Even though I drive by there all the time and have been to the adjacent CityWalk shopping promenade many times, it’s probably been more than ten years since I’ve gone to Universal Studios. And let me say, the theme park has sure grown up in the past decade! There are tons of first-rate rides, many of them featuring state-of-the-art 3-D technology, several entertaining shows, and of course, the famous Studio Tour that gives you a behind-the-scenes look into movie making. This year, Universal is celebrating its 100-year anniversary so it seemed like the perfect time to reacquaint myself with “The Entertainment Capital of L.A.”
Universal Studios is built into a hillside between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, about eight and a half miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The theme park is situated on two levels connected by four flights of very long escalators. The park entrance is up top (the Upper Lot) along with a couple of rides, the various shows and the Studio Tour. The Lower Lot features the “big” rides and Universal’s world-famous backlot, where they’ve been creating movie magic for the past century.
Below is a primer of the star attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood:
Transformers: The Ride 3D – Universal’s newest attraction, this fully immersive ride fuses high definition, 3-D media and elaborate flight simulation technology. I’ve never been on a ride quite it before—you literally feel like you are inside the movie, fighting the evil Decepticons alongside Optimus Prime.
Revenge of The Mummy: The Ride – Using “linear induction motor technology,” this ride propels passengers deep into the Mummy’s tomb at speeds up to 45 mph. Compared to the other attractions at the park that are more visually based, this one is most like a good old-fashioned roller coaster. [Spoiler alert: At what seems like the end of the ride, the car reverses direction, speeding you backwards through the dark!]
Jurassic Park: The Ride – On this ride based on the blockbuster, guests board a safari boat and venture into the wilds of Jurassic Park. It starts off innocuously enough, but then things go horribly awry when the boats go off course and riders are faced with carnivorous dinosaurs. The highlight is near the end of the ride when the boats narrowly miss the jaws of a fifty-foot T-rex and then plunge down an eighty-four foot flume, guaranteeing to soak everyone.
The Simpsons Ride – This virtual roller-coaster is amazing in that you feel like you’re actually inside the animated world of the Simpsons. Passengers sit in cars that move and shake in front of a giant eight-story tall screen. In the 3-D film, Sideshow Bob has escaped from prison and is out to get Krusty the Clown and the Simpsons.
WaterWorld – Even though the film on which this show is based was less than a stellar hit, the death-defying stunts and awesome pyrotechnics in WaterWorld pack in audiences several times a day. Actors re-enact the basic plot of the movie on jet-skis, speed boats, and overhead on wires, all the while avoiding explosions. The front few rows are “soak zones” so only sit there if you want to get drenched.
Terminator 2 3-D – This attraction is a combination 3-D movie and live-action stunt show. Although it is relatively older attraction, the 3-D special effects are still mind-blowing.
Shrek 4D – The Kingdom of Far Far Away comes to life in the fourth dimension with shaking seats, mist sprayers, and lighting effects that make you feel like you’re inside the fractured fairytale. In the film, the ghost of Lord Farquaad returns from the dead to kidnap Princess Fiona and it’s up to Shrek and Donkey to rescue her. This original 3-D film features the voice talents of Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz.
Special Effects Stage – This live-action show teaches many of the secrets of “Hollywood magic” including CGI, stop motion, 3-D technology and more. I work in entertainment so already knew how all of these things really work, but it was fun to watch the audience “ooh” and “ahh” at the demonstrations.
And finally, no trip to Universal Studios would be complete without taking the famous Studio Tour where you get to go behind-the-scenes of the world’s largest working movie studio. Jimmy Fallon introduces clips seen on HD monitors in the trams, augmenting narration by the live Studio Tour guide. The hour-long tour takes you all around the backlot, transporting you to New York City, Amityville beach from Jaws, Courthouse Square from Back to the Future and to the spooky Bates Motel. It’s been a long time since I’d taken the tour; gone is any mention of the “parting of the Red Sea” from The Ten Commandments, and when I was there last, Wisteria Lane (from Desperate Housewives) was the location of Beaver Cleaver’s house.
The highlight of the Studio Tour is the when the tram drives into the world’s largest 3-D experience—Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3-D. Two gigantic curved screens—the equivalent of sixteen movie theatre screens—surround the tram on all sides. Riders put on 3-D glasses and watch King Kong battle it out with a life-size tyrannosaurus Rex.
Here are some valuable tips to help you enjoy your day at Universal Studios Hollywood:
- Take the Studio Tour early since the trams stop running up to two hours before the park closes. The best seats are in the middle of the cars on the left-hand side. Avoid the front row since the window actually obstructs your view, especially during King Kong.
- No matter what seat you are in on Jurassic Park, you will get soaked! Wear lightweight clothing (jeans will get soggy and take forever to dry.) Go early in the day so you can dry out or bring something to change into. Or they also offer ponchos, if you want to look like a total nerd.
- Many of Universal’s rides feature what’s called “Child Switch.” If your child is too small for a ride, you don’t have to stand in line twice. Just ask an attendant for a pass for the second adult, who can wait with the child and then go straight to the front of the line as soon as the first rider returns.
- Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, especially in summer.
- Buy “Front of Line” Passes. These cost extra, but are definitely worth it during the summer months when the park is packed. They allow guests to cut to the front of the line one time for each attraction. You also get behind-the-scenes access to Universal’s Animal Actors show. Be sure to purchase the Front of the Line pass online before arriving at Universal Studios. There are a set amount of them sold each day at the front gate ticket booths, and they often sell out.
Getting There: By car – Universal Studios is located just off the 101 Freeway in Universal City, north of Hollywood. The northbound exit is Universal Studios Blvd; the southbound exit is Lankershim Blvd. Follow the signs to the Universal Studios parking. By Metro – The Metro Red Line train from downtown and Hollywood stops at Universal City. Cross the street for a free shuttle to the front gate of Universal Studios. Shuttles continue for two hours after the park closes.
To Get Tickets: Visit the StruxTravel website to get general admission tickets, tickets to the VIP Experience, Skip the Line passes, or even round-trip shuttle service from the airport or Anaheim (in case you’re also visiting Disneyland Resort.)
Here are more photos from my day at Universal Studios Hollywood:
Have you been to Universal Studios before? What did you think? Feel free to comment in the section below!
Click here for my other posts about being a tourist in my own backyard: