Movie magic, mega attractions—if Hollywood is the land of make believe, then Universal Studios Hollywood is your chance to step into that fantasy world. On a sprawling complex on the east side of the Hollywood Hills, this movie-studio-meets-theme-park blends a studio tour with rides that swoosh, swoop, and dive through movie-and-TV-themed worlds.
Step inside the park’s front gates, for instance, and you can choose from the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride, the zombie-filled Walking Dead Attraction, or the popular WaterWorld show, which highlights real-life stunt actors. Head to the right from the box office at the centre, and you’ll soon arrive at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, complete with a recreation of the village of Hogsmeade. Toward the back of the park, you’ll find the Springfield of Simpsons fame, including an irreverent simulator ride and branches of Moe’s Tavern and Krusty Burger.
Look for the digital signs in the park that highlight the current wait times for all of the rides, as well as the schedule for daily shows. Want to skip most lines? Upgrade to a Universal Express ticket that lets you bypass the queues, or at least buy your ticket online, which gives you access to the park an hour early. To plan out your whole day, download the Universal Studios Hollywood Mobile App, which helps you track ride wait times (and pings you when your favourite ride reaches an ideal timeframe), reminds you about show times, and even leads you back to your car in the parking lot at the end of the day. Staying the night is easy, too: Check out the list of preferred hotels located near the park.
Be sure to save time, though, for Universal CityWalk. The park’s adjacent, neon-lit complex offers an array of stores and dining options, such as outposts Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, and the first California branch of VooDoo Donuts.
Read on to map out your exploration of the theme park.
HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)
Die-hard fans of The Walking Dead—or simply those who love a good scare—can now live through a zombie apocalypse at Universal Studios Hollywood. The theme park’s Walking Dead Attraction was once a limited-time offering during the park’s annual Halloween Horror Nights, and it received a major upgrade and a permanent year-round spot near the park entrance.
The goal of the attraction was to make the TV show come to life for park goers, who will have to “fight for survival” as they navigate through the post-apocalyptic world. To achieve a realistic feel, Universal Studios Hollywood partnered with the show’s creative team, executive producer and director Greg Nicotero, and his special effects company, KNB EFX. They worked to “make the attraction as 100 percent authentic as possible,” Nicotero said in a behind-the-scenes video from Universal.
That meant using original molds from familiar Walking Dead characters (such as “Bicycle Girl,” seen in the pilot episode) and designing sets to replicate some of the show’s most famous scenes. Guests unfamiliar with the series will love the intense, haunted-house-like adventure, while dedicated Walking Dead fans will feel like they’re getting an exclusive tour of the set.
Those hungry walkers will be a mix of real-life actors in elaborate makeup and animatronic zombies made from molds and hours of detail work—down to their flesh-tearing silicone teeth and the broken capillaries in their acrylic eyeballs.
“We’re getting a chance to do animatronic characters that we’ve never done before,” Nicotero said. “We’re getting to utilize molds that were created specifically for the show and translate them into parts of the attraction. It’s one-of-a-kind and state-of-the-art.”
The effect is so vivid—and perhaps even shocking—that it’s best for kids to skip this attraction: Universal Studios Hollywood does not recommend it for guests younger than 13.
The idea of “Hollywood magic” takes many forms at Universal Studios Hollywood, but it seems especially apt in the park’s new area, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. With rides, shops and no shortage of Butterbeer, fans will find themselves transported into the world of the beloved boy wizard.
Even if you don’t know all of the nuances of the bespectacled kid with a lightning-bolt-shaped scar, there is an abundance of whimsy and fun in the 2.5-hectare attraction. The village-style setting has, as its focus, the iconic Hogwarts Castle, home to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Inside, underneath its soaring ceilings, you can wander the hallowed halls lined with portraits that—just like in the books and movies—talk. Peruse the office of headmaster Albus Dumbledore, look around the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and scope out the Gryffindor Common Room, where Harry and his fellow housemates have been known to dish about those sullen Slytherin kids.
Ride your own broomstick for 3D-HD thrills that combine robotics, elaborate action sequences and immersive visceral effects.
The signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, lets you ride your own broomstick for a 3D-HD set of thrills that combines a robotics system, elaborate filmed action sequences and immersive visceral effects. Outside the castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also home to the first outdoor coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood, the family-friendly "Flight of the Hippogriff."
The rest of the attractions focus on the wizard town of Hogsmeade, made up of cobblestone streets, snowcapped roofs and an assortment of locals, from the train conductor welcoming arrivals to merchants offering various wizard wares (including the wands at Ollivanders, the screaming yo-yos at Zonko’s and the chocolate frogs at Honeydukes).
