Envisioning a new Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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There have been a number of different rumors about the changes coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios should the company decide to spend a few bucks fixing it up. The photo above and descriptions below are a compilation of what a few sources have told me plus a dose of what seems most likely just based on my experience with Disney World’s expansion history.

First, why would Disney be willing to spend a princely sum on Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They’ve just spent a half-billion dollars on expanding Fantasyland, somewhere north of two billion on the next-gen technology that’s bringing us Fastpass+ and MyMagic+, and have committed to building Avatarland, which might approach a billion dollars before all is said and done there as well (I’m including relocating Festival of the Lion King in that total).

There are a number of things lining up that point to DHS getting some TLC soon.

  • First Avatar-land has been delayed, so that bucket of money is potentially available to be shifted to DHS.
  • There is a growing awareness amongst Disney World managers that next-gen won’t be an attendance driver for the parks and resorts.
  • DHS has had problems keeping guests in the park after mid-afternoon. With Universal Orlando adding even more attractions, Disney is worried about losing one day of the Disney vacation to Universal.
  • Lastly, since the Lucasfilm addition, Disney has made clear that they’ll be looking to the parks to help capitalize on the new Star Wars properties. The Star Wars Weekends have been huge successes, particularly when it comes to selling merchandise, and Disney wants to attract that crowd all year long.

So when is this going to happen? Walls could go up at any time or it could take many months. But it’s clear the pace will be slow. Most likely they will add one or two attractions a year for a few years leading up to the 50th anniversary celebration in 2021. What will be built and in what order is still up in the air (although Star Wars Land is the leading contender). The plan will be designed to be accelerated based on attendance. If things look worse than forecast, a little capital will be added to rush in another attraction. Conversely if attendance gets a big bump after just a few projects, the whole thing can be slowed down even further.

The expansion will require infrastructure improvements. For instance, when the expansion is done, a lot more parking is going to be needed. One obstacle to this plan is the presence of conservation areas up close to the park’s current borders. Disney would have to get permission to ‘relocate’ some of these acres elsewhere on property (or potentially off property).

If they get that permission they can go ahead with plans to relocate the main car entrance to Victory Way. The old main gate that hardly gets any use will close and cars will be directed to take Osceola Parkway or the recently improved Buena Vista Way to Victory Way. The exit will stay the same, but secondary entrance will be limited to buses.

The green area on the map is the eventual boundaries of Star Wars Land. When complete it will expand into the old entrance way road and over to where the parade building is now. Further expansion can encroach into the parking lot if needed. The first phase will be finished in time to capitalize on the theatrical release of Episode VII in 2015. It will then grow when a new Star Wars film is released every other year after that.

Most likely up first, Backlot Express will be remodeled into a Tattooine Cantina restaurant. As for attractions, there will be a speeder-bike coaster (essentially a re-themed version of the TRON coaster planned for Shanghai) but with ‘3-D’ domes similar to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey attraction. There is some debate if the Indiana Jones EPIC Stunt Show will stay, become a Star Wars themed stunt show, or if the speeder-bike ride will be placed in that area. Finally, the Jedi Training show will be moved to a new stage where Sounds Dangerous is now. The goal is to have room to expand based on successful stories introduced in the new sequels.

There had been talk of Star Wars land taking over Echo Lake or the Muppets area, but neither is likely. The Muppets theater is getting a huge refurbishment right now so I don’t seem them tearing it down anytime soon. Plus Disney has plans for The Muppets, so there will always be room for them in the parks. With the decision to relocate the main car entrance, they don’t need the Echo Lake space

Near simultaneously to Star Wars Land, the Pixar Place area of the park will be expanded. They’ve already hung test balloons over the future site of the Monsters Inc themed attraction (although we could get Ratatouille or Crush if they feel Monsters University underperformed). The big question remains, will Cars Land get the green light? If so, it will be a slightly downsized version from what DCA has.

Imagineering has learned a lot of lessons from the DCA build. Some stores are too small, some dining just isn’t working, and Luigi’s Tires (as cool as it is) just won’t work in Orlando. (We might get a Planes themed off the shelf attraction instead.) Plus we already have Test-Track at EPCOT, so they’re thinking of ways to differentiate the attraction a bit more while also reducing construction costs.

Cars Land has the biggest problem fitting into this expansion vision. The option remains to just call it all “Pixar Studios” and bring over some of Hong Kong Disneyland’s Toy Story attractions to add some much needed kid friendly spaces.

Finally, you’ll see I added a blue line winding around Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This part is mostly speculation, but with the existing parade building becoming part of Star Wars Land, they’ll need to relocated it elsewhere backstage . If they chose the spot where catastrophe canyon is now, then this is a likely parade route. I know that a real performance corridor is something they’ve wanted to add to the park for a while.

All the above is still mostly in “blue-sky” phase as ideas are proposed and budgets are figured out. But with site-prep beginning Disney Springs and soon to begin on Avatarland, eyes are turning to DHS as the park that most needs some attention. The big question remains to be answered — when? What’s your guess?

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