For the past year, I have had an annual pass to Universal Studios Hollywood. Yes, it is a strange thing to have for an avid Disney fan, but for a staycation, it fulfilled its purpose. For this particular time it was both my last time with the annual pass, and the preview for the Transformers: The Ride, which was only open to annual passholders until the 25 of the month.
Save Your Questions Until The End Of The Tour
In this entry, I’ll be giving a review of not only the new ride, but the park overall. I’ve had a year to venture into it, and have been to the park a few times in the past. I know, I know…you’re probably reading this to find out more about the new ride. If you want to jump towards the end, feel free. But, for those of you who want to know more about the working studios park and whether or not to put it on your itinerary, take the slow route.
Universal Studios is the premier studios tour of Hollywood. Not only does it have a working studios, complete with backlot, but it has several shows and attractions to enjoy. And the park is well divided with those. There are about 5 rides, and about 5 shows. In addition, there are at least 3 walk through attractions in the park. But, some of the grandeur of this theme park is the atmosphere. From the entrance to the very back there is a ton of eye candy to take photos of…well, with the exception of the star walk, but it has a great view of Burbank and Hollywood itself. What’s the star walk, you ask? Well, it’s a giant escalator and staircase that takes visitors from the upper part of the theme park to the lower. Is there anything fancy about it? Not really. Just a glass roof and audio that entertains as you travel down. Most of the shows are at the top and most of the rides are at the bottom.
The show type attractions are Universal’s Animal Actors, Terminator 2: 3D, Special Effects Stage, Shrek 4D, and WaterWorld. Out of these, the ones that I experienced within this last year were Terminator, Shrek, and the Special Effects Stage. The others I’ve done before, but a few years past. Oh, and the Blues Brothers is considered a show attraction, but it’s more of a street performance in my opinion. It’s good to watch, but you don’t have to wait in line for it, whereas the others you do.
Terminator is a great special effects show that combines live performance and a 3D movie. Though it can be a little easy to tell how they do what, it is still a fun, entertaining attraction. The Special Effects Stage can be as good as the hosts. There are usually two, and they interact with the audience as well as volunteers. It is a good history lesson of Hollywood’s movie tricks. There’s even a few surprises along the way. Shrek 4D is a fun midquel (in between two sequels…I just made up that word) to the first movie. The preshow/queue is a favorite of mine. It does poke fun at Disney, and once inside we get some fun banter from the 3 Little Pigs, Pinnochio and Gingy. The show is all 3D, with special effects, and moving seats. They’re not simulation seats, but I’m pretty sure it uses DBox technology. Haven’t heard of it? It’s motion seats that are in select theaters nationwide.
So, the ones that I’ve experienced before, but not recently, are the Animal Actors and WaterWorld. Animal Actors is a fun show that features animals used in film. They are quite smart and do a few tricks. It’s enjoyable to watch, but mostly for the little ones in your party. WaterWorld is quite the spectacle. It has one of the longest histories for a stunt show. Taken from the movie, it is a stunt show using water and much stunt fighting…and explosions! It is worth getting a seat for, but beware of being too close. You can get wet.
The Walk Throughs
There are a few walk through exhibits for the studios. One is the Universal Experience. The Experience has a rotating gallery of items from films and TV shows. For anyone interested in those media’s histories, it’s a great exhibit to pop in and look around. The Adventures of Curious George is a playground. Not really for grown ups. On a hot day it does have some water to cool off the younglings. House of Horrors is just as it sounds. I’m not a fan of horror movies, but don’t mind the Halloween mazes at parks. This is a year round scare “maze.” It is definitely scary at times, maybe a bit disturbing. It’s not short either. So, if you are even remotely wary of how it will affect you, don’t go in. It’s not worth it.
The Food and Merchandise
There is food and shops abound in the park! Most of the food consists of famous fast food eateries decorated to a theme. It’s nice to know the quality of food you get, but also with a different atmosphere than what’s outside of the park. The prices are reasonable.
The shops are all over as well. Many are at the exits of attractions, and those are themed to whatever they are beside. Prices are usual theme park pricing, but annual passholders do get a discount. One interesting bit of merchandise, to me, was at the shop next to Terminator 2: Marvel and DC super hero merchandise. Why was that peculiar to me? Well, none of those groups have attractions in Universal Hollywood, and right down the freeway street is Magic Mountain, home to DC super hero rides and merchandise, and then there’s Disneyland which now owns Marvel. Just a peculiarity to me.
Okay, one of the moments you’ve been waiting for in this post: the rides. The main ride attractions are the Studio Tour, The Simpsons Ride, The Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park the Ride, and the new Transformers: The Ride. The big to do out of this bunch is the Studio Tour. This has been around since the opening. I don’t think it’s ever the same exact ride, because it takes visitors through the working studio part of the park. There’s always at least a prop taken out because of its use in filming. But, what is also exciting is the little mini-attractions they give. King Kong 3D is spectacular and well done. It’s a replacement of the legendary encounter with an animatronic Kong, designed by the legendary Bob Gurr. Yes, that Bob Gurr of Disney fame. The new King Kong experienced is designed by Peter Jackson, and is all film with a few special effects. The other great encounters are with Jaws, Earthquake, and a little Mummy encounter. The tram ride goes through soundstages and backlots as well.
