Universal Studios Hollywood

Jennifer Stern September 4, 2010 1 Comment


The world-famous Universal Studios Hollywood GlobeMy family and I feel very fortunate to live in the vacation paradise known as Southern California. Famous beaches, movie stars, incredible restaurants, unbeatable weather–what’s not to love? Everyone wants to visit us. And I know that every time I get a visit from family, friends, or other out-of-towners, I will be headed for another trip to one of the most famous beaches, movie stars, incredible restaurants landmarks of all time. (No, not the place with the big mouse and the castle–that will be covered in another article!) 

I’m talking about Universal Studios Hollywood–(okay, technically it’s located in Burbank, but Hollywood just sounds so much more glamorous!). Filmmaker Carl Laemmle built Universal City Studios on 230 acres of farmland just north of Hollywood in 1915, the world’s largest motion picture production facility (which eventually expanded to 420 acres.) Back in the day, the studio figured the fledgling film industry needed all the publicity it could get, and happily flung open its doors to the “lookie-loos.” 

Today, the tradition continues (albeit at a considerably higher price). General-admission tickets will run you $74 if you are a visitor (kids under 3 are free); however, multi-day discounts are offered. Local residents are eligible for special deals; for instance, I was recently able to purchase several “buy six months for $60″ passes, which are a great value even if you only visit a couple of times. 

Rule number one: Get there early. By 10 a.m., if you can, since that’s when the park opens. You will save yourself the headaches of parking (though there is parking aplenty), and waiting in long admission lines. 

Once you get inside the park, you will no doubt want to stop and take photos by the fountain featuring the iconic rotating Universal Studios metal globe. Don’t take too many, though. You should make an immediate beeline for the world-famous Studio Tour. Run, don’t walk–or at least walk as quickly as possible with young children and strollers in tow. Lines for the tour get VERY, VERY long very quickly. Ride down the long escalator near the entrance (the “Starway”), and hop on a tram for the narrated tour. There’s also a Spanish-language tour–make sure you get in the right line, gringo. 

The tour will take you from Amity Island (where the famous shark from Jaws will “attack” your tram) to Wisteria Lane (the home of “Desperate Housewives”), to classics like the Bates Hotel and the Psycho House, (where Norman Bates will “attack” your tram!). Brand-new and much-advertised on the tour is the King Kong 360-3D attraction (you will get your 3-D glasses before boarding your tram), which is quite a spectacular experience, but perhaps a bit frightening to the youngest tram-riders. Pluses for busy/tired/harried parents of youngsters include the following: 1) the tour is an hour long. You get to sit for an hour! 2) it’s relaxing, interesting and informative, plus provides you with a bird’s-eye view of the studio front and backlots and gorgeous L.A. scenery. 3) Did I mention you get to sit for an hour? 

Universal Studios Hollywood Amity Island sign on the Studio Tour

Beware of shark attacks on the Studio Tour!

Once your tram tour has concluded, you’ll want to explore the rest of the park, which is divided into the Upper and the Lower lots, each accessible by means of the long escalators running up and down the hillside. Again, the views are incredible and photo ops will abound. 

Popular thrill rides and attractions include the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster, which my 11- and 14-year old sons will happily ride over and over again, The Simpsons virtual-reality ride, which amuses teens and tweens yet is not too scary for the elementary-school set, and the Jurassic Park river ride (you WILL get wet, ranging from damp to completely soaked depending on where you sit–consider investing in one of the readily-available plastic ponchos for sale outside the ride, or bring a rain jacket). The ride is quite tame despite its name, with the exception of an 84-foot drop and a big splash at the end. Think “log flume with audio-animatronic dinosaurs” and you’ve got the idea. I think it’s fine for all but the youngest riders, or those who frighten very easily. My 7-year-old is not a daredevil by any means, and even he loves this ride. 

Speaking of wet, one of the best spots for younger kids and parents to cool off is the Adventures of Curious George waterpark and play area, so make sure you bring the kids’ swimsuits, towels and flip-flops if it’s warm (and of course, sunscreen). The tots can run, climb, jump and slide on the various equipment, get doused by giant buckets of water, and fire water guns at each other. And if you’ve forgotten the water gear, no worries–right next door is a huge two-story indoor play area filled with thousands of lightweight foam balls that the kids can vacuum up, throw, shoot, and dump on each other. While all the fun is going on, Mom and Dad can sit on the bleachers nearby and perhaps even enjoy a margarita! It’s a win-win situation! 

