Spotlight: Universal Studios Hollywood
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 in the Hollywood Hills, this movie-studio-meets-theme-park blends a studio tour with thrilling action rides that swoosh, dive, swoop, and astonish with dizzying special effects.
Step inside the park’s front gates, for instance, and you can choose from the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride, the zombie-filled AMC’s Walking Dead Attraction, or the popular WaterWorld live show, with stunning pyrotechnic effects and real-life stunt actors performing daredevil feats. Head to the right and you’ll arrive at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, complete with a recreation of Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. Toward the rear 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.
Take the escalator to the park’s lower lot to hop on rides based on Revenge of the Mummy (where you’ll feel the G-forces on California’s fastest indoor rollercoaster) and Transformers (don your 3D glasses for stunningly authentic visual effects). Jurassic World—The Ride delivers Mesozoic-era fun with a “Raptor Encounter” with the beloved velociraptor Blue, an interactive “DinoPlay” area, and a Jurassic-themed bar and restaurant.
Look for digital signs in the park that highlight the current wait times for all rides, as well as the schedule for daily shows, and download the Universal Studios Hollywood Mobile App to help you strategize your day. The app helps you track wait times, pings you when your favorite ride reaches an ideal timeframe, reminds you about show times, and even leads you back to your parked car at the end of the day.
Want to skip the longest lines? Upgrade to a Universal Express ticket, which includes express access to each ride, attraction, and seated show. Or splurge on the VIP Experience and you’ll feel like a movie star yourself. First, there’s valet parking. Then make your way through a private entrance that leads to the VIP inner sanctum, where you relax with snacks and refreshments. Next, meet your expert guide, who will go out of his or her way to find out what kind of insider tips and movie facts intrigue you. Unlike the standard back-lot tour, the VIP Experience tour lets guests wander around 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 favorite 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, as well as front-of-the-line privileges for all rides throughout the day.
No matter how you spend your day at Universal Studios, save time 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, home of the ambrosial bacon-maple bar.
HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)
5 Amazing Things to Do at Universal Studios Hollywood
Covering more than 400 acres in the middle of Los Angeles, Universal Studios Hollywood gives you a behind-the-scenes peek into Hollywood’s inner workings. You’ll learn what makes the movies so thrilling—and so enchanting—as you immerse yourself in real-life and virtual film sets and take a seat for world-class action rides amped up with dizzying special effects.
Ride the Studio Tour
Start by taking the one-hour World Famous Studio Tour, constructed with creative advice from Stephen Spielberg. The tram tour gives you a peek at 13 blocks of back-lot movie and television show sets, plus some simulated thrills. Inside your tram car, your tour is video-hosted by comedian Jimmy Fallon. Cinema buffs will love seeing actual props and film characters like King Kong, Jaws, and dozens of dinosaurs. You’ll cruise by the Bates Motel from the film Psycho and the set from the TV series Desperate Housewives (remember Wisteria Lane?). You’ll experience movie-making virtual reality as you “survive” an earthquake, flash flood, and avalanche.
Explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Next, step into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with a towering Hogwarts castle and all the classrooms, corridors, and passageways you know from the films. Watch a wand choose its owner at Ollivanders, and sample food fit for wizards in Hogsmeade Village. Buy chocolate frogs and peppermint toads at Honeydukes, or sip a mug of butterbeer or pumpkin juice at Three Broomsticks, a fairy-tale tavern serving traditional British fare (bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie). You might need a reality check after “flying” over Hogwarts on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. (Ask your companions: “Did that just happen?”). Young kids will enjoy the not-too-scary Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster, which zooms around Hagrid’s pumpkin patch.
Enjoy Jurassic World–The Ride
Watch a showdown between dinosaurs at Jurassic World–The Ride. This “sequel” to the park’s Jurassic Park ride was created by some of the same folks behind the blockbuster movie series, including Steven Spielberg and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow. Board a 25-person boat and glide through various lands of dinosaurs, check out the video “warnings” from Jurassic World stars Chris Pratt and BD Wong, then watch an Indominus rex and T. rex battle it out—all before your raft takes an 84-foot water plunge. On your way out, let the kids dig for fossils in the play area or relax with some refreshments at the area’s Isla Nu-Bar and Jurassic Café.
