Advantages An 'extravaganza' everyone should experience at least once
Disadvantages A bit pricey for a young family
|Is it worth visiting?|
Occasional visits to our daughter in the States will include jumping in their car and driving hundreds of miles across Arizona to reach a 'must see' wonder of the world (Grand Canyon) or glitzy tourist city (Las Vegas). On this occasion, we were going to be in Los Angeles just about an hour's drive from the Universal Studios. Great! The three t's: trashy, tacky and totally tasteless. Life's far to short not to have some seriously silly fun.
Tip: For full location and driving directions, log onto the studio website and get customised driving directions with a map.Cost per adult: This review assumes you are going on a one-off trip.
Check the website for the Special Packages and Discounts. These change quite often.Hire of Pushchairs (strollers) and wheelchairs: $7. There is a $20.00 refundable deposit fee for wheelchair rentals.
Car parking: $10 for General Parking and $17 dollars for Preferred ParkingLocker facilities: $5, $6 or $7 depending on the size, and allows for in/out privileges all day. Limited to availability.
===============Before you read on, should you be considering taking very small children, please be aware that some of the 'effects' may be too intense for them. Dipping gently up and down on a ride in the main theme park might be fun, but would you take an impressionable 2-year-old through a dark, noisy tunnel which suddenly erupts into 'flames' from which a 20ft high roaring King Kong suddenly appears, so close you can smell his breath?
Is it too late for me to report the woman seated behind me who spent the entire 'fun time' on the Studio Tour reassuring her toddler (he wasn't screaming, he was too stunned), that "It's just pretend, honey! No need to be scared!"Quite frankly, if a 'fun' episode on the Studio Tour momentarily scared the bejesus out of me, God knows what it does to the mind of a tot.
Tip: Take a change of clothes for children as some of the rides involve water!
To save time in ticket lines, we bought our print-at-home tickets via the Universal Studios web site.There are also Ticket Machines at the park entrance, which accept credit cards.
On-line booking was quick and easy. We also took the opportunity to buy a Front of Line Pass (FLP). They are expensive but we treated ourselves. This pass allows you to go right to the front of the line at the shows and attractions within the park, which also ensures you are more likely to get the best seats in the house.When you arrive at the Entrance/Ticket booth, you hand over your printed ticket and you are given your rather fetching laminated square badge.
May I just say that the Front Line Pass makes you feel very important and something of a star for the day (there is actually a star design on the badge). How often have you stood in line for hours waiting to get in to an event when you are suddenly shoved aside whilst a party of people known as "Who-the-hell-are-they?" are ushered respectfully through the doors. Well, you too can be "Who-the-hell-are-they?" for a day with a Front Line Pass.BEST TIME TO VISIT:
Our visit was on a Sunday in January 2006. This was Low Season yet there still seemed to be thousands of people there.Just as you and I might visit a funfair during the weekend, so locals of Los Angeles will visit the Universal Studios. Therefore, if possible, avoid the weekends and school holidays to avoid long queues.
There are occasions, such as Christmas Day and Thanksgiving when the park is closed. Always check the web site first. If you ever saw Chevy Chase in Wally World (which, in case you didn't know, actually exists: I saw it!), you'll know what I mean when I say you really don't want to spend a whole day in the car travelling, stay overnight in a motel only to arrive fresh and early at the studios the next morning and they're CLOSED!Tip: If you hate crowds (and I'm not a fan), but would still like to experience this madness, I would suggest an out of season experience. If you've no option but to visit during High Season, pack some extra patience and go with the flow.
Tip: The park opens at 9am in the summer and 10am in the winter. Aim to arrive 30 minutes before official opening time.If it is raining (hard to imagine, isn't it?), be aware that shows may be cancelled or relocated.
WHAT'S TO DO?Lots! I've chosen a tiny sample of the attractions available during our visit. There will be changes after April 2006, but generally most of the attractions are perennial, such as the Studio Tour and the Special Effects Stages. Obviously, if there is something in particular you want to see, check it's still there before leaving the house!
SPECIAL EFFECTS STAGES: See how the special effects for Universal's biggest movies were made.THE STUDIO TOUR: A tour taken via the Shuttle Service where you get to enter the world of real moviemaking, in the world's largest working movie studio. Of great interest to anyone who enjoys watching films - even if the last one you watched was Psycho.
BACKDRAFT: Pyrotechnics and special effects excitement created for the movie 'Backdraft.' (Not to be confused with Bank Overdraft which is the experience to be faced on your return home.FEAR FACTOR LIVE: Based on the NBC reality series, this is a stunt show, featuring audience volunteers. You can sign up two hours before the scheduled event (depends on your level of insanity) or just 'enjoy' being part of the audience.
Tip: You might like to know that they have a Child Switch option in operation. No, that does not mean if your own little lamb is bawling fit to bust you get to swap him for an angel (though can could be a money spinner), it means that for certain rides you wait in line with your family; once you reach the point where you board the ride, you can split your group into two and the first group can ride whilst leaving the children with the non-riders. Once the riders get back, they simply switch.Tip: Check the height restrictions on the rides BEFORE you start queuing.
IT'S BEST TO HAVE A CUNNING PLAN BEFOREHAND:Once you enter the portals of bedlam, you are assailed from all sides by a cacophony of music, flashing lights, giant things, squeaky things, big people, little people, green people … green people? Oh wait, that was Shrek! Donkeys, dames and dragons. Shouting, laughing, gunfire, thunder, fake rain from nowhere, a surreal moment when you spot Marilyn Munroe blowing kisses in the crowd. It's life Jim, but not as we know it.
