has multiple variants).

Before Voyage of the Little Mermaid was at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the location of the attraction housed "Here Come the Muppets."

This was a live show, and the Muppets had mouths that moved. I believe they were imported from a traveling Muppet arena show. This was the first Disney/Henson theme park attraction. This closed once MuppetVision 3D opened. Bean Bunny was really getting a push at this time, getting a starring role in MuppetVision 3D. He made his debut in a 1986 TV special called "Tale of the Bunny Picnic." Bean was also added to the Muppet Babies Saturday Morning cartoon. Bean was performed by Steve Whitmire, who took over the role of Kermit the Frog after Jim Henson's death. Steve Whitmire also performs Rizzo the Rat.

For many years, Miss Piggy and her pals appeared at Walt Disney World as licensed characters, but now they are officially part of the Disney family. The Muppets have been a part of Disney MGM Studios/Disney's Hollywood Studios since 1990.

Hollywood loves a good scandal, a twist ending, mud-slinging, and starlets with "pictures from their past."

Here's Miss Piggy at Universal Studios Hollywood!

This was from 1988. Miss Piggy was young, and needed the work. She would not team up with Disney until 1990.

Muppet Magazine sent Miss Piggy to Universal Studios Hollywood, where she met Conan the Barbarian.
Much more scandalous is Miss Piggy's friendship with Universal's biggest star ever, King Kong!

Miss Piggy dates a frog, so why not a gorilla?

Sadly, this awesome King Kong animatronic from Universal Studios Hollywood's Tram Tour was destroyed by a fire in 2008.

The Sesame Street Muppets, including Elmo and Big Bird, can be found at Universal Studios Japan (there is a 3D Sesame Street movie there).

Be sure to see My Sesame Street Adventure With Big Bird, Mr. Hooper and Snuffleupagus.

This King Kong Poster was available in the Winter 1988 Muppet Magazine.

The Muppets shared this cover with Jason Bateman, who at that time was the star of Teen Wolf Too.

This old school Walt Disney World shopping bag features a vintage image of the Disney MGM Studios (there's that gangster again!).

As usual, I had a great visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios, and I can't wait to see what they do next!

For more Muppet Mayhem, check out The Muppets Take Indianapolis.

Muppet fans may also want to see the Gonzo Land Theme Park Muppet Magazine Map and Punknocchio: A 1985 Muppet Magazine Story.

Up Next: A Rainy Day At Disney's Animal Kingdom, and an Evening at Epcot.


  1. What a full day! That's incredible that you got in so much in so few hours. Excellent time management Dan!

    I also rode the boats between EPCOT and DHS for the first time on my trip this year. Great new experience to see the entrance to DHS from that angle.

    When my wife and I were there back in 2009, we drove pass (by car) the main entrance late in the evening after the park had closed, and we got to see the workers replacing the MGM sign with the then new DHS name.

    Unfortunately on our latest trip, the Star Tours attraction had not yet re-opened. Also when were in line for Aerosmith's Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, it broke down. I've been to this park 3 times now and still have not yet ridden this coaster. I've got things to experience next time I return.

    As always, an excellent trip report Dan. Looking forward to more.

  2. Dan, I'm still enjoying your trip reports very much! Ugh...I wish they would get rid of that giant hat in front of the Chinese Theater. It ruins the atmosphere and the view from the first moment you step inside the park!

  3. Thanks, A Snow White Sanctum! I think visiting in the "off season" is the only way to be able to do so much in a short amount of time. The wait for Tower and Rock 'N' Roller Coaster was about 30 minutes, which was not too bad.

    I loved the boat ride to the Studios! I had never visited the Epcot Resort area before. It is beautiful!

    I'm glad you could pinpoint the year of the name change to the Studios here, because I failed to mention that.

    I'm sorry you haven't been able to ride Rock 'N' Roller Coaster yet. Keep trying! Seeing my Disney character Rock 'N' Roller Coaster pin made me wonder why we haven't seen Rock 'N' Roller Coaster merchandise with Animal, Floyd, Janice and the rest of the Muppet Electric Mayhem Band.

    TokyoMagic!: Thanks! I agree with you about the hat. If I had been one of the Imagineers that created Disney MGM Studios, I'd probably be really upset!