filming / Fun / Hollywood / Los Angeles / Movies / travel / TV shows / USA

Universal Studios, Los Angeles

After the immersion of movie magic we experienced on the Warner Brothers tour we decided a trip to Universal was also required.

Quick Tip: If you are going to Universal do your research on time of year and crowds. We had contemplated getting the “Front of Line” pass which allows you to queue jump. After a bit of investigation we realised Universal LA doesn’t actually have that many rides and by arriving early there was a good chance we wouldn’t have that long of a wait in queues. So we opted not to get the more expensive passes and as it turns out we didn’t need them. HOWEVER I probably would have invested in the “Front of Line” passes had my children been with me. Visiting a theme park as two adults as opposed to as a family with children creates a very different dynamic and experience.

I haven’t been to Universal in the US since I was a teenager over 20 years ago so it was interesting for me to see how it had changed (or not as the case may be).

We arrived just after the park opened and headed straight down to the lower level of the park to the Transformers and Jurassic Park rides. There were no queues, and we were quickly able to ride Transformers 3 times in a row. The Transformers ride raises the bar as far as interactive riding goes. Think ghost train with 3D movie with motion master and you come close to the interactivity of this ride. It all but immerses you into a mini-movie with Optimus, Bumble Bee, Megatron and even Starscream making an appearance as you are passenger aboard your own open top transformer as it drives through various sound stages. It is very cleverly done and everyone on the ride gets immersed in the experience. Each time we went on this ride we discovered or experienced something different. What a start to the day!

Outside the Transformers ride we got to meet the characters. I was able to score the trifecta of Megatron, Optimus and Bumble-Bee. Megatron wouldn’t let me go and wanted to make me his ‘galactic bride’. Even as I walked past he would call out “Lisa! Leeeesa!” which was absolutely hysterical. Whilst I’m an Autobot girl at heart we found the interactivity of the characters such great fun we were left with smiles on our faces.

Another of the rides in this area of the park, Jurassic Park, was a water slide boat ride. It was ok. Some big guys got in the boat and sat in front of us excited they would get such a great view. Ange and I laughed knowing we would be getting some great protection. Sure enough, as we came down the drop at the end of the ride the boys in front got absolutely soaked while we had ducked our heads behind them and barely had a drop on us. Thanks boys!! I was slightly amused as the slide drop is pretty obvious so you know it is going to happen, and yet these guys were genuinely surprised by the splash and how wet they were. On a nice day such as it was, they didn’t have much to worry about as I am sure they dried off quickly.

The 3rd ride in this area was The Mummy. It was a real non-event. It wasn’t exciting or dramatic. It was about as boring as a 1960’s ghost train. To top it off, our ride just happened to ‘break down’ for 5 minutes so we were stuck in the scarab area. If you think Space Mountain is tame then this is a real kiddy ride. I wouldn’t waste my time on it again.

After one last trip over to the Transformers ride before we headed back up to the main area of Universal where the crowds had started to amass. Noticing the wait for the studio tour creeping up towards 45 minutes we thought our best course of action was to go on that before crowds got even worse. We’re glad we did as by the time we got back from the studio tour the wait time was close to 2 hours!

The Universal Studio Tour has turned into a real production line. Large trams, filled to maximum capacity churning out of the terminal in a constant line make their way down into the back lot. Whilst there is a tour guide on the tram ours felt more like a robot than a human. He was reading a script, very monotone and constantly deferring to a video which for me distracted from  what I wanted to see – the back lot.

The last time I went on the studio tour you got immersed in a battle with Cylons from the 1980’s Battlestar Galactica TV show, shaken to bits by an earthquake and spun around in a snowstorm. Surprisingly, not much has changed. The soundstage that had Battlestar Galactica burnt down many years ago, but the Earthquake was still the same and the snowstorm has just been rebranded as a sandstorm from The Mummy. Having said that, some of the old favourites were still there – Jaws was setting things on fire and bursting out of the water – STILL making everyone on the studio tour jump. The flash flood was still as punctual as ever and the back lot street fronts still bring an overload of memories as you pick them out from various movies you have seen them used in.

We drove through a plane crash. It was impressive with parts of the plane strewn everywhere and the neighbourhood smothered in utter destruction. I loved the effort and detail put into it. (The fact that most real plane crashes FLATTEN the area they smash into has to be put aside of course).

They have kept the houses from Desperate Housewives and we got a slow tour around those. Despite starring Teri Hatcher I’ve never watched the show but the houses were all very quaint. I imagine they will be a great asset for Universal in the future as the setting for other shows and movies.

There was this guy going about his business at a street side motel in the back lot. He looked a bit psycho to me …

Uh … definitely psycho. Nice hospitality they have around here! (I wonder how much he gets paid to be a psycho all day putting dummies in the back of a car)

There was a giant blue screen (used in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean) and some pretty famous names amongst the streets housing the various back lots. Despite being cheesy, rushed and commercial the studio tour was definitely interesting.

After arriving back from the studio tour we ventured in what was now a large swarm of people humming around the attractions. This is where the front of line pass would really come into its fore, so we were glad we had already gone on most of the rides first thing in the morning. We patiently waited through the crowds for lunch before heading over to queue for the Simpsons ride.

The Simpsons artwork and ride looked terribly familiar and it was only once we have queued up I realised it was identical to the ride Fox Studios had when they attempted to have a theme park section in Sydney many years ago. Is it the same ride? It looked and felt like it …

We also ventured over to Shrek 4D. It was …. unimpressive. We were a bit disappointed we bothered with it.

Thankfully the Blues Brothers show made up for the disappointment.

These guys were GREAT! The seating area was way too small, but the singing was fabulous and well worth standing for.

Timing just seemed to go our way all day. After the Blues Brothers show Scooby Doo showed up. He was one of the only characters I got my photo with when I was a teenager the first time around, so I jumped at the opportunity to have a 40th birthday photo with him. You’ll have to trust me on the younger photo – it’s in an album at my mum’s house as it was taken pre-digital era so I can’t do a side-by-side.

As we thought we would head to the shops and escape the crowds who should show up but SpongeBob – the one character Ange was hoping to meet. He grabbed my hand, not letting go despite me telling him it was Ange who wanted to meet him, and dragged us through the throng of people to his area where we were given loads of hugs and time for first photos. He literally bowled Ange over with cuddles – it truly made her day.

I had hoped to see more of the classic cars from the vast library of films and TV shows Universal have been involved in over the years (original K.I.T.T where aaaaaare you????). Alas, aside from a rushed drive on the Studio Tour past a select few (K.I.T.T (Mustang) was there but we didn’t get to take any pics because the tour raced past it) and the cars from the movie Fast and Furious 6 (which was currently in theatres) most of the cars are off display in storage (I hope) elsewhere. However they did have the great sense to have one of the most iconic cars in movie history on display – the DeLorean time machine from “Back to the Future”. This movie is still immensely popular (especially with my husband), so it was nice to see Universal recognise this and keep some of the nostalgic props around.

Whilst Universal and Warner Brothers are very different studios and experiences – if comparing black lot tour to back lot tour the WB tour is much more hands on and personal while the Universal tour is now a mass production process – I imagine you would have to pay for a VIP or private tour to get the same experience as WB from Universal. I preferred the more personal approach of WB, however Ange liked the Universal tour as it was more like a ‘ride’. Because of the differences, we’re glad we did both studios.

As for a theme park, Universal has it all – rides, fun, action and the character interactivity is fabulous! Now to see how the Singapore Universal compares …

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