Disney's Hollywood Studios Archives

December 21, 2015

New Star Wars Experiences at Disney's Hollywood Studios



Star Wars fan that I am, I have to say that I was thrilled to learn that new Star Wars-related experiences would be starting in Disney's Hollywood Studios on December 1, just in time for my holiday trip to Walt Disney World. I was even happier to find out that there would be a media preview of the new experiences the day after my arrival. How convenient!

The only catch was that I had to be AT the Studios by 7 a.m. that morning. That directive, harsh as it was must have come from Lord Vader himself! In any case, there I was at 7 a.m. along with AllEars.Net Feature Writer Alice Miller, and we were treated to all the Star Wars we could handle in one short morning.

Our experience started as we approached the Animation Courtyard, which is now home to the new Star Wars Launch Bay, billed as the home base of all things Star Wars in the theme park.

White-uniformed First Order Stormtroopers greeted us and other guests asking to see our identity cards. What was really cool was that they could actually talk -- no more mute Stormtroopers!

star wars launch bay

We entered the Launch Bay and noted that the old outdoor queue for the Animation Tour has been fully re-themed. Walls are lined with posters and artwork from all of the films in the Star Wars saga.

star wars launch bay

After a short wait, we entered the small Launch Bay Theater to watch a 10-minute, behind-the-scenes film, featuring interviews with directors, writers, producers and others who are or have been part of the Star Wars universe. It was especially interesting to me to hear from new Star Wars director J.J. Abrams.

star wars launch bay

From there, we had plenty of time to browse the different galleries of the Launch Bay, which are filled with replicas of props, starships, weapons, costumes and more from the first six Star Wars films, as well as some from the newest entry to the saga, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

I started in the Celebration Gallery, walking under the famous tagline: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." In this first room there are ships from the Rebel and Imperial fleets from all the films. From there, I took a walk down the Celebration Hallway, which features life-size replicas of such iconic movie vehicles as a speeder bike and a pod-racer.

As both mom to a Star Wars fan and a fan in my own right, I spent the better part of an hour examining all the exhibits, thinking, "Yeah, I made that speeder bike out of Legos, we did that TIE fighter as a model, we have that Slave 1 toy... " In other words, they really have a lot of cool stuff!

star wars launch bay

star wars launch bay

star wars launch bay

Finally, there is a Preview Gallery that features artwork and props from The Force Awakens.

star wars launch bay

From there you enter the area known as The Cantina, which has elements pulled directly from the Mos Eisley cantina scene in the original 1977 film, Star Wars: A New Hope. For those who don't know, the cantina is sort of a dive bar populated with a mixture of unsavory aliens -- and it's the place where Luke and Obi-Wan famously meet Han Solo and Chewbacca. Appropriately, you can meet up with a variety of characters in this themed area -- our encounter that morning was with a Jawa, a short, burlap-robed creature whose pinpoint eyes glow out from under its oversized hood. Jawas are known to scavenge the desert, and this little guy tried to persuade us (without talking) to give up our watches, rings, phones and camera before moving on to the next visitor. (On a visit to the Launch Bay the next day, I had the chance to pose with the bounty hunter Greedo -- I'm not sure what other characters you might encounter there.)

star wars launch bay

star wars launch bay


Be sure to check out all the little scenes, including the one on the far wall, the Lost and Found, which has some cool props hidden there.

star wars launch bay

Just beyond the Lost and Found is the Star Wars Game Center, where you can play current and upcoming video games, including new Disney Infinity 3.0 with content created exclusively for the Launch Bay.

star wars launch bay

In the area just below The Cantina (in the space that used to have the character meet-and-greets in the old Animation Building), you have a choice to make: Do you want to visit Chewbacca, the 7+ foot tall hairy Wookiee who is a hero of the Rebellion? Or do you want to take a walk down the Dark path and pay a visit to Darth Vader? I chose Chewie because I only had limited time that morning (and also because "once down the dark parth you start, forever will it dominate your destiny!")



