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May 26, 2012

Be aware of changes at Disney's Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends

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So, you're planning a visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios during the month that includes Star Wars Weekends (through June 10 this year) and you have your entire day planned out, based on past experiences. Be aware that there are some minor changes within the park that might influence how you experience the day.

First, the Disney Channel Rocks! street show is set up a little differently. The float that normally rolls down Hollywood Boulevard with the performers is absent because there is not room for it to turn and park in front of the temporary Sorcerer Hat Stage. Performers instead enter from the side and use the stage. This really doesn't significantly alter the quality of the experience.

What it does affect, however, is your ability to get a good seat, and this format cuts down on confusion. Guests can stake out their spots on the concrete on any of the three sides whenever it's convenient for them. When the float is in the picture, guests who want to sit in the center section must line up on the right-hand side until it passes.

As you would expect, some of the other changes occur back in the area around the Star Tours -- The Adventures Continue attraction because that's where many of the Star Wars events are located. This section of Hollywood Studios is obviously more crowded, and there are a lot of roped off lanes to direct moving traffic away from guests waiting for the ride, character meet-and-greets and the Jedi Training Academy. (Too bad the smoking section hasn't been moved away from the crowds at this event!) Cast members enforce a one-way traffic pattern for guests exiting Tatooine Traders by directing them down the ramp toward the Streets of America. From there, guests can continue to the back of the park or circle around past the ABC Commissary to head toward the front. Give yourself some extra time to move through this section if you're trying to catch the end of a FastPass window or get to a show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the stand-by wait for Star Tours to be less than an hour most of the day last Saturday, the first of the Star Wars Weekends. This is good news for guests who want to ride more than once and are juggling show schedules and FastPass tickets. When Star Tours reopened in 2011, it wasn't uncommon to see two-hour waits -- or longer -- and the queue was roped off all the way down the Streets of America.

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The nearby Jedi Training Academy is available year-round and is always popular, but never more so than during Star Wars Weekends. If your child has his or her heart set on battling Darth Vader, be sure to sign up in front of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! when you first enter the park. Even with extra show times added each day during Star Wars Weekends, the slots fill up quickly in the morning.

Finally, don't underestimate the popularity of Star Wars Weekends and the effect the crowds will have on your ability to enter Hollywood Studios. By noon last Saturday, the parking lot was completely full. Cast members were directing guests to park at Epcot for free and use a special ticket to board a bus back to the Studios. This process could add hours to the start and end of your day, so plan accordingly.

For additional information about Star Wars Weekends, see my post about fun things for kids to do HERE and tips for securing celebrity autographs HERE.

May 24, 2011

Star Tours Midnight Meetup

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Star Tours closed on September 7, 2010 to be converted to what has affectionately been called Star Tours 2.0, or Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. To celebrate its reopening, Disney hosted a midnight meet up on Friday, May 20 at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The event was announced on May 5 and you had to RSVP via email. There were approximately 500 people invited (250 people + 1 guest apiece). A friend who was in town from Chicago was my guest for the event.

We had to go to Blizzard Beach to park, check-in and take a bus to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Bus

We entered Studios backstage near Star Tours. The red carpet had been rolled out for the evening.

Red carpet

As we made our way to Star Tours, the Hyperspace Hoopla hosts welcomed us to the event and said that Star Tours was now open. I was very excited about being able to ride again... but I was even more excited because we were allowed to take pictures. No photos were allowed during soft openings (click here to read my soft opening report).

The "hot set" theme of Star Tours is gone. You are now in Star Tours' terminal getting ready for your departure to one of their destinations. The first thing you see when you walk in is the Mon Calamari still keeping watch over C-3PO and R2-D2.

Mon Calamari

As your turn the corner, you see the departures and arrivals board. The board is first shown in Aurebesh and then translated to English. Star Tours commercials, weather forecasts and other important Star Tours information is also shown on this board. I was told that this board has over one hour's worth of footage that is shown on it.

