Believing that filmmaking itself is a bona fide attraction, Universal Studios began offering tours to the public in 1964. The concept worked: Today Universal is more than just one of the largest movie studios in the world -- it's one of the largest theme parks as well. By integrating shows and rides with behind-the-scenes presentations on moviemaking, Universal created a new genre of theme park, stimulating a number of clone and competitor parks.
The main attraction continues to be the Studio Tour, a nearly 1-hour guided tram ride around the company's 420 acres that's "hosted" (via video screen) by Whoopi Goldberg. En route you pass stars' dressing rooms and production offices before visiting famous back-lot sets that include a clean New York City street, the famous town square from the Back to the Future films, and newer sets such as Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, Jurassic Park III, The Grinch, and the airplane crash site from War of the Worlds. Along the way, the tram encounters several staged "disasters," which I won't divulge here lest I ruin the surprise (they're all very tame), and a staged street race "accident" echoing the action in Universal's "Fast and Furious" movie series. Though the wait to board might appear long, don't be discouraged -- each tram carries several hundred people and departures are frequent, so the line moves quickly.
Other attractions are more typical of high-tech theme-park fare, but all have a film or TV-oriented slant. The Simpsons Ride allows guests to join Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as they soar high above the fictional "Krustyland" theme park in a "virtual roller coaster," creating the sensation of thrilling drops and turns and a full 360-degree loop. Revenge of the Mummy is a high-tech indoor roller coaster that whips you backward and forward through a dark Egyptian tomb filled with creepy Warrior Mummies (and ends a bit too soon). Jurassic Park -- The Ride is short in duration as well but long on dinosaur animatronics; riders in jungle boats float through a world of five-story-tall T-rexes and airborne raptors that culminates in a pitch-dark vertical drop with a splash ending. Terminator 2: 3D is a high-tech cyberwar show that combines live action along with triple-screen 3-D technology, explosions, spraying mists, and laser fire (Arnold prevails, of course). Shrek 4D is one of the park's best attractions, a multisensory animated show that combines 3-D effects, a humorous story line, and "surprise" special effects -- the flying dragon chase is wild.
There are also several live shows performing daily. At the Fear Factor Live show -- based upon the NBC hit -- park guests compete against each other in a progression of extreme stunts. Waterworld is a fast-paced outdoor theater presentation (and far better than the film that inspired it) featuring stunts and special effects performed on and around a small man-made lagoon (most performances are sold out, so arrive at the theater at least 15 min. before the showtime listed in the handout park map). In Backdraft, guests move from theater to theater amid realistic ruptured fuel lines, melting metal, and scorching warehouse scenes. On the Animal Actors Stage trained monkeys, pigs, hawks, and other animals perform various entertaining tricks (well, most of the time). Also be sure to check out the Wardrobe Dept., a retail store offering an eclectic array of men's and women's clothing from popular television and movie productions all accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, documenting the television or movie production on which the item was originally worn.
Straight ahead of the park's main entrance on Main Street is the Hollywood Ticket Office, where you can obtain free tickets (subject to availability) for any TV shows that are taping during your visit -- including the Tonight Show with Jay Leno -- as well as tickets and passes to other local museums, sporting events, and entertainment attractions.
Universal Studios is an exciting place for kids and teens, but just as in any theme park, lines can be brutally long; the wait for a 5-minute ride can sometimes last more than an hour. In summer, the stifling Valley heat can dog you all day. To avoid the crowds, try not to visit on weekends, school vacations, and Japanese holidays. If you're willing to pay extra money to skip the hassle of standing in line, the park offers a "Front of Line" pass with -- obviously -- front-of-the-line privileges, as well as VIP passes (essentially private tours). You can also save time standing in line by purchasing and printing your tickets online. Log on to www.universalstudioshollywood.com for more information. Another ticket option is the "All You Can Eat" pass, which allows guests to dine all day at selected in-park restaurants for one price.
For the freeway-phobic or those car-less at Disneyland, Universal offers an Anaheim Shuttle Service available to guests who purchase a full-price admission ticket to Universal Studios online via Print@Home ticketing at www.universalstudioshollywood.com. The shuttle bus departs from various Anaheim-area hotels twice daily. Additionally, the Southern California CityPass offers admission to five SoCal attractions including Universal Studios Hollywood and the Disneyland Resort.
Located just outside the gate of Universal Studios Hollywood is Universal CityWalk (tel. 818/622-4455; www.citywalkhollywood.com). If you have any money left from the amusement park, you can spend it at this 3-block-long pedestrian promenade crammed thick with flashy name-brand stores (Billabong, Fossil, Skechers, Abercrombie & Fitch), nightclubs (Blues at B. B. King's, Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar, Rumba Room Latin dance club), restaurants (Hard Rock Cafe, Daily Grill, Bubba Gumps, Saddle Ranch), a six-story 3-D IMAX theater, the 18-screen CityWalk Cinemas, a 6,200-seat amphitheater, an indoor sky-diving wind tunnel, NASCAR virtual racing, and even a bowling alley (Take that, Disney!). Be sure to stop into the Zen Zone (tel. 818/487-7889) where you can get an inexpensive 20-minute "aqua massage." You lay down fully clothed in what looks like a tanning bed, and strong rotating jets of water massage your backside from neck-to-toe (a blue rubber sheet keeps you dry). Entrance to CityWalk is free; it's open until 9pm on weekdays and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Tip: The sushi at the Wasabi at CityWalk restaurant (tel. 818/622-7224) was surprisingly good and very reasonably priced.
- © Frommer's 2013
Ask a local about Universal Studios Hollywood & CityWalk
Ask Studio City Locals about Universal Studios Hollywood & CityWalk
- Highly Recommended 2010
- visit website
- tel: 800-UNIVERSAL (800/864-8377)
- Hollywood Fwy. (Universal Center Dr. or Lankershim Blvd. exits), Universal City
- Universal City, CA 91608
- Winter daily 10am-6pm; summer daily 9am-7pm. Hours are subject to change
- User Rating