With one full day already in the books, the Calkins Family decided that Hollywood Studios was going to be the next park at Walt Disney World (WDW) that we were going to attend (which we actually decided weeks before so that we could lock in our FastPasses). While the girls were extremely excited about the prospect of seeing Woody and Buzz Lightyear, I was looking forward to seeing if Gabriella grew in the past week (or if the sign was a tad short) so that she could ride Star Tours. Either way, this was going to be another amazing day on our family vacation.
So by Day Two the girls know the deal. They are going to scan their MagicBands to get through the gates, Dad is going to immediately run them to the best ride in the park, and then they are going to see a ton of Disney characters and get their autographs. As soon as the park opened, we immediately rushed to the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster in Toy Story Land; I was unable to get a FastPass in advance for this ride (which shows you just how popular it is), so it was either go there first or not at all.
The amazing thing about the ride’s queue (and all of Toy Story Land, as well WDW in general) is that it keeps your little ones entertained while they wait in line. While most of the attractions at Epcot have relatively plain queues, those at Hollywood Studios were unique and sometimes interactive. The queue for Slinky Dog Dash was our favorite, as it really made my girls feel like they were the size of toys (in fact, they kept asking me if everything got bigger or if they got smaller). Giant #2 pencils, green Army men, and oversized crayons made them really appreciate the entire attraction experience. It also helped me because they spent their time in line checking out the scenery instead of fighting with each other.
To top it off, they loved the ride too. In fact, it was their favorite ride all day, and they kept asking me to go back on it. Unfortunately, by the time we got off the coaster, the line had already swelled to a wait time of 85 minutes; I love my girls, but I am not willing to wait in a line with them for that long (equally unfortunate was that the line never again dropped below an hour all day). But just like the previous day at Epcot, once we got off of the attraction with the longest wait, we immediately went to meet characters while everyone else was still in line.
Meeting Woody and Jessie, as well as Buzz Lightyear, was at the top of character meets for the girls at Hollywood Studios. Getting them knocked out early really helped with getting ahead of schedule as far as what the girls wanted to do. They were also some of the most interactive of the characters that did not speak (not as great as Chip & Dale or Pooh and Tigger, but that was never going to happen), entertaining the girls during their couple minutes together. This is also a good time to point out Tip #1 (we can start over for every park), which is the WDW Memory Maker and Photo Pass services. Memory Maker is a service where you can pay (in advance) to be able to download all your pictures taken by WDW photographers during your visit. Photo Pass is the opportunity to get these photographers to take your picture at designated sites throughout the park (you just scan your MagicBand to get them added to your account). If you do not purchase them in advance through Memory Maker, you can purchase them each individually after your trip. I would highly recommend purchasing the Memory Maker plan, which is $169 if purchased more than three days prior to your vacation (otherwise, it is $199). For starters, every single character experience has a WDW photographer at the location. In fact, except for the pictures in the Slinky Dog Dash queue, all of the above pictures were from WDW photographers at Photo Pass locations (this came to more than five hundred of the course of four days). Secondly, this allows everyone in your group to get in the pictures. This was especially useful in my situation, where if we did not use Photo Pass opportunities, the girls might be debating in ten years if I even went with them to WDW.
If your kids want character experiences, Hollywood Studios is where it is at. There seemed to be a lot more character experiences here than the other parks, even the Magic Kingdom. Maybe it is because there are less rides at this park. Either way, the girls loved it. Chip & Dale. Princess Sofia (the First). Doc McStuffins. Vamparina (who?). They saw them all. And they got great pictures with all of them thanks to the Photo Pass and Memory Maker. But since it is Hollywood Studios, it is time to address the Imperial Walker in the room.
If there was one day that was going to be “my day,” it was going to be today. Aside from Toy Story Land, Hollywood Studios has more of an adult feel to it than the rest of the parks (Yeah, Epcot serves alcohol and has a show in the United Kingdom Pavilion called the British Revolution, but it also has a Nemo attraction, a children’s museum, and a plethora of Disney Princesses in Anna, Elsa, Belle, and Mulan). And aside from Toy Story Land, the biggest draw at Hollywood Studios is Star Wars. Not only do they have a show in the center of the park EVERY HOUR, but this is the future site for Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars-themed land opening later this year.
So when it comes to Star Wars, I want my girls to be into it, but let us just be perfectly honest for a moment: This is mostly for me. Or so I thought. It started as we were in line to see Princess Sofia, when Elaina heard the Imperial March begin playing and Darth Vader’s deep voice blasting over the park. She screams “Darth Vader” in excitement, then quickly asks if we can get out of line to go see him. Trying to keep her calm and a little surprised, I quietly ask, “Do you not want to stay in line so you can meet Princess Sofia?” “No,” she replies. “I want to see Darth Vader. Please let me get out of line!” If there was a proud Dad in Hollywood Studios at that moment, it was me. We ran about 200 feet away to where we could see the stage for the Star Wars show, and for Elaina, it was everything she dreamed it would be. Darth Vader. Stormtroopers. C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca. BB-8. Kylo Ren. That guy with a gun (“Blaster, Honey”) and weird green armor (“You mean, Boba Fett? Seriously?”). And of course, her favorite character, Rey.
