After opening Pandora: The World of Avatar and a barrage of announcements for Walt Disney World’s future, The Walt Disney Company and its legions of fans that span the globe are riding on a high of excitement and anticipation for what’s to come. With Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the Tron roller coaster representing just some of the heavyweight magic that awaits it is natural to be less enthused about the Toy Story Land expansion that doesn’t feel as different or new. Yet if my experience of the land proved anything it was that this is a worthy first step in changing Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Land with its larger than life toy characters brings with it an aura of what’s to come at Walt Disney World’s third theme park that has been far too neglected in recent years. The Walt Disney Company hopes it is now on its way towards a Disney California Adventure like renaissance and on June 30th with the official opening of its newest themed area Woody, Buzz and the rest of the Toy Story characters can begin to tell a grander story for the Disney Studios park as it transitions to being a more traditional Disney theme park.
From the moment you step into Toy Story Land you begin to feel that it’s nothing like what you’ve experienced at Disney’s Hollywood Studios before. You are entering Andy’s Backyard and in your reduced scale Andy’s toys and play sets are larger than life all around you. Your first experience of this is in the giant Woody doll that serves as the marquee for the land and as your toy host when you enter from the new entrance just around the bend from Walt Disney Presents. Woody proclaims to me as I walk by that “Your my favorite deputy,” which puts a pep in my step until he then continues to pull an Oprah and proclaims “no you are my favorite deputy, and you. You all are my favorite deputies.” Perhaps I’m not Woody’s only favorite but it’s this simple little interaction that makes Toy Story Land feel just a bit more alive than your typical Disney fare and certainly more than most of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At first glance you have tinker toy fencing, the Slinky Dog Coaster zooming at its gentle pace across a portion of its track and Rex and Jessie teetering over this portion of the attraction. If you love Toy Story and lets face it with its box office and history as Pixar’s first feature-length computer generated film who doesn’t, there’s enough visual eye candy sprinkled throughout the land for you to feast your eyes and iPhones on. Yes you can rest assured this land will have plenty for sharing on Instagram. It takes but a few steps into the land to see one of Andy’s giant footprints embedded into the wide “dirt” pathways.
Just a bit further along into Toy Story Land you might notice a park bench made of popsicle sticks that are colored from the leftover residue of their flavored popsicle colors. Continuing forward we see a play set with a “corrugated cardboard box” serving as the entryway for Toy Story Land’s Midway Mania that now has a new purpose-built entrance that will serve as the ride’s entryway going forward. We didn’t get to preview this new entrance queue fully during our time but suffice it to say that it will be serviceable as a new entry point for what is surely to remain a staple at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for years to come. But off to our right is the bridge that leads to Slinky Dog and let’s face it that’s why we are here. So let’s not waste another second. Sorry Woody and Buzz we’ll shake hands and chat it up later we’ve got a puppy coaster to put through its paces.
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Most children of a certain height and age and most adults who aren’t afraid of coasters will find Slinky Dog Dash irresistible fun.
