A few months ago, we went away on a six-week trip around America for our honeymoon! Now that we’re back, I’m doing a pretty thorough job of documenting it on my blog. I wrote one BIG post about the trip already, but as I’m the sort of person who likes surprises, and because it was already pretty long, I decided to take one thing from each place we went to – except for Chicago and Canada because we weren’t there for long – and talk about it in detail for those that want to know bits about it before they go or are just interested in our experience.
If you’re like me in the sense that you like to be surprised and don’t want “spoilers” about something before you visit a place, you can read about everything we did in less detail in the original blog, here! I will be going into a bit of detail – not too much – here, so just keep that in mind!
I’ve already written about our trip to Alcatraz, which was pretty amazing, but what I’m going to tell you about next still feels unreal to me!
When we left San Francisco, we traveled down to Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus and we had a wonderful time, walking along Venice Beach, watching the sunset on Santa Monica Pier, and I must say that visiting Griffith Observatory was such a fantastic experience.
There are lots things that come to mind when you think of Los Angeles. Whether you’re spotting your favorite stars hand and foot prints in TCL Chinese Theater (formally known as Manns Chinese Theater) after wandering up and down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or you’re drooling in line at Pinks Hot Dogs, it is filled with fun things to do and amazing things to see!
Out of all the things we did and loved in L.A, the thing that I loved the most was Universal Studios!
This is a magical place for me, somewhere I visited twice as a teen, and worried ever since that I would I never get to go again, and this visit was extra special!
Here is an excerpt from the diary I kept whilst we away, about our visit to Universal –
“Today was Universal Day! It was amazing, we got up really early, and arrived at the park for opening. We had the best day ever!”
Founded in 1912 by Carl Laemmle, it is one of the oldest, and one of the most famous film studios. It has always been open to the public one way or another, from it’s early days when Laemmle would bring people in to watch silent films being made, up until 1964 when the Universal Studio Tour opened, and since then it has sprouted a theme park that has some of the most immersive rides you’ll ever go on.
When I first visited in 2004, I was so amazed that I wanted to live there, and was lucky enough to go again in 2005. 11 years later, I returned and I am happy to say that I was not disappointed!
Booking tickets for Universal is a lot simpler than booking for Alcatraz. We got ours maybe two days before we planned to go, and we did it online. Everyone should do this if they can, it’s much easier as it saves you time, it guarantees your day and you can save some money too. All you need to do is decide which type of ticket you want. We were going to get the front of line passes, but we opted for just the regular day pass. We thought that it was better as we were going midweek, and planned to be there for the opening of the park, which meant we might not end up queuing all day! You can get lots of different deals on the website too, and the annual pass is a pretty good deal but sadly wouldn’t be much good to us.
You should aim to get there about 15 minutes before the park opens, because even if you’ve bought you’re tickets in advance you still need to wait and get them checked before getting through the gates. Once you’re there though, the opening is actually pretty spectacular.
As you’re waiting to actually go in to the park, you suddenly hear voices over a speaker and it’s like you’re actually in a movie, and the crew are organizing a marathon scene, and when they yell action, the crowd goes wild and in you go! As you run… or walk… down main street, you’ll see an array of characters. At this point, I noticed Lucille Ball hanging out of a window, telling the crowd that they weren’t very good at running a marathon!
We suggest doing the park in a certain way, we found it really useful and it meant we missed out on a lot of lines as well.
There are two lots – the upper lot and the lower lot. You come in on the upper lot, which is the bigger of the two. Grab a map when you come in and head straight for the studio tour, to get on the first tour of the day. Try not to stop on the way because it fills up really quickly. The best seats on the left hand side of the tram, somewhere in the middle. (Left if you are looking at the train, when you sit you’ll be looking to the right). This gives you the best views of the tour.
For those of you that don’t know it’s a behind the scenes tour – narrated by Jimmy Fallon – of the backlot of the studio, where you’ll see some really famous sets, sound stages and if you’re lucky you might even glimpse some of your favorite actors and actresses! You’ll learn a lot about film making, and some of the history of the studio.
