Rumors and Confirmed Expansion Plans for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Some Educated Guesses

As we all know, Disney is doing some major renovations to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. During the 2015 Walt Disney Company annual shareholders meeting, a 6-year-old asked if the park would be getting a name change. After some awkward conversation with other executives, Bob Iger admitted that indeed the name will change, but did not make the formal announcement as to what that would be. Renaming the park yet again means there will be gigantic adjustments to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. No doubt there will be a lot of new attractions, restaurants and gift shops coming. Beyond the confirmed Star Wars additions we know are happening (just not specifics yet), there has to be more intellectual properties in the pipeline that can be utilized. Before we get there, that means there need to be some closures first.

Magic of Disney Animation

The Magic of Disney Animation will be closing as of July 12, 2015 thanks to confirmation given to the Orlando Sentinel. Long gone are actual Disney animators working on future feature films. In recent years, the building has become known for character meet-and-greets and the Animation Academy show where guests learn to draw Disney characters.

Disney's Hollywood StudiosThis is not to say the attraction isn’t popular. Kids love those character photos, but as we have learned with the closure of Camp Minnie Mickey at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney characters are portable and can be dispersed elsewhere to accommodate construction and park expansion. This has ultimately cleared the way for Avatar.

Walt Disney One Man's Dream

According to unofficial sources, and yet to be confirmed as of the writing of this article, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream is also scheduled to close along with the Magic of Disney Animation or shortly thereafter. This attraction, which was designed to be a temporary exhibition to coincide with the 100 Years of Magic celebration at Walt Disney World, has stayed open many years beyond the original intention. As anyone can tell you, the attraction is sparsely visited and the final theater show is lucky to see 10% of the seats filled at any given point during operating hours.

Disney's Hollywood Studios


Which leads us to the subject of utilization. By far, Disney’s Hollywood Studios uses its land to distribute guest flow the poorest out of any Walt Disney World park. The 135-acre park was originally designed to serve two purposes: theme park and movie studio. Thus, a decent chunk of that land was designated to accommodate pre-production, filming as well as post-production as well as Disney animation. By the end of the 1990s, almost all of the production dried up and thus we saw sound stages turn into attractions like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It and Toy Story Midway Mania.

Toy Story Midway Mania

As demand grew to for the park, these sound stages that were no longer used to give guests a glimpse into movie making, could soak in capacity far better than they ever could on the Backstage Tour. The problem remains, how do you expand a park that has no land to expand on? Disney’s Hollywood Studios is essentially landlocked by World Drive and Buena Vista Drive, so there are only so many directions you can move to increase the amount of guests who can fit in the park. What to do?

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The first thing is to close the Backlot Tour which happened in September of 2014. As impressive as Catastrophe Canyon continued to be, it was a small chunk of real estate in an attraction that was otherwise rather dull and could be better utilized as an entire new themed land in the park. More on that later.

Frozen Summer Fun

Next you take an extremely popular show from the very back of the park, the Premier Theater, and move it to an unused theater (home of the former American Idol attraction) at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. By no longer using the Premier Theater at the end of Streets of America for Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, this systematically starts freeing up land in the back of the park.

Premiere Theater

Note: any information given from this moment on is mere speculation. We rarely do this at Theme Park University, but let’s start to make some educated guesses, shall we?

Lights Motors ActionWith the Backlot Tram Tour and the Premiere Theater both no longer in use, this leaves one monkey-in-the-middle: Lights Motors Action. Even during peak season, there are only two showings per day. Even though the stands can hold 5.000 people, they rarely fill up anymore. Recently, the 10-year sponsorship deal ended with Brawny paper towels which allows the venue to also become ripe for future expansion. The odds of this show going away sooner than later? Very high.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Streets of America

The above picture was taken on the Streets of America at 5:45 pm in the middle of June: peak season. Unfortunately while the streets are a cool place for picture opportunities, it represents a huge patch of land where crowds could experience new rides and attractions. The only time of year this gets busy?

Osborne Lights Disney Hollywood Studios

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights fills the streets from mid-November through the first week of January every year. Even then, that is only from 6 pm until roughly 10 pm. That’s four hours a day of filling the streets during less than eight weeks a year. Again, this is speculation, but the odds of this Christmas tradition sticking around past 2015 (and even in 2015, it may not happen) are extremely slim.

Honey I Shrunk The Kids Movie Set Adventure

Even though there are a fair amount of kids playing at the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids Movie Set Adventure, it has become painfully dated. The movie was extremely popular and even spurred a short-lived television series. Ask any child what movie this playground is from and 99 out of 100 will probably tell you A Bug’s Life. It will go away, though very well could get themed to that Pixar movie I just mentioned. A Bug’s Land at Disney’s California Adventure proves to be very popular even today. Again, all speculation, but odds of this sticking around much longer? Slim.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Expansion

All of the above changes gives Disney’s Hollywood Studios a sizable chunk of land to repurpose for future development. While it’s fair to believe that the park needs this space to be utilized with new attractions, maybe the top brass at Disney are thinking far beyond the future of the next five years? Maybe they are focusing on the next twenty years and beyond.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Google EarthThe above photo shows Disney’s Hollywood Studios just beyond Sunset Boulevard. Notice the area behind Rosie’s All American Cafe (the scattered red roofed buildings off of Sunset at the bottom of the image).

