The year is 2030. Imagine what Universal Studios Hollywood, already the world’s largest movie studio and theme park, might look like. Wait. There’s no need for you to even try, because Universal Studios already has a vision plan in place. It is a bold rethinking of the theme park and City Walk, with the addition of a new residential area. And I am telling you this because…. Universal Studios Hollywood is always going “Back to the Future.”
It is always evolving. As a result, it is always different. Each visit brings with it not only the pleasure of a tour through an authentic working studio where current movies being filmed give guests an opportunity to catch an occasional glimpse of some of Hollywood stars, but also thrilling rides, shows and adventures all related to movies and television shows of the past and present. In other words, Universal Studios Hollywood has something for everyone: kids, the usually hard to please teens, adults, and elders.
Within the sprawling complex, overlooking the San Fernando Valley, guests will find the theme park, the studio tour, and City Walk with great shopping and dining, entertainment, movies, and a huge amphitheatre and a special event venue. So, buy your tickets, either in advance or when you arrive, slide on a pair of comfortable shoes and slip in among the over 125 million visitors each year who go behind the scenes of the motion picture and television industry’s greatest hits.
Inside the theme park, for those who dare, The Revenge of the Mummy Ride is a “psychological” thrill rollercoaster where you escape the mummy’s revenge by riding through heart pounding special effects with shocking twists and turns. If you haven’t yet jumped out of your skin, a visit to the House of Horrors, inhabited by the likes of Chucky, Dracula, and Frankenstein, will surely leave you spooked! Additional adventures include Shrek 4D where you feel the action without ever leaving your seat and Terminator 2:3D, a 3D “cyber” adventure where you fight your way through a barrage of adrenalin stimulating special effects brought to you by actors on stage along with filmed sequences in 3D. There’s also Jurassic Park, the Ride in which you come face to face with a 50 foot T Rex and ultimately exit by plunging down an 84 foot waterfall. Thrill rides are always undergoing renovation and replacement, and sad to say the long popular Back to the Future simulator ride has closed and will be replaced with a ride based on Fox’s animated television show The Simpsons.
For those who need some time to allow their heart rates to return to normal and those who especially enjoy live performances, the Blues Brothers show is quite entertaining as you learn about rhythm and blues. Kids may want to head over to Nickelodeon Splash Zone for an opportunity to dodge Styrofoam balls and engage in interactive water activities. Other exciting experiences include the Animal Actors, Backdraft (be prepared to take the “heat”), and the Special Effects Stage where you can learn how special effects are created.
As you travel from rides to adventures to shows around the park, there are restaurants, snack stands, toys and souvenirs as well as film and camera supplies available. You may also meet some of your favorite characters roaming around, ready to have their picture taken with you. The changing cast of characters includes Spongebob Squarepants, Marvel Superheroes, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey, Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Dora the Explorer, the Simpsons and others.
After much walking, it’s time to board the tram for the Studio Tour. In just under an hour, with narration from a live guide and clips from famous movies and television shows, guests travel through the 415-acre movie lot, the most filmed location in the world, where modern day New York, Ancient Rome, The Wild West and Wisteria Lane all coexist. Because it is a working lot, with ongoing television and movie shoots, the tour can be rerouted at a moment’s notice. Be sure to look closely as the tram passes each lot: you may see someone you recognize from a TV show or movie.
The tour includes famous landmarks such as the Bates motel and Beaver Cleaver’s home, Whoville, and sets from Crossing Jordan and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Guests experience a Flash Flood, which simulates a torrential downpour (and is likely to leave some of the passengers wet), the parting of the Red Sea, Jaws Lake , King Kong, a collapsing bridge and other attractions designed to educate and entertain. The Studio Tour, which has been running since 1964, with future plans for new sets and adventures still on the design board, is an exciting way to go behind the scenes where the movies are actually made.
After the tour, it’s time to head to City Walk, which is outside of the park but linked by footpath to the main gate. City Walk, is always an experience in itself, but is best visited at night when the bright neon signs cast a Vegas-type glow over the street and the 65 entertainment themed restaurants, nightclubs, shops, theaters, movies and entertainment venues. Supplementing the theaters and theme park, City Walk, opened in 1993, and has become a major destination in its own right.
City Walk features some outrageous architecture to wow the crowds. Reminiscent in some ways of New York’s Time Square; large billboards and strange objects capture the eye, fountains leap from the sidewalk and a huge TV monitor towers above the crowd near the multiplex. There is a movie theater with 18 screens plus an IMAX theater. Even the shops at City Walk are unique; the recently added wardrobe shop, a shop that sells things that glow in the dark, a store with wind up toys, and a Native American shop are just a few examples of the extraordinary and unusual merchandising that takes place along City Walk.
There’s always some entertainment on the street as well. Mimes, musicians, magicians and dancers entertain the crowds milling around or on their way to hear a concert, see a movie, go bowling, eat dinner, party or take a simulator ride. Those who crave extreme entertainment adventures can go virtual race car driving at the NASCAR Motor Speedway or ride a mechanical bull. Audience participation is invited at the glass enclosed mun2 bilingual cable network recording studio which showcases live performances and celebrity guests.
If you are hungry after all the excitement on City Walk or wish to relax over a nice meal, City Walk boasts some two dozen different places to eat, and choices include quick service eateries such as Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers, Versailles, and The Crepe Café. For more leisurely casual dining there’s Buca di Beppo, an authentic Italian restaurant that offers such Italian traditions as seafood cannelloni, Romano crusted tilapia and shrimp barese served family style, the Daily Grill, which is modeled after the great big city grills of the 1930s and ’40s, and serves timeless American grill fare : steaks, chops, seafood, and pasta, along with signature dishes such as chicken pot pie, traditional cobb and Caesar salads, meatloaf and mashed potatoes and the infamous Bubba Gump Shrimp Company where “food is the hero”.
Overall, there is something for everyone at City Walk, as well as inside the park. Universal Studios Hollywood is an authentic Hollywood experience for young and old alike.
What & Where:
Universal Studios Hollywood (100 Universal City Plaza; 1-800-UNIVERSAL)
Universal City Walk (1000 Universal Studios Blvd; 818-622-4455)
Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers (100 Universal City Plaza; 818-754-1011)
Versailles (100 Universal City Plaza; 818-505-0093)
The Crepe Café (100 Universal City Plaza; 818-985-2988)
Buca di Beppo (100 Universal City Plaza; 818-509-9463)
Daily Grill (100 Universal City Plaza; 818-760-4448)
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (100 Universal City Plaza; 818-753-4867)