Don’t miss the Owl Post, where resident owls hoot as you pass by. Kids can learn about the old days, when people actually used to send snail-mail messages to one another (or, in Harry’s case, owl-mail messages). Mail a card from this location (written with actual pen, or quill and paper) and it will get a Hogsmeade postmark.
The immersive wizard experience extends well into mealtimes, too. The Three Broomsticks restaurant in Hogsmeade offers hearty Anglophile fare such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash, as well as classic accompaniments like sticky toffee pudding. You’ll be tempted to start your Wizarding World of Harry Potter day right here: Three Broomsticks does a legit full English breakfast, featuring eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans and even black pudding. (American staples are available too.)
And here’s good news for Muggles over the age of 21: The adjoining Hog’s Head pub has original draft beers and spirits created exclusively for the attraction, including Dragon Scale, Wizard’s Brew and Firewhisky. At the pub, and all around Hogsmeade, you can also order an all-ages-friendly Butterbeer (think cream soda, with a twist), along with Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz and gently flavoured Gilly Water. After all, fending off the Dark Arts works up quite a thirst.
HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)
They’re small, they’re loud, they’re a little bit loopy, and they’re here. This in-your-face ride lets you get a taste of what it’s like to be a Minion, the banana-coloured stars of the Despicable Me movies. Enter the home of the seemingly villainous (but not really) Gru, where you bounce, plunge, and plummet (thanks to startlingly realistic motion-simulator technology) through a Minion training mission. And all that excitement ends with a wild dance party. Adjacent to the ride, Super Silly Fun Land brings alive the carnival from the movies, with fountains, wet and dry play areas, and Silly Swirly Fun Ride, which gives you a full view of all of the hijinks below.
With a behind-the-scenes look at movie-making magic, plus blockbuster-themed detours along the way, the world-famous Studio Tour that snakes you through the back lots at Universal Studios Hollywood ranks as a must-do ride in California. Sure, it’s primarily a theme park ride, so you’re probably not going to see Brad Pitt strolling by, but you really do get to see the sets and learn about classics ranging from Frankenstein to Jaws. Then slip on 3D glasses as you drive into wraparound action, especially the technologically advanced Fast & Furious—Supercharged thrill ride —where make believe becomes reality as you’re placed into the action during a high-octane scene. The groundbreaking attraction, presented as the grand finale to the Studio Tour, catapults you into the high-stakes underground world of street racing at perceived speeds of more than 193 kilometers per hour.
Another detour takes you into a 360-degree, 3D jungle that feels startlingly real, especially when King Kong emerges to battle dinosaurs—with your tram rocking and rolling in the middle of the brawl. Mellower sections of the tram tour wind through real sets of make-believe towns, cities, and suburban neighbourhoods used in hundreds of films and TV shows, as well as original sets from major films like Psycho, Jaws, and War of the Worlds. Live guides and onboard videos featuring late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon add entertaining insights along the way.
Insider tip: Lines can get long here, but don’t worry—trams depart almost non-stop, so lines move fairly quickly.
Feel like a movie star yourself when you book the VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood. First there’s that valet parking—not bad. Then there’s that private entrance leading you to an exclusive lounge, where you relax with snacks and refreshments, in your own A-lister’s inner sanctum. Next, you meet your expert guide for the day, who will go out of his or her way to find out what kind of insider tips and movie facts you’d like to know more about as you tour the back lot and soundstages. They’re also very helpful when the urge to take a group photo in front of your favourite movie set strikes.
Unlike the standard back-lot tour, this tour lets you get out of your group’s private trolley and walk around. You’ll be able to wander around and get up-close looks at sets, learn about lighting and camera angles, and see where current TV shows and movies are being shot. Pose for a selfie at the steps of Norman Bates’ house from Psycho, or wander through the Bravermans’ living room from the long-running TV series Parenthood. A favourite stop is the massive prop warehouse, which houses an impressive collection of movie paraphernalia, from vintage bowling bags to full suits of armor. The tour includes a gourmet lunch prepared by the studio’s executive chef and served in a private dining room, as well as front-of-the-line privileges for all rides throughout the day, prime seats secured by your guide at all shows, and meet-and-greets with featured performers.
For a concentrated dose of nightlife, dining, and oh-I-need-that shopping, be sure to visit the bustling, pedestrian-only Universal CityWalk complex. Actually, you can’t really miss it—walking routes from Universal Studios Hollywood’s main parking structure take you right through CityWalk. Plus, there’s no admission, so you can visit CityWalk even if you don’t have tickets to the theme park. Don’t miss the dancing water fountain display at its centre, designed by the same folks who created the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. And keep an eye out for the camera crews and hosts of the TV show Extra, who regularly film segments around the theme park and CityWalk.