[column size=two_third position=last ]With Slinky Dog Dash what you see is what you get. The Walt Disney Company first previewed it at a D23 expo years ago and it looked like a fun addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ offerings then and it serves as that today. It adds Toy Story Land’s major kinetic and visual draw and in many ways it’s a great Disney family attraction in that most children of a certain height and age and most adults who aren’t afraid of coasters will find Slinky Dog Dash irresistible fun. That’s the thing this coaster get’s right, it is simple and short but it is fun. Crossing over the themed bridge we enter an outdoor queue that will remind anyone who’s been to Disney California Adventure of its own outdoor queues. That is an interesting decision considering the wait times this roller coaster will surely face and the sweltering heat of Florida summers along with the rain showers that follow. Still, there is a bit of beauty that is afforded by having the queue overflow be outside and the queue itself be part of open air buildings. Fans are littered throughout the queue and they were a saving grace on this humid preview day as we entered a play set for Slinky Dog Dash. The toy parts of this coaster play set have been used by Andy to create this coaster adventure in his backyard and you might notice stickers from an oversized sticker sheet missing that have been put to use on the coaster, or even a diagram detailing the various pieces of the coaster as you might find when building a toy for your family members during the holidays. This along with toy soldiers holding Elmer’s glue and a giant number 2 pencil strewn about and you get a sense that Andy was here. Before long we’ve made it to Slinky Dog Dash’s boarding station and it’s a giant open air one with layouts of the ride painted onto the roof much like you’d find on the back of the box of your favorite toy detailing the adventures you’ll have once you make the purchase. Slinky Dog Dash’s coaster vehicle is a beautiful sight. Like when seeing Slinky Dog in the Toy Story movies you can’t help but smile. Of course it features an oversized slinky dog head on the front and my favorite his tail on the back of the vehicle which will actually bend on its coils slightly back and forth with the motion of the vehicle. The vehicles themselves are a godsend compared to the cramped disastrous design used on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’s vehicles. Slinky Dog Dash might even be more spacious than Big Thunder Mountain and features two individual lap bar harnesses that don’t feature cramped bars on either side like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Now that we are seated comfortably its time for a toy-sized adventure.[/column]
Rolling out of the gate we turn towards what is essentially our first lift hill but there’s not a traditional chain lift here, this is the new millennium remember so we are going to get some speed thanks to some Linear Induction Motors (LIMs) that launch us incredibly smooth up this first lift hill. The sights and sounds are a nice touch and we can just make out Rex talking in the distance. Interestingly, though the coaster makes use of launches it really uses them for the thrill of the launch but they act primarily as a traditional lift hill because you will lose almost all of your speed at the end of the launch as it goes uphill and turns ever so slowly before the first drop. This drop is probably the most thrilling part for the young ones who may not be sure of riding so that’s what you should look at when trying to gauge this attraction for the young ones. At the top we get a nice overview of the land and put our hands up as we rush down and begin to turn with some speed around the toy tower where Rex and Jessie are towering above. After one more bend we’ve gotten a taste for some of the best of this coaster and we pull into what is my favorite segment of this attraction. It’s second launch.
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In front of you is a set of themed rings that serve to represent those classic pull toys where you push back the vehicle in its launcher and then the spring-loaded launcher blasts the car forward when you press the button. Remarkably Disney Imagineers have nailed this feeling as your vehicle comes to a pause and then begins to roll backwards as Slinky Dog starts to prepare us for our next toy launch. It builds anticipation for the next launch the way it builds at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster the other launch coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The sounds rev and go, go, go we launch yet again in what feels like a bigger launch then the first but again the speed is short-lived as we are forced awkwardly, I might add, into another rather abrupt hill that erases most of the speed of that preceding launch. It kind of hampers what could be an Incredicoaster for me but this coaster is for the young ones so I understand. Still all is not lost because we turn and get an incredible view of the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Literally everyone in front of me was in awe of the same sight and turning their heads as our coaster slowly progressed. Then it is onto the smallest set of bunny hills imaginable that have been set up to give Slinky Dog Dash its slinky like movement, yet another beautiful touch by Walt Disney Imagineering. Another set of fun turns with a bit of speed and we are once again back at the station but like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train we get a kiss goodbye on this rollercoaster. You might remember Mr. Spell from Toy Story Mania’s themed outdoor promenade, well he’s joined Wheezy for a nice send off that includes the Wheezy Animatronic figure singing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” It’s small touches like this that make this coaster feel like a Disney attraction and not just your average coaster. That isn’t to say the coaster’s theming doesn’t leave much to be desired. You won’t mistake it for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to be sure. Despite the latter it’s an incredibly fun attraction especially for the young ones in your party or for those that don’t love thrill coasters but love the thrill even the smallest of coasters can provide.[/column]
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A set of themed rings represent those classic pull toys where you push back the vehicle in its launcher and the spring-loaded launcher blasts the car forward when you press the button. Remarkably Disney Imagineers have nailed this feeling.
