Disney's Hollywood Studios is becoming party central at Walt Disney World.
As it undergoes a change in theme during its 20th year, "The Studios," as the theme park is nicknamed, is adding performance venues and drawing events away from the resort's other three parks, becoming the site for most official Disney parties aimed at teens and young adults.
That party mission went largely unspoken last August, when Disney announced a slew of theme, attraction, entertainment and name changes for what had always been the giant resort's third-most-popular park, known until then as Disney-MGM Studios.
Yet Hollywood Studios -- which already possessed the most concert and show venues in Disney World, not to mention several attractions popular among youth, such as Tower of Terror -- now has a broader entertainment theme and is getting even more venues. It also is quietly grabbing a larger share of the after-hours party crowd.
More Orlando Sentinel blogs Epcot appeals to older revelers with its shopping, dining, wines and flowers, and oldies acts such as Herman's Hermits. Magic Kingdom's parties offer visitors an array of princesses and pirates, as well as Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Hollywood Studios is ready for those who want to rock.
"Now, with the new venues coming on board . . . and with our major attractions, that kind of resonates with these age groups, with the teens coming in," said Rilous Carter, Disney World vice president for Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Already home to three major annual bashes -- including this month's Star Wars Weekends -- and a number of annual after-hours private parties, The Studios also is taking over Disney World's annual high school "grad nights" and its annual "Night of Joy" Christian music festivals. Both grad nights and Night of Joy had until now taken place in Magic Kingdom. Disney's eighth-grade grad nights made the move to The Studios this year from Animal Kingdom. Last year, The Studios grabbed the High School Musical Pep Rally from Magic Kingdom.
"We think this is probably a better fit for these age groups," Carter said. "Magic Kingdom is a great venue -- they've loved it over the years. But this gives it [a youth-oriented event] more concert venues to stage musical shows or dance floors.
For most of its history, The Studios has been a solid third in popularity behind Magic Kingdom and Epcot in terms of general-admission attendance. But last year it narrowly missed being overtaken by Disney's Animal Kingdom, the resort's newest theme park, where attendance has been growing at faster rates in recent years.
This year, The Studios is getting:
*The only major Disney World ride to open this year, Toy Story Midway Mania.
*The resort's only major new show, American Idol Experience.
*Two new parades, Block Party Bash and the revised High School Musical 2: School's Out rally.
"I think this is our year," said Carter, the park's chief executive.
In addition, a new indoor concert venue to be called the Premiere Theater is being fashioned from an unused open-air theater. The air-conditioned venue will soon be joined by the American Idol Experience theater and two other stadiums that can each hold thousands of people. Large temporary stages and dance floors are also easily erected in front of the park's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and its giant Sorcerer's Hat.
Ronald Logan, a former Disney park-entertainment executive who now is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said Disney World designs its show venues to be available for alternative uses, provided those uses fit the surrounding park's overall theme. With the added venues and other changes, The Studios is now much more flexible in that regard, he said.
"There has been a broadening of the whole mission and theme, where you can address anything you want," Logan said.
Still, unlike Universal Studios' signature events -- Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights -- after-hours events in Disney's Hollywood Studios might never feature such edgy entertainment as Kid Rock or the Bill & Ted shows. Not the official events, anyway. But like all theme parks, Hollywood Studios is available for rent, and under private control, the various show facilities could take on a different tone.
Festival promoter One Mighty Weekend chose The Studios several years ago for its annual gay-and-lesbian party. Last year's One Mighty Weekend party featured disco queen Donna Summer and the often-coarse comedian Kathy Griffin there. This weekend's party in The Studios will include ribald comedian/singer Mo'Nique and pop diva Taylor Dayne.
"It's just the way it's laid out," One Mighty Weekend producer Johnny Chisholm said of the park's appeal. "They have two or three really great attractions that everybody likes. The layout is successful for putting dance floors in. And everything flows really well."