Survive AMC’s Walking Dead Attraction
Revenge of the Mummy is touted as California’s fastest indoor roller coaster, and thanks to high-tech robotics and advanced animatronics, it’s undeniably scary. But even scarier is AMC’s Walking Dead attraction. Imagine the most frightening haunted house you’ve ever visited, then multiply that by 100. Just try not to get infected by the undead as you navigate your way through the creepy hospital maze. (Warning: Expect to see a lot of simulated blood and gore. This is a zombie apocalypse, after all.)
Watch Waterworld Live Show
The 1995 Kevin Costner film WaterWorld may not have been a big box-office hit, but it makes a thrilling live outdoor show. You’ll cheer on steampunk-garbed stuntmen and stuntwomen as they perform daredevil feats—diving into the water from impossibly high towers and racing around on jet skis. The stunning pyrotechnic effects in Waterworld will blow your mind. Even though anything is possible in Hollywood, it’s still hard to believe your eyes when a flaming seaplane flies over the set and crashes with a big splash.
Jurassic World–The Ride
Get up close to dinos from the blockbuster movie series at Jurassic World–The Ride. This next-generation raft ride and attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood ups the ante from its predecessor, Jurassic Park–The Ride, by also offering a mini-land, a Raptor Encounter with the beloved Velociraptor Blue, an interactive DinoPlay area, and a themed bar and restaurant.
The ride has its own serious Hollywood credentials: Its creation was a collaboration between the park’s team, special effects company Industrial Light & Magic, Universal Pictures, filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow, who was reportedly a big fan of Jurassic Park–The Ride.
The new adventure puts you on a 25-person boat that takes you through various lands of dinosaurs, including an elaborate tank filled with realistic schools of fish and a temperamental Mosasaurus. (At the entrance, check out the baby raptor and its "handler," plus a life-size Triceratops.) After you’ve encountered all the “friendly” dinosaurs, you’ll see video warnings from some Jurassic World stars—including Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and BD Wong—and then have a front-row seat for a showdown between an Indominus rex and T. rex. The ride’s finale is an 84-foot water plunge, captured in a slo-mo video and available for purchase to share directly on social media.
Spoiler alert: You may get a little wet. While you dry off, have the kids dig for fossils in the play area, sip a tiki cocktail at the new Isla Nu-Bar, or grab a bite of Costa Rican–inspired food at Jurassic Café. Check out the Jurassic Outfitters store to see one-of-a-kind and high-end limited edition collectibles to commemorate your dinosaur experience.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The idea of “Hollywood magic” takes many forms at Universal Studios Hollywood, but it seems especially apt in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even if you don’t know all of the nuances of the bespectacled kid with a lightning-bolt-shaped scar, this six-acre attraction offers an abundance of whimsy and fun. With world-class action rides, wizard-worthy shops, and no shortage of Butterbeer, you’ll find your disbelief suspended in no time at all.
The eye-popping centerpiece is 200-foot-high Hogwarts Castle, home of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Pass through the castle gates and wander the hallowed halls lined with portraits that talk, just like in the books and movies. Peruse the office of headmaster Albus Dumbledore, peer into 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.
Then it’s time to board the site’s signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You’ll ride on your own broomstick for a set of thrills that combines a robotics system, elaborate filmed action sequences, and immersive visceral effects. Expect to be as impressed as the stars of the Harry Potter movies who have also ridden it. “It’s so immersive,” reports actor James Phelps, who played one of the red-haired Weasley twins. “When you’re in it, you can’t see anyone else riding the ride as well. It’s just you.”
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. In the re-created wizard town of Hogsmeade, the immersive experience includes cobblestone streets, snowcapped roofs, and an assortment of locals, from the train conductor welcoming new arrivals to merchants peddling all manner of sorcery (wands at Ollivanders, screaming yo-yos at Zonko’s, and chocolate frogs at Honeydukes). Don’t miss the Owl Post, where resident owls hoot as you pass by. Mail a card from this location (written with actual pen, or quill, and paper) and it will get a Hogsmeade postmark.
The Three Broomsticks restaurant offers hearty Anglophile fare such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and beef pasties, as well as classic desserts like chocolate trifle. And there’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 Fire Whisky. 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 flavored Gilly Water. After all, fending off the Dark Arts works up a thirst.
HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)
The Walking Dead Attraction
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.