The Revenge of the Mummy is a roller coaster. Not only are there effects in the seats, and a couple of dark ride portions, but the cars go backwards as well! Jurassic Park the Ride is a boat drop ride. It is mostly the gentle tour through dinosaur land, where you’ll often get wet. The end is a plunge down the show building, and is a little bigger and steeper than Splash Mountain. The Simpsons Ride took the place of Back to the Future the Ride and uses the same building and ride vehicles. It’s roughly the same ride, just a different simulation and movie. The building is completely redone to be Krustyland, the theme park of the Simpsons character. It parodies Disneyland a great deal, but does a good job at putting people in the middle of Springfield.
More Than Meets The Eye: Transformers
Finally, Transformers: The Ride. I managed to ride it 5 times during the preview, 4 of which right in a row. It was quite popular, by the way. I was doing single rider the whole time.
As the story goes, you are new recruits to the base of humans that work with the Autobots – the good guy Transformers. The Decepticons – bad guy Transformers – want to take the all spark. The all spark is a powerful, Transformer life giving energy. We ride Evac, an Autobot. We are to help, but mostly get out of the situation. We get the all spark, Decepticons follow, chaos ensues and we have to survive.
This attraction is fashioned after the Spider-Man ride in Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Florida. It’s a moving vehicle, with simulation, and 3D film parts. It’s quite the trip. I was impressed by how integrated each built scene was with the film. What was around you fit with what was going on screen. And the 3D effect was some of the best used of any ride. A couple of characters looked like they jumped right on the hood of Evac. At one point, a missile flies at us, and the ride has combined real effects to make it seem like we are so close to being blown up. It was super well done! The ride part itself does a great job of syncing with the action. It feels like we are rushing down a street, but we are stationary and just jerking around. When the vehicle does move, the show scenes around make it seem like we are really traveling through a war tarnished city.
After riding it 5 times I must say it was fun to ride, but maybe not a lot. Once you know what to anticipate it becomes a little redundant. The best seats were in the second and third row, surprisingly. The effects were a little better in the front, but I could see the movie get a little pixelated at times, though it’s in HD. That was disappointing for such an elaborate attraction. The other strange thing is that the ride operators yell at you to get into the vehicles. I’m not exaggerating…they yell like you’re really a new recruit. Not fun for someone who has just stood in a long line. Though it makes everyone load fast, it just doesn’t feel like we are guests anymore. Yes, it helps transport someone into the theme environment, but I don’t want to be that transported. But, those are about my only complaints. It is the best attraction at Universal Studios after the Studio Tour. It’s worth standing in an hour line (although I didn’t ever experience that, so take it with a grain of salt). I think it even rivals Disney rides (*gasp*).
To Go Or Not To Go?
Universal Studios is a fun theme park for a vacation to Southern California. It has exciting rides and shows, and has a competitive price. The best time to go is the buy a day get a year. One big reason is that the one day admission is not that much cheaper than Disneyland. And there is the part of the problem for the park. It’s going to start sounding like I hate the park. I don’t. It’s fun. But, it’s not too repeatable. It’s also not very family friendly, in my opinion. Revenge of the Mummy is going to frighten kids. Heck, it kinda disturbs me a little bit. And the story is confusing. The Mummy promises me eternal riches, but also eternal suffering. Then, I don’t get a choice, he just steals my soul anyway. But, wait, he starts yelling that I can’t escape him stealing my soul. Didn’t he just steal it before? And then, in the end, he doesn’t steal it and gets sucked up into the moon. Seriously. That’s the story. I still don’t get it and I’ve rode it like 10 times.
There is also the wetness problem. I think there’s only like 3 attractions that don’t spray you with something. And there’s only warnings for like 2 of them. The Studio Tour, Jurassic Park, Shrek, Terminator, House of Horrors, Simpsons, Tranformers, WaterWorld, Curious George all can get you wet. It’s overkill.
Then there are the jokes and violence. There is a lot of innuendo in attractions. And there’s a lot of mocking the competition. It just felt a little dirty. The violence I don’t mind, but I am surprised how much is around. Tranformers is constant punching of robots. The stunt show of course has fighting. Kong on the studio tour dukes it out with dinosaurs. Terminator is all about shooting robots. And even Simpsons has a little carnage. Again, I don’t mind it, but if you have some sensitive kids or family members there is not a lot to do otherwise.
Okay, so, I know you’re thinking “well, buzzkill, what are some reasons to go?” The reasons are, if you can look past the above, it is an enjoyable day park. I am a film enthusiast, so the Studio Tour is worth the price of admission alone. It is a real studio. There is always something filming around there. It is great to see how they make movies and TV shows. And the hosts are like the Jungle Cruise skippers. It’s just a fun ride. And it’s long too. Transformers is now worth riding. The other attractions are great to see at least once in a lifetime. They are well done. And this park is well done. It’s not Disneyland. And, unfortunately, that’s what I would compare it too. Disneyland is a multi-day destination. I’ve done most things in Universal in about 4-5 hours. But, I enjoyed the rides and shows.
The verdict, though, is if you have money to spend on only one theme park, pick Disneyland. If you’re looking for a couple things to do in SoCal, do Universal too. It’s worth a stop. It’s different from Disneyland, yet could be in the same ballpark. They’re trying, and they are getting better. But, I don’t think they’ll get there. However, part of that reason is also its appeal: it’s a working studio. I know I’ve said it over and over, but that’s what gives this park its spark.
So, until next time, have a marvelous day!