Disney's Hollywood Studios
Your guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios), Walt Disney World Resort, for kids of all ages.
Here's another good park for first-timers in Orlando because it offers a lot on the sweet, endearing and tame side of things. Plus, the park's smaller size makes it less overwhelming for the small and uninitiated. Pre-schoolers will thrill at meeting so many of their favorite cartoon characters come to life. The grade-school crowd gravitates toward the action rides and shows, and 'tweens, teens and adults get a kick out of the actual movie studio aspects of the attraction and the more daring rides.
A good place to start for the tiny and wide-eyed is "Voyage of the Little Mermaid," charmingly presented in a small, indoor theater. "Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage" is presented in a bigger arena outdoors, an extravaganza of music and dancing with a surprise ending.
"Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure" features an oversized play area with ants the size of deer. "Muppet* Vision 3-D" can be slightly fearsome for the smallest, but "Disney Junior-Live on Stage" is just right. It provides preschoolers the chance to sing, dance and play along with the gangs from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins and Jake and the Never Land Pirates. "Fantasmic!" uses water animation, lasers and fireworks; you may want to skip it if kids are tired or sensitive to loud noises.
Food stands are designed especially for kids, but at this age you may find that the portions are too big. Usually you can split, for instance, one burger and one "small" beverage between two pre-schoolers. Or go with finger food snacks such as mini pastries from Starring Rolls Cafe. Or consider carrying a backpack stocked with snacks, water and juice boxes. If possible, freeze the drinks the night before you go. Kids' favorite place to shop is "In Character-Disney's Costume Shop" which turns them instantly into beauties, beasts, lions and princesses.
Kids this age enjoy and generally are able to sit through the big shows without fussing or becoming frightened by loud noises. They'll love the thrills and action at "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular."
Two rides provide just the right amount of excitement for this age: "Star Tours" (must be 40 inches or taller) and "The Great Movie Ride," featuring a cast of characters from Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Alien and Casablanca. A replica of the Chinese Theater provides the entrance to the latter ride; check out the rotating exhibit of costumes, props and set pieces on display. In front of it sits Walt Disney World's newest park icon centerpiece - a 122-foot Sorcerer's Hat that changes color as you move around it.
Terrific for 'Tweens, Teens and Upwards
Aspiring cartoonists and other mature audiences will want to tour Disney's studios at the "Magic of Disney Animation" attraction. Head to "Animation Gallery" to shop for cartoon cels and other original art and collectibles. The Disney's Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour also peeks into the world of cinematography, climaxing with typical Disney flourish at Catastrophe Canyon.
Thrill-seekers should hop aboard "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith" (height requirement: 48 inches or taller), where a stretch limo with a great sound system is your conveyance. The 13-story "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" (40-inch height requirement) is the ultimate dare.
Shopping at Disney's Hollywood Studios is pretty well limited to Disney paraphernalia, but with four full-service restaurants, the dining appeals to kids and adults alike, often with built-in entertainment. At Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, feast on linguine and fresh fish while you watch scenes from science fiction movies on the big screen. For Italian, try Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano; for comfort food and old TV reruns, it's 50's Prime Time Café. Sunset Ranch Market serves beer along with its light dining snacks.