You’ll take a drive down a familiar New York City block, cruise past the Back to the Future clock tower, pay a visit to the Bate Motel, look at the terrifying destruction of a plane crash from War of the Worlds and much more!
Those are just many of the things you’ll look at in awe, but there are also many interactive, immersive experiences on the tour.
Drive through Amity Harbor and keep an eye on the water. Have your camera ready, and prepare to come face to face with one of cinema’s greatest villains, find out how Hollywood makes it rain, and try not to panic when an earthquake causes the subway to collapse around you!
A couple of things have changed all over the park in the 11 years since I last visited, and that includes some of the tour, and these changes have happened for many different reasons.
However, some of the big changes on the tour occurred because in 2008, there was a huge fire on the back lot. Now, Universal isn’t a stranger to fires, this was actually one of nine in the studios history, but this one caused so much destruction. I remember watching on the news as the Back to the Future courthouse collapsed, feeling absolutely devastated. It’s not the first time they have had to rebuild that courthouse square.
The original King Kong feature was also lost that day. For those of you who don’t know, the King Kong Encounter began as the tram entered a sound stage, stopping front of an apart building. That’s when you learn about Kong’s rampage, and a helicopter covering the news story would be swatted at and would come crashing down, exploding a few feet away from the tram. As you round the corner, onto the Brooklyn Bridge, you come face to face with a 7 ton, 30 foot tall King Kong, who breathes banana breath at you, and shakes the bridge, snapping the cables, before you make a narrow escape!
It was pretty amazing, and actually a little scary!
The Original King Kong on the Studio Tour. Photo Credit – My Dad, 2005
This encounter has actually been replaced now by King Kong: 360 3-D. As you start the tour at the beginning, you’re actually given 3-D glasses, and as you drive into this feature, you put them on. Suddenly you’re being chased by dinosaurs, and watching in fear as another tram is destroyed in front of your very eyes. Kong appears, and one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen takes place around you.
When I was last there, there was a pretty cool attraction known as The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, which has been replaced with something mind blowing: Fast and Furious: Supercharged. I’ll admit that I was a bit dubious of this, as I’m not a fan of the films, but trust me when I say that doesn’t matter!
As you’re taking in the surroundings of the back lot, your tour is suddenly interrupted because you need to be taken to a safe location. Once in your safe location, you’ll be amazed by by the effects, and before you know it you’re involved in a high speed car chase being thrown all over the place!
The whole tour was so much fun, and there is much more to it than what I’ve just described!
Once you finished the studio tour, I would head down to the lower lot. We thought it was better to start there, and work our way back up to the upper lot, then work our way around that, back towards the lower lot so we could do some of the rides again, and then come back through the upper lot again, before heading towards City Walk.
The lower lot is small, but features 3 amazing rides, some stores, a children’s play area – Dino Play – plus the chance to meet Optimus Prime, and the newly added Raptor Experience!
This scary, exciting ride opened in 2004 – I actually missed it by a matter a months when I visited the first time – and is one of the fastest roller-coasters I’ve been on,beaten only by Alton Towers‘ Rita Queen of Speed roller-coaster.
I’m not actually a bit fan of roller-coasters and I must say it’s easy to feel terrified when you’re waiting in line for this one because it advertises high speeds and extensive drops!
It’s an indoor roller-coaster which I feel is very interesting concept. In true Universal style, you almost forget you’re waiting in line as they try to make that as much a part of the experience.
We didn’t have to wait too long, but once we were front of the que, there was a fault with one of the cars – just what you want to hear – and so we did have a bit of a delay! Once on, I gripped my safety bar in preparation for what I knew was coming – a thrilling ride of 56 seconds, that takes place mostly in the dark with amazing special effects and sound effects! Superb!
This ride opened in 2010, and stands where the Backdraft show once stood. As you wait in line for this one, walk around what appears to be a sci-fi base of some sort (that’s a technical term, honest!) with lots of screens and shiny buttons that you actually press! As you approach the front, you find out from the TV screens that something has gone wrong in the world of the Transformers. I’d like to give a special mention the those that were working the ride the day we went. I hope they always act like this, because they really ushered us into our seats like they were really preparing us for battle! The vehicle you sit in is an autobot named Evac, and before you know it you’re fighting along side Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and you’re being thrown about all over the place! I didn’t want it to end!
