Originally opened as Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989, it was the third of four theme parks built at the Walt Disney World Resort and has gone on to prove itself a favorite, with over 9 ½ million guests visiting the 135-acre park in 2011 making it the fifth-most visited amusement park in the United States, and the eighth-most visited in the world. Like most of the parks at the resort, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has seen its share of renovation and expansion with even the Fantasia inspired Sorcerer’s Hat being added in 2001 to replace the Earful Tower that used to represent the park. Divided into six themed areas, this park however is unlike any of the other Walt Disney World parks, as it does not follow a defined layout with streets and buildings that blend into one another.
Hollywood Boulevard serves as the park’s main entrance lined with 1930s and ‘40s inspired venues selling Disney merchandise. Echo Lake is the small oval-shaped lagoon where the A.T.A.S. Hall of Fame plaza can be found displaying busts of past and present television icons. The New York Street of Streets of America originally served as the park’s Backlot Studio tour, but has since been opened to pedestrian traffic after the streets underwent architectural treatments to resemble those of San Francisco and New York. The Animation Courtyard originally marked the starting point of the park’s tours of the active production studios is now home to a number of attractions based on Disney characters, and the area where you find the Magic of Disney Animation pavilion. The park’s newest section includes many of the original soundstages, but today resembles Pixar Animation Studios campus in Emeryville, California. Rounding out the park is Sunset Boulevard, the first Hollywood Studios expansion to be opened providing two outdoor amphitheaters and a home to the awesome Fantasmic! show.
The park’s genesis originally came from a brainstorming session that produced the idea for the Great Movie Ride pavilion as an addition to Epcot’s Future World. Instead when newly appointed CEO Michael Eisner saw the plans, he felt the ride should be at the center of its own park, one celebrating Hollywood. However the park’s inception proved rocky as MGM entered into a dispute with Disney over the inclusion of facilities for the production of movies and television shows on the lot. Even as it opened the dispute continued with Disney filing a countersuit that MGM had been intending on violating what were supposed to be worldwide rights to the use of their brand for the theme park, having begun construction of their own park at the MGM Grand hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. While both were awarded use of the name, MGM was restricted from duplicating Disney’s “backlot” theme, eventually resulting in their park’s closure in 2000 after seven years of troubled operation. Disney however also had restrictions placed upon its use of the branding, a likely contributor to the August 9, 2007 announcement that the Studios would be re-branding itself as Disney’s Hollywood Studios.