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A Day At The Movies
Universal Studios Hollywood (California)
Member Name: belfin
Universal Studios Hollywood (California)
Advantages: The studio tour lets you see behind the scenes of television and film sets
Disadvantages: Very tiring couple of days
I don't want to repeat myself too much here, as this information is in the Sea World review too, but as it is applicable to both I think it's only fair that I include a little refresher in case anyone hasn't read it.
Before going on honeymoon, my hubby and I decided that the main attraction we would visit whilst in LA was Universal Studios. This was mainly because my hubby is a total film buff and really wanted to see the Studio Tour rather than the many rides at the park. Anyway when we looked online we could see that there was a special offer that would enable us to get to this park and Sea World in San Diego for unlimited visits within a 14-day period. This worked out a lot cheaper than separate tickets and cost us £52 each from a site called Attractiontix. We also knew that both parks would take more than one day each to explore so this was the perfect solution for us.
The vouchers for the tickets arrived via email almost instantly and we had taken them to the information desk at Sea World first where they were exchanged for the entry tickets to both parks. This meant that when we arrived at Universal we just had to go straight to the ticket booth. General parking costs $10 at the park or if you want to be nearer the entrance then you can pay $20 per day for the privilege. Luckily we didn't have to worry about that, as the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn provided a free shuttle bus so we were dropped off right at the front gates with a piece of paper informing us of the return times, which were plentiful, as the hotel was only about 10 minutes drive away.
The first day we arrived around 11am so the initial rush for the gates was over by then. We realised that like Sea World, you weren't allowed to take in any food or drink with you and we were a little bit more prepared for this here.
Outside is the famous Universal Globe that spins around and sparkles as the sun reflects off its silver edges. Fountains rise up from below and it is quite a spectacular sight as you approach the gates. This looks lovely during the day but is even more beautiful at night as the sun sets behind it.
Getting through the gate was easy for me with my Sea World pass and all that was required was for me to place my finger on the scanner so that they could check my details through my fingerprint. Unfortunately, my hubby's ticket didn't want to work but the staff were very patient and helpful and after a couple of attempts released the barrier and let him through.
When you first walk in through the gates there is an immediate atmosphere of the silver screen and I have to admit a little rush of excitement went through me at this time. We were handed an information leaflet that included a map of the park and times for the many shows that make up this theme park.
The main area of Universal is set out like a lot of streets and each area had a different feel to it. The first area centred on New York and a yellow cab and Dodgers sign were a cool reminder of this. One of the first things we noticed though was the vast amount of shops and food outlets, and to be honest these take over the streets a little bit and detract from the main events.
We had learned from experience at Sea World about the benefits of refill cups for drinks and because of the intense heat we decided that our first stop would be to get ourselves sorted with these so that we could relax as we looked round without getting dehydrated. The cups here were a choice between Sponge Bob and Spiderman for $10 each. I love Sponge Bob and hubby loves Spiderman so the choice of one of each was easy for us. These large containers were filled to the brim with lemonade for us although other soft drinks were available too. Refills would later only cost us $1 each so it was well worth it as normal bottles of water or soda were selling for $2 a pop and held about half the amount.
***The Studio Tour***
Well the main event that we wanted to see was the Studio Tour so we decided to do that first as the information boards around the park said that it was only a 15 minutes wait. These board were very useful as they also gave the times of some of the shows that only played at certain times during the day, as well as waiting times for the rides.
We found the area easily, although this was more to do with the helpful signs on site rather than the map, which we found a little bit confusing at first. Queuing up we immediately thought we would be longer than 15 minutes but we soon noticed that the tour cars were continually pulling up and each set held around 40 to 50 people so we continually moved up and down the lines until it was our turn. All the way round there were information boards about different actors and films.
We sat in the back cab and waited excitedly to see what we would see. We hadn't really known what to expect but we were told that we would have to be quiet in certain areas as shooting was going on around us for shows like CSI and Desperate Housewives. We were a little bit disappointed that we wouldn't actually see these areas but there was plenty of other things to see and a few surprises along the way.