After meeting up with the Wookiee, we entered the Launch Bay Cargo area, which, of course, is the home for all manner of Rebel Alliance and Imperial merchandise. From mass-market toys to high-end collectibles, if it's related to Star Wars, you can probably find it here.




This is also the place you can find all sorts of special Star Wars-themed MagicBands, and a D-Tech on Demand spot where you can customize your cell phone cases.


We eventually had to tear ourselves away from the Launch Bay and head across the park to the ABC Sound Studio, former home of the Sounds Dangerous attraction. The theater now houses "The Path of the Jedi," a short film that mashes up the storylines of the first six films in an effort to bring those unfamiliar with the Star Wars saga (what do you mean there are people who have never seen these movies?!) up to speed.


The film does a fair job with the material -- let's face it, it's not easy to cram a couple dozen years of film history into 10 minutes. But if you have never seen any of the movies, or if it's been a while and you need a refresher, this film does the job.

After viewing The Path of the Jedi, we sat in on a Q & A session with some of the Imagineers and others involved in bringing these multi-layered Star Wars experiences to fruition.

Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering Brent Strong spoke with enthusiasm about the project, and how he feels there's never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan.

We also had a chance to hear from Tony Giordano, show director, who was involved in the revamped Jedi Training Academy and talked about the new fireworks show, "Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular."

In addition, Executive Chef Christine Weissman was there to talk about the Star Wars-themed food and beverage offerings, and Steven Miller from Walt Disney World Merchandising spoke about all the cool, new Star Wars merchandise.

(I also had the chance to see some of the food up close, and I'll have a separate post devoted to the Star Wars-themed food and beverage offerings later.)

After the Q & A, we had a short break and were treated to a taste of some of the cupcakes. Alice found that as evil as Darth Vader can be, she could sense the good in him... or in the chocolatey-peanut butter goodness of his cupcake, at least.


The last part of the morning's festivities was a visit to the renamed "Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple." The show is largely the same as before -- children ages 4-12 are given the chance to battle with enemies from the Dark Side in a cute 20-minute interactive show. The chief differences are the new set, a new villain (the Seventh Sister from the Disney XD Series, Star Wars Rebels) and a new underlying storyline -- that the villains are not real, so that the children understand what they are really fighting against are merely reflections of their own fears. It's a nice idea, but I'm sure if you asked the youngest kids among the group I saw, they would tell you that they were really using their light sabers to hack away at the REAL Darth Vader.

Jedi Training Trials of the Temple

Unfortunately, there was no way for us to see the new fireworks show, since it only just debuted last Friday, on December 18, when The Force Awakens opened in theaters.

Even without the fireworks, all of these new Star Wars experiences certainly satisfied the Star Wars fan in me -- and I definitely plan to revisit the Launch Bay a few more times to catch all the little details I'm sure I missed. I have to say, though, that this taste of what Disney has done so far leaves me hungrier than ever for the promised "Star Wars Land" that is not even breaking ground in Walt Disney World until 2016!

I hope The Force is strong with me, because otherwise I don't know how I'm going to wait!

May 6, 2014

Jedi Mickey's Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine


Hollywood and Vine has been transformed into a Star Wars™ themed venue where Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Chip & Dale will all be dressed as their favorite Star Wars™ characters. The characters will meet and greet and interact with Guests throughout the evening.

This special meal is offered from May 4 to June 15, 2014.


Times: 4:15 to 8 or 8:30 p.m. (sometimes 9 to 9:30 p.m. based on park close)
Price: Adult - $59.99 with Fantasmic! Package or $55.99 without; Child - $36.99 with Fantasmic! Package or $32.99 without

A digital photo of the party with the Ewoks Chip & Dale on a commemorative PhotoPass card is included. Scroll to the bottom for the Digital Photos you receive.


Dinner is the regular buffet offerings but with Star Wars "names" like: Cantina Corn, Greedo's Green Beans, C-3POs Cream Corn Spoon Bread and Tusken Raider Chicken.

