stormtroopers_rogers

It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that my favorite place at Walt Disney World is not the one with Cinderella’s castle or the futuristic globe.

It’s the one with the movies and the rock n’roll.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is my kind of place, and it’s become more realistic to spend time here now that all my kids are  in double digits.

I haven’t yet persuaded them to worship Aerosmith, but hope springs eternal.

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Image: Carissa Rogers

Just like in the movies, it’s the sights at Hollywood that get me excited – I love the foreboding shadow of the Tower of Terror and the chrome on the upside-down car at the entry to Rock N Roll Roller Coaster. The entry way to Pixar Studios, with its cast-iron sign overhead and goofy Toy Story colors, always quickens and warms my heart.

A few weekends ago, visiting Walt Disney World with my family as a guest of Disney — part of the first official Traveling Dad conference — my family gave me a little “alone time” to explore Hollywood.

I was determined to find the best views at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and I needed a little space to thoughtfully approach my quest. I wanted to re-trace my past steps – explore again the places mentioned above – but also look for things that I hadn’t noticed before.

And that was easier this time, thanks to the arrival of all things Star Wars.

starwars_launchbay_rogersIn the plaza leading to the new Star Wars Launch Bay, in between Pixar and Animation Courtyard, I truly saw things I had never seen before: Stormtroopers! In real life! There were Stormtroopers guarding the way to the Launch Bay (where you can meet and greet Chewbacca on the Light Side or get dressed down by Kylo Ren on the Dark Side, or both.) and I must admit for a long time I stared at the Stormtroopers with the eyes-wide-open look of a 9 year-old. I was a little startled when one of them barked at me to “move it along” … I’m sure with the best of intentions.

Later, I was thrilled to cheer for new Jedi recruits near Echo Lake in another new Star Wars feature: Jedi Training – Trials of the Temple, where the next generation learns the ways of the Force. Again, watching kids handle lightsabers – prepping to confront Darth Vader – was a great view.

But.

But….it didn’t feel very challenging for, well, a challenge.

And it turned out, the best view ended up finding me.

On our last day we wanted to see the fireworks – Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular – at Hollywood Studios – we’d even been tipped off that the best place to see the show was at the end of Hollywood Boulevard facing The Great Movie Ride.

But as happens both in Star Wars and in life, the Force can intervene – the Force this time being the force of EXTREME STARVATION. Watching the clock tick toward 7:30, we stopped at the Backlot Express, ordered yummy burgers, and sat down to eat. Oh, it felt sooooo good to sit down, and oh, the food was soooooo good.

By the time I licked the last of the chocolate mousse from my upper lip, we knew we’d missed our fireworks window – after fireworks we had to meet up with friends at the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and after that, my son suggested we ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror again – it’s one of his favorites ever since his first ride at the age of four.

And I love it too – it draws you in – you can’t help but be attracted to the creepy, well-lit exterior.

We got in line – and happily realized there was basically was no line – apparently everybody else was watching fireworks! Score!

If you haven’t been on Tower of Terror, first of all WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?

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Image: Carissa Rogers

Second, it’s designed to be a large service elevator that plays out one of your worst fears in life – a lift gone amok – rapidly rising and falling several stories, with the elevator doors opening throughout the ride to provide some creepy reality to the fact that the elevator has a mind of its own. There are several elevators in the hotel, and in my experience each one provides a slightly different experience – try them all!

I love how the Cast at Tower of Terror play their roles – after the young cast member checked our seatbelts, and had us raise our hands over our heads (probably to make sure we weren’t holding any loose objects – cameras, phones, etc.), she stepped back with her head lowered, looking at us with a gloomy glance as the doors closed. The elevator began to rise and as it did, we saw her hands pressed on the elevator windows, moving downward, as if she wanted to pull us back before the terror began.
Wait – wasn’t this about the best view at Hollywood Studios? Yeah well, I’m getting to that, because I wasn’t expecting it on this ride right then.

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After a couple rapid ups and downs, the ride shot up, paused – and the elevator doors opened from the top floor of the Tower at the precise moment that fireworks were going off! Talk about a view! In that one second – maybe two – not only could we see the entire park and the landscape beyond, but just a few hundred feet away were the bursts of light and crackle from the fireworks show.

The doors quickly shut, the elevator dropped a few floors, then a few floors again, and then shot up rapidly – this time almost to the top. The elevator stopped just below the top floor, the doors opened so that we could only see half the few we saw a few seconds earlier, and then…

…BOOM!!!

One of those gunshot fireworks went off – the bright flash of light followed by a boom so loud it pushed through my chest. At that very moment of the flash of light and crazy-loud boom, the doors shut and we began our plummet back to the ground floor.

Challenge met. In a stroke of light, sound, and brilliant luck, the best view at Hollywood Studios found me.

A quick word for those trying to replicate this experience… which I honestly think is once-in-a-lifetime. The fireworks show starts around 8 pm these days, but please know that this is Walt Disney World, not a German clock factory, so there may be some wiggle room to the start time. The Tower of Terror is an extremely popular ride – it can take an hour or more to secure a place on a ride. And of course, lines are funky things to try to predict. And the fireworks show lasts anywhere from 8-10 minutes. The chances of being in the right place at the right time to have the ride doors open at the top of the Tower at the moment the fireworks are exploding, are limited. We certainly weren’t trying to have the experience we did…

…but then again, we were in The Twilight Zone.

— Boyd Rogers

Boyd Rogers is a Traveling Dad and the husband of Traveling Mom Carissa Rogers. Boyd travels extensively for work and almost as frequently with his wife and three children.

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