We arrive at Hollywood Studios just after 5pm on Thursday November 5th before fast forwarding a few days to the afternoon of Sunday the 8th. The earlier sunsets this time of year afford some opportunities to catch some color in the sky, which is particularly pretty over the Studios.
Miss you Hat.
Those of you arriving in the early evening for the final run of the Osborne Lights should enjoy a similar view.
Unfortunately, this year’s Osborne Lights strategy didn’t include a lot of new content as I arrived at the Streets of America to find that my camera’s battery was at 3%.
This is exactly how far it made it.
Now fast forward to the afternoon of the 8th over a busy marathon weekend with an overall crowd level higher than most of July. At one point on Saturday, the Epcot parking lot had filled to capacity and new arrivals were told to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and monorail over. That video of the guy climbing the Mexico pyramid got a lot of play via desocialized media, but I have it on good authority that he was just trying to see if he was parked in Aladdin 41 or 42. I think we’ve all been there.
Wait times were somewhat reasonable given the high overall crowd level. Going on noon, Tower of Terror is at “just” 30 minutes. Looking over waits over the course of the day:
About 90 minutes of downtime early at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster doesn’t help, but at least Tower of Terror looks to be operating at full capacity all day. As usual, there’s some goofiness with posted waits as you occasionally see a very long wait followed by a very short one, like at Star Tours where it goes from 80 minutes at 11:30am to 10 minutes at 11:45am before going back up to 40 minutes at noon. That may be part of why you see such a disparity sometimes in people’s opinions of the crowds. The person that sees 90 minutes might throw up their hands and leave while the next person that arrives just a moment or two later goes Full Rocky Balboa as they fist pump the 10-minute wait. This was a day with evening Extra Magic Hours attached from 8:30pm to 10:30pm, which is late enough that waits drop substantially in the final hour, particularly with the Osborne Lights continuing to pull people in that direction.
The Studios was “highly recommended” the next day with reliably shorter peak and average waits, with the exception of Toy Story Mania. It will be interesting to see what effect the additional capacity has on wait times once the third track comes online. If they don’t raise the number of FastPass+ experiences, we should see standby waits drop somewhat significantly. If they end up giving much of the additional capacity to FastPass+, standby waits will likely stay similar to what they are now. Of course, even if standby waits were to drop in half, 40 to 60 minutes is longer than most people are going to want to wait in the afternoon anyway. So we’ll see what happens. If they do increase the supply of Toy Story FP+, it would open up availability elsewhere as more people have the opportunity to select Toy Story in advance. Currently, Toy Story FP+ are completely unavailable for the next 25 days straight. That means every possible slot is full all day, every day. And as we’ve discussed tirelessly over the past year-plus now, the maximum number of people arriving with FP+ priority significantly push up standby waits.
Lisa and her parents, who were celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary, join us.
We arrived around 11:30am with a 1pm Brown Derby reservation and elected to pop into the 12pm showing of Beauty and the Beast just ten minutes before showtime and were able to find very good seats off to the side.
The theater was maybe 75% full.
Like most shows, using FastPass+ here doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, particularly considering it’s a Tier 1 option. Arrive 20 minutes early in standby and your seat will be very similar to what it would be arriving around the same time with FastPass+. If you cut it closer to the start of the show with FP+, standby will already be filling in the theater. FP+ does guarantee a seat for a specific show, but if it’s to the point where you require FP+ to get in, you’ve probably got bigger problems at the likes of Toy Story and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
It’s been a while since the website has done a proper review of the Studios signature restaurant, The Hollywood Brown Derby, instead focusing on the lounge aspect outside the last couple of years. Past reviews are otherwise available as part of this post and this post with reviews of the Lounge here and here.
Hollywood Brown Derby is not typically a restaurant I like to spend a lot of money in. Being a signature restaurant, it offers the usual suspects:
Brown Derby does benefit from the addition of the lunch entrees, which are surprisingly featured inside the rectangle box at the top instead of hidden away at the bottom of page six. That offers a few options in the $18-$22 range, which is similar to what you’d pay at 50’s Prime Time (where the fried chicken and pot roast are $20 each), Sci-Fi ($25 shrimp pasta; $19 burger), and Mama Melrose ($20 spaghetti; $33 steak). Those looking for a classier, demure atmosphere with prices that won’t necessarily break the bank may want to check out Brown Derby for lunch between 12pm and 3pm.