Desserts are Star Wars themed!

Digital Photos Included with your Meal




You and the characters!


September 21, 2013

"Unleash the Villains" Friday the 13th Limited Time Magic

Limited Time Magic brought a villain-filled night on September 13, 2013, to Disney's Hollywood Studios -- the "Unleash the Villains" event saw the park open until the 13th hour on Friday the 13th (1 a.m.) and featured a night filled with numerous Disney "bad guys" dancing and greeting guests all around the park. Here are some video highlights from the evening, including meet and greets with some rarely seen characters, and the spectactular "Villainy in the Sky" fireworks presentation that capped the event.

Introducing the 13 Featured Villains

Meet-and-Greet with Bowler Hat Guy from "Meet the Robinsons"

Meet-and-Greet with Oogie Boogie from "The Nightmare Before Christmas"

Villainy in the Sky Fireworks

August 15, 2013

Meet Sofia the First Now Appearing at Disney's Hollywood Studios


Sofia the First appears on the Disney Junior show "Sofia the First," which debuted in January 2013 . Sofia is simply a regular young girl until her mother marries a King and she becomes a princess. Follow her journey as she learns the ways of royalty.


Sofia the First made a special appearance at the D23 Expo August 2013. In this video she dances and shows off her dress.

You can Meet Sofia the First at the Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Disney Junior Area of the Animation Courtyard. Since this is her first Meet and Greet opportunity at Walt Disney World, arrive early and don't be surprised by lines.


Photos and video are from the D23 Expo.

May 10, 2013

May the 4th Be With You

As part of Limited Time Magic, Walt Disney World hosted a "May the 4th Be With You" event on May 4th, at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

From all accounts, it was a fun-filled day that included special Jedi Training Academy shows (where adults were allowed to participate), a special Star Wars Dance Party with Jedi Mickey and many others and ended with the wonderful Symphony in the Stars fireworks show.

If you missed any of the fun, or want to relive it, here are our videos from May the 4th!

Jedi Training Academy

Star Wars Dance Party

Symphony in the Stars

February 13, 2009

American Idol Experience Press Event

by Debra Martin Koma, Senior Editor

Finally have a minute to catch up after the last two jam-packed days -- just wanted to give you a taste of the American Idol Experience event with the promise that more details and photos will be coming in the next day or so!

The festivities started with a motorcade featuring about 20 past American Idol contestants, including Sanjaya, he of the ever-changing hairdos (below).


Many of the Idol celebrities stopped to speak on the BLUE (not red) carpet, including Bucky Covington.


Once inside the Idol theater, we were surprised with a short speech from Jay Rasulo and a
very unexpected host, Ryan Seacrest -- and judge Paula Abdul.



The Idol show was just great, but even better, it was capped off with performances by David Cook, the most recent Idol winner, and Grammy award-winner Carrie Underwood.


Like I said, this is just a taste of the press event -- more coming about the new attraction and many other things... soon!

December 15, 2008

Passholders' American Idol Experience Tour

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor


At the outset, I have to say one thing: I am very excited to announce that I was the very first non-Disney cast member to set foot in the brand new American Idol Experience that is nearly set to debut in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Yes, when Disney held its special Annual Passholder tour for the new attraction on Sunday, I was the very first person in the very first (10 a.m.) tour to set foot in the place. It was pretty exciting. For me, at least.

So, what did I learn on the tour? Well, lots of things. Most importantly, I guess, is that the new attraction is scheduled to open on February 14, 2009! Whatever the new attraction may be like, I'm always thrilled when something new opens.

What else can I tell you? Well, I'm sorry that I wasn't allowed to take photos on the tour, so I'll try to relate as much as I can remember.


Since they couldn't really let us see the actual show that guests will experience come next February, they walked us through both backstage and in front of the stage.

