Recently, my husband Eric and I went on our first trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. I love Universal almost as much as Disney (I mean, come on, they have Harry Potter), but I think people were still shocked when I told them I was leaving the Anaheim bubble for the day. In fact, I know they were shocked, because I put “ditching Disney for the day” as my Facebook status during our drive to Universal, and got a few “shocked face” emoji’s in return.
Here are the 6 things that really set the Hollywood park apart:
1. The Studio Tour
The biggest thing that differentiates Universal Studios Hollywood from Universal Orlando is that the one in Hollywood is, well, an actual working Film and Movie Studio. There is an hour-long tram tour you can take (hosted by Jimmy Fallon) that takes you through the Universal Studios backlot, and gives you a glimpse at some soundstages and props from film sets. Right now, they’re currently filming the final season of The Mindy Project. I know that’s not all they’re filming at the moment, but, well, that’s all I got.
They also filmed older shows and movies here, like Desperate Housewives, Jaws, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Also, the film Big Fat Liar with Amanda Bynes featured the Universal Tram Tour in it heavily, which the tram guide mentions quite a bit. You also get neat snippets of movie facts on the screens in front of you as you travel through the sets.
The Studio Tour is actually more of an attraction than it is an actual tour. You go through a “King Kong” simulation (which is very similar to the Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction in Orlando), an “Earthquake” simulation, and a “Fast and the Furious” simulation (I believe this will be similar to the Fast and the Furious ride they are currently building in Orlando). You’ll need 3D glasses for some of these segments, and while they are entertaining, they are over very quickly. If you’re looking for more “Hollywood” type studio tours, check out the Warner Brothers Tour not too far away.
The thing about this tour that stood out to me the most was how much they sold you on the “VIP” studio tour. Everywhere we turned, we saw fellow tourists walking around with special badges, taking up-close photos of the film sets and boarding special trams. Apparently, with a “VIP” ticket, you get a longer and more in-depth backlot tour, as well as front-of-the-line passes to all attractions within the park (check the website though, because I could be wrong and I’m too lazy to do the research).
It wasn’t so much that they verbally advertised this “VIP” tour that much, but they didn’t need to. These special buses and tour groups with special badges were everywhere. They were walking advertisements. I think, if you really want to get the FULL Universal Studios Hollywood experience, you need to save up for the “VIP” tour.
2. The Hogwarts Nighttime Light Show
Let me just say that, in my opinion, the Hollywood version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not as cool as Orlando’s version. No Diagon Alley! No Gringotts Coaster! No Hogwarts Express! No Fire-Breathing Dragon! (Okay, I’ll stop).
They do, however, have the castle, and a pretty cool projection show that plays multiple times a night. The show is beautiful, and while they haven’t got projection mapping down as much as Disney does, they still do a very good job. During the five-minute show, all four houses of Hogwarts are featured (Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Gryffindor), and “portals” open, showing the inside of the castle. At the end, spotlights appear and the castle is covered in sparkles. It is a spectacular display, and I wish it was longer than five minutes. I would say I wished Orlando had something like this, but Universal Hollywood is built on a hill, with Hogwarts right on the edge. I don’t know if it would work as well on a flatter surface.
With the projections moving along to that iconic John Williams’ music, this show is very popular. Especially in summer. Everybody, it seemed, had the same idea as me to see the first show of the night, and we all crammed into Hogsmeade together. The team members didn’t do a very good job with crowd control, so we were all stuffed together like sardines, our phones pointing skyward to get good images. Luckily, with the castle positioned so high, everyone got a spectacular view. But leaving and entering the show was a claustrophobic nightmare.
I’m really sorry if this makes me sound negative. I know this kind of stuff comes with the territory when you go to a theme park during the summer (and decide to experience a popular new show). I really did like it. I just think they needed a better designated line-up/standing area.
3. The Despicable Me Area
Just like how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is far superior in Orlando, the Despicable Me universe is really well done in Hollywood. Not only do they have the ride Minion Mayhem (identical to the attraction at Orlando), but they have Super Silly Fun Land (the fictional theme park from the first movie), complete with attractions and games of their own. They have a “Gru” themed restaurant, and Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls (the orphanage where Gru adopted Margo, Edith, and Agnes).
They also have frequent meet and greets with the minions, the girls themselves, Gru, and his brother (Dru?) from Despicable Me 3. There are some great picture opportunities here, and it really is heaven for those little ones in your life who seem like they may never grow out of the minion phase.
Also, this attraction will never fail to be insanely cute. I absolutely love the story, humor, and emotion behind it. Not like that crap Shrek 4D movie.