Disney's Hollywood Studios ExpansionEverything within the red semi-bubble north of Sunset Boulevard represents non-guest areas that could be used by future expansions. Clearly, every theme park needs back of house facilities to keep things rolling and all the above space couldn’t be used. Yes, there are many offices back there that were once designed for use by the studio, but later for park operations. Those offices, maintenance facilities and even storage areas need to be condensed and repurposed. However, it’s not impossible. Even a gigantic building originally intended for Walt Disney Feature Animation is now utilized for offices of Walt Disney World employees. Which leads me to the hole in the outlined area above.

Magic of Disney AnimationIf Disney’s Hollywood Studios wants to expand into this area, that means the Magic of Disney Animation is the largest blockade. Sure, you could get rid of the fast food locations along Sunset Boulevard to access this area and congest the most crowded section of the park even more, or you can get rid of an attraction that is under utilized and the majority of the characters can be spread elsewhere. In summation, this leaves you with an expansion area that could encompass this:

Disney's Hollywood Studios Expansion


Sure, there will need to be accommodations made for back of house operations and no doubt, some offices will need to be relocated to other locations around Disney World property. However, I am confident that the overall area outlined above will become mostly guest utilized within the next few years to come. One final thought…


Disney's Hollywood Studios ExpansionIf the rumors are true that One Man’s Dream is closing, consider this: that is part of a giant building complex that is completely connected. Even though the layout is odd, keep in mind, this was the finale to the original Backlot Tour at the Disney/MGM Studios. Considering the former short-lived Jack Sparrow show closed in 2014 and IF One Man’s Dream is closing as well, that leaves a huge building to create a dark ride, new shows, retail or even a combination. However, there is that one show in the corner that while popular, is a bit dated. Hey, it’s a time of big change. Anything is possible.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

By now, some of you are having a full blown panic attack. Change is hard. For the record, I may be wrong about my educated guesses listed above. No matter if I am 20% right or 100%, one thing is for certain: big change is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We also haven’t even begun with how the space can be utilized. There is a lot more to think about: attractions, restaurants, gift shops, intellectual properties, even how to expand the parking lot to accommodate larger crowds…. your thoughts?

Disney's Hollywood Studios Sorcerer's Hat

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Images Copyright: Google Earth, Walt Disney Word, Theme Park University

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  1. Brad Bishop
    Posted June 30, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Something else that they could do is to build an underpass under World Drive and hide some facilities on the other side of it along with employee parking.

    The offices you speak of could be moved more towards Disney Springs area (not in the Springs but they have some offices already across the street from it).

    They could also move the World Drive entrance so it hugs the canal and gain some space that way. One thing that they really ought to do is to somehow come up with a road configuration that is better than dumping everyone off onto Buena Vista Drive. It all ought to be fed by World Drive even though that seems tough because the park is right up against it.

    The placement and size of the park really shows how they were of the attitude of, “How fast can we get this done???,” to compete with Universal opening up down the street, rather than, “What’s a good long-term strategy?”

  2. fan51
    Posted June 30, 2015 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    The “One Man’s Dream” and the “Jack Sparrow” buildings should be demolished to allow guest access to the back side of the park that is currently closed off for the backlot tour. The park’s layout never made sense to me. When you enter the park, the Chinese Theater is the landmark that entices you to come closer as if it is the hub. Instead, you’re mislead because the rides are on the left and on the right on Sunset Blvd. The back half of the park is cutoff and it creates a flat park. The park feels congested and it gives me claustrophobia. The production warehouses are never suitable to install rides as the alleys are not wide enough to accommodate crowds.

    I’m unclear what’s the arched roof and circular buildings next to the Animation. They should consider a complete removal since that area is also cuts off guest flow. The layout gives the guests bad sightlines for the fireworks shows.

    Just so you know, it is a good idea to warn people that the park is losing attractions while guests are still paying full price.

  3. dkdzyn
    Posted June 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    This park couldn’t get overhauled completely or quickly enough in my opinion. I was there almost the day it opened and have been back several times over the years through virtually every iteration up to as recently as earlier this month. I now find the park to be a dismal shadow of what it once was. I find myself rather sad just walking around it because aside from 4 or 5 REALLY GREAT “E”-Ticket type attractions, there’s nothing left worth doing. That they continue to charge full admission for this park is really a travesty because everything of value for the interested movie goer has been stripped away leaving a mall of character shops, a couple of good but old shows, a couple of good restaurants and some truly great rides that deserve a better park to live in.

    Josh, I think your speculations are appropriate and I hope they take full advantage of the land they have there. Truthfully, they don’t need any more, they just need to use what they have more efficiently. Unfortunately what you state about the promise of a hub that isn’t one is quite true and it would serve WDW and this park the most if they simply ripped out the entire back half and rebuilt it all based on wholly new themes and layouts.

    Having worked in Hollywood for many years, I can say that in its original iteration, it was a very faithful snapshot of what production entailed and of the experience of walking a traditional backlot. In many ways the architectural vernacular, technology and process of making both animated and live action films, while still analogous, is a different “pipeline” today and so the park is anachronistic. This I believe has been the problem this park has faced over its lifetime, because a system of production and post-production that HAD worked for 100 years has now changed radically in the past 20 due to the introduction of digital tools. So much of what had been done by hand and required the buildings, workshops, props, processing facilities, staff and the support of those people, has been streamlined or eliminated completely. A whole way of life that Eisner worked hard to replicate in scale in this park has simply vanished in the ensuing years. It was WDW’s bad luck that the story they were presenting became suddenly obsolete just as they came to tell about it.

    I miss a LOT about how well this park worked and what it offered to the full day visitor, but now that it has been pulled apart piecemeal, it is time to almost shutter it, completely re-imagineer it and build something extraordinary in its place that may have nothing to do with movies perse, other than to celebrate the IP that comes from them, much as Universal has has had to.

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