When you enter the backstage area, you'll first encounter the auditioning booths... two as soon as you enter, another two further down the corridor. The whole area is very sleek and contemporary, done in royal blue carpeting, light wood, glass block and chrome. Though it wasn't there yet, the area will also eventually have a plasma screen TV, which will show an introductory video featuring American Idol's host, Ryan Seacrest.

But wait... Maybe I should back up a bit. For those of you who want to try out to be a performer at the American Idol Experience, you'll be able to pre-register online on Disney's site, before you come down to Walt Disney World, or you can just simply turn up to audition on the spot. (You'll have to be at least 14, though.) Those who audition will sing, a cappella, for a casting director in one of the four soundproof rooms. They'll be allowed to bring one guest with them throughout the whole process.

If selected during the audition process, the contestant will next spend some time in the producer's lounge, where they will be given an iPod holding 113 songs. They'll have up to 20 minutes to listen to the tunes on the iPod to decide which one they would like to sing at the next step in the process -- in front of the producer.

The producer's room is slightly large than the basic auditioning booth. There the contestant will sing with accompaniment and will learn whether they are passing on to the next phase -- to perform in front of an audience. There will be three to five contestants selected for each show.

Once the contestants are selected they will be given a special "vote for me!" lanyard to wear as they walk around the park for the remainder of the day, until they are tapped to perform. Contestants will receive a phone call about an hour before they are due to perform for the American Idol Experience -- that gives them time to talk with the stage coach, vocal coach, and hair and makeup people.
As the tour guide told us, everyone will truly be set up for success.

On the audience side, though, no special skills are necessary. As you're waiting in the outdoor queue, a crew will be filming you -- excerpts will then be intercut into a video that will somehow be used during the show. (Justin Guarini, runner-up from the first season of American Idol, will be featured in this video.)


When you enter 1000-seat theater you'll find quite a sight. More sleek furnishings, blue carpeting and upholstery, but more than that -- the set is identical to the REAL American Idol show. Understandable, really, when you discover that it was designed by the same person who designed the set for the television show, Andy Walmsley.


This "smart theater", as the tour guides called it, is equipped with some impressive technology. For example, the LED lights that it uses save enough energy to power 60 houses each day. In addition, during the performances, the contestants will wear a transmitter that will enable the lighting to follow them automatically -- no worrying about stepping out of the spotlight.

After the contestants perform, they will be evaluated by three judges, who will be patterned after the familiar format used on the American Idol television show. One judge will be the hip, cool judge, one will be nurturing, and one will be the "tell it like it is" judge -- you know, like Simon Cowell. However, as our tour guide reminded us, it IS Disney World, so this judge won't be quite so nasty. And, just like on the television show, while the judges have their say, it is the audience's vote that counts. Members of the audience cast their vote using the keypads embedded in their armrests.

There will be seven preliminary shows per day, each running about 20-25 minutes. The eighth and last show of the day will be the grand finale, which will last about 45 minutes. During the finale, the seven winners from the day's earlier shows will perform, vying for the big prize -- a Dream Ticket that gives them the chance to go before a producer of the actual American Idol show. As one of our tour guides described it, it's like a FASTPASS to AI -- it doesn't guarantee you'll be on the show, but it gets you past the auditioning process and directly to a producer.

Other participants who don't win the Dream Ticket will receive special commemorative souvenirs, too, but it sounds like the experience alone will be a fantastic memory to take home.

Our tour guides concluded by telling us that a Passholder Preview is coming soon -- no date given, though. If you're interested in going, be sure you're registered on Disney's passholder site, as the announcement will be coming by email.

Overall, I'm anxious to see this new show -- I'm probably one of about 10 people in the World who has never watched American Idol on television, but still, I think seeing the new live "Experience" will be interesting -- but only from the audience! There is no way I would ever audition for something like that myself!


May 15, 2008

Media Preview Day at Disney's Hollywood Studios

by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor


Just back from Wednesday's Toy Story Midway Mania media preview at Disney's Hollywood Studios and I have nothing but good news to report.

