Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom may have gotten all the attention in 2017, and 2019 may be dominated by Hollywood Studios’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but there’s actually yet another Walt Disney World Resort addition landing in between them: Toy Story Land, which opened at Hollywood Studios on June 30, 2018.
Yes, the 11-acre expansion falls more in the “traditional theme-park land” category than being yet another envelope-pushing area of the future, much like Pandora and Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter are and what all signs are pointing to Galaxy’s Edge being, as well (certainly, the fact that there are already three other Toy Story Lands at various Disney parks around the globe only reinforces this assumption). Whether more conventional or experimental, however, the new Pixar presence is sorely needed for Disney World’s movie park, and it’s a family-friendly section that provides a nice children’s alternative to the likes of the more thrilling Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
Toy Story Land – history
The original Toy Story Land – actually called Toy Story Playland – debuted at Disneyland Paris Resort in August 2010. The story of its arrival is suspiciously similar to what we see in Orlando, and for good reason: it’s located at Walt Disney Studios Park, the second theme park at Disneyland Paris and Hollywood Studios’s only sister location in the entire world. There as in Florida, Disney has struggled to find a way to keep the “movie backlot” premise relevant and exciting to guests (a fact which is only compounded by Paris’s routine status as the least-visited Disney resort on the planet), and bringing in Pixar’s flagship franchise was seen as a surefire way to increase attendance at the then-eight-year-old park. (Of course, the fact that Toy Story 3 hit theaters two months earlier certainly didn’t hurt, either.)
The premise was simple: shrink visitors down to the size of a toy and have them play in Andy Davis’s backyard. To realize this concept, bamboo was planted to act as oversized blades of grass, and three attractions were installed: RC Racer, modeled after a giant Hot Wheels race track fashioned in the shape of a giant U, is the land’s flagship ride; Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin is a caterpillar-style kiddie coaster; and Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop is an 80-foot-tall paratower that has guests rise up and then float back down to the ground.
Just a little over a year later, in November 2011, the land was exported to Hong Kong Disneyland, which was, itself, struggling with anemic attendance; called Toy Story Land, the area represented the first expansion in the park’s then-six-year history and was heavily advertised as being an “Asian exclusive” (since Shanghai Disneyland was only in the design phase and Paris, obviously, is located outside of the region). The Hong Kong version is nearly identical to its French forbearer in terms of rides (being bigger, it does feature a few more minor experiences), but its footprint is different in order to accommodate its host park’s topography – and the fact that Hong Kong Disneyland is surrounded by a beautiful landscape, including a majestic mountain, only helped to boost Toy Story Land’s theming, as well.
Hollywood Studios’s version was announced on August 15, 2015, during that year’s D23 expo. Although keeping its predecessors’ same general concept and thematic touches, its contents are almost completely different from either Paris or Hong Kong’s, featuring all-new rides (and one pre-existing, repurposed one – Toy Story Mania, which originally opened as Toy Story Midway Mania in 2008). There has been persistent speculation that Disney originally intended this land to open shortly after its reveal – perhaps as early as fall 2016 – in order to keep the park’s attendance up while a good quarter of it was shut down to build Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but since the company never ended up unveiling a release date one way or another that year, there is no way to know for sure.
November 2016 saw a Toy Story Land update, but not, interestingly enough, for the Orlando resort: a fourth version of the area was announced for the just-opened Shanghai Disneyland, making Toy Story the park’s very first expansion (just as it was in Hong Kong). Disney had long been planning this addition, laying the groundwork from the very beginning of the newest Disneyland’s operation back in June 2016 – it already featured the Toy Story Hotel (which is the first of its kind) right from day one, after all. Construction was revealed to already be underway, with an expected opening sometime in 2018.
While Disney did offer a slight update on its Floridian Toy Story Land on July 15, 2017 (during the subsequent D23 event), saying that it would open in summer 2018, the company effectively switched gears to focus on the Shanghai version from that point forward. In November and December 2017, the curtain was finally pulled back on the expansion, revealing an official name of Disney Toy Story Land (though that would subsequently be amended to Disney-Pixar Toy Story Land) and unveiling a roster of three rides: Slinky Dog Spin, Rex’s Racer, and Woody’s Round-Up. Each attraction is a variation on a previous Disney theme – the first two are near-direct clones of the Paris and Hong Kong Toy Story Lands’ Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin and RC Racer, respectively, while the last (which has a herd of ponies swinging guest-filled carts to and fro as they engage in a square dance) is a modified version of a Cars Land attraction, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, over in Anaheim’s California Adventure.
