Hollywood conjures up all sorts of glamorous visions of movie stars and elegant neighbourhoods. Sadly this famous district of Los Angeles is not the most attractive of places in reality and is probably best ignored in favour of a visit to the Universal Studios Park which, whilst not the most beautiful place on the planet, is certainly a cut above the rest of the area.
A visit to this park is somewhat unusual in that whilst the rides and shows are squeezed into a compact area, the studio tour is extremely long and covers a huge expanse of working studios and sets and is all the better for it. These are truly real, operational film studios and so many of the sites on the tour are not just scenery, stunts and props arranged for the tourists but rather actual filming locations from many iconic movies. I would be surprised if anyone could take this ride without having several moments of déjà vu as they pass the sets of some of their favourite films. I particularly enjoyed seeing the town square from Back to the Future which looks stupidly familiar as you trundle on by in your tram. I actually felt like I had taken a step back in time to my own youth when I clapped eyes on that most famous of timepieces, the court house clock. The Back to the Future series delivered some of the most iconic move moments of my early 20’s and I loved those films!
As well as passing around the film sets the studio tour also incorporates a Jaws encounter which is corny, ridiculous and brilliant all at the same time. How could I get excited about an onslaught from a rubber shark? It shouldn’t work but it does. Later in the tour you get to experience King Kong 360 3-D the world’s largest 3-D attraction. This is exactly the sort of thing that usually causes me to glaze over with boredom but I have to admit this show is quite brilliant, so brilliant in fact that it is arguably the best thing in the park.
The studio tour should definitely be tackled either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day to avoid the lengthy queues which inevitably develop. For the rest of the day you have numerous other attractions to enjoy but they are split over two levels connected by a long series of escalators. It takes time to travel between the two areas so once you reach the lower level it is best to do all of the rides there before you returning to the upper portion of the park.
The lower level features Jurassic Park and The Revenge of the Mummy. If you have been to the Orlando park you may be disappointed here as neither ride is as good as its Floridian counterpart and the Mummy remains one of the greatest disappointments of my life. Such was the hue and cry in the build-up to the opening of this attraction that I was almost in a state of frenzy when I approached the queue line for the first time only to discover that the ride is rubbish! I do know some people who quite like it, even the Hollywood one, but I am at a loss as to know why. It was billed as a launch coaster in the dark with fire effects and a plague of dung beetles but is actually a tame coaster, much of which is not in the dark with a miniscule launch and a video of some beetles!
Rant over! The best attraction on the lower level is certainly Transformers an epically good immersive 3-D adventure which really hits the spot. I wondered if I would ever see something to beat Spiderman at Islands of Adventure but in this ride I do believe I have. When I tried this one I exited the building only to run straight back in again for another go and I don’t do that very often.
The upper level of the park looks relatively pleasant and as well as hosting the entrance to the studio tour also features the Simpsons Ride and Shrek 4-D. The latter now seems a little dated as I have experienced so many similar shows and the Simpsons Ride was fine but I didn’t like it as much as Back to the Future which it replaced. I loved my trips in the DeLorean and so, for me, the Simpsons Ride is not progress. You will also find the WaterWorld show, Animal Actors presentation and the Special Effects Stage on the upper level of the park with some other minor attractions and several shops and restaurants. All told, studio tour aside, this is not a huge park and can be easily covered in one day.
I like Universal Studios Hollywood and the tour is really great but the rest of the park has nothing to amaze anyone who has visited Orlando. The place has a good atmosphere and CityWalk beyond the gates in a decent place to dine and shop but it is only the tour, King Kong 3-D and Transformers that are likely to make you say wow!
Article by Sally Stacey