Although it was a very low-key affair, the outcome had to have been better than Disney was hoping for -- everyone I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed the ride, many riding it multiple times not just for research purposes, but because they genuinely had that much fun.

My day at Disney's Hollywood Studios started around noon, when I checked in for the media preview. I was greeted by Justin Muchoney, Disney's first Chief Magic Official, who, it turns out, is from my (original) neck of the woods. His hometown, Seven Fields, Pennsylvania, (and Justin, I think they had it as Seven Field on your nametag!) is about 20 miles north of MY hometown, Pittsburgh. Justin told me that this event is just the first of about eight that he would be present for - with some occurring at Disneyland, as well. "So far," he said, "it's been amazing. I've had some training and everyone's been great - this truly is a Dream Job."


And then Justin gave me a wonderful gift - a pass to ride the new Toy Story Midway Mania that I was to give out to a group of my choosing. Yes, I myself got to bestow a "dream" during this Year of a Million Dreams! What fun! (I eventually gave my dream pass to a mom, dad and son who were lunching at the Studio Catering Company. Son claimed he was a BIG Buzz Lightyear and Toy Story fan, so I thought it was only fitting. I didn't get their names, so Family X, if you're reading this, please drop me a note and let me know what you thought of the ride!

Around 1:30 p.m. in front of the Sorcerer's Hat, an abbreviated version of the imported-from-Disneyland Block Party Bash kicked off the media preview event. Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Bo-Peep and Mr. Potato Head, among other Toy Story favorites and assorted gymnasts and dancers, encouraged young audience members to do the twist and macarena, ending with an explosion of bouncing balls.


Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton was on hand to welcome the media with remarks that reinforced what seems to be a recurring theme at Disney these days. Calling it an example of "classic Disney storytelling" Crofton quoted Mr. Potato Head, the greeter of the new attraction, saying, "It's a ride that's a game. It's a game that's a ride."

Noting that the attraction had been "playtested" exhaustively, Crofton asserted, "It's fun for the entire family. Toy Story Midway Mania joins an impressive lineup of new experiences here at Disney's Hollywood Studios."


She then invited the media to fall in line and head over to "play away" at the attraction located in a soundstage along the former Mickey Avenue, now dubbed Pixar Place.


For those of you who haven't read much about Toy Story Midway Mania, I'll refer you to Mike Scopa's blog about the attraction's Passholder Preview HERE for photos of the exterior and queue. (We also have more photos HERE.) As for the ride itself? Well, at the risk of giving out too many spoilers, the ride is a 4-D experience - that means in addition to seeing a series of 3-D scenes (yes, you have to wear the dorky 3-D glasses), you're also treated to other sensory effects, like a sudden blast of air or a spritz of water. The ride vehicles are designed to look like a carnival tram ride. Each car holds four riders who sit in couples, back-to-back. In front of you is a "spring-action shooter," a mounted gun that moves freely and has a pull-string with a large ball at the end of it. A monitor on the vehicle shows you your score.

It's a herky-jerky ride, as you whip around corners, pausing for a minute or so at each "game booth," where your shooter spews out darts or rings or balls at a variety of targets. Before you know it, your time at each station is up, ending with a pressure-inducing "5-4-3-2-1!" countdown, and then you're on to the next challenge. After facing five different games, your scores are tallied and the next thing you know you're walking out the door heading back to the entrance to give it another go.

So" my opinion of the ride? I loved it. Rode it five times, and noticed new things each time - also noticed that my score improved each time, as well - I ended up with a high for the day of 115,000-plus points. (I think the first time through I scored about 70,000.) Before riding, I was a little concerned about how the ride would be for the less coordinated among us, but I needn't have worried. The string is very easy to grip and pull, and the shooters are very maneuverable.

For those with other challenges, I noticed that there were several cars designed to accommodate wheelchairs or ECVs - guests can ride their chairs right into the attraction vehicle. I was happy to see that accessibility had been built right into the attraction from the beginning.