When you are used to a very quite life and the last time you visited a movie was in 1980, believe me, this place is a culture shock.What to do first?
Most of the attractions are shows which are strictly time-tabled so it's important to decide which show you'd like to see first. Electronic timetables are located at regular locations within the park and unless you arrive early and plan properly, these screens will inform you as you gaze up at it breathing hard from your recent encounter with Jaws, that you've got exactly 3 minutes to reach another show half a mile away.Because we'd only arrived at lunchtime, and because the park closed at 6pm, it began to dawn on us that we weren't going to be able to see everything we wanted to see, so we had to make an executive decision.
To do this, we needed a sit down and a cup of tea. There are plenty of places to enjoy a cuppa and something tasty. "Hugely overpriced," say American visitors, but compared to UK prices, I'd say we got a bargain.If you book on line just now (February 2006), you will also receive a $100 voucher to use against 'food and drink and more!' (No, I've no idea which 'more' might mean).
GETTING AROUND THE STUDIOS AND THEME PARK:There is special access information contained in the Studio Map you are handed as you enter the park. Wheelchair users may remain in standard wheelchairs throughout their stay, except for any of the rides where they must transfer to the ride's seating. There are strollers (pushchairs) and wheelchairs available for hire.
The Studio is split into an Upper Lot and the Lower Lot with four enormous, steep glass-covered escalators separating them. To reach the Lower Lot you step onto one of the escalators, the likes of which I have never seen before. So impressed was I at the aerial view over Los Angeles and Hollywood, that I think the escalator ride alone was worth the entrance fee.However, pushchairs are not recommended on the escalators, so use the elevator at the entrance to the first escalator.
Tip: Check the daily show schedule first. The Lower Lot opens about an hour later than the Upper Lot. Find out what's happening in the Upper Lot and get all those shows out of the way first.
Tip: The Studios are vast. Be prepared to walk, literally, miles. Wear comfortable shoes.
The Studio Tour (once known as the Back Lot Tour):Using our FLPs, we managed to secure a place fairly quickly on the little open-sided tram (Shuttle Service). Each carriage has rows of wooden benches on the left and right of the carriage. Obviously, if you get a seat at the tram's side (I didn't) you'll get the best view, which ensures the best photos. It's really hard to resist taking photos or pointing your camcorder at everything, but sometimes it's really just best to sit back and enjoy the fun.
The tour takes about 45 minutes and, interspersed with vintage sets and themed streets, soundstages and facades featured in many films, we drove through famous landmarks such as the Hill Valley courthouse where Marty McFly went "Back to the Future,"; the spooky Bates Motel and Psycho house.The tram drives through a major scene from War of the Worlds, depicting a small town devastated by a 747 jetliner crash after a Martian attack. The façade of the town is dramatic, devastated as it is by strewn wreckage and debris. It was so realistic, it was a momentarily subdued crowd in our carriage for a few moments. The photos I got from this particular film set are great for showing to friends when they ask to see my holiday snaps. 'Good God!' they whisper, looking at me with respect thinking I'd survived such mayhem.
Before or after we drove through the set of 'Desperate Housewives,' we stopped whilst the Red Sea parted, only to be plunged into an earthquake further on. Close-up views of sets from 'Jaws'; 'Jurassic Park: The Lost World,' and the snow-covered town of Whoville from 'Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas' had the children saying 'Ohhh!' and 'Ahhh!' when they saw these particular sets. A highly recommended tour.The whole experience was made all the more enjoyable by a particularly entertaining and enthusiastic guide. make-up, blood and gore etc) and shown the secrets and tricks of the movie trade and audience participation, most particularly involving the children, was a must.
The Fear Factor Live: Not our first choice but as everything else was finishing and this was the only thing left, we decided to give it a go. I'll just say in was an 'experience'. I'm not a fan of reality shows "Ooh! Here we have a large vat of live, wriggly worms which this poor girl has to eat!" and this didn't persuade me otherwise. If you're under 20, gullible and love loud, screaming audience participation-type entertainment - this is for YOU!!!!!Tip: Really not worth the headache induced by a loud, hyperactive audience. If you have children between the ages of 7 and 14, they'd probably enjoy it. Just make sure you have some Aspirin handy afterwards.
Note: I've heard from another visitor to Universal Studios that some of the rides in the theme park are really not worth what could involve an hour's wait if you didn't have an FLP.The rides they were disappointed with were not mentioned so I can only reiterate my advice to buy an FLP!!
The shops were the usual expensive Hollywood-inspired memorabilia but fun. Sketchers shoe shop beckoned me in because were having a sale. Yes, I succumbed, but only because I knew I was getting a bargain!We only had half a day and I'm amazed at what we packed into it. Had we more time, we'd have liked to explore the City Walk. Lots of clubs like the Hard Rock Café and BB King's Blues Club, theatres, multi-plexes…. on and on it went.
Tip: Apparently, the food in City Walk is better and cheaper than inside the park. So with a little planning, you could be near enough to the exit to nip out to the City Walk (you'll get your hand stamped for going in and out) for a bite to eat. Ideal if you have a family to feed.
I'm only sorry I missed the 'The Wardrobe Department'. This is a new store opened which: 'Features a broad selection of eclectic clothing and unique collectibles from popular TV programmes such as 'Law and Order,' 'Passions,' ….and 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' etc. Obviously a heavy American bias but it would have been fun to take a look!
Finally: would I recommend a visit to Universal Studios, Hollywood?Most definitely. Even if you're middle-aged like me, you'll find something of interest here - unless Hollywood just 'aint your thing.
Despite the huge number of people within the park, Universal Studios staff are to be commended for their sheep herding skills.And the toilets were very clean.
Thanks for reading!
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