Our guide told us that a lot of the facades in the building areas are changed on a regular basis to make them look as though they are in different parts of the world. We saw areas that were familiar to us from recent programs such as Heroes and a few older films such as the original Psycho and Jaws. Newer films such as The Grinch and King Kong were also featured on the tour and going into a tunnel we were treated to glimpses of how the scenes from The Mummy happened, including a bit where the surrounding walls spun around. Even though we knew we were staying still the feeling of dizziness was bizarre to say the least.
Cars from various films such as Back To The Future and The Fast & The Furious were on display and we were shown that cars are made to look like they are flying and twisting through the air were done by hydraulic displays. It was all very impressive.
We learned about how flood scenes were filmed and how they add milk to the water used for rain and such, so that it shows up on the screen. Neither of us fancied trying that out in the heat that day. Driving through Western sites made us laugh as we saw a coffin parked up against the side of a building, much like the one that my hubby had stood in, when we stopped off in the Wild West town of Oatman earlier on our trip. Dodging spitting dinosaurs from Jurassic Park was fun before we were driven into an underground station area where an earthquake takes place and traffic start to fall through the roof. There were a lot of screams from other passengers at this point, especially when water gushed in from one side and a huge truck looked as though it was about to crash into the side of us. Of course we were all perfectly safe and it was all harmless fun to show us how scenes were set up.
The most impressive film set that we saw had to be the one from War Of The Worlds showing a real 747 crashed into a suburban area. It was quite spine chilling to see such devastation on both sides of us and it was all made the more real by children's toys lying abandoned at the side of the road.
This tour was extremely good and we enjoyed every minute of it so much that we actually decided to do it again the second day we visited the park. This was a worthwhile thing to do, as we made sure that we sat on the opposite side of the cab and got a good view of the things we hadn't seen the day before. We were also lucky enough to be able to get onto the Desperate Housewives set the second day and it was strange to see Gaby's car parked at her house and the garden area in the centre of the street where weddings or fetes take place. We also had a different tour guide the second day and we were told different snippets about actors and filming from the first day so we were never bored.
There was only one ride that I refused to go on and that was Revenge of the Mummy, purely because it was a roller coaster and advertised to be pretty bad. I have had neck problems in the past so I have to be careful when it comes to rides like this so I left it to my hubby. He did say though that it wasn't nearly as good as he had expected it to be and that some of the rides at the likes of Alton Towers or Flamingo Land had more thrill factor than this one.
Backdraft isn't as much a ride as a walkthrough area. It features scenes from the films and showed us how they were filmed with huge pyrotechnic displays throughout the journey from set to set. Be prepared to get very hot in this one. This is one that you don't really have to queue long for as they take lots of people into the first section every 5 minutes or so.
House of Horrors was great fun to walk through with lots of famous movie characters ready to jump out at you along the route. We found that we had a great view from the overhead walkway and stood for quite some time watching Frankenstein jump out at unsuspecting travellers. It was all good fun and the atmosphere was very spooky with cobwebs and fog all around the house. I would warn anyone with small children that this might not be the best place to go.
Back To The Future is a simulator ride and takes you flying through time with Doc Brown. Through streets and volcanoes, you are swept up in a fluffy of excitement with special effects that make you duck down to avoid flying missiles. I found that this ride wasn't really to my liking, mainly because the jolting really hurt my neck. The effects were really good though but I believe that this one was going to be stopped sometime soon and replaced with another ride instead.
The best ride at the park in my opinion was the Jurassic Park ride. I was a little bit concerned about this water ride as I knew that there was an 84 foot vertical drop at the end of it and I'm not too good with heights, but it was so much fun that we did it more than once. The ride starts off in a boat with about five rows deep and each row sits 4 people. It actually felt really secure although that didn't stop the apprehension on the first part of the ride, as I was continually worrying about the drop at the end. When we had done it once and I found out it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, I had to go on it again. We sat in the middle row the first time, but got right into the front the second go and got totally drenched to the skin. Luckily it wasn't long before we dried off again although we did get quite a few smiles to start with as we rung out our tops and shorts. The ride takes you on a journey through Jurassic Park where you see all sorts of dinosaurs rising from the water and splashing you along the way. You travel under waterfalls and basically get soaked so be prepared if you have cameras etc with you. There are lockers available too.
