Updated: May 21, 2015
Going to Disney Hollywood Studios with Smaller Children:Our family found Disney Hollywood Studios (DHS) to be one of the best parks we visited. Our children are 4 and 7 and they really enjoyed the day here. Unlike all of the other Disneyworld theme parks loaded with rides that most little ones don't even ride on, we thought Disney Hollywood Studios offered a great mix of shows, play areas, and outdoor attractions that people of all ages could enjoy. The parks hours in February (2009) were 9 AM to 7 PM and so we knew we had all day to accomplish what we needed and get in several breaks for the kids. In almost all the reviews and writeups in books and websites we found information on how to see EVERYTHING and get FASTPASSES to hit all the rides. We knew going in that our plan would be different with smaller children so we were looking for a kid friendly itinerary so that parents and kids would be happy at the end of the day. Below I have tried to outline what we did and how long each activity took. The order of the schedule could certainly be different depending on your eating times and if your little ones need a nap in the afternoon.
We arrived a bit after 9:30 AM and headed to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid indoor show that lasted about 20 minutes. The show is well done and I thought was very well done with singing and a nice overall stage show. The next attraction as you step out the exits is Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage - we skipped this one since we had recently seen the show at Disneyland. My advice is to save this show for later in the day if little ones are starting to act up and give them a chance to stand up and cheer. The Playhouse Disney show is interactive and lots of fun for toddlers and young children. Our next stop was the Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage show. Lasting about 25 minutes we found the show to be quite entertaining and our kids liked it a lot. It's similar to a broadway production but keeps the show shorter in duration so that kids will not get too bored. After this show we walked up Sunset Blvd. and headed to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure - a huge oversized play area with fun slides, netting to walk in, giant spiderwebs, and oversized ants. The kids had a chance to unload some energy and us parents relaxed in the shade. Most of the equipment seemed safe for even younger kids - the only thing I saw was the slide on the far side was a bit steep and there was a Disney attendant watching kids come down. We had lunch just around the corner and then headed out again. This time we wanted to catch the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular show so we stood in line for a few minutes and got good seats in the covered seating area. The show is a bit slow moving at times with lots of "setting up of scenes" but the action is real and there are some cool moments. The last scene with the airplane and the explosions can be a bit frightening to younger kids, but the audience sits back far enough from the action it should be ok. Our kids were not ready to go on the Star Tours ride, but as we approached the line area, we noticed the Jedi Knight training session and my 4 year old son was glued to watching kids from the audience get up on stage and simulate a light saber fight with none other than Darth Vader (in full costume) and the Storm Troopers stood nearby. My son is still talking about this part of the trip after a few weeks so definitely don't miss it.
At this point we made a reservation for dinner at a restaurant called Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano. If you plan on eating dinner before watching the Fantasmic show, get a reservation so you don't have to wait in line and waste time at a restaurant. After making the reservation we headed over to the Muppet Vision 3D movie which is short but offers some decent entertainment for little kids. They will have to wear 3D glasses to watch the movie properly. On the day we were in the park the Studio Backlot Tour was being worked on so it was closed and allowed us some extra time to go back to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground area. Once again the kids had a chance to unwind a bit before we went to watch the Lights, Motion, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. The show is only played a few times a day so don't miss it. We watched the 4:30 show and it was packed with people. The good news is that most seats get a great view of the small European town (just building facades) where the car stunts take place. The show was definitely exciting to watch with cars racing around the streets and going off jumps and driving backwards. There was even a scene with a motorcycle sliding into a ball of flames and the guy catching on fire (safely of course). The last scene is a jump over the water canal in front of the stands with a big explosion. This scared my 4 year old son a bit, but it only lasts a few seconds. Overall the stunt show was fun to watch and worth waiting in line for. We then went to our dinner reservation at the restaurant for an early dinner giving us time to get to the Fantasmic! show. There is good sized amphitheater that seats 1000's for the show, but if you don't arrive early you will be standing for the entire show (lasts about 25 minutes). The show includes a huge set over a water mote where Mickey Mouse leads the action. There are huge water fountains and movie displays superimposed over the water (like watching a movie on a waterfall). There is music, fire, and plenty going on. If you have to stand, expect to hold your children up so they can see the show, otherwise they will be too low to see anything on the stage or in the water. Near the end of the show a series of boats/floats come through the water with all the Disney characters on them. The show is definitely worth the park entrance fee so don't miss it.