It is how our beloved movies and TV shows come to life, and where we can delve into a make-believe world of monsters, dramas and dreams.
Universal Studios Hollywood offers visitors that experience: one that shouldn’t be missed, with their Studio Tour. Forget all the rides and stuff which you can get elsewhere: in the heart of Hollywood, here is where the magic happens.
There were three tours on the day we visited, so we hopped onto a tram that would be taking us around the movie sets of many beloved films, such as King Kong, Jaws, and Psycho.
View as we set off from the tram station. We were ‘accompanied’ by Jimmy Fallon, who provided informational tidbits throughout the ride, in addition to the real tour guide.
Leaving the rides and restaurants behind, we started moving towards the filming and production buildings; large grey blocks which can be seen from the upper levels of the park. The studios have their own fire station, which is, apparently, not just for show.
Along the way are billboards depicting different movies produced by Universal Studios, according to chronology.
We arrived at our first movie set, depicting modern day America. I was impressed: it looked just like an urban metropolis, but empty. Tour guide said that by just adding a few props and actors, they can transform it into a busy New York intersection – without actually having to fly the entire cast and crew to the place/cordoning off traffic for filming.
Some of the films made here? Bruce Almighty, Transformers and Back to The Future, to name a few.
They don’t look like it, but the buildings are all made of wood and are collapsible, if needed.
From New York to Skull Island! This attraction was added a couple of years ago and is called the KingKong: 360 3D ride. The tram entered the cave-like structure and onto a motion-based platform, surrounded on both sides by 200ft (61m) high 3D screens; which are so high that you can’t see the top.
The smell of damp jungle hit our nostrils as we entered the dark cave. And then the story starts. Colourful foliage coupled with surround sound and 3D images lent a very realistic feeling to the experience. Dinosaurs gave chase on both sides of the tram, which swayed and tilted based on their movements. Kong arrives, and the large creatures battle it out with our poor tram caught in the middle. Throughout the ride, we were sprayed by water and blasts of wind!
Of course, Kong won in the end and the tunnel opened, with our tram riding out into the sunshine.
Passing by a collection of cars from various films.
A generic Mexican-looking town. But what was special in this section was this….
A ‘river’! With the help of modern technology, the water in the river can be controlled at will. It was scary to see a wall of it rushing towards us from the top of the slope!
Another set, which was straight out of an old Western film.
Perfect set for a shootout.
A ‘European’ setting, which can be turned into any city in Europe by installing the proper props.
Can be turned into small French village in a jiffy. :)
The powers of movie magic extended to recreating an earthquake in a subway. @_@ Similar to the Kong experience, our tram landed on a motion platform, which shook and tilted as things crashed down around us and water flooded down from the stairs and through the gates. PS: Look at that cheeky poster.
Do you recognise this famous movie set? Take a guess!
Yes, it’s Jaws! Look, they even have the big bad fish itself hanging from a rope by the dock.
A mechanical diver moved near the boat and the infamous theme played… a fin sliced through the water before said diver disappeared in a bubbling pool of red underwater. Then fire and explosions! Because Hollywood, you know.
Houses on Wisteria Lane! You’ll recognise them from the drama Desperate Housewives.
Funky looking pink structures from The Grinch.
Just next to it was the infamous Bates Motel. They even had a Norman Bates actor there who stuffed a body wrapped in a sheet into the car boot, before noticing our tram and striding towards us with knife raised. Great acting!
…..or was it?
Last but not least was the set of War of the Worlds, which looked totaled. I bet the crew had a great time trashing the place, lol. What impressed me was the fact that they bought an entire Boeing plane to destroy, to be used as the prop for the shooting. It’s no wonder the movie had a budget of 132mil.
The set grounds were very large, so the tour took nearly an hour.
It was a great behind-the-scenes experience and very informative! I think this sets the Universal Studios Hollywood apart from the rest of its counterparts around the world, and I definitely recommend it to movie buffs when you’re visiting LA.
We went back to the upper floor to catch the last show for the day forWaterworld. There was still some time, so we continued exploring.
Car from one of the Fast N Furious films, complete with very realistic looking Vin Diesel.
I can’t remember the exact plot for Waterworld since I watched it when I was very little. Its basically a story about a post apocalyptic world where everything has been submerged and people live on boats while they search for the legendary ‘dry land’.
You will get completely soaked during the show if you sit in certain areas, so they tell you in advance for those who want to keep dry. The actors perform stunts with speed boats, climbing on the high platforms and abseiling/jumping off while they battle the bad guys. At the climax, a plane crashes through a part of the wall and the fuel tank explodes, while epic music plays.
After the show, we had to rush on the rides before closing time. The Minion themed one was very popular and we had to wait close to 40 mins. To keep visitors entertained, they have quizzes and short clips of the cute Minions in the waiting line.
The ride was similar to the Transformers ride, whereby riders have to wear 3D glasses. It wasn’t particularly frightening, but still fun. I think families with kids would like it.
I find that Universal Studios Hollywood has many 3D stationary rides – theKrustyland ride was also similar to Transformers and Minion.
Our last ride for the day was the Jurassic Park water ride. It started off slow, with the boat floating through a lockdowned Jurassic Park area with mechanised raptors and T-rexes. It soon became one of the most thrilling rides in the park that we have gone on so far with a massive 84-foot plunge. We weren’t expecting it because the boat goes up a couple of levels without you realising you’re up so high, and you don’t know you’re plunging coz you can’t see it from the top!
We managed to finish almost everything (except a couple of shows), so it was time well spent the whole day. :) It was a great experience and I had a lot of fun.
We hung out at the Citywalk for a bit. It’s just next to the entrance to the theme park and has loads of souvenir shops and restaurants lit up by flashy neon signs.
Universal Studios is worth a visit for people from all walks of life. There are a few thrill rides for adventure enthusiasts, but nothing too extreme. Families will love the interactivity and fun attractions. Movie buffs should definitely not miss the Studio Tour.
1Day Ticket price: 95$. *I recommend booking through GoLA which helps you save 15 – 20%.
How to get there: Take the train from Hollywood/Vine station on the Red line to Universal Studios Hollywood.