Rounding out the new Asian development’s lineup are the ancillary attractions. The Meeting Post is a character meet-‘n-greet with the Western-themed Toy Story toys, such as Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye, set in their native environment of an Old West town. Located on the other side of the land is Al’s Toy Barn, a gift shop that, in the films, is where Andy bought his own toys; not far away is Toy Box Cafe, a counter-service restaurant that is made to look like it’s been fashioned out of the packaging that Buzz Lightyear, Lotso Hugging Bear, and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head came in.
The last of these bevy of announcements was also the most surprising: the Shanghai Toy Story Land’s opening date was revealed to be April 26, 2018, making it the third (and not the fourth) version of the area worldwide, beating Orlando’s by some two months.
On February 16, 2018, with just four-and-a-half months to spare, Disney finally lifted the curtain on Toy Story Land’s opening date here at Walt Disney World Resort: Saturday, June 30.
Toy Story Land – location
To understand where this all-new Toy Story Land is going to be placed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we must first look to see where its anchor, Toy Story Mania, is located.
The small stretch of the park currently known as Pixar Place was originally a cluster of working soundstages that guests could only access through the Studio Backlot Tour; a long walking portion of the tour that had opened with Hollywood Studios in 1989 was shut down and eventually transformed into the scaled-down-but-still-accurate recreation of Pixar Animation Studios’s campus in Emeryville, California. Although it only consisted of one ride (Toy Story Midway Mania, of course) and one food cart (Hey Howdy Hey! Takeaway), it was immediately popular upon its opening on May 31, 2008.
On September 27, 2014, the rest of the Studio Backlot Tour was shuttered, and its giant swath of real estate (along with tracts of employee facilities, such as offices and the wardrobe department) was wiped clean in order to make way for both Toy Story and Star Wars Lands. The portion of land directly behind the ride formerly known as Midway Mania, in fact, became the home to the Pixar expansion, meaning that the entrance and exit of the fan-favorite attraction was eventually swapped to the other side of its massive show building. Now that Toy Story Land is completed, it is currently believed that Pixar Place will eventually be closed down and once again transformed into an employee-only area (no production tours allowed this time).
Toy Story Land – layout
Using the official concept art as our guide, the entrance to Toy Story Land is located at the bottom right-hand corner; off to the left side is a path that currently dead-ends but which will eventually become an exit to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (which will open in fall 2019). Toy Story Mania is placed in between these, running along the very bottom of the image, mostly off-screen.
Positioned near the (future) exit is Alien Swirling Saucers, the first of the two new rides. The second, Slinky Dog Dash, is located in the upper right-hand section of the artwork, although its tracks weave their way throughout the entire area.
Sitting in front of Alien Swirling Saucers is the area’s sole eatery: Woody’s Lunch Box. Serving up quick-service meals, Mini Babybel products, and old-fashioned soda floats, this venue looks like Andy constructed it out of his thermos and (what else?) his lunch box – and surrounded it with a number of his toys, including the green Army men stationed on the next-door lookout tower, who are busy keeping watch for Andy himself.
In between each of these stops, expect to find strings of Tinkertoy-supported Christmas lights and Andy’s giant footprints (you’re the size of a toy, remember?) stamped into the ground.
Toy Story Land – attractions
As stated previously, Disney World’s version of Toy Story Land features an entirely different lineup of attractions from its three international antecedents, although it’s a roster that will still be familiar to previous visitors of Hollywood Studios thanks to the continued presence of Toy Story Mania.
Slinky Dog Dash, the flagship ride, is a kiddie coaster that has guests sit on the famous character’s back as he makes them “dip, dodge, and dash” – as Disney itself puts it – throughout Andy’s backyard. The backstory here is that Andy fashioned the ride himself out of a Mega Coaster Play Kit, and as you zoom along the track, you’ll be able to spot several of his other toys scattered throughout the oversized lawn.
Here’s just a fun little tidbit that’s indicative of the experience that Slinky Dog Dash provides. At the end of the ride, guests pass by an audio-animatronic figure of Wheezy the (squeak) toy penguin, who will sing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” with the accompaniment of Mike the tape recorder (who provides the microphone for the solo) and Mr. Spell (who provides “funny commentary” in text format).
Alien Swirling Saucers takes its inspiration from the now-legendary claw aliens from the first Toy Story’s Pizza Planet. Once again, it’s a home version that Andy has left outside, which features planets and satellites that guests will spin around in their flying saucers as they’re being chased by the little aliens, who are – of course – attempting to snatch you with the omnipresent claw. Think Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree from Cars Land at Anaheim’s California Adventure (that is to say, a combination of a traditional teacups and whip ride), and you’ll know exactly what to expect.