And if that did not make her day, they all walked past her as they exited the stage. While holding onto my leg for dear life as Kylo Ren and the Stormtroopers menacingly marched by, I placed her on my shoulders so that she could get a good look at the “good guys” as they passed. As Rey walked by, Elaina shouted “Hi!” to her and waved, with Rey acknowledging her and waving back. That absolutely made her day. Of all the characters that day, before or after, nothing made her as happy as seeing Rey, with her lightsaber, walking past and waving to her. It is happy moments like this that make vacations worthwhile.
While not necessarily WDW-specific, I need to bring up an important point about parenting in general, because it relates to Star Wars. I do not like the Sequel Trilogy. While both visually appealing and “feeling” like Star Wars films, I did not like The Force Awakens and downright loathed The Last Jedi. But Elaina loves Rey and Gabriella is completely enamored by BB-8 and BB-9E (evil BB-8). Which means that I need to put aside my personal feelings about them in order to support my daughters with what they enjoy. I could easily say that they cannot watch those movies or have those toys just because of my personal dislike for them, but that IS bad parenting. As I always tell my oldest, “I like my starships [from my Star Wars Armada game], but I love you.” It is good every now and then just to reflect on what is truly important in life. For me, the answer will always be those two little Jedi pictured above.
Back to Star Wars at WDW. Elaina and Gabriella really enjoyed the Trials of the Jedi show, where they take young children (with obvious force potential), train them for five minutes, and then immediately pit them against Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Elaina really wanted to participate in it (Gabby is still a year too young), until she saw the bad guys and got a little scared. She still enjoyed the show though, and even remembered all the moves, so we got to practice the techniques when they eventually got their lightsabers.
Unlike Slinky Dog Dash, poor Gabriella was not tall enough to go on Star Tours, which meant that none of us got to go on Star Tours. Calkins Family, better luck next year (but it did give them a great incentive to eat all their food when we got back home).
But she got to “ride” a Speeder Bike, so that was a small consolation prize for her. At least until they got their lightsabers. And they were surprisingly good with them… probably because I threatened to take them away if they accidentally cut off anyone’s arm. That is all the Star Wars-related adventures that we had at Hollywood Studios and I am really glad that the girls had such a good time with something that their Dad enjoys.
Back to food. Tip #2: When you order quick-serve food for your little ones, order less food (than you normally would) for yourself and make sure you get them something that you will enjoy as well. Chances are that they will only eat about half of their meal, which saves you both money and eating excess calories. For instance, during the above meal, they left me half of their grilled cheese sandwich, which was plenty of food for me (I was also supplementing with Cliff Bars throughout the day).
But they continued to eat well at WDW, so they undoubtedly got their desserts in the form of Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. They only ate half of them at Hollywood Studios before tossing them, but by Day Four, they were just handing me completely clean popsicle sticks.
Tip #3: Talk to anyone you can while you are in line; you will meet so many interesting people from all over the world. While I generally chat with other parents during the wait in a queue, if I hear anyone with a foreign accent, I always go out of my way to see where they are from and if they are enjoying their vacation. During our trip, we met families from Australia, Brazil, Columbia (which allowed me to speak Spanish for 20 minutes), India, Poland, Sweden, China, and Canada, as well as multiple families from the United Kingdom. I was especially excited to meet a family from London that followed the same Premier League team as me, Arsenal, which led to us talking about football (soccer) for about 30 minutes. An absolutely great experience is out there if you take the time to embrace the extrovert in you (and hopefully they had a good experience talking with you too).
When we were done with Hollywood Studios, we hopped on over to the Magic Kingdom again to knock out a few more rides. This evening’s choices were The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and of course, The Haunted Mansion (the second of four total times). Just like at Hollywood Studios, the queue lines for these attractions continued to impress me. Set pieces of gold, gunpowder barrels, and muskets at Pirates of the Caribbean. Interactive honey screens at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. And interactive sarcophaguses and crypts outside of The Haunted Mansion. Heck, even I was having fun with some of these. Just really appreciate it that Disney took the time to make the worst part about a theme park (waiting in line) and made it fun and entertaining for your little ones (that do not like to wait for anything). Thank you.
A short side story. It was at this point where I lost my MagicBand on either the Astro Orbiter or the PeopleMover, which was not the huge problem that I expected, and I just got it deactivated immediately and replaced it the following morning. The funny thing about it was that from here on out, whenever Gabriella was talking to a cast member, character or otherwise, she started off the conversation by telling them that Dad lost his MagicBand. Of all the great things that Dad does and tries to do to make his girls happy, this is the thing that gets relayed to everyone else, Dad’s incompetence… I love kids.
After a full day spent between Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom, the girls were thoroughly exhausted and were unable to stay awake on the bus ride back to the resort. I had already promised the girls that they would be able to sleep in the next morning, as our first FastPass was not until 10am. But this was the only point in the vacation where I wish I could have changed something. Tip #4: Plan for a rest day in between your visits to the four parks. As stated before, I wish I would have planned a rest day in the middle, not just so that the girls could relax a little, but also so that we can enjoy all the amenities that the resort had to offer. Splash pads and pools. Arcades and playground. Campfires with s’mores. Caricatures. Movies under the stars. There were so many things that we could have done if I had just added one more day to our resort stay. I certainly will not make that mistake again.
Thanks again for checking in on us and be on the lookout for Day Three at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Cheers!