Departures and arrivals

The Starspeeder 1000's color scheme is red. The speeders are all brand new for their port on planet Earth. R2-D2 is still our faithful astromech droid for the journey. The flight number for Star Tours is now 1401. 1401 is the street number for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) in California.

Starspeeder 1000

Speeder and R2-D2

C-3PO has been polished until he shines.

C-3PO

Speeder

The space port theme is enhanced by signs like these throughout the queue.

Signs

Sign

After you pass through the "scanning" station, look to the left. An old friend, RX-24 (or Rex) is seen. Rex isn't quite ready for piloting a Star Tours speeder. Perhaps when the Starspeeder 3000* model is ready for flights...

Rex

Near Rex, you will also see the mechanical 'birds' that used to sit near the top of the queue line. Also, in the far back, look for a reference to TK-421, the trooper who wasn't at his post in A New Hope.

Just up the ramp from Rex is the luggage scanner droid. He can get a little... preoccupied talking to guests. He has also been known to mistakenly 'zap' items like Mickey ears from people's luggage. He also wonders why people would take something called a camera on vacation.

Luggage Scanner

Before you make the turn to go to the top of the queue, watch the 'door' for some familiar characters to walk by.

Door

At the top of the queue, there is a 'heat signature' scanner. He can identify 14,000 life forms but everyone he sees is human so he's perturbed.

Scanner

Just before you are sent to your gate, a schematic of the Starspeeder 1000 can be seen on the wall.

Schematic

The loading area for the speeder is very nice. You will pick up your flight glasses (3D glasses) when you reach your gate. The gates are labeled A-F and and the numbers on the doors are also written in Aurebesh.

Loading area

There are two different pre-show videos that I've seen. Both convey the same information but are presented in slightly different ways.

The interior of the Starspeeder 1000 is largely the same as before. The biggest difference is the seats are now blue.

There are 54 possible experiences on Star Tours flight. There are two openings, three first scenes, three middle scenes and three endings (2*3*3*3 = 54). I was going to give you a list of the scenes but I had a blast figuring it out for myself so I thought I would let you have fun with it, too. You can keep track of your destinations by using your Star Tours passport.

The posters at the end of your flight have been updated. They look great.

Bespin

Otoh Gunga

Naboo

Coruscant

Imagineers were on hand to discuss Star Tours and answer questions from guests. They did say that we were a long way off from having a 3D attraction without needing 3D glasses.

Imagineers

The area around Star Tours was set up very nicely. Beverages were provided as was an ice cream bar. Tables were set up for everyone to use, which was very nice. Near Indiana Jones, this probe droid was set up. It was transmitting the message it sent in The Empire Strikes Back. It's hard to hear on the video below but it gives you an idea of what it was doing.

Probe droid

Characters were roaming around and posing for photos as well. It was a fun event. We got to ride Star Tours 4 times and had the queue virtually to ourselves for a bit to take pictures. I'm really glad I was able to do this event.

*The Starspeeder 3000 was the speeder for the original version of Star Tours.

May 22, 2011

Star Wars Weekends 2011

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Star Wars Weekends (SWW) began in 1997. However, the SWW did not become a regular, annual event until 2003. Since then, each year has had exclusive merchandise and a logo, a motorcade and other events. The Weekends feature celebrity guests who are on hand to sign autographs (FastPasses are a MUST if you want an autograph... more on this later), participate in a motorcade and be part of an interview session. Since the Clone Wars series started, there is now a Behind the Force show where the voice talents of the Clone Wars discuss the show and demonstrate how the scenes are acted out.

This year for SWW, Jedi Training Academy is performed much more often during the day. Numerous shows have been added to the schedule.

SWW 2011 began on Friday, May 20. Most of my day was spent on the Star Tours events on the 20th. I caught the opening ceremony (see Deb Koma's pictures here), rode Star Tours a few times (it's just as awesome the 20th time as it is/was the first) and a few other things and then the heat ran me out of the park. The event got started much later in the day because of the opening ceremony and by the time everything was underway, I was done for the day.

On Saturday the 21st, I got to the Studios just before park opening. There is an information booth set up just inside the main gate.