The first-come, first-served outdoor Lounge is an option for a more informal, outdoor affair.
Back in June, Disney Parks Blog made a big to-do about new menu items, almost all of which have been quietly removed from the menu. You’ll notice that the Zellwood Corn Bisque and Shrimp and Chorizo Bruschetta are long gone, replaced by the same soup as in the restaurant and a pricey shrimp cocktail.
I’m otherwise a big proponent of the Derby Sliders out here, which eviscerate any of the quick service entrees around the Park that come in around $11 each. The full menu is served in the lounge as well, so you can get in on the less expensive lunch options from inside too.
Back inside, the bread was great with warm, soft rolls alongside whipped butter and sea salt. They’re not unlike what’s served at Be Our Guest Restaurant, but I think the execution is typically better here.
Another benefit of Brown Derby is far and away the best drink menu in the Park, including a variety of wine flights like this one from vineyards attached to the Disney family.
Pouring the wine tableside is a classy touch, though it did seem to bog down service a bit.
The $11.25 Martini Flight is a lot of fun too. But be careful, these are all actually strong drinks that are almost all liquor. Another white wine flight is in the background.
Lisa’s Mom, Patti, started with the $11 Portsmouth Lobster Bisque – Crispy Lobster-Herb Dumpling, Sherry Gastrique. The preparation here is a little different than in the past, when the soup arrived with three smaller “ravioli.”
The Famous Cobb Salad with Finely Chopped Greens, Turkey Breast, Bacon, Egg, Tomatoes, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Avocado, Chives, and Cobb Dressing does not photograph well here in the $9 appetizer portion. It’s plenty of salad for one person and even two or three people could sample it as part of an appetizer. Both the smaller $9 and larger $16 entree portions are available all day. Everything you’ve heard about the Cobb is otherwise true – fresh, flavorful, refreshing, and nicely balanced, it’s packed with high quality ingredients. You would be remiss to visit without ordering at least one to share.
Lisa’s dad, Randy, ordered the $45 Pan-seared Black Grouper Half-Herb-crusted Lobster Tail, Heirloom Tomato, Baby Spinach, Orzo Salad, Cognac-Mushroom Beurre Blanc. For $45, he commented that the portion on the grouper was small and dry and the sauce wasn’t enough to right the ship.
The lobster was also on the small side – perhaps they use the other half in the bisque. Basically a large shrimp, the lobster otherwise soaked up the creamy sauce better than the fish. Overall, it was a disappointing dish for the money both on portion size and execution.
Lisa ordered the $22 Grilled Wagyu Beef Burger – Gruyère Cheese, Pastrami, Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Fried Egg, Toasted Brioche, Cognac-Mustard Aïoli, Hand-cut Steak Fries served here with the pastrami on the side. Cooked to perfection, the burger was tender and flavorful in between the soft, fresh, lightly toasted bun. While it might sound like it’s got a lot going on, the ingredients complemented each other well, combining to make what I’m fairly certain is the best burger you’re going to find in any WDW Park. It’s about twice as expensive as a quick service burger, but the quality is deserving of the price. Only complaint: too light on the avocado. The steak fries were executed well too – nicely seasoned with a crisp exterior giving way to a soft, chewy inside. Altogether, you can’t do much better at this price point and anyone should leave satisfied.
I ordered the $18 Original Fettucine Alfredo – Prosciutto Brittle, Parmigiano-Reggiano with the shrimp, which will run you an extra $5. A chicken add-on is also available for $4.
The sauce was on the light side, which I appreciated. You sort of risk heading into food coma territory with the potential for a very heavy, cream-based sauce that’s not going to agree with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. The saltiness of the crunchy Prosciutto Brittle also helped cut the richness of the sauce, which surrounded a hearty helping of soft pasta. I don’t regret adding on the shrimp, but they’re simply grilled and placed on top, somewhat like an afterthought. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of flavor and they didn’t really do anything to complement the alfredo. Finally, the side of bread was overcooked I thought – almost like a biscotto (thanks Jordan Schlansky) and there really wasn’t enough extra sauce to soften it up. While this might not seem like the most positive review of all time, the sauce was fantastic and the pasta perfectly cooked. Most people that order it come back again and again.
