Surviving Hollywood Studios During Christmas Week

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is my favorite park at Walt Disney World. I love the nostalgia and magic at Magic Kingdom, I love eating and drinking at EPCOT, and I love the animals and theming at Animal Kingdom; but there’s always been something about Hollywood Studios that fascinates me. Maybe because it’s home to my two favorite rides at Walt Disney World: Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster.

But Hollywood Studios is extra special during the holidays. It’s home to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The light show is the most popular attraction at Disney during the Christmas season. 5 million lights, 32 miles of extension cables, 66 snow machines, 100 gallons of snow fluid a night, and 43 hidden Mickeys make up one jaw-dropping experience.

It’s been announced that 2015 will be the Osborne Light’s final year in order to make room for the new Star Wars and Toy Story Land. I think everybody had a feeling it was coming, but it’s bittersweet, nonetheless. If you haven’t seen the lights – make sure you do. It’s truly an incredible experience and worth the price of admission. Correction – the experience is priceless.

When Disney first started announcing the closures, my sister turned to me and said “is it even worth going to Hollywood Studios?” I simply shot her a sarcastic look, but it got me thinking… Maybe, just maybe, Hollywood Studios won’t be as crowded. Think about it – if people don’t see the value in going to Hollywood Studios, that should cut down on the amount of one-day and off-site guests. If you’re going to Disney for the weekend or a few days, you’ll probably spend most of your time at the other three parks. But then Disney made the announcement that this would be the final year for the Osborne Lights. Suddenly my hypothesis took a hit. People are well aware that the Osborne Lights are a must-see, and will come out in droves to see it. This could actually add to the park’s crowds. Many one-day guests will probably arrive early and stay until night time, making the park consistently crowded throughout the day.

As an on-site guest or someone with a park hopper, here’s what I’d recommend:

Hollywood Studios, like EPCOT and Animal Kingdom, has a tiered FastPass+ system. You select one attraction from Group A, and two from Group B:

Group A:

  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  • The Great Movie Ride
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
  • Toy Story Midway Mania
  • Fantasmic!

Group B:

  • The Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special (seasonal)
  • Disney Junior – Live on Stage
  • For the First Time in Forever – A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
  • MuppetVision 3D
  • Star Tours
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid

The only attractions warranting a FastPass+ from Group A is Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Toy Story Midway Mania. Both rides will have wait times of 90 minutes or more (I’ve seen Toy Story Midway Mania as high as 210 minutes!) I’m normally against using your FP+ for a show, such as the Wishes fireworks, Illuminations or Fantasmic! You can definitely get into Fantasmic! if you arrive early enough. Last year, we actually arrived 5 minutes before the show and still got in. Shoot for the first show and if you’re turned away, come back for the second show.

From Group B, I’d recommend Tower of Terror, Star Tours and the Frozen sing along. MuppetVision may see a slight uptick in popularity due to the new show on ABC, but it’s still not worth using a FastPass+ for.

All together, we usually spend around a day at Hollywood Studios. We’ll go one day in the morning and another day at night. The first day, we’ll book a FP+ for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the Frozen Sing Along and Tower of Terror. We’ll arrive to the park in time for our first FP+ (usually around 10am.) Starring Rolls is probably your best bet for breakfast, or you can stop by the Boardwalk Bakery before heading to the park. We’ll usually finish up at Hollywood Studios by 2pm and head back to the hotel.

A few days later, we’ll head to Hollywood Studios for the evening. It’ll usually be on a night when we don’t have a dinner reservation (making it easy to get there early). We’ll eat at a Quick Service restaurant (usually at a resort, such as Art of Animation’s Landscape of Flavors) and then head to the park for the evening. For our evening FP+, we go with Toy Story Midway Mania, Tower of Terror and Star Tours. Going one day in the morning and another day at night allows us to secure a FP+ for both Toy Story Midway Mania and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. We redeem our first FP+ shortly after arriving, and then head to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights after it gets dark outside. We’ll usually spend around an hour taking in the lights and finding the hidden decorations (I’ll post about this another day).

No trip to Hollywood Studios is complete without Toy Story Midway Mania and Tower of Terror is a completely different experience at night. I love riding Tower of Terror at night – it’s extra creepy and really adds to its theme. And, we really enjoy Star Tours, so we’re always open to going on again. We’ll usually end the night by going to the last showing of Fantasmic!

By breaking the park up, it allows us to reserve FP+’s for the two major rides, see the Osborne Lights, experience Tower of Terror at both day and night, and see Fantasmic!. Sure, you can easily tackle this all in one day, but you’re bound to wait a while to ride Toy Story Midway Mania or Rock n’ Roller Coaster. Of course if you don’t go on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, you can get away with one day at Hollywood Studios.

Here are a few more tips to ensure you have a great time at Hollywood Studios:

Lights, Camera…

I love seeing people post old photos of Disney World. I don’t remember Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, so I love when people post photos. Knowing that the Sorcerer’s Hat would soon be removed, we made sure to grab a ton of photos in front of the former Hollywood Studio landmark. This year, we’ll be sure to take a ton of photos of the Osborne Lights and throughout the park. Hollywood Studios is a park in flux. The park will be completely different come next year, and will continue to change over the course of the next few years. Make sure to take photos of the Osborne Lights and other attractions throughout the park.

Avoid Hollywood Boulevard

Like Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard is incredibly difficult to navigate when the park gets crowded. It’s best to just stay out of this area in the afternoon (unless, of course, you’re leaving the park.)

Get a FP+ for Toy Story Midway Mania

Don’t leave it up to chance – get a FP+ for Toy Story Midway Mania. Gone are the days of rushing to the park and grabbing a paper FastPass. The wait time for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster will be long, but nothing like Toy Story Midway Mania. Make it a priority.

There’s good food and drinks… if you look hard enough

We all know Hollywood Studios isn’t famous for its food, but, you can find some good holiday-themed snacks. The Hollywood Brown Derby has a new outdoor lounge, serving up holiday-themed drinks and some delicious small plates. The cost of a small plate at the Brown Derby Lounge is right around $15. You’ll probably spend a little more than you would at a Quick Service spot, but you pay for the quality.

Starring Rolls serves the gingerbread cupcake, which is an awesome treat during the holiday season. It’s pretty big, making it a great option for sharing, too!

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