This ride is absolutely brilliant! It’s one of the oldest – if not the oldest – rides in the park, having opened in 1996, and it’s still perfect to this day. I have read that they are planning on updating it a bit, but I really don’t think they need to!
This is a water ride, and you will get quite wet. I forgot just how wet you get.
It starts similarly to the film, in that you’re floating around quite pleasantly marveling at dinosaurs just going about their business. Some of them squirt water at you, it’s really nice. True to the film though, this doesn’t last and the next thing you know, you’re narrowly escaping “death” by plunging down an 85 drop into what can only be described as a tiny river! It’s actually pretty scary but also really fun!
After we had been round the lower lot, we headed back up the upper lot!
Before I tell you about our visit to TWWOHP, I have to give you a little back story. First of all, I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan, and it was sometime last year when I discovered that Universal Studios was going to be opening it’s own Harry Potter world. As time went on, I kept an eye out for an opening time, wish so much that we wouldn’t miss it. One day, I saw that it would be opening Spring 2016, which was exactly when we would be there! But still I had to wait for an exact date. Eventually, I found out that it would be opening on the 7th of April 2016. I was gutted. I actually curled up in a ball on the couch. We would miss it y a matter of weeks.
I did hear from the people we had been staying with whilst in L.A that some people had gotten in for a sort of preview but only with special tickets. If only.
Back to our visit. Upon arriving, we walked past the entrance to HP world, and sure enough there was a sing saying “Special Ticket Holders Only.” On we went. Once we were back on the upper lot, we decided to head the Waterworld showing. All of the rides and shows have times, but some of them have really long wait times, and we had 20 minutes before the next one, and it was right at the other end of the park and we thought it was better to go further away and work our way back.
As we walked past the gates to HP World, we noticed the sign was gone, just like magic! I wasn’t sure if we could just walk in, so my husband took the lead. We stepped over the thresh hold, and there we were. Harry Potter World.
I was so happy. I couldn’t believe it, I walked around pretty slowly for a few minutes just taking everything in. Olivanders, Owl Post, Honeydukes, The Three Broomsticks… and the awe inspiring Hogwarts Castle.
Not all the stores were open, the stage wasn’t set for performances, and I’m sure there were other things missing but I didn’t care one bit. All of the rides were open, and the butterbeer was cold!
The first ride we went on was Flight of the Hippogriff, complete with Hagrid’s hut and a bowing Buckbeak! It’s Universal’s first open-air roller-coaster, and it’s just the type I love. It’s a nice, exciting ride and it offers some fabulous views of HP World.
From there we went straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is my favorite ride in the whole park.
Journey through the castle to get to the ride, where you’ll see Dumbledore’s office, the sorting hat, and talking portraits, amongst other things. As you go, you’ll learn that you’re there because Dumbledore has started letting muggles into the school to witness the wizarding world. Harry, Ron and Hermione don’t want you to sit through Professor Binns boring history lesson though, and decide to work their magic to get you out onto the Quidditch field.
Once seated, you’re transported through the floo network! Of course it wouldn’t be Harry Potter if everything went smoothly. Hagrid has lost a dragon, and the next thing you know you’re hurtling all over the grounds, into the Forbidden Forrest, where you come face to face with all kinds of creatures!
It’s really thrilling, and so immersive! The technology is amazing, and I could go on it over and over again!
Once we came off the ride, we went to a Butterbeer stand, and I really wish we had gotten one each. We shared because they are quite pricey and we didn’t know if we would like them but it’s so yummy! Whilst we were drinking, we noticed another line. We had no idea what it was for, but we joined it anyway. It turned out to be Olivervander’s Wand Shop Show. It was pretty fun, although it’s over quite quickly. It’s basically a wand buying demonstration, and I think it would be really interesting to know if each one is different! When you’re done, you’re led into the wand shop. I really wanted one, but they are around $50 and it was still really early in the trip so I didn’t want to spend that sort of money, plus it would have been hard to transport around the country in a backpack!