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 120 miles per hour/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 neighborhoods 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.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
This colorful section of Universal Studio Hollywood is an instant hit with kids—and anyone else who has a soft spot for the banana-colored stars of the Despicable Me movies. Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem is a motion-simulator ride: You sit, buckled into your seat, while the floor lifts and tilts and you seemingly careen inside a 3-D movie. The ride lets you into the home of the seemingly villainous (but otherwise hapless) Gru, where you bounce, plunge, and plummet through a Minion training mission. And all that excitement ends with a wild dance party. Even waiting to board the ride is entertaining, with multiple screens showing bits of wisdom from Gru and his right-hand Minions like Dave, Stuart, and Lance.
Keep the Minion theme going by visiting the adjacent Super Silly Fun Land, which brings alive the carnival from the first movie with fountains, wet and dry play areas, and the classic-style Silly Swirly Fun Ride, which gives you a full view of all of the hijinks below. Try to win one of the movie’s famous stuffed unicorns in a game, or shop for them—along with character dolls and a “fart-gun” that really smells like bananas—in the Minion Mayhem gift shop.
VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood
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 favorite 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 favorite 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 center, 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 make-believe world of America’s loudest cartoon dad, Homer Simpson, in this crayon-bright recreation of Springfield, now fronting the popular The Simpsons ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. Designed to make you feel as if you’ve stepped through your TV into the recreated hometown of the wisecracking Simpsons clan, the outdoor experience lets you visit Bart's favorite hangouts. Stop by Moe’s Tavern, Lard Lad Donuts, or Duff Brewery, all under the shadow of show-inspired landmarks, such Stu’s Disco, where the marquee reads, “Closed until disco comes back.” Other familiar Springfield eateries come to life here too, so you can get a “Genuine Clown-Endorsed Meal” at Krusty Burger or order a cheesy pie at Luigi’s Pizza, all while Homer’s workplace, Mr. Burns’ Nuclear Power Plant, lets loose with a (whoops, did someone push the wrong button?) make-believe meltdown.
The Simpsons Ride
Step into Universal Studios Hollywood’s crayon-bright recreation of the cartoon town of Springfield, then board The Simpsons Ride, a simulator ride that celebrates the bizarre animated world of Homer, Bart, Lisa, and the motley characters from The Simpsons.
Designed to make you feel as if you’ve stepped through your TV into the long-running series, this section of Universal Studios Hollywood invites you to visit many of Homer’s regular hangouts—which also make up a good portion of Universal Studios Hollywood’s inside-the-park dining options. Stop by Moe’s Tavern, Lard Lad Donuts, or Duff Brewery, all under the shadow of show-inspired landmarks, such Stu’s Disco, where the marquee reads, “Closed until disco comes back.” Other familiar Springfield eateries come to life here too, so you can get a “Genuine Clown-Endorsed Meal” at Krusty Burger or order a cheesy pie at Luigi’s Pizza, all while Homer’s workplace, Mr. Burns’ Nuclear Power Plant, lets loose with a (whoops, did someone push the wrong button?) make-believe meltdown.
Then board the ride, which takes the experience to another level. Technically, the Simpsons scenes are just 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. You start in a carnival midway, then rocket through Krustyland, the fantasy amusement park created by creepy-cranky Krusty the Clown. With the show’s real actors voicing the characters and offering plenty of subversive humor, the ride effectively captures the unique essence of the show—so if you’re a fan, it’s a must-ride experience.
Live Shows at Universal Studios Hollywood
For all of the movie magic and animation at Universal Studios Hollywood, you can also catch plenty of live shows, which offer their own versions of behind-the-scene explorations of movie magic. Go to one of these shows and you’ll get a nice reminder that, beyond the theme park rides, this is still a vibrant working studio.
At the Special Effects Show, for instance, you’ll see live demonstrations of how digital and 3-D technology—as well as old-fashioned pyrotechnics—create vivid illusions for movies. Or, watch jet-ski stunts, perilous plunges, and a simulated seaplane crash at WaterWorld (the top-rated live show may now be more popular than the 1995 movie that inspired it). Kids and pet lovers, meanwhile, won’t want to miss the Universal’s Animal Actors show, which highlights the talents and charms of a variety of dogs, cats, and birds who have starred in Universal films—including a few of the owls who have winged their way into Harry Potter movies.
Download the Universal Studios Hollywood Mobile App to track the show times for various shows during your visit. Or, ask staffers about character meet-and-greets around the park, offering the chance to pose for a pic with the Minions, Shrek, the Simpsons, Scooby Doo, and more.
More Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood
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 terrorized 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.