‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ at Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios!
Post by Matt Papuchis.
OK folks, after you’ve read my first two blogs in this four-part series – and partied the night away at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and ate and drank your way around World Showcase for Epcot International Food & Wine Festival – I hope you saved room for reason number three to visit Walt Disney World this fall: Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!
Toy Story Land, which opened officially this past summer on June 30, 2018, in my opinion is the biggest addition to Walt Disney World resort in quite some time, arguably since the expansion of Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, which was completed in 2014. Yes, I think, this eclipsed the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom, which opened in May 2017 (also worth checking out of course).
To set the stage, let’s go back about three years. At the D23 EXPO in August 2015, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced two new additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Toy Story Land and a yet-to-be-named Star Wars themed land (since then officially named Galaxy’s Edge and set to open in 2019). D23 by the way is the official Disney fan club and every two years, the expo is where Disney execs unveil big things and future plans for the company from parks and resorts to its cruise line to movie releases and more. While Toy Story Land did get a lot of attention, it’s probably safe to say that the Star Wars land news was the bigger of the two announcements. Keep in mind, this was about four months before the release of The Force Awakens, the long-awaited seventh installment of the iconic film franchise, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Meanwhile, the last Toy Story movie came out in 2010, so fans weren’t necessarily clamoring for Toy Story attractions as much (even though a fourth film was in the works, which comes out in 2019 – still some four years away at that point in time).
Over the past three years, while fans awaited the opening of these two new lands, Hollywood Studios had been in what I would call a “transition mode.” That is, many of the park’s original attractions have closed over the last couple years – one by one – to make room for these additions. It has lost iconic attractions such as the Osborne Family’s Spectacle of Dancing Lights (a Christmastime favorite) and The Great Movie Ride (which had been there since the park opened), just to name a couple. Even the Sorcerer’s Hat, which was considered the park’s iconic landmark, came down. Many Disney fans either avoided Hollywood Studios altogether these last couple years or considered it to be a “half-day park,” meaning you could do everything you wanted to do in just a few hours.
OK…now that this backstory is out of the way, let’s continue! The opening of Toy Story Land gave Hollywood Studios a much-needed shot in the arm! To me, despite Galaxy’s Edge receiving more of the hype over these past few years, personally I was more excited about Toy Story Land, and after having experienced it several times over the last few months, I still feel this way. As a huge fan of Pixar animation in general and this film franchise, specifically, I am not ashamed to admit I probably consider myself more of a Toy Story fan than a Star Wars fan.
Here’s a quick overview of what the land entails. First, you enter the land near the Animation Courtyard area and are immediately greeted by the film’s main character – Woody (famously voiced by Tom Hanks). The large Woody statue can be seen from probably a 150 yards away as you approach, and there is a great Disney Photo Pass photo-op right when you get there. The land consists of three rides/attractions, including a roller coaster called Slinky Dog Dash, a spinning ride called Alien Swirling Saucers, and Toy Story Mania, which is an interactive 4D game-style ride that originally opened in 2008 and is now officially part of Toy Story Land.
It also features character meet and greets with the films’ main characters - Woody, Jessie, and Buzz Lightyear (I do hope they add more over time and my suspicion is they will, such as Lotso from Toy Story 3 that I mentioned in my blog about Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party). You can also see the Toy Soldiers marching throughout the land. In addition, there is one dining area called Woody’s Lunchbox, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks! Highlights include the S'more French Toast Sandwich (for breakfast), a BBQ Brisket Melt (for lunch and dinner), as well as sweet treats available any time such as a Chocolate-Hazelnut Lunch Box Tart and a Raspberry Tart. You can see the full menu here.
For fans of Disney merchandise, the land features two kiosks that sell Toy Story Land-themed goods, including the popular Slinky Dog ears (think Mickey/Minnie ears but with Slinky Dog)!
Lastly, Disney “walls” have become the trendiest social media craze of late. That is, people like to take their photos in front of different fun and playful walls in the parks. The “purple wall” at Magic Kingdom, I believe, started this trend. Well, even fans of the walls won’t be disappointed – there are two: a popsicle stick wall and a checkers board wall (both can be found exiting Toy Story Mania).
As far as the land itself, the theming is based on being in Andy’s backyard. For those not familiar with the movie franchise (but I hope you are), Andy is the loving owner of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and all the other toys. So, the concept for the land is you yourself, when walking around, feel as though you are a toy. The way they built the area, you feel shrunken down by the oversized features of the land (check out this giant straw for example!). The colors are bright and vibrant and very welcoming. It is so very well done and exceeded my expectations.
So, why is now a great time to experience it? Well, there are a few reasons.
Shorter Wait Times: On the land’s opening day, wait times just to get into the land reached several hours (and to get on any one of the three rides was upwards of three or four. I had heard it was five hours for Slinky Dog at one point but that is probably a bit of a stretch. Still, you get the point). Slinky Dog Dash is probably the hottest Fast Pass in WDW and one of the toughest to get but the standby lines have definitely died down. You’re still going to wait a bit, but nowhere near the wait times from the summer. (Side note I snagged a Fast Pass a few weeks back for the following day – so you can get lucky sometimes. I’ll do a blog someday about Fast Pass tips). Plus, one thing you’ll notice is that there is very little – if any – shade within the land itself. So, you’re better off going in these latter months of the year. Disney is hot now, sure, but imagine standing in that Slinky Dog line in the middle of July for 120 minutes!
The Land is Still New: All of that said, the land is still very new! While the “Buzz” (Lightyear) – get it ? – has slightly worn off since the opening days, there is still something cool about being able to experience it during the first year of its existence. So, while you won’t have to experience anything close to a three-hour wait time, you can still say you were there for the opening year of the land!
Slinky Dog: OK Slinky Dog Dash is without question the ‘star of the show’ as far as the land is concerned. While Toy Story Mania has been one of my favorite attractions at WDW for a while now and Alien Swirling Saucers is “cute,” Slinky is a straight-up awesome ride. I’d put it up there with any of the classic coasters at Disney – Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and even Expedition Everest. It’s not as intense as Space or Everest (both of which have 44-inch height requirements) but it is up there for sure. At 38 inches, even the youngsters of your group will have a blast. My 4-year-old daughter has been on it twice and absolutely loves it! So, not only is it a fun attraction within the context of Toy Story Land, it stacks up to the best of the best with any ride in the four WDW parks.
It’s Breathtaking at Night: Like many areas of WDW, the experience at night is totally different than it is during the daytime. It’s great any time you go but being there at night is a magical experience. The land is illuminated, and it seems to come alive when the sun sets (and speaking of sunsets – how gorgeous is this sunset over Slinky Dog Dash?)! And the temps definitely do drop this time of year once the sun goes down so now is a great time for evening strolls through the land!
It will help get you excited for the upcoming Toy Story 4: As I mentioned above, Toy Story 4 is happening, and Disney recently announced its official release date – June 21, 2019. So, get your Toy Story Land fix in now to get even more excited about the movie release. And now that I think about it, the hype may come back again next summer after the film’s release, and while my guess is we won’t see the same type of opening day wait times, it is likely going to be more packed next summer than it is this fall.
OK, are you excited to say hi to Woody and the gang now?! I hope you have a chance to check it out – if not this fall – then sometime soon! And if you do, I’d love to hear all about your experience.
Stay tuned for part four of my four-part series where I share one final reason to visit WDW this fall (as if you need any more reasons after this)!
Matthew Papuchis is an award-winning corporate communications strategist and leader with global experience with some of the world's leading brands and most admired companies. Read more about Matt Papuchis here.