After that we just wandered around the stores, looking for a small, cheap souvenir. I was sad to cross back through the gates, but I made a stop off at the loo before hand where Moaning Myrtle puts in an appearance!
WW is a live show that first started in 1995. It involves water, land and air stunts and it’s really impressive. I’ve never seen a show like it! It takes place after the movie, and has so many amazing special effects and performers! It’s funny and it gets you on the edge of your seat! Some audience members will get wet, so if you don’t fancy that sit higher up. I would advise getting there with time to spare so you can get the seats you want. Keep an eye on the electronic boards around the park for the times.
I remember the first time I went on this and I thought it was the most amazing thing. I had never been on anything like it. Now, it’s still really cool, but it’s sadly become a bit dated compared to all of the other rides and experiences. One of the best parts of this ride is actually the queuing area. You’re inside a sort of dungeon with a big TV screen, and the three little pigs and Pinocchio are being held prisoner on the wall in front of you.
Once you get inside, you sit in a a big auditorium and go on an adventure with Shrek and Donkey. It’s really fun, and it does make a nice break between some of the more thrilling rides!
I love Despicable Me and Minions, so I thought this one was a lot of fun! It’s similar to a lot of the other rides in that you have a long queuing area, that offers entertainment relating to the ride. In this case there are a lot of TV screens with facts about Minions. There is also a pretty funny “pre-show” explaining that Gru wants to turn us all into Minions, and that’s basically what the ride is about! It’s a really funny ride! Similar to Shrek, it’s a little bit more relaxing than the others, but it’s just hilarious!
From there we headed to Springfield! Here you can pop to Lard Lad Doughnuts, Moe’s Tavern, the Kwik-E-Mart and more! We stopped at Moe’s for a Duff, but I actually recommend getting a flaming Moe. I felt that the Duff was just overpriced lager! It’s a really fun place to sit and “Simpson spot!” There are so many features of the cartoon in such a small area, I felt like I was constantly pointing things out.
Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a ride! The Simpsons Ride is lots of fun, and really gives the illusion that you’re actually on a roller-coaster. It’s classic Simpson’s with the popular family having to get out the grips of Side Show Bob!
The ride actually took the place of The Back to the Future Ride, which was there when I went as a teenager.
One last stop before visiting our favorite rides – The Mummy, Transformers, and HP World – was the Special Effects Show. This was once just Backdraft, a big fiery show filled with explosions. Now, it’s quite an interesting, informative show on how Hollywood special effects are created. Don’t worry though, there is still some fire!
Universal is also a great place to just wander around. You can see any number of your favorite movie characters from Beatlejuice to Shrek, and there are loads of themed streets too with street performers all dressed up to fit the area they are in.
Once you’ve finished in the park, head to City Walk. It’s pretty cool and even better if you can see it once it’s lit up at night!
It’s filled with shops, bars and restaurants to suit everyone! We went to Bubba Gump Shrimp which was really yummy and not nearly as busy as the one at Santa Monica Pier! It’s a great way to end the day!
Universal Top Tips
- To avoid huge queues, go on a week day and arrive early!
- Eat breakfast before hand and take a packed lunch – unless you can afford/have saved up for the number of exciting, delicious meals and all of the souvenirs. When I go again, I’m taking money and a suitcase just for that!
- Save a bit of time and money by booking your ticket online.
- Wear sensible shoes and clothing – you will walk a lot, and you will get wet.
- Take a backpack rather than a hand bag. My husband carried his and is was really useful, plus you can just pop into a storage locker on the rides, and you don’t have to worry about more than one bag.
- Take your time looking around because there is so much to see!
- Keep an eye out online for special events.
There is so much more to see than what I have told you about, it is ever changing and evolving and just a really exciting place to be!
So there you have it! Our amazing trip to Universal Studios, made all the more special by the unexpected visit the HP World! We really loved our day there, and we were completely knackered when we got back!