Info booth

The stage was still set up for use for the Hyperspace Hoopla each evening during SWW.

Stage

There was a sign near the tip board pointing the way to the SWW store, appropriately called Jabba's Hutt.

Sign for store

To get to the store, go to the Rock 'N Roller Coaster courtyard and keep right. There is a gate open and the store is behind that gate. You'll have a fantastic view of Tower of Terror and the store is in the big white tent. It's very spacious and air conditioned. As of 8 AM Saturday, the only thing that was sold out was the opening day Star Tours pin.

Store

Artist signing
Artist Signing Station

Store

Star Tours shirts
Star Tours shirts

Luke and Leia
Luke and/or Leia meet-and-greet

Photo station
Photo station

Maquette
Maquettes

Maquette
Maquettes

Boxed pin set
Unframed, boxed pin set. This has the completer pin in it.

Pin set
Framed pin set

Jumbo pin
Jumbo pin.

Travel poster pin set
Travel poster pin set

Star Tours opening day shirt
Star Tours opening day t-shirt

Stitch
Stitch as Yoda

Mimbots
Star Wars Mimbots

Poster card
Silver poster card

Lights Box
Olszewski Gallery of Lights Box - Star Wars Mickey and Donald

Watches
Watches

Paper art
Paper art poster

Passholder shirt
Passholder t-shirt

Since the store is called Jabba's Hutt, it is only fitting that Salacious Crumb and Boba Fett keep watch over things.

Salacious Crumb

Boba

Outside the store, this stand has been set up.

Stand

We loved this kid's costume.

Costume

Banners were set up around the Star Tours area.

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Banners

Banners

Directional signs were out around the park to show guests where they could meet their favorite characters.

Direction signs

Sign

Sign

Queen Amidala's backdrop was lovely.

Queen Amidala

FastPasses are currently being distributed outside the main gate. When you approach the main gate, look to the right, near the big sign (it currently has the Star Tours logo on it). The queues begin in that area. All theme park tickets are being scanned prior to a FastPass being handed to the guest. They are also handing out wristbands with the FastPasses. You *cannot* receive an autograph without a wristband AND a FastPass. Each member of your party must be present to receive the wristband and FastPass.

Anthony Daniels' autograph station is inside Sounds Dangerous. Only the FastPass holder is permitted inside. The Cast Members inside will use your camera to take a photo of you and Anthony.

Anthony Daniels

Sunshades were up on Streets of America and a queue was in place for Star Tours if they needed it. The queue also extended to the San Francisco portion of the street. The sunshades were very effective. They used this queue on Friday but I don't know if they did on Saturday.

Sunshades

The rest of the autograph stations are at the Lights, Motors Action! end of Streets of America. Daniel Logan was very popular.

Daniel Logan

Daniel Logan

James Arnold Taylor is very friendly.

James Arnold Taylor

Just around the corner, near San Francisco, Anakin was greeting guests. Jedi Masters Mace Windu, Shaak Ti and Kit Fisto also greet guests at this location.

Anakin

My friends and I caught the Behind the Force show. Host James Arnold Taylor introduced Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano). She spoke to Supervising Director Dave Filoni about his work on the Clone Wars. They went through how a scene is created and did a voice demonstration. They also selected someone from the audience to try it out.

Behind the Force

James Arnold Taylor

James and Ashley

Ashley and Dave

Scene

Asajj Ventress and other Clone Wars characters were greeting guests near the Premier Theater.

Ventress

The Legends of the Force Motorcade is now happening at 12:40 PM. We were able to catch it near the beginning of the parade route.

Mickey

501st stormtroopers

Rebel Legion

Chewbacca

R2-D2

Daniel Logan
Daniel Logan

Anthony Daniels
Anthony Daniels

Dave Filoni
Dave Filoni

Ahsoka

Ashley Eckstein
Ashley Eckstein

bounty hunters

James Arnold Taylor
James Arnold Taylor

Darth Vader

The motorcade stopped at the hat and the characters and celebrities took the stage.