After a delightful trip on Slinky Dog Dash its back to the main path which includes outdoor quick service dining at Woody’s Lunch Box that will serve up classic American fare. The seating is outdoors so umbrellas are looking like the likely choice for cover in case of your typical mid afternoon shower. Although a proper fully themed and fleshed out Pizza Planet would be the natural choice for a Toy Story Land, Woody’s Lunch Box’s offerings will provide ample palate satisfying entrees from a BBQ Brisket Melt to a Grilled Three-Cheese Sandwich and you’ll want to try the Mystic Portal Punch which comes with a neat Souvenir Alien Sipper and a mystically large Disney price to match. Just past Woody’s Lunch Box are the land’s restrooms and the word is cleverly spelled out using scrabble letters because it’s Toy Story Land. The bathrooms are nice and what you’d expect from Disney bathrooms but I’ve got to give kudos for one addition that I can’t understand why it wasn’t implemented till now. No matter what bathroom you’ve been to at Disney Parks lately there was always a needless splattering of water strewn across the floor because they installed hand dryers over the floor where guests were taking there dripping hands to the dryers and then having the dryers blow the remaining water onto the floor. Small thing, but rinse and repeat the process hundreds of times before custodial comes for cleanup and you have unnecessarily unseemly bathrooms that shouldn’t be when the solution was so obvious. Luckily someone at Disney clearly heard one of my rants, or great minds think alike and this bathroom features paper towel dispensers and hand dryers over the sink area keeping water where it should be. Disney custodial and Disney fans like us who notice the details thank you for this small upgrade.
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Like the classic Mad Tea Party attractions at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom except instead of just spinning in circles your ride vehicle swings you back and forth left and then right on a pivot that anchors your ride vehicle.
[column size=one_half position=last ]Next it’s onto Alien Swirling Saucers that is largely a clone of the spinner attraction experience at Disney California Adventure’s Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. The extended queue begins outside after we pass a larger than life Buzz Lightyear but then moves into covered pathways that serve some Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin-esque theming. Nothing too fancy here though there are four interactive elements we saw as we made our way towards riding the ride filled with little green alien fun. You hop aboard your own alien led blaster space vehicle for two, buckle-up and get ready for a spinner attraction like you’ve likely never ridden before unless you’ve been to Cars Land. It begins to pick up speed like the classic Mad Tea Party attractions at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom except instead of just spinning in circles your ride vehicle swings you back and forth left and then right on a pivot that anchors your ride vehicle. But in what feels like an amazing little bit of engineering your vehicle is transported from one spinner wheel to another where the two spinner wheels unite and this invariably swings your vehicle left and right but now in the opposite direction. Add thematic music and lighting and you’ve got yourself a fun little attraction that the whole family can enjoy.[/column]
At the end of the land we reach construction walls that we know are all that separate us from a Star Wars themed land arriving in fall of 2019. Just a construction wall and a year separates us from the most anticipated Walt Disney World land expansion in history. But for now we’ve had a good time at Toy Story Land and it’s time for reflection. Toy Story Land is a nice mini land that is clearly geared towards the younger demographic. It will provide years of entertainment for the entire family with its simple fun and family friendly thrills. As a stand alone land Toy Story Land leaves us with much to be desired, in terms of Disney level theming and immersion but as a small part of a new Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park it can certainly make sense. In fact I believe what you are seeing is the beginning of a Fantasyland of sorts at whatever this park is eventually renamed and branded around. A family and kids area that spans from where Toy Story Land sits today to where Disney Junior – Live on Stage and Star Wars Launch Bay currently reside. It’s speculation at this point but just like Disney California Adventure needed a ton of love to be rejuvenated, Disney’s Hollywood Studios aka the park to be named later needs Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railroad and more as it aims to have a world-class roster of relatively new attractions once again. New attractions, new and classic brands and tons of place-making will be needed to turn Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ pink studio buildings into thematic worlds of Disney wonder. Toy Story Land might not be the pinnacle of that but it’s a strong family attraction appetizer before the main courses drop next year. For now you’ve got a friend in Toy Story Land even if we’ll continue to peer over that construction wall every time we ride Slinky Dog Dash.