Universal Studios – Revisiting SoCal’s Famous Theme Park

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A visit to Los Angeles is not complete without a visit to Universal Studios, Venice Beach, Sunset and Hollywood Blvd, the Chinese Theatre and of course Disneyland in Orange County. At least that’s how it used to be, a few years back.

Today we have a Disneyland theme park not only on the East and the West Coast of the USA, but also one in Europe (Paris). Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai can call one their own as well.  Visiting Disneyland therefor in the U.S might have lost some of its appeal compared to other theme parks and other famous sites unique to the USA.  While you can find a Universal Studios also in Japan and Singapore it has not yet made its way to the European continent.

Universal 2After many years living here in California but not having been back to Universal Studios for quite a while, our family decided to check it out again and I found that quite a bit has changed, or …have I changed? In my view Universal Studios has lost some of its magic vibe that had lured me in so many years ago. Then it seemed like the gateway to the secret world of movie making and movie stars. The actual machinery behind Hollywood’s magic.

Visiting Universal Studios this summer I sadly realized that it was  just another theme park competing with Disneyland in new ride attractions. And while the original “Hollywood Studio Tour“, a behind-the-scenes tour, still exists updated with modern attractions like the world’s largest 3D experience, as we were told, to me it has lost a bit of its intimate charm of the earlier days.

Instead of the small trolley train, that had room only for three people in each of its rows, was riding low and put you close to the action, today you’ll find big trolly buses that hold double the number of people and put you high above the action. On the other hand these robust and technically equipped trolley buses let you experience the latest attractions like the award-winning King Kong 360 3-D sensation created by Peter Jackson with an all around intensity that would not have been possible with the fragile little tour trains of the old days.

Universal 3Hollywood’s magic toolbox that makes unbelievable things happen in movies, has evolved and has become much more versatile thanks to modern computer simulation technology. While torrential rains and a flood took away your breath some 20 years ago, and the masses of water that burst down a hill right towards you sitting in your little tour car made you feel threatened to get swept away along with the flood; today you are part of a thrilling fight in 3-D between a scary T-rex and King Kong. In fact you are right in the middle of this spectacle getting splashed with dinosaur saliva and pushed around by KingKong, who is trying to step onto your tour bus.
The tour crowd was mesmerized and thoroughly enjoyed the experience from what I could tell by their screams and beaming faces.

Universal 4The previously mentioned torrential rains by the way still exist and still turn into a flood, but the experience is quite a different one these days so high above the action and boxed-in into your sturdy tour bus. The famous shark attack in the shark lagoon lacks some fright appeal as well. These wonderful, former attractions have lost some of its intensity and enjoyable thrill.  They now seem like a remnant of an aged Hollywood and stand in strong contrast to the modern attractions of the Hollywood Studio Tour that immerses you in a much more emotional experience.

Universal 5Part of the “Hollywood Studio Tour” is also driving by staged settings for certain TV shows and movies. As you are passing by the various small bungalows that once had been used as temporary housing for famous Hollywood icons like Doris Day, you get a glimpse into the fantastic world of Hollywood’s entertainment industry, a world that still has its home right here in the midst of Los Angeles but is impacting millions of people around the world.

I personally think that the Hollywood Studio Tour is the first ride one should engage in when visiting Universal Studios. It sets the mood for your overall experience and makes you remember what Universal Studios Park was originally all about – giving you a peek behind the scenes of famed Hollywood movie making.

Universal 6Today’s Universal Studios theme park offers an array of fun rides.  Some of them are not your usual roller coaster but rather its virtual counterpart, which can be just as wild as the real ride. The Despicable Me -Minion ride that my son and husband were looking forward to was fun but in their opinion way too short after the nearly one hour wait and therefore a bitUniversal 7 disappointing. Instead they enjoyed the Transformers-Ride much more.  And… we were terribly excited to see that Harry Potter’s Wizard World is coming to the park by spring next year! Behind some fences we could already make out the towers of Hogwarts and the crooked chimneys of Hogsmeade!

Aside of the ride attractions, which are quite different to the ones at Disneyland, and therefore not really comparable, my personal opinion is that Disneyland
Universal 8offers a more fulfilling experience than Universal Studios. In fact, just walking around Disneyland’s various theme sections is entertaining by itself.  Food options inside Universal Studios are also much more limited than at Disneyland, but there is always the Universal City Walk right outside the official theme park gates that comes to the rescue with quite a variety of restaurants that are sure to please any palate.

Overall, we will be back, and be it only to check out Hogwarts and Harry Potter’s Wizard World!

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Images: © Copyright 2015 NH Fuertes. All Rights Reserved.

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