Stage

Boba Fett was greeting guests on Pixar Place when I went by.

Boba Fett

Darth Vader was greeting guests near Studio Catering Company.

Darth Vader

The booth was set up for Dave Filoni when we went by and we noticed this sign for the Disney Racers.

Racers

We saw the Stars of the Saga show at 3:15. Note that the schedule says 3:15 but the celebrities don't take the stage until 3:30.

Stage

The stormtroopers do a 15 minute pre-show. Their dialog was updated to include Star Tours. They were amusing, as always. This trooper and his Mickey ice cream bar was a crowd favorite.

Mickey bar

Stormtrooper

The troopers had captured Chewbacca. Hopefully they know now that it's always wise to let the Wookiee win. :)

Chewie

Host James Arnold Taylor introduced and interviewed the two guests, Daniel Logan and Anthony Daniels.

James

Daniel

Daniel

Anthony

Ears

Unfortunately, the heat had gotten to me after Stars of the Saga and I didn't stay for Anthony Daniels' show or James Arnold Taylor's show. I hear that James Arnold Taylor's show is fantastic.

SWW is better than ever this year. I had a great time, especially because I was with family and friends.

May the Force be with you!

May 17, 2011

Star Tours Soft Opening

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On Monday, May 16, I was lucky enough to be at Studios while they were testing, or soft opening, Star Tours. This was huge for me. I loved the original attraction and it's among some of my first Disney memories.

I won't spoil anything but I'll provide some generic details.

The new signs look fantastic.

Signs

Sign

The attraction poster looked great from the queue.

Attraction poster

The safety sign remains much the same.

Safety sign

Inside the attraction, there was a very strict no photography policy until the attraction officially opens.

The "hot set" theme of Star Tours is gone. From the moment you enter the attraction, you're in Star Tours' port, ready to begin your travels to any of their destinations. If you haven't already chosen a destination, there is an arrival and departure guide to help you. Additional information is shown on this screen as well. The layout of the inside is largely the same. Only, now, it's the new Starspeeder 1000 is waiting for you. C-3PO has been polished until he absolutely shines.

When you turn the corner, you enter Star Tours security. You are "scanned" and a droid shows the contents of "someone's" luggage. Be sure to watch the screen. You never know what you'll see. To the left are some droids. Look closely and you should spot some very familiar faces.

Once you get up the ramp, you're into the boarding area. The gates are now A-F instead of 1-6. You are directed to a gate and asked to pick up a pair of 3D glasses. The glasses are very nice looking (they are black and resemble eye glasses) and very comfortable to wear. They are not like the PhilharMagic or Toy Story Midway Mania 3D glasses at all.

You're still sorted into rows much like the original Star Tours. The new pre-boarding loading video has several humorous moments so be sure to watch it.

The ride itself is very smooth. The graphics are top-notch and crystal clear. The effects, like going into hyperspace and such, felt more realistic but it didn't throw you around as much as the original Star Tours did. The 3D is incredibly realistic and not at all hokey. The 3D effects are used to show depth more than to have things randomly pop out at you. That's not to say, however, that there may not be a few things that pop...

The new Star Tours is a randomized experience. There are 54 possible combinations of the beginning, first destination, middle and end. At the Destination D event, they told us that you would have to ride for six continuous hours in order to experience them all.

We were able to ride Star Tours a total of 5 times in a row. The first three times were essentially walk-ons. FastPasses were being distributed since it was a full test.

FastPasses

Since the ride does not officially open until May 20, testing can be stopped at any time.

Testing sign

To sum up how I felt about the new Star Tours: WOW!!!!!! I went into the ride for the first time with no expectations and just... WOW!!! Every time we rode, our speeder clapped and cheered at the end. Disney and Lucasfilm should be very, very proud of this ride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when you get to experience it.

Keep an eye on AllEars on and around May 20 for more Star Tours coverage. :)

May the Force be with you!

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About Star Tours

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Star Tours category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade is the previous category.

Theater of the Stars is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.