Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hollywood Studios Tips with an (Almost) Toddler

I knew I wanted to follow up my Epcot post with Hollywood Studios because in my mind I felt about Hollywood Studios going into our trip the way many people feel about Epcot (i.e. they don't really consider it a place to go with younger kids).  Even after pouring through several guidebooks, we couldn't find many things we thought Baby O would be interested in so we purposefully only scheduled a half day there. Granted, if we had been wrong, we were more than willing to change our plans to spend more time there, but ultimately we weren't wrong.

Not that Hollywood Studios isn't a fun park for an older group. The Aerosmith Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror both receive high marks on the thrill factor, but (1) based on our toddler-centric research, we only had one "must ride" attraction and (2) none of the restaurants are all that great so we wanted to get back to the hotel by lunchtime.

Our morning at Hollywood Studios began at 8am due to the Early Magic Hours. The original plan was for Husband to run ahead right at 8am and get Fast Passes for as early as possible for the whole group for Toy Story Mania and then we'd just wander around until our reservation time. Unfortunately, the plan didn't work out exactly how we envisioned.

Perhaps I should take a minute to explain Fast Passes.

The basic idea is very simple: you approach the ride you want to ride and there are two options (1) get on the line to ride  or (2) scan your room card/Magic Band and get a reservation for an exact time to come back to ride. There are several advantages to getting a Fast Pass. First, you don't have to wait on ridiculously long lines (for what's honestly a mediocre ride) with a toddler. Second, you can plan your day a bit better. If you know you have Fast Passes to Toy Story Mania at 10:45am then you can plan to be in that area of the park around that time checking out other less popular rides, instead of just darting from one side of the park to the other looking for short lines.

Some things to note about Fast Passes:
Magic Band color options Photo credit
  • You can only get one Fast Pass at a time with your room card. We visited Disney during the room card/Magic Band transition period so we had both room cards and Magic Bands. This was awesome because we had room cards which allowed us to send Husband ahead to get popular Fast Passes for the whole group, but then we also had the Magic Bands which allowed us to reserve three Fast Past Plus rides per day.
  • Fast Pass Plus is the same thing as Fast Pass, but you can reserve it in advance. There is an app that you can download on your phone (or you can just sign in on the Disney website) which allows you to schedule Fast Pass Plus rides weeks in advance of your trip! You can change it up until the reservation is set to begin so you are never boxed into anything (unless a ride "sells out" of Fast Pass Plus opportunities).
  • Fast Passes do sell out. There are some rides that are just really popular. If you are planning on riding one of those, go get your Fast Pass as soon as you enter the park. There is nothing more upsetting than showing up at a ride at 2pm and seeing that the Fast Passes are sold out for the day and your only option is to wait two hours! With Fast Pass Plus, a ride will no longer appear as an option on your mobile device: that means it is sold out.
  • Totally random tip: if you have multiple people in your party with smart phones, have them all download the Fast Pass Plus application. Then you can connect your Disney profiles to indicate you are on the same trip. My mom and I did this and were trying to set up our Fast Passes one night for the following day. My Disney profile was only connected to my mom, Grandma, and Husband. My mom's was connected to everyone as she was the "lead" account. I managed to secure very in demand Fast Passes for my group of four while my mom's account told her that the ride was sold out for a group of eight. However, once I had my group of four signed up, she was able to go in as the "lead" account and piggyback the rest of the group into my reservation! So don't be afraid to play around a little bit to try to get what you want!
  • Not all rides have Fast Pass or Fast Pass Plus options. And to make things slightly more confusing, some rides have Fast Pass kiosks other than at the ride's entrance (this is due to space issues). If you are looking for a Fast Pass kiosk and can't find it, ask a Cast Member (park employee) and they'll be happy to help out!
  • Fast Pass does not open until the park's general admission opening time.
This last bullet is the one that got us: even though the park was open at 8am, Fast Passes didn't start getting distributed until 9am. So while Husband was there, ready to go at 8am, he didn't actually get a Fast Pass until after 9:30am. I suppose he could have just stood there for an hour waiting, but what's the fun there? So he walked back to meet us and figured he'd go back. Unfortunately, when he did 500 of his closest friends were already on line ahead of him!

So that snafu hampered our plans slightly. The other not so great aspect of the day: it was POURING! Luckily I had packed three disposable ponchos in our Disney survival kit (post forthcoming) so we were able to cover Baby O's stroller and stay moderately dry. I don't think the rain sweetened any of our enjoyment of the park though!

While we waited to go on Toy Story Mania, we took in the Muppets 3D show. I love the Muppets so this was a fun one for me. Again, as evidenced in the photo, Baby O was not thrilled with the 3D glasses but he managed to sit and watch without creating a major disturbance so that was appreciated.

We also ducked into The Legend of Jack Sparrow to get out of the rain. This is really a 8 minute show with a hologram Jack Sparrow. One kid from the audience gets to participate, but the rest of the group just stands there. The hologram technology is pretty cool: it actually felt like Johnny Depp was in the room with us!

The other attraction we saw was the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, which is a live action/puppet stage show retelling of the Little Mermaid. Baby O enjoyed this one because he liked all the singing and glow-in-the-dark fish. Ursula is HUGE and could be scary for some kids.

Husband and Baby O on Toy Story Mania.
Finally, it was time for Toy Story Mania. This ride is all kinds of awesome. I felt bad because ultimately by the time Husband got Fast Passes for this one, he only had five room cards so Pops and Brother-in-Law volunteered to sit this one out. Had Baby O not been with us, I would have volunteered to wait on line with them so I could ride a second time: the ride is seriously that fun. If you do end up waiting on line, the line area is FREEZING. I have been on this line twice, five years apart and was a Kathleen-popsicle both times. Bring a sweater to toss over your shoulders! Also, the line area is kind of fun. I felt a little bad that we were missing some of the stuff that the people waiting got to see (not so bad that I would have subjected Baby O to a two hour line, but a little bad!)

Basically the ride itself is an interactive 3D carnival. You ride with one other person and you move from game to game. You pull the string of your "cannon" to shoot at targets on the screen to get points. At the end, the game tells you who won in your car. It's really such a neat concept and the popularity of the Toy Story movies certainly doesn't hurt!

Lolli and Baby O (and random purple poncho lady) wait to
get into the Legend of Jack Sparrow theater.
By the time we had done those four things (and shopped for a Mr. Potato Head doll for Baby O and a Slinky Dog for Aunt Suzanne), it was just about lunch time. Our hotel had a pretty nice food court (Landscape of Flavors at the Art of Animation) so we decided to head back there rather than try out the supposedly questionable food at Hollywood Studios.

The one restaurant that I had on my "emergency" list was Studio Catering Company; however, the appeal there was the outdoor seating (it was raining) and the proximity to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground (which was closed, we think, for the season, which was stupid because it was 70-80 degrees while we were there!)

Ultimately, I'm glad we spent a rainy morning at Hollywood Studios. We weren't expecting to get much out of that particular park anyway so the rain didn't exactly dampen the atmosphere. I would have been more sad if it had rained the one day we spent at Animal Kingdom.

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