Nobody does theming like Disney theme parks. Imagineers craft immersive experiences that draw you into whole new worlds.
Of course, some attractions prove superior in this regard. So, let’s do something a bit different today.
How would we rank the rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios solely based on theming?
9) Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
We can establish terms for the entire discussion by saying that I quite like the theming on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
The sedans qualify as one of the best ride carts at Walt Disney World. Meanwhile, the interstate signs on the coaster set the mood nicely.
Still, the attraction includes a pre-ride video with Aerosmith and the two things I mentioned.
Overall, its theming pales in comparison to some of the other attractions we’re about to discuss. Aerosmith is good, but we’re about to do better.
8) Alien Swirling Saucers
The miniature playset vibe at Toy Story Land goes a long way in entertaining guests.
We genuinely buy into the illusion that we’ve shrunk down to the size of toys.
At Alien Swirling Saucers, the Star Command elements blend nicely with the Buzz Lightyear rocket ship toy packaging on top of the ride building.
Then, the ride itself is adorable, as the Little Green Men’s facial expressions prove perfect for the premise of them driving like maniacs.
Also, the cheap plastic design permeating throughout the line queue is a clever touch.
7) Toy Story Mania!
Speaking of line queues, the one for Toy Story Mania! highlights the popular games of yesteryear.
Parents can relive their childhoods by walking past Uno Cards, Crayola crayons, Mr. Potato Head, and many more popular toys from days of old.
The Tinker Toys hanging from the ceiling provide the perfect above-ground visual for the ride as well.
Then, there’s the ride itself, which leans heavily into the kawaii nature of Toy Story. You fire objects out of a toy cannon toward 3D ducks and plates.
The charm here stems from the fact that it’s a game for the kid in all of us.
Disney chose simplicity here, and it makes the theming feel warm and inviting.
6) Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
We’ve got three Star Wars rides that all deserve special mention for their theming.
After extensive thought, I eventually decided that Rise of the Resistance, while the best attraction, contains the “worst” theming.
That strikes me as a hot take I need to defend. My thinking here is that the immersion isn’t quite the same on this one.
Due to the connected parts, you’re aware of the fact that you’re in line for a ride, even after you’ve been taken prisoner.
Yes, the cast members perform brilliantly as your evil overlords. Also, the visuals represent the pinnacle of Imagineering.
Still, you’ve got people shooing you from one spot to the next as if you’re holding up the rest of a walking tour. That part ruins the illusion, at least for me.
5) Slinky Dog Dash
You’ve got a friend in me!
Yes, the unofficial song of the Toy Story franchise plays heavily in the pre-and post-game parts of Slinky Dog Dash.
While that part is charming enough on its own, I adore Slinky Dog Dash for other reasons.
Old toy instruction manuals provide the backdrop for the line queue. In fact, attentive guests will notice a detailed guide for the construction of the ride itself!
Yes, the Dash & Dodge Mega Coaster Kit contains 425 pieces that Andy has put together, most of them in the correct order!
Throughout the line, you’ll also discover the inner workings of a Slinky Dog stomach.
Plus, Andy has illustrated his plans for The Big Finale on notebook paper.
Imagineers have covered their bases here so well that the notebook paper drawings contain notches from where Andy has torn them out!
The whole thing makes me feel like I’m in grade school again.
4) Star Tours – The Adventures Continue!
Disney built an At-At outside the ride building here to reinforce that you’ve traveled to a galaxy far, far away.
For many years, that structure claimed the title as the most impressive Star Wars theming in the world.
Still, Imagineers didn’t stop there. On Star Tours, you’re an innocent victims tourist ready for an interstellar adventure.
While you wait for your ride, you’ll encounter legendary droids C-3PO and R2-D2 in the line.
You’ll also notice departure times for your flights to Chandrila and Corellia, among other places.
Yes, the more recent Star Wars addition, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, hearkens back to a billboard at Star Tours!
Touches like this elevate Star Tours over Rise of the Resistance, at least for me.
3) Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
I experience a bit of cognitive dissonance whenever I enter the Chinese Theater to ride Runaway Railway.
Part of me still remembers when this place housed The Great Movie Ride. So, I expect to stare at the familiar signs from that attraction.
Imagine my surprise when digital screens display Mickey Mouse posters instead!
Once you enter the ride area, a spectacular piece of Imagineering allows you to enter through a shattered wall and board the “Runnamuck Park Trains.”
From there, you will later join an animated adventure.
Your runaway train will take you across several thematic sets, each of which builds an entire world through sharp visuals.
For me, the best parts are the dancing sequel, the waterfall, and the urban construction sets. I’m in awe of all of them.
2) Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
Remember what I said about the At-At? Yeah, Imagineers took their theming to the next level here.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge displays a life-sized Millennium Falcon, complete with an interior styled just like the one in the movies.
You can hang out in the rec room area and take pictures of your party sitting at the table! It’s as close as the real world allows to join the Millennium Falcon’s crew.
Plus, when you board the ride, you’ll completely buy into the notion that you’re participating in a high-stakes heist to steal Coaxium.
You’re living out a Star Wars adventure, one that changes based on your performance. It’s hard to imagine theming done better than that. And yet…
1) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Yeah, I think you knew what would win this one.
Since its inception in 1994, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has earned a reputation as the gold standard in theme park immersion.
From the instant you lay eyes on the tower from across the park, you gain a sense of foreboding. Each step grows hard as you approach.
Your entire body warns you not to proceed. But, eventually, you enter the long-abandoned hotel lobby, composed of dust and spider webs.
Nothing has lived here in many years. So, how do we explain the fact that something beckons in the elevator?
Well, the late Rod Serling does, as he alerts visitors to the unexplained mysteries residing behind the scary door.
You start in a library full of antiquities, but then you exit into an elevator shaft that appears like it’s in a state of disrepair.
Personally, I wouldn’t ride it, but even as I say that, I remember that I have.
Something always lures me to the other side of that door, to the Twilight Zone.
Look, imagineers embody all that’s innovative in theme park design. Literally nobody does theming better than them.
Even so, the Tower of Terror qualifies as their masterpiece, the one attraction that can never be surpassed in terms of theming.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has added countless rides since 1994. Nothing has matched or could match Tower of Terror’s level of immersion, though.
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Feature Photo: Disney