The Special Effects show was very interesting as we learned how different effects are done for the big screen. Of course a lot of it is all down to CGI these days but we found out how small models can be combined with real life actors to make it all look real. There was also a monster section where animatronics were shown off to us and the presenters made sure that the audience participated along the way.
The Animal Actors show was a bit disappointing really and I was sad more than anything else to see some of these pets being made to do things that didn't quite seem natural. In particular a young orang-utan was being taught how to walk on his back legs and to make kissing sounds but it didn't really seem to want to do this and I have to say the whole thing was very uncomfortable to watch. The trainer obviously knows his job but seemed annoyed that the animal wasn't performing as he was meant to.
The Terminator 2 show was a 3D effect screening with live actors helping to take us on a journey of this cyber adventure. It was very impressive with lots of good effects and blasts going on although I have to say I have never been a big Terminator fan so I wasn't as impressed as my hubby with this one.
Another movie type experience was Shrek 4D. This was excellent and was similar to the Haunted Lighthouse show at Sea World. Not only do you see things coming out from the screen at you, thanks to the lovely glasses you have to wear, but you also get water and wind effects going on round you. Having Donkey spit in my face was not the nicest experience but it was extremely well done and you couldn't help but notice everyone ducking from side to side as things came at you from the screen. This was great fun to do and the build up in the waiting area was excellent.
The Blues Brothers has always been a favourite of mine and the site of them pulling up in their famous car to perform on stage was excellent. These musicians made a fantastic job of entertaining the crowd outside with all the favourite songs from the film.
The most impressive show was the Waterworld show. The film was a huge flop for Kevin Costner who spent millions of dollars on the production and special effects. Luckily the show was a continual blast of explosions, splashes and amazing stunts on water scooters who took pleasure in soaking certain parts of the audience. This really was the most spectacular show and we were pleased that this was actually the last show we went to, as it was certainly the most memorable. Actors in the show that day included some of the lab guys from CSI who had days off from filming the show.
I have to say that I really enjoyed my visit to Universal in LA. The Studio Tour was probably the best part of it and it was amazing to see the actual sets that were used on so many programs and films that we have watched. The rides were adequate although to be fair there aren't really that many but the shows were all pretty good too.
There are various characters going round the site too and they have photo opportunities where you can actually take pictures yourself rather than just a professional photographer. My favourite was at Donkey's Waffle Stand where the lovable character made an appearance and delighted the children.
The streets do get pretty busy to wander round during the day and it is quite easy to lose track of where you are, especially near the London section where you could walk along and see red telephone boxes and go to an Irish pub just round the corner from it all.
The second day we arrived early, before the gates opened and this is to be recommended if you don't want to queue for hours for the big rides like Jurassic Park and The Mummy. We were able to come straight off Jurassic Park and get on again about 5 minutes later then, but later on in the day, there were often queue times of at least an hour.
One thing that did annoy us a little bit on the second day was that a lot of the places where you could get refills for the cups we had bought the previous day, didn't actually open at the start of the day, which meant that we couldn't fill up for quite some time. Not surprisingly, as a marketing ploy, there were coffee stands open and places where you could get a full breakfast but these didn't partake in the refill scheme. I would say though that our refills were never checked as we entered the park on the second day so you could probably get away with filling them up before you go in.
The park is well worth the entrance fee and I would have to recommend it to everyone who loves the world of movies. The shops are quite expensive here and we were a bit disappointed really, as there were no cheap souvenirs that kids could buy with their pocket money.
There were plenty of places to get food around the park and most places were reasonably priced. We ended up at the Pizza Hut stand for lunch but there were also Chinese restaurants, grills, diners and even a Doc Brown's Chicken spot. There were also a couple of Ben & Jerry's places to cool off with some of their delicious ice cream.
If you are visiting LA then I would definitely advise taking some time out to see this attraction. It really has something for everyone and you will find that one day just isn't enough to fit it all in.
This review also appears on Ciao with pictures.
Summary: Great place for film fans
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- Wizarding World Of Harry Potter (Florida)
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