I had tried the lunch chicken sandwich on a previous visit and had this to say:
I ordered the Andouille-crusted Chicken Breast with Smoked Bacon, White Cheddar, and Tossed Arugula on an Onion Kaiser Roll served with Vegetable Slaw – $18.00, up $1 from the price on Disney’s online menu.
This was an excellent sandwich, approximately 717.2% better than your usual quick service chicken sandwich and potentially the best I’ve had property wide. Everything was fresh and hot with a large chicken breast, a thick slice of cheese, hearty bacon, and the arugula for a bit of crunch. Highly recommended.
Overall, I have no qualms about recommending Brown Derby at the lunch price point. It’s a fun, air-conditioned, comfortable space with a lot to look at around the restaurant. Personally, if I was looking at dropping $40-$50 per entree, I’d visit another restaurant outside the Parks for dinner for a classier overall experience with the potential for better food on the more expensive entrees.
Dessert is mostly these trios now, though they do still serve the full size portion of the grapefruit cake, which isn’t a personal favorite.
After a big lunch, Great Movie Ride is a good choice, here with a 25-minute posted wait at 2:30pm. The average wait at this time of day over the last 30 days is 21 minutes, so we’re a bit above average with the above average overall crowd level. The longest wait at that time of day over the last month or so was actually Saturday October 31st, which makes some sense since the Studios was hosting morning Extra Magic Hour and Magic Kingdom had a rare 7pm Saturday close for Mickey’s Halloween Party. That wait would have come in at 40 minutes.
FastPass+ bypasses the majority of the props.
Considering the Star Wars push, it was interesting to see some Star Trek props in the queue.
This “Party of Two” line isn’t something I remember seeing. They kept asking for parties of two in the regular queue so it wasn’t being actively used.
With FastPass+, we got in line at 2:30pm and were on our way at 2:42pm, which is about average. We were back out front right at 3:02pm, for a total experience time of 32 minutes. I’ve been working on redoing the attraction pages to include more pertinent information in the FastPass+ era. For example, Great Movie Ride:
It’s mostly about whether you want to use FastPass+ for an attraction.
And then you’ve got some information on how long the attraction will actually take with FastPass, how likely an attraction is to have FastPass+ inventory at a certain time of day given a certain crowd level, and then an idea about what wait times look like throughout the day.
A few on-ride photos:
The Turner Classic Movies takeover hasn’t brought a lot of changes. I really like what they did with the opening clips with Robert Osborne introducing the scenes and providing some history for what guests see and hear on the attraction. I’m not sure the on-ride narration works as well as your live narrator clashes with Osborne and to a greater extent, the sound system, which can make sections inaudible. Unfortunately, cast is kind of hamstrung here as Disney refuses to pay union wages for the live narrators and due to contract verbiage, Disney can’t do much training. The people you see narrating are more or less taken off the street, handed a script, and placed at the front of your vehicle. Considering all of that, I think they do an admirable job.
Just about all of the “new” information relating to Star Wars Launch Bay, Star Wars Weekends, Jedi Training, etc. is available in this single Disney Parks Blog post from a few days ago. According to that, ” Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple will open in early December. This reimagined Jedi Training experience will take younglings to the secret site of an ancient Jedi temple where they will face Darth Vader along with the Seventh Sister – a new villain from the Disney XD series ‘Star Wars Rebels.'” That’s in line with what we were expecting, including the show returning to the same outdoor area to the left of Star Tours.
Speaking of Star Tours, a new scene from Episode VII will debut on November 16th.
Star Wars Launch Bay officially opens December 1st in the old Animation Building space with the expectation that it will “soft open” a few days prior. We don’t know exactly what will be inside, but it should be similar to Disneyland’s version with movie props, character meet and greets, and a whole lot of merchandise. If only we were getting the Darth Tamale.
I’ve been talking about the likelihood that Star Wars Weekends wouldn’t return next year for a couple of months now and Disney confirmed the event will not be returning in 2016. Considering how much the event boosts attendance and how much merchandise they sell, it seems like a somewhat surprising decision. You’d think that logistically, there would be few problems putting the event on in just 7 months time. Maybe Season of the Force will be extended past March.
That’s about all I know.