Walt Disney World Vacation – Hollywood Studios

After the slight letdown that was our Day Three at Animal Kingdom, it was time to ramp the intensity back up at the final park of our trip: Hollywood Studios. Last time we were here, most of our day was spent on character experiences, which really was not an option this time around due to COVID protocols. This year, the girls were all about the thrill rides, so it was going to be less of a stroll through the park and more of using our time efficiently. But with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land ahead of us, we were all anticipating having a good time. Remember when I said that Magic Kingdom was going to be our best day? For once, I was happy to be wrong.

A Jedi can sometimes see into the future and I definitely picked the right shirt for the occasion… just saying.

The day started off the same as every other day at Walt Disney World, except this time there was no issue getting the girls up. Not only were they super excited about this particular park, but they also knew that it was going to be our last full day at WDW. With the grandparents getting up on time and riding the bus in with us, we were already on pace for a pretty good day.

Obligatory Toy Story picture, check

As we moved into the park, we jogged over to Slinky Dog Dash first, as it usually has the second longest wait of all the Hollywood Studios attractions (the first being Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance). In one of the few bad things that happened that day, it was down for mechanical issues. Just like Frozen: Ever After at EPCOT, it always amazes me how rides can be broken at the start of the day. If a ride goes down at 2pm after running nonstop for six hours, I get it, but at the start of the day? Seems like someone should be getting a negative counseling statement for that.

How are there two people yet three peace signs?!?

The majority of the visitors stayed in line though, hoping the ride would come up soon. In the meantime, we went over to Toy Story Mania and basically walked onto the ride. Given that this ride is usually one that I would want to use a Lightning Lane on, we were pretty happy with the circumstances.

Pictured: Future Space Ranger

While the girls were disappointed we did not get to immediately go on Slinky Dog Dash, they had a great time on Toy Story Mania. Not only is it a very fun and interactive ride, but it lasts quite a long time and it allows us all to sit with different family members each time (Gabby was paired with me during the first ride). I had a feeling we were going to be back for more later.

“Oh, you two want to fly it? I think there is a ride for that…”

We then headed into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. And Disney did a great job with this area. Not only were there a gazillion recognizable items from Star Wars (Imperial Probe Droids in scavenger piles, plenty of signs in Aurebesh [the Star Wars written language], etc.), but the entire area had a rather worn and dirty appeal, which is well in line with the way almost everything looks in the Star Wars galaxy. And the girls loved it (maybe even more so than me initially), especially when they turned the corner and the Millennium Falcon was waiting there for them. Not a model, but a full-size ship. If I did not know any better, I would had sworn we had just been transported to Batuu.

Um, of course I am focused on my girls in this picture, and not the insane level of detail on the Millennium Falcon

Thanks to the My Disney Experience app, we knew that most people in the park were in line for Slinky Dog Dash (still) or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (which oddly enough also went down for maintenance after being opened for an hour), so we decided to get in line for Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. I mean, who would not want to pilot one of the most iconic ships in a galaxy far, far away?

“You can trust your friend, Hondo!” Sure we can.

The girls were not particularly enthralled by the scenery inside the attraction, but I certainly was. With storage boxes and neglected droids lining the entire facility, it absolutely looked like a second-rate space dock for scum and villainy. And to greet us and provide our mission briefing, was none other than Hondo Ohnaka. This was perfect, as the animatronic was not only very realistic, but Hondo is your quintessential “playing both sides” character in Star Wars, so it makes absolute sense that he would be operating a smuggling syndicate out of such a remote area.

I unfortunately missed the chance to take Elaina’s picture with the ship’s holochess set

We eventually got to the Millennium Falcon, walking through its interior until we got to the cockpit. Again, this was amazing for me because of the superb level of detail that Disney had put into it. Before we entered the cockpit, we were told to choose what seats we would occupy. There were two pilots, two gunners, and two engineers. Trying to be a good parent and son, I opted for engineer seat so that everyone else could have a more interactive experience, thus crushing my lifelong dream of flying the Millennium Falcon. Elaina and Gabriella became the pilots and my parents took over the weapons terminals.

Gabriella Calkins, youngest pilot of the Millenium Falcon

While the girls maneuvered us through space and rock formations and my parents shot down pursuing TIE fighters, I had to press a lot of buttons. Every time we got hit by a turbolaser or crashed into something, my the buttons at my station would start flashing and I had to press them to repair whatever was damaged. While it was essentially a motion simulator, it was a very interactive one where our decisions impacted the experience. We had a blast and the girls did not want to leave after the ride ended.

