Why do families keep booking a Disney World vacation over and over again? Simple, Walt Disney World is an ever-changing place. Walt Disney himself wanted the parks to be lively and up to date, never having the feel of a dusty old museum or relic. However, a balance must always be found between the old and the new. Many fans feel that during the dark days of the Eisner years, much that was traditional, classic and most of all unique was lost in favor of off the shelf rides with no real character, simply because they were cheaper to build and maintain. Regardless of personal feelings as to why certain things were done or not done, the fact remains that much has changed in the parks over the years. If you have not visited in some time, you might be caught off guard. Here, then, is a guide to the major changes that have taken place at Disney-Hollywood Studios since the park’s inception.
Disney-Hollywood Studios was built during the Eisner era. Many felt that the park was poorly planned and designed, and Disney-Hollywood developed a reputation as a half-day park at full-day prices. Whether or not that reputation was entirely deserved, the reputation spread throughout the Disney fan community, eventually making its way to the general population. As a result, Disney Hollywood Studios never developed the popularity of Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Many attraction revisions and additions were then designed to address the problems will chronic low attendance and poor guest reviews.
In the beginning, Disney-Hollywood Studios’ layout resembled an almost perfect upside Hidden Mickey. Later expansion has, of course, changed this park design. Nonetheless, turn your park map upside down. Narrowing in on the lagoon as Mickey’s head and ignoring Sunset Boulevard, which was added later, you can still see traces of the original outline.
Beginning your park tour on Hollywood Boulevard, which leads from the park gates to the Chinese Theater, you will see the most obvious change to the park. A giant Sorcerer Mickey hat (from Fantasia) now houses a pin trading station immediately in front of the Chinese Theater. Of all the changes to the park over the years, this one makes the least sense. The hat was added as part of the Millennium Celebration (the same celebration that brought the controversial wand to the top of Spaceship Earth over in Epcot). No one is quite sure of the reasoning behind the hat, and the sheer size causes the hat to overpower the view of the Chinese Theater. It is now almost impossible to photograph the Theater from that direction.
If you have not visited in awhile, you may be surprised at the popularity of pin trading. In addition to the Sorcerer Mickey hat station, pin spots are offered all over all four of the theme parks as well as at the hotels and several Downtown Disney locations. Cast Members also wear lanyards covered in pins, and you are free to trade with them as well. An elaborate protocol covers pin trading, particularly with Cast Members, but do not become intimidated. Any Cast Member or guest who participates will be happy to teach you the protocols.
Perhaps one of the most changed attractions at Disney-Hollywood Studios is the Monster Sound Show, now known as Sounds Dangerous. Fans of the original Monster Sound Show will fondly remember the Foley stations, where park guests were selected to provide the soundtrack to the Martin Short/Chevy Chase film. The Foley stations are now gone and the new film, starring Drew Carey, is more of an extended version of the 3D sound demonstration that used to take place in the listening booths of the interactive area. Then in 2012 Disney did away with the Sounds of Dangers attraction all together.
The old Soundstage Restaurant in the Animation Courtyard is gone as well. A Bear in the Big Blue House stage show replaced the restaurant, and the show recently changed again to Playhouse Disney Live! The new show draws large crowds, but the building’s purpose has definitely changed significantly since its original incarnation.
The Magic of Disney Animation has changed with the times. Gone is the old Finding Neverland film with Robin Williams. Gone as well are the animators who could be seen working on exciting new projects behind glass walls. Eisner closed the Orlando home of Feature Animation several years ago, as a prelude to his controversial decision to shutter Feature Animation altogether. The new show is a sad tribute to what once was, a small testament to the care that went into the making of Mulan. However, hope may be around the corner. Since his rise to power, Bob Iger has already re-acquired Pixar (a feature animation company that was founded by former Disney animators and is best known for such blockbusters as Finding Nemo and Cars). Iger has pledged a return to Feature Animation, commissioning several new test projects. Should the popularity of animated film continue as expected, it is quite possible that a group of animators will again find their home at Disney-Hollywood Studios, allowing once again for a proper Animation tour to take place in the park.
Other changes to the park primarily have to do with expansion. Sunset Boulevard is entirely new, and is home to such popular attractions as Rock n Roller Coaster; Twilight Zone Tower of Terror; Fantasmic!; and Beauty and the Beast. The new Lights, Motors, Action stunt show has also drawn rave reviews. Disney-Hollywood Studios was originally a fairly small park built on a large piece of property, and the original layout made it easy for the park to expand rather than replace attractions as happened at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.