Hollywood is a magical place. It has a 24-hour buzz of excitement, creativity and activity. Most people never get to really understand it unless you “work in the industry.” It’s the place where actors make it (or don’t), where writing comes to life on the screen and where people flock from around the world to experience stardom. Universal Studios Hollywood has captured this excitement and magic and has bottled it up in a theme park – Universal Studios Hollywood. My family just spent an entire day there, and we were treated like movie stars, being able to cut to the front of the line and get reserved seating on every ride and show that is there. But believe it or not, this experience can be had by all, with a Front of the Line pass.
My family and I traveled down to Los Angeles during Spring Break, a time when other families and friends head out en mass to see the attractions. Honestly, it is one of the worst times to visit any type of theme park. Be prepared for long lines, lots of people, and spending most of your time simply waiting to do things. If you are headed to Universal Studios Hollywood during the peak season, be prepared to wait – some of the new rides can have wait times of over 60 minutes. And when the park is in full swing, you probably need 2 days to see all of the shows and get all all of the rides as well as do the back lot tour. But let me tell you this secret, if you can afford it, the Front of the Line pass (which is either $129 or $149 depending on the season) is well worth it in that you can actually see everything in the park in one day (and even do a few things a couple of times).
The Front of the Line pass gives you 1-time “cutting” abilities in lines for each ride and show. You are directed to “Gate A” which is a different line than what normal ticket holders follow. And it gives you reserved seating at all of the shows so that you can wait until the last minute to head to a show – you still get prime seats. Your pass is scanned each time and if you try to use it again on the same ride, you are told that it only is good for one time through using Gate A on each ride, however we found that we could come back to a ride later in the day and use it again. We experienced the new Transformers 3D ride twice, Jurassic Park three times and the Mummy ride twice, all on the same day, and still were able to enjoy everything else at the park. Bottom line, if you can swing it, the Front of the Line pass is definitely worth it.
So, what can you see at Universal Studios Hollywood? Read on for some pictures and highlights of some of the attractions. Or even better, watch the “highlights” video below – “Universal Studios Hollywood in 4 Minutes” (available directly on YouTube here).
Universal Studios has 3 levels – the Upper Lot, the Lower Lot and the Back Lot tour.
The Lower Lot
I’d recommend hitting the Lower Lot first, right when the park opens. You can probably get through it in just an hour or so. In the Lower Lot, you can find the newest attraction – Transformers The Ride 3D. This is a pretty spectacular ride. You get in a car (supposed to be a Transformer), put on your 3D glasses, and then race through a battle with the Decepticons.
It’s extremely engaging and pretty loud. Definitely a lot of fun.
Another ride in the Lower Lot is The Revenge of the Mummy, which is a short roller coaster ride. It’s fast and takes place pretty much in the dark as you plunge into the depths of an ancient pyramid. Be prepared for some surprises!
Finally, there is the Jurassic Park water ride. This is my favorite ride of the park actually and I have gone on it with my kids quite a number of times. If you have seen the Jurassic Park movies, the set will quite familiar. You start out on a calm water ride, seeing a variety of grazing dinosaurs, then you travel up and through the main Jurassic Park complex that has been taken over by dinosaurs. It’s thrilling!
Watch out for various surprises along the way!
The Upper Lot
The Upper Lot has the most attractions, shows and rides. While I won’t go into the details of all of them, here is what you can expect to find there.
There is The Simpsons Ride which takes you through a cartoon amusement park. You sit in a car that moves around on hydraulics. You get quite a rush as you do so, it can make you quite dizzy (at least I got dizzy). If you like The Simpsons cartoon, you will love this ride.
There is also a great show called The Special Effects Stage. Here you “go behind the scenes” to understand how some of the special effects in movies are done. There is even some audience participation.
You learn about old and new special effects like green screens and props and it is quite fun.
There is also a show called Animal Actors. Here you can see Lassie and other animals that you may have seen in some shows or movies. If you have little kids, this is definitely one to see and with the Front of the Line pass, you get to stay later to meet some of the animals!
And no theme park would not be complete without something scary. In fact, my family barely made it through the House of Horrors. I will warn you now, this is not a place to take little kids, in fact, my oldest daughter opted to not even go in. You walk through dark corridors and “live” actors jump out at you from behind corners. If you are weak at heart, you might want to sit this one out. I enjoyed it though.
There is also the Shrek 4-D Experience which is a 3D theater where you can follow the adventures of Shrek. This is definitely a lot of fun for the kids (so if they were freaked out from the House of Horrors, take them here to calm them down a bit.)
Lastly, there is the Waterworld show. Note, if you don’t want to get wet, be sure to pick your seats accordingly.
This is a live-action show that takes place on a water stages. There is lots of action, explosions and water stunts. (Be sure to check out the video above.)
The Back Lot
The Back Lot has one of the best, hour-long experiences that you can find. You sit in a tram tour bus and head down to the Back Lot of Universal Studios. This is actually a live studio, and not just a series of props. There are shows being recorded and movies being filmed. You can see a variety of sets that were used in the past (and are now part of the tour) and sets that still are actively being used.
You can see Jaws in action…
…experience an earthquake (ironically set in San Francisco in the subway I take regularly). See the movie above for the action…
…be part of a flood (again, see the movie)…
…Witness the power of King Kong in 3D…
…drive through an extremely realistic plane crash site (used for the War of the Worlds movie)…
…see the City Hall and clock tower (minus the clock) from Back to the Future…
…and even race away from the Bates Motel! (Can you see the knife?)
There are plenty of other surprises along this hour-long tour. It’s a great time to sit back and enjoy what goes on behind the scenes, literally. Oh, and with your Front of Line pass, you are shuttled without waiting to a car dedicated to others with the same pass!
Hopefully you got a good preview of Universal Studios Hollywood. If you want to see more pictures of our experience there, you can see them on this Flickr set. If you love movies and learning a bit more of the behind the scenes and what goes into production and set work, definitely spend a day there. And if your budget permits it, be sure to pick up a Front of the Line pass and just cut ahead of everyone else in line!
What is your favorite thing at Universal Studios? Mine is Jurassic Park and the Back Lot tour. Leave a comment and let me know what yours’ is.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received 4 complimentary Front of Line tickets (purchased a 5th though) for consideration in preparing to write this content. All opinions within this article are my own. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: Universal Studios Hollywood is a fantastic family experience. If you are in Los Angeles, don’t miss it!