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Universal Studios Hollywood

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Growing up in Los Angeles, the glitz and the glamour really doesn’t faze you. You had been to the movie and sound stages, lived next door to stars, knew celebs before they became celebs, and so on.

I left over 20 years ago for a variety of reasons, but when in town for an event, I decided to check out one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, a place I had never visited – Universal Studios Hollywood.

I guess, looking back now, I had low expectations about visiting such a huge tourist attraction. But I decided that I was going to look at it like a “science experiment,” – i.e. what a visitor here would want to know and see. And I have to say that once I stepped off the hotel shuttle bus, I was instantly swept into the excitement of the place.

The Magic of Hollywood

Everything here is as big as life—vibrant, energizing, in a way over the top and undeniably befitting the lofty worldwide reputation L.A. has as the entertainment capital of the world.

In the 10 or so minutes I took to amble down to the park entrance, I was as excited as a little kid in a candy store at Halloween—completely enthralled with all the television theme songs blaring via loud speakers, punch drunk in the bold, eye-catching multi-hued signs on the various shops, stands, and eateries and immersed amidst the throngs of folks from all over the world and from every walk of life.

The longer I was there they more I got it: For those who did not grow up in Southern California, or in the U.S. for that matter, it was a huge deal to come here, to the land of (television and movie) opportunity and the place where one could dream big and “be discovered.” The sky was the limit. All day long I was surrounded by scores ofdialects such as Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Hebrew, British, Australian, African, French and German, among many others.

I was truly immersed in the global melting pot that is L.A.

The Park

Divided into Upper and Lower Lots, Universal Studios Hollywood encompasses acres of real estate chock full of restaurants, boutiques and of course, exhilarating theme park rides and shows, each one featuring a unique aspect or theme. 

Among the moving attractions here are Jurassic Park – The Ride, Revenge of the Mummy, The Simpsons, Shrek 4-D, and Terminator The Ride – 3D.  

Other worthwhile shows and attractions include the Special Effects Stage, Universal’s Animal Actors (held in an outdoor amphitheater), The Blues Brothers, and Water World, among others. 

In addition to the exhilarating rides and attractions, Universal Studios runs the gamut with food and shopping options sure to please. 

Not surprisingly—this is L.A. after all—the park has a 40,000 square foot kitchen and an award-winning executive chef that oversees an entire culinary team that strives to, as they explain it, ensure “your dining experience will be as impressive as any of the Park’s special effects!” 

In addition to the usual theme park fare—dogs, burgers, fries and shakes, barbecue, Italian, wraps, sandwiches, ice cream and other sweet treats and the like vegetarians and/or those on dietary restrictions will plenty to satisfy, as most park food locations offer healthy options such as salads, fruit, baked goods and more, and cook with trans-fat-free oil. 

As it is a movie-themed amusement park, you’ll find plenty of stores to satisfy your movie and specialty collectibles, clothing, toy, film and camera supplies and other needs.

The Universal Studios Tour

The Universal Studios Tour is what really brings a visit here all together. Billed as Hollywood’s most famous backlot in the world’s largest working movie studio, it is an expansive four acre, 13-city block, behind the scenes look at some of today’s most popular TVs shows and movies. And in true Hollywood form, it was built with touches of the design and creative expertise of famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg. 

The tour takes place on a lengthy multi-car tram that meanders from set to set with a live MC peppering tour guests with all sorts of entertainment history and trivia. At certain spots along the route, the HD monitors in each car take over with film clips, actor or director interviews and feature spots from others talking about the sets, specific movies and other topics.

The 45-minute or so journey is really very fascinating, as it aptly parallels the experience that we as a society seek when we turn on the TV or go to the movies—an escape from everyday life. 

The new King Kong 360/3-D is—as the kids say—“freakin’ awesome!” Here, King Kong finds himself in the long gone dinosaur era, fighting for his very survival against these massive creatures that lived billions of years ago. 

All decked out in our 3-D glasses we entered into a dark, spine-tingling sort of tunnel under what is reportedly the world’s largest 3-D projection installation ever produced.  The projection system alone is astounding: comprised of two seamless, compound, curved screens 40 feet high and 187 feet wide each, the equivalent of 16 movie theatre screens.Kong and T-Rex never looked so large! 

Throughot the short but completely captivating “ride” we recoiled and shrieked as Kong and the dinosaurs brawled against the sides of the tram, leapt back and forth into the jungle foliage, roared in our faces, and threw each other around in fits of rage, all while the tram pulsated and lurched in all directions.The special effects were simply amazing and the minute it was over we all wanted more. 

As we motored further along the tour we passed by several working and former movie and TV stages, and for those who want more of the movie magic experience, the park offers an extensive VIP Experience package that gets you into more areas of this amazing facility, a gourmet lunch, visit the Archive and Collections Department, and more. 

If it works with your budget, you might consider upgrading to include a “Front of the Line Pass” which is good for all shows and attractions (and included in the VIP Experience), particularly during the busy summer months when the lines can be quite long.

A Remarkable Adventure

An honorable mention goes out to the cleanliness of the park. It is spotless in every area and loaded with plentyof signage and areas reflecting the park’s dedication to recycling and environmental stewardship, including as a smoke-free environment with designated smoking zones around the park. 

All in all, Universal Studios Hollywood is an attraction and well worth the adventure!

Written by Lysa Allman-Baldwin


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