“Peace” sign to rabbit ears. It was only a matter of time.

Knowing that we only had a few more minutes before the park opened for non-resort guests, I took a quick look at the app. Toy Story Mania only had a 20-minute wait, so we headed back over to Toy Story Land and hopped on it again.

Gabriella and Grandma racking some high scores on Toy Story Mania

Even though the girls complained in line (“Not again!”), there were no complaints once the ride started. Gabby rode with Grandma and Elaina rode with Papa, as we kept switching who was sitting with who every ride.

Ice cream after breakfast is allowed on vacation

We walked across the path to Alien Swirling Saucers (again, no line this early), just to get most of Toy Story Land completed before we moved back into the rest of the park.

Recreating Gabby’s famous 2019 ice cream picture

The girls walked by an ice cream vendor and politely asked for their daily Mickey ears. Since they had been really good and understanding so far, I felt obliged to grant their request.

“Stop waving. Move along.”

Seeing that The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror only had a 40-minute wait, we headed in that direction, stopping to see some of the sights in Galaxy’s Edge.

Still absolutely no idea why they were sad in this picture

On the way to Sunset Boulevard (which also happens to be one of my favorite movies), we stopped at a photo location at Echo Lake. Unfortunately, the girls were either really pictured out or just wanted to go on another thrill ride, because they were not happy about it.

Ha! Papa accidentally grabbed a Mickey shirt instead of a Dallas Cowboys one! What are the odds?!?

At least my parents got some great pictures at the spot.

“Does your Dad let you watch The Twilight Zone yet?”

When we got to The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror the line had increased to about an hour. But since we were already there and that the attraction is a little out of the way, we decided to just wait. Thankfully, we had plenty of games prepared to play in line.

If this video ever resurfaces, Elaina will never be allowed to host Jeopardy!

We purchased a game called 5 Second Rule: Disney Edition before we left for Orlando, just for occasions such as this. And since Grandma is a Disneyphile, we figured she would love this game. Unfortunately, this went the same way as Color Brain: Disney Edition, where Elaina just crushed us all. Here is the transcript from the above gif’s encounter:

Elaina: “Name three characters in Lion King. Go!”

Grandma: “I don’t know anybody in Lion King!”

Elaina, always the competitive one, would shout the question at Grandma, then give her about three seconds before giving a buzzer sound and saying “Wrong!”

Utterly fashionable. Tim Gunn would be proud.

To top it off, the girls were woefully unimpressed with the ride. While Elaina said it was not worth the long wait (I could not disagree with her there), they both got scared during the ride from the darkness and the drop. At least Grandma and Papa loved it.

Yes, I am actually wearing the same exact shirt in both of these pictures (2019 and 2021).

Taking a look at the app (yes, you really will spend this much time on your phone), we decided to have lunch at PizzeRizzo, a Muppet-theme pizza restaurant, in Grand Avenue.

Breadsticks, Mandarin oranges, and water, a winning lunch combination

While it was certainly not a Michelin star restaurant, everyone enjoyed their food, and it was the first meal that the girls ate everything they were served. That counts as a win in my book.

Mid-lunch deer-in-the-headlights look

And it is pizza, so it was obviously amazing. To quote a younger me, “How can you @#$% up pizza?” Our next Lightning Lane window for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was coming up, so we left the restaurant and headed towards Hollywood Boulevard (there are lots of areas in the park).

“He waved to me! Santa actually waved to me!”

As we got onto the street, we ran smack into one of those flash parades. With some reindeer, dancers, and Santa in a red Camaro, the girls absolutely loved this one. And the fact that Santa waved directly at the girls seemed to make up for all the characters that did not wave at the Magic Kingdom.

Sibling rivalry at its best

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was simply amazing. While I am not a big fan of the new cartoons (in both the art style and the way the characters behave), the attraction lived up to its reputation. Starting with a little cartoon introduction (where I will not ruin the surprise), the attraction is another trackless ride, similar to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. You go through a very windy tornado, a dance studio, and underwater over the course of the ride. A good time was definitely had by all, and this is a must-see on your WDW vacation.

Elaina had to mention that this is not the “real” Statue of Liberty

We saw that there was no wait for the MuppetVision 3D show, so we headed back towards Grand Avenue, stopping to get some popcorn…

Finally fully rested from their travel ordeal, the grandparents had a great time at Hollywood Studios.

… and to take a few pictures along the way.