The park features shows that are sure to be a hit with the young’uns, especially the Animal Actors Stage, where the kids will see cuddly dogs, cats, pigs, chimpanzees, birds, and even trained rats put through their paces to the delight of adults and kids alike. My kids enjoy the show every time–even more so when, occasionally, an animal refuses to cooperate! The show usually runs every half-hour, so getting seating never seems to be a problem. 

Also on your must-do list is the revamped Special Effects Stage, where you and your family will learn the fascinating filmmaking secrets behind your favorite Hollywood films, including 3-D (isn’t every movie 3-D these days?), stop motion, motion capture, and computer-generated effects. There’s also a pretty good chance your child might be chosen to participate in the creation of these effects, so keep your cameras at the ready. 

There’s also the Shrek 4-D attraction (the big green ogre is always a hit with kids, and it’s another opportunity to sit!) and the Waterworld show, which oddly enough remains a huge hit after quite a long run, despite being based on Kevin Costner’s megamillion-dollar flop of the same name. 

One attraction NOT recommended for small children (say, ages eight and younger) is the House of Horrors, a walk-through maze that is dark, winding and scared the heck out of my 11-year-old. You will essentially grope your way through the pitch blackness, encountering live actors dressed as classic Universal horror-movie monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolfman, who randomly jump out at you–I’d skip it if you don’t want to be up all night soothing your little one’s nightmares! 

Throughout the day you’ll encounter many characters roaming the park who will happily pose for photos with your children–The Simpsons, Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, and the Penguins from Madagascar, plus more. I personally thoroughly enjoyed having MY photo taken with a tall, dark and dashing masked man dressed as Zorro…somehow the kids weren’t quite as into it, but it put a smile on Mom’s face for the rest of the day! 

The Simpsons Universal Studios Hollywood California

The Simpsons and the Sterns Universal Studios

One major point which must be mentioned–food is expensive. And the lines for it are loooooong. You may want to bring your own “outside” food into the park if you’d rather not spend a small fortune on lunch or dinner (I recently spent $40 for 4 people for the rather pedestrian fare of chicken strips and fries). I like to “sneak in” the main meal of the day, whether it be lunch or dinner, and have some extra cash to spend on “luxury items” like churros, popcorn, ice cream and other goodies. And-there’s no getting around it–souvenirs. You know you’re not getting out of there cheaply once the kids see the toys, t-shirts, keychains, hats, and much more–so take my advice and cut corners on the food! 

If you’ve “done” the park and feel like a change of pace, or if you’d like to eat a meal that’s considerably better and more relaxing than the standard amusement-park fare, you need venture no further than Universal Citywalk, which is located inside the park and is essentially a large outdoor mall filled with more than sixty specialty restaurants, retail shops and clubs. Outdoor entertainment also abounds, and magicians, jugglers, musicians, and balloon artists will entertain young and old alike. Kick back and have a family-friendly dinner at a casual themed restaurant like the Hard Rock Cafe’ Hollywood, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (seafood), Panda Inn (Chinese), Johnny Rockets (burgers, fries and shakes), or Buca di Beppo (Italian). 

Once again, there’s more shopping here than you can shake a stick at–Crow’s Nest Toys, Stop & Play, and the Universal Studio Store, to name but a very few, beckon to kids, so hopefully you’re not completely broke yet. Your kids can even have a crack at simulated skydiving, though it will cost you a pretty penny. There are also hot nightspots like the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club, the Rumba Room, and Howl at the Moon, a piano bar. (But you’re not going to any of those places, you big silly. You have children!) 

But no matter. By this time, you hopefully are sated, entertained, and tired but happy. You are, if a bit lighter in the wallet, richer in memories of a one-of-a-kind experience with your family at Universal Studios Hollywood. That’s a wrap, people! 

Universal Studios Hollywood
100 Universal City Plaza (off the 101 Hollywood Fwy.)

Stroller rentals are located in the Upper Lot. Stroller check-ins are located in two convenient spots; at the Backlot Tram Tour and in the Lower Lot near the base of the Starway.

avatarAbout the Author:

Jennifer Stern is a mom of three teen boys, who provide her with constant inspiration to write. She is also a fitness professional/junkie who teaches everything from Spinning to Zumba. A New Jersey native, this is her second time living in Southern California. She loves the L.A. lifestyle, but does miss eating decent pizza and bagels--so she consoles herself with excellent Mexican food. She and her family live in Burbank.

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One Comments to “Universal Studios Hollywood”
  1. avatar T. Dombroski says:

    Excellent, informative review. Now I know everything that I need to know about Universal Studio’s.