Not surprisingly, movies are well represented here: Grab one of the plush recliners seats at Universal Cinema, a 18-screen multiplex, plus an IMAX theatre projecting films seven stories high. And for thrills of a different kind, experience the sensation of freefalling while skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel at iFLY Hollywood. Free outdoor concerts feature lights shows and plenty of room for dancing—though you might have find someone to hold all the shopping bags you’ll be toting, what with stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Fossil, and Billabong lining the plazas and walkways.
You won’t go hungry either. Choose from L.A. icons, such as the outposts of Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, Vivo Italian Kitchen, and LudoBird (the Provencal fried chicken created by celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre), or have a craft beer at San Diego-born Karl Strauss Brewing Company. CityWalk is also home to some notable transplants from outside the Golden State, such as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Dongpo Kitchen (an offshoot of China’s popular Meizhou Dongpo), and the first California branch of Portland’s VooDoo Doughnut.
Step into the bizarre animated world of The Simpsons on this state-of-the-art ride. Technically, the scenes are projected around you while your car lifts and tilts, but the feeling is all real—as if you are zooming through a psycho animated universe that’s as out of control as Homer and Bart’s world ever gets. Start in a carnival midway, then rocket through Krustyland, a fantasy amusement park that’s the warped vision of creepy-cranky Krusty the Clown. With the show’s real actors voicing the characters and plenty of subversive humour, the ride effectively captures the twisted weirdness of the show, so if you’re a fan, it’s a must-ride experience.
For all of the movie magic and animation at Universal Studios Hollywood, you can also catch plenty of live entertainment. Find out how how digital and 3-D technology help moviemakers create new worlds and amazing special effects—and create little mischief makers like Despicable Me’s Minions, who make an appearance during the Special Effects Stage show. You can watch jet-ski stunts, perilous plunges and a simulated seaplane crash at Universal Studios Hollywood’s #1 rated show, WaterWorld. Or, for decidedly tamer scenes, watch dogs, birds, and other animal stars show you their stuff at the Universal’s Animal Actors show.
What are you in the mood for? Heart-pounding adventure? Lighthearted fun? From warring extraterrestrial robotic life-forms and lurching mummies to the big, lovable Panda named Po, rides at Universal Studios Hollywood transport you to a wide range of movie-themed worlds. Get swept up in the jaw-dropping, multi-sensory adventure that is the Dreamworks Theatre featuring Kung Fu Panda attraction, which uses state-of-the-art visual effects and first-ever interior projection mapping to place you smack in the middle of the action. On Revenge of the Mummy–The Ride, rocket through impenetrable darkness and fiery pyrotechnics as an eerie, ancient world unfolds in front of you, and get heckled by particularly disgusting (were they actually hissing?) mummies. On Transformers: The Ride-3D, flight simulation technology blasts you into the future to battle for the survival of humanity against towering Decepticons. With Optimus Prime by your side, you just might stand a chance.
But not all of the giants on Universal’s rides are so likely to make your heart skip a beat from the intense adrenaline surge. Little kids will love Super Silly Fun Land, inspired by the whimsical seaside theme park in the first Despicable Me movie. Let them run around and cool off among the 80 water playground features, ride the old-school (and not too intense) Silly Swirly Fun Ride, or test their water marksmanship at the Super Silly Space Killer arcade game—if only for the chance to win one of the stuffed unicorns and shout the movie’s famous line, “It’s so fluffy!”
From the heart-warming to the heart-stopping, events at Universal Studios Hollywood jazz up the holidays throughout the year.
The theme park does some serious celebrating in September and October with its Halloween Horror Nights, a scare fest that’s not for the squeamish (nor the little ones—too scary for them!). Follow creepy mazes that bring classic horror movies and TV series to life, taking you through gloomy spaces and set recreations—you never know when werewolves, vampires, and zombies might jump out at you. Even the clowns are psychotic, set to awesome music by guitarist Slash. Get terrorised by Jason, Freddy and Leatherface, experience The Shining, The Walking Dead and The Purge, to name just a few of the attractions featured, and the 2018 addition—a Halloween Horror Nights maze inspired by the first season of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Oh, and the signature back lot tram ride? Get ready for an apocalyptic journey with yes, more zombies. (The seasonal festival has been so successful that it inspired the year-round Walking Dead Attraction.)
Winter holidays are another big draw, with Cindy Lou and her Who friends reading the Dr. Seuss classic book during Grinchmas. There’s also a nightly tree-lighting ceremony complete with a picturesque evening snowfall—and Hogsmeade will offer holiday-themed foods as well as a yuletide version of the summer light show across Hogwarts Castle. Universal CityWalk marks the holiday season with concerts, nightly snowfall of its own, and a giant tree during CityWalk Holiday Season.