At $2 a refill, Papa, there is absolutely no need to be sneaky about stealing popcorn.

And, of course, the show was great because The Muppets are fantastic. Still surprised how much I loved the last two movies, as I did not grow up with The Muppets, so the nostalgia factor is not there. They are just that awesome. We then used our next Lightning Lane on Toy Story Mania (yes, again), because we loved it, and all wanted to go back and beat our previous high scores.

Sadly, the regular popcorn tasted better than the Galaxy’s Edge blue popcorn, which was twice as expensive

From there, we decided to book Star Tours for our next Lightning Lane and had about an hour to kill before our window opened up. We headed back to Galaxy’s Edge to take a more detailed tour of the shops and the sights. Elaina found a pretty authentic Rey outfit to add to her Halloween options or Christmas list, while Gabriella wanted to know what delicacies existed in the Star Wars universe.

“Because she’s holding a thermal detonator!”

I splurged on a Diet Coke in a thermal detonator container, because I am not completely immune to cool things like that either. Hey, it least it was not $125 Jedi Robes, which I actually considered for a few seconds (I know… I am so weak).

The single height requirement stand that she was looking forward to overcoming, but the thrill had already passed by Day Four

As we got to Star Tours, we had to take Gabriella’s picture by the height requirement sign, as this was the one she remembered from the last trip, the ride that she really wanted to go on but was just not tall enough. Well, she was well over the minimum this time, so we proceeded into the attraction.

The girls really love their motion simulators, as this was their second (of four) for the day

Star Tours lived up to the hype, as they have been anticipating going on it for the last three years. For me, there was definitely some continuity issues (as we somehow showed up during Clone Wars, Galactic Civil War, and First Order-Resistance War battles), but nitpicking aside, we all had a great time, and I am glad it lived up to expectations for the girls.

The Loth-cat even moved around while it was sleeping

Afterwards, we headed back to the shops, finding more and more things that we all wanted to buy. Unfortunately, the shop owner was not letting go of her Loth-cat, no matter how much I offered in Republic credits.

“Girls, hold Daddy’s credit card and do not give it back to me until after we leave this store…”

Things got dangerous when we walked in Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. Not only was there an Ithorian manning the shop and various creatures everywhere, but the store was chock-full of Star Wars memorabilia.

I was disappointed that Disney would not sell me a baby Sarlaac

I mean, I never really considered purchasing Yoda’s walking stick, but it was just right there, using a Jedi mind trick to get me to buy it (I did not, because that only works on the weak-minded).

Most Impressive

Even without spending any money, this was the best shop in Galaxy’s Edge. While everyone else seemed to be shelling out credits for a BB-8 at the Droid Depot, we were happy just walking around and browsing the wares.

“No, of course I am not teaching my daughter Aurebesh…”

Even without spending additional money in shops or going on the two attractions, just walking around Galaxy’s Edge was worth the visit.

“Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, People. In all its glory.”

Not only is the whole place in perfect theme, but the cast members are top notch as well. Since we were there during Christmas, every cast member we spoke with wished us a happy Life Day (from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special). It must have caught on, as we started saying it in turn to all cast members and passersby.

No wonder my shoulders are still sore

And anytime you purchased something, they always handed you a receipt saying, “And here is your cargo slip,” keeping the illusion alive that you are actually on Batuu. While it went over the girls’ head, I really enjoyed it. It really is the little things, right?

Time to try some Blue Milk

One of the things that I was most excited about was trying the Blue Milk, a Star Wars staple. It is like if you went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, you are definitely going to try the Butterbeer, right?

“Um, kind of good.”

To me, it tasted like a slightly sweeter horchata, so I liked it immediately. Elaina initially gave it a “meh,” but kept coming back for more, eventually finishing the cup.

Gabby’s reaction is priceless

It did not receive the coveted Gabriella Seal of Approval though.

Tough to look like mean First Order Officers when the girls are smiling

By now (or maybe because of the setting), the girls were definitely ready for some photo ops.

“Dad, why do you keep taking pictures of random Star Wars stuff?

After taking a lot in front of the Millennium Falcon (see first picture in the post), we just took in the sights, grabbing shots on the way.

Yes, I absolutely tried to buy this with the full intent to repair it to working condition

Everywhere there seemed to be pieces of Star Wars lore, some of which the girls actually recognized, which made me very proud. Elaina, upon seeing a B1 Battle Droid in a scavenger’s cage, shouted “Dad, look! It’s one of your dumb robot guys!” So proud.

“Get these two some lightsabers right now!

They then saw Rey on the platform above and lost their stuff. Even Gabriella loved seeing her, whereas before, she was only interested in BB-8. Glad to see her showing growth.

“No, Gabby, you cannot play chess with him.”

As stated before, I am definitely not a fan of the Sequel Trilogy, but my girls love the characters, so I will fully support them if they enjoy it and it gets them into Star Wars.

The girls got a lot of use out of their cameras.

Periodically checking the app, I noticed the wait for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway had shrunk down to about 40 minutes, so the girls decided that they would be willing to wait in order to go on it again. It was just as great the second time around, and it was a double-win given that we only had to wait about 30 minutes. Yep, by the fourth park, we were at peak efficiency.

Jedi powers sold separately.

And we kept veering back to Galaxy’s Edge. And at every photo op, the girls were now getting excited for them as well, although I still pleaded, “Your 41-year old Dad would very much like to get a picture in front of this vintage Incom T-70 X-Wing Fighter… please.”

Wait, you picked a pretzel from Star Wars Land but turned down the one in Germany? That’s my girl!

This time we came back for dinner, with Elaina choosing Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo.

Tomato Pasta, steamed broccoli, and Dasani, typical Batuu cuisine.

Gabriella and I were stuffed, so we opted for lighter fare, but Elaina destroyed her ditalini and broccoli.

No wonder Gabby did not try Elaina’s food this meal.

Besides, if Gabby would have gotten a full meal, she would have definitely lost her appetite from the scenery.

Yes, my girls open doors using the force too

After finishing our meal, we headed back to the entrance to meet up with Grandma and Papa.

A Girl and her Droid

We found another picture spot along the way, this time for Gabriella.

A Dad and his niñas

Waiting for Grandma and Papa, we found another photo op location at along Hollywood Boulevard.

Near the end of the day and everyone is still smiling

Always great to have more pictures of Dad and his girls.

The girls took this picture and pestered me for hours asking what they were holding (they hoped it was a cake with candles)

Definitely got our money’s worth with the Disney Photopass at Hollywood Studios.

Gabby was so excited to get her mission brief from BB-8

After we met up with Grandma and Papa, we stopped off at Woody’s Lunch Box for a quick (second) dinner before heading towards Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Since you cannot use a Genie+ Lightning Lane on this ride and it was usually more than a two hour wait, my parents decided to spend the extra $15 per guest so that we could purchase an Individual Lightning Lane. This meant that for a one-time purchase, we had a guaranteed seat during a particular time window (basically a pay-per-ride Lightning Lane for the best rides at each park). While I told them I was actually okay with not going on it (I love my girls, but I did not want to wait in a two-hour line with them), they insisted on paying for it, and told me they were not leaving without going on it. I was not going to push back a second time.

Elaina and her non-violent protest. Captured by the First Order and still calling for peace.

Thankfully, the ride was utterly fantastic and went well-beyond any of our expectations. It was definitely worth the $15 each. While I will not give away all the surprises, it involved two motion simulators, a trackless ride through full-size All-Terrain Armored-Transports (AT-ATs) and turbolasers, and an interactive roleplaying experience. For the latter, when we were captured by the First Order, one of the cast members a First Order Officer) glared menacingly at Gabriella, causing her to just stare back cautiously back at him. As he strode away, side-eyeing her, she turned, grabbed my leg, and started to whimper. I had to “break character” for a moment to console her, as I did not want another Avatar: Flight of Passage incident to occur. I calmed her down and we were able to enjoy the rest of the ride. But because the ride was a little intense for her (still loved it though), she made me check with a cast member afterwards to see if BB-8 was okay (spoiler: He was!).

Director: “You have just been captured by the First Order. Action!”

While we got in line for Slinky Dog Dash afterwards, we were all pretty tired and Elaina and I did not want to wait an hour to ride it (Gabriella disagreed and cried a little, but mostly because she was tired). We met back up with Grandma and Papa before getting to the terminal, spending the bus ride back to the resort talking about the day. And what a great day it was. In my opinion, the best day of the entire trip. Everyone had a good time and we all particularly enjoyed Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This made me very happy, so it was not just me dragging them through my preferred part of the park for my personal enjoyment. While it was definitely going to be sad leaving Walt Disney World the next day, at least we would be leaving it on a fairly high note.

The day was a big win for the Resistance… I mean, the Calkins Family

Thanks for checking in on us.

Cheers!

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