It's something I had the chance to speak about with Imagineer Chrissie Allen, who served as senior show producer for Toy Story Midway Mania.


"Obviously, we wanted to make sure that everyone can ride this ride as comfortably as possible," Allen explained. "We made sure that this ride could engage as many guests as possible. That's something that we're passionate about. And," she added with a smile, "did you notice that the monitors onboard the vehicles have closed captioning?"

Allen noted that although this attraction integrates several different technologies in a new way, that was not the main goal in the design process. "Using all the new technologies isn't the imperative," she said. "In this ride, we use all these new tools, along with our usual 3-D and 4-D tricks, but we've incorporated them in a way to further the storytelling. At Disney, we love to tell stories in a seamless way - storytelling is the imperative."

Rilous Carter, vice president of Disney's Hollywood Studios, added that all the new interactive technology was key to the park's new style.


"What we have started in Pixar Place is going to resonate with people for a long time," he said. "The park has added Block Party Bash, the new Playhouse Disney, new High School Musical show - these things are all less than a year old. Now we have a new 'toy' for everyone - no pun intended," he added with a smile.

He stopped short of calling the addition of these new attractions a "revitalization" of the nearly 20-year-old theme park. But Carter noted that with the new attraction based on American Idol coming in the fall, Disney's Hollywood Studios was likely to be noticed more and more, "and we want to enjoy the glory for a little while."

Part of that "glory" is supposed to come from the Block Party Bash, recently brought to Walt Disney World after a few years at Disney's California Adventure. There was a special media viewing area near the Sorcerer's Hat for this 3 p.m. street party, which I took advantage of, since I'd not seen it yet.

Block Party Bash is not so much a parade as it is a moving show that makes two 12-minute stops along its route. It's a vast improvement over the Stars and Motor Cars Parade, in my opinion - I never cared for the car-themed cavalcade, and I really didn't like its music. The Block Party Bash instead features a mish-mosh of contemporary dance tunes (from "Footloose" to "Shake Your Booty" to "The Twist" and "The Macarena") with choreographed dancing and gymnastics, and plentiful characters from Disney-Pixar movies.


It was entertaining, and the little ones pulled from the crowd to participate really seemed to be enjoying themselves. But as I stood there in one spot in the direct sun for nearly a half-hour I had to wonder if I was the only one who was feeling fried to a crackly crunch? I think I would have felt the fun a bit more if I had been in the shade, or if the performances and been about half the time. Having seen this "bash" once, I don't feel the need to see it again anytime soon... unless it's a cool, cloudy day.

Never mind, there was still one more enjoyable part of the media day to come - a meet and greet with a new character. The new movie "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," opens in theaters on May 16, and so to promote that film, a new Prince Caspian character will begin meet-and-greets in the Studios on that day. We had a chance to meet the new prince in advance of his "official" start date, and what a lucky thing that was. The young actor portraying the handsome prince is both dashing and gallant, as he poses for photos, making small talk with an indefinable accent and in character. (See my photo with him, as he very regally holds my hand in our posed photo. He is quite debonair - I can imagine he'll be extremely popular when he begins his official "meet-and-greet" duties!)


The Journey into Narnia attraction, located between One Man's Dream and Toy Story Mania in the Studios, is slated to reopen soon with behind-the-scenes footage, sets and props from the new movie. When the attraction opens, the Prince Caspian meet-and-greet will be located near the beginning of the queue, against a backdrop of the "Dancing Lawn," the location where the Narnians first confront Prince Caspian in the film. As someone who avidly read the Narnia books as a child, I can't wait to see both the next installment in the film series, and this new walk-through attraction.

Finally, the very low-key but fun-filled media preview day concluded, and I made my way back home to my mundane existence in the wilds of northern Virginia.

But of course I'm already planning my next visit to the World... which will undoubtedly include a stop (or two) at the new Toy Story Midway Mania... and probably to Narnia, as well!

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About Disney's Hollywood Studios

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