(More than the next-door Buzz Lightyear’s Star Command playset or the columns and space station fashioned out of pizza, the one touch that Disney consistently touts is Alien Swirling Saucers’s music, which consists of eight familiar songs that have been given the “fun electronic space music” makeover. Make sure to keep an ear out for that while zipping around the galaxy.)
Finally, the newly-renamed Toy Story Mania opened with its original home, Pixar Place, on May 31, 2008 and immediately became a success. The perennially-long lines for the ride, in fact, caused Disney to expand the attraction, adding on a third track in May 2016 to help alleviate congestion. For the arrival of Toy Story Land, the attraction has received a new entrance, which is the box that the Mania game originally came in and which, as previously mentioned, now faces the opposite side of the show building.
Toy Story Land – live entertainment
What would a brand-new Disney theme-park land be without live entertainment? Toy Story Land delivers on this front in two distinct ways.
First up is the green Army men, who march throughout the area as Sarge and the Green Army Man Drum Corps several times a day. Guests are able to join in the processional, which will ultimately lead them to a “fun and interactive” boot camp; here, everyone is invited to play with oversized Pixar balls and giant crayons and engage in a game of Sarge Says, which, apparently, is the Toy Story equivalent of the traditional Simon Says.
Secondly, character meet-‘n-greets with the likes of Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl are available all throughout the land and all throughout the day.
Toy Story Land – dining
As previously mentioned, the main restaurant of Toy Story Land is Woody’s Lunch Box, a counter-service establishment that takes childhood favorites and serves them up in a fresh way – or, as Disney itself puts it, offering “classic flavor combinations with a modern twist.” Here are some highlights from the menu:
- S’more French Toast breakfast sandwich – a chocolate ganache- and marshmallow-stuffed French toast topped with graham cracker crumbles. Inspired by the classic American campfire treat.
- Grilled three-cheese sandwich – to ensure a soft, gooey middle, Disney chefs created a sharp cheddar cream cheese spread, layered in provolone and cheddar, and wrapped the sandwich in garlic butter-grilled French bread.
- BBQ brisket melt – this Texas-style smoked brisket features cheddar, Monterey Jack, pickles, BBQ sauce, and garlic butter-grilled sourdough.
- Smoked turkey, tomato, and lettuce on multigrain bread – the quintessential lunch-box sandwich. To give it a kick of flavor, Disney chefs add a creamy Dijonnaise.
- Totchos – bite-sized potato barrels, corn chips, chili, and queso.
- Lunch box tarts – choice of Raspberry Lunch Box Tart garnished with Icing and Dried Fruit or Chocolate-Hazelnut Lunch Box Tart garnished with Icing and Caramelized Bacon.
- Banana Split Yogurt Parfait – layers of banana-vanilla Greek yogurt (with a hint of honey), fresh bananas, strawberries, and pineapple topped with granola and chocolate chips. A delicious way to start the day!
Sides include tomato basil soup, vegetable macaroni salad, potato barrels, and, of course, Mini Babybel snack cheese, which is ubiquitous at Disney World.
Lastly, options in the drink category include good, old-fashioned soda floats; Mystic Portal Punch – Powerade Mountain Berry Blast, which is Toy Story Land’s Wizarding World-esque signature custom drink (it has hints of lemon-lime and tangerine); and Grown-Up’s Lemonade cocktail, which includes cherry vodka, Odwalla Lemonade, and black cherry puree. (If that sounds too fanciful for you, you can satiate your adult thirst by knocking back a standard beer or hard cider.)
And don’t forget about the keepsake Alien Sipper cup, which any fountain drink (or the Mystic Portal Punch) can be poured into.
Woody’s Lunch Box remains open until park close, and, yes, it does participate in the Disney Dining Plan.
Woody’s Lunch Box – photo gallery
Toy Story Land – merchandise
Ever since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter first opened eight years ago, merchandise has gone from being a mercantile afterthought to a central component of a land’s experiences. Disney has already proved that it’s more than capable of competing in this brave new world, with Pandora: The World of Avatar delivering in spades and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge promising even more. And while Toy Story Land may not be quite up to the others in this regard, the items it has on hand are nonetheless fun and capable of providing countless hours of entertainment for children and adults alike – what the whole point of the new area is all about, after all.
So, what can guests happily spend their money on in Andy’s backyard? New headbands, available in the three-eyed alien and Slinky Dog varieties, already seem to be all the rage, but the star of the show just may be Light-Up Slinky Dog, which does double duty as a toy or as a fashion statement (he can be stretched to fit around one’s shoulders or waist). Rounding out the merch roster is the obligatory apparel, which, in this case, highlights that this summer’s visitors are among the first ever to experience the American Toy Story Land.
(We should probably note that not only can you find all these items in Toy Story Land, select stores across Hollywood Studios feature them, as well.)