4. The Views
As previously mentioned, Universal Studios Hollywood is built on the side of a mountain, which provides for some really spectacular views of L.A. and Studio City (around this area is Warner Brothers, ABC, and the Walt Disney Studios). The theme park is separated into the upper lot and the lower lot, and to get to attractions on the lower lot (such as Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and Transformers: The Ride), you have to ride down approximately 20 steep escalators (or, if you’re fit, take the stairs).
Of course I’m exaggerating, but it is a schlep to go back and forth from the upper lot to the lower lot, so I suggest doing everything on the lower lot while you can, before heading back up top. We went on a very busy day, so we only rode Jurassic Park and The Mummy (after all, we have Transformers back home). However, this also where the Raptor Encounter is located, where you can take a picture with a “real” raptor, as well as the meet and greets with various Transformers (Bumblebee and Optimus Prime). So there’s a lot to experience, as well as places to eat and drink, before you start your ascent back up to the rest of the park.
At certain escalator platforms, there are viewing spots with binoculars for you to take pictures and look around. The views reminded me of Griffith Park. You can get a really nice breeze, and a really nice look at the “movie star” section of Los Angeles. For someone like me, from Florida, I’m not used to mountains at all, so this was a really cool feature. Definitely stop, take a respite from the heat and the crowds, and enjoy the view of Hollywood.
5. The DreamWorks Area
Just like the Despicable Me section, there is a lot more DreamWorks representation in general here at Hollywood. For one, we have Shrek 4D, and while I may not like the actual film itself, the attraction building and queue is incredibly themed and detailed. There is a Donkey meet-and-greet right outside, where a life-size Donkey can actually interact with you while you pose for a picture with him (he’s in a stand selling waffles, with his head poking out). I’m too introverted for that kind of stuff, but he sounded hilarious. I mean, this guy had the Eddie Murphy voice down.
Then in a big, open circular pavilion, there are tons of meet-and-greet/picture opportunities with characters from almost every DreamWorks animated movie. There are the characters from Trolls, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda. I was shocked to see that one of my favorite movies of all time, How to Train Your Dragon, was represented- there was a life-size statue of Toothless that you could pose for pictures with. This made me incredibly happy, and made up a little bit for them not having ANY Toothless merchandise (seriously, I would pay good money for a “night fury” plush).
At night, the fountain in the middle of this plaza changes colors, and a mini-dance party occurs. While walking out of the park, we heard “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “I’m a Believer” quite a few times. It was really fun, and it was a nice break from Universal Orlando, where it’s just minions everywhere ALL the time.
6. The Walking Dead Attraction
If you’re unsure about attending Halloween Horror Nights, then this might be a good attraction to try out. It’s very unique, in that it’s a walk-through attraction, where you pass by scenes from The Walking Dead TV Show, and live “scare actors” are present throughout to try and, well, scare you. Along with the actors, there are animatronics and very detailed, lifelike props and effects. If things like fog, gore, and strobe lights negatively affect you, then avoid this attraction.
I have to admit, this house scared the crap out of me. It’s the same as a Halloween Horror Nights house, except it’s permanent, so you can experience it any time of year. It’s also very immersive- you start in the queue, which is the hospital from the pilot episode of the show (where Rick, the main character, wakes up). It’s dark, broken lights are flashing in and out, and there is “blood” everywhere. The show’s creepy theme song is on full blast, and you can hear screams off in the distance. It’s really unsettling, and even though the wait time was posted at 30 minutes, we breezed right through the queue. This was both good and bad- I didn’t have time to brace myself.
My husband’s strategy was to stay as close to the group in front of us as possible, so that we wouldn’t stand out. I think it worked, because while we got to experience the attraction and were spooked, we didn’t get any outright scares. We just kept our heads down and walked as fast as possible. Well, my husband did- I was trying to take in the detail and the scenery, but I think he just wanted to get the hell out of there. I would have loved to take pictures, but the walk-through happened so quick, there just wasn’t time. I will say though, I haven’t caught up on the most recent season of The Walking Dead, but even if you haven’t seen the show, this attraction is still very immersive and impressive. I really felt as if the world outside had vanished for a second. Even the exterior of the building is cool, with the crashed helicopter on the roof.
I think the funniest (and scariest) part for me was the workers barking the rules at us as we got closer to the entrance. There were the usual rules like “no flash photography” and “no running,” but one lady also shouted, “Do not be afraid, the walkers will NOT touch you, and they will NOT bite you.” Um, okay. Until then I hadn’t really thought being bitten was a possibility…now that she said that, however, I was a bit worried. And I swear, one of the “walkers” did brush my shoulder as we sped through the attraction.
All in all, we had a fun time at Universal Studios Hollywood. While there aren’t as many attractions as there are at Orlando, it definitely has a more “Hollywood” feel. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Has anyone else been to Universal Hollywood, and what did you think? Do you think a VIP tour would have been worth it?
Hugs and Fishes,