*Note: I didn’t bring my big girl camera here, so all of the pics here are iPhone shots*
One of the great things about living on the road is you get to do touristy stuff without actually being a tourist… and without actually being on vacation. Ben and I had the bus getting worked on at a shop in Mira Loma, CA, which is about an hour east of Los Angeles. The place has RV hookups, so we were able to stay on the bus during the time it was parked there. We were both getting a lot of work done (wrapping up an e-book and researching stuff for the vintage bus project) and I wanted to find a fun distraction. With L.A. right next door, that wouldn’t bee too hard, right? I thought about Disney Land, but then remembered Universal Studios. Anyone who knows me even the littlest bit knows that I’m a movie NUT. My film collection cannot get big enough. As you probably know, Universal is a theme park revolved around movies and the making of movies. Perfect!
I bought the tickets online and got a great deal. They had a special where you get an annual pass for the price of one day pass. This was nice because we ended up spending two days in the park. The first trip was only for a few hours in the evening and the next was a full day spent in the park. If we happen to return to southern California in the winter, maybe we’ll visit again. I had been to Universal years ago (when I was 16) and a lot has changed since then. There were a few attractions I remember but a lot of new ones as well.
Here are some of the things we saw, and my take on them:
The Studio Tour & King Kong 360 3D
This was the first thing Ben and I did in the park and we both really enjoyed it. This is one of the attractions that has been around for a while, but I was surprised to find some new additions to the ride. The tour takes you through the Universal Studios backlot where loads of movies and TV shows are filmed. I get a kick out of seeing the sets and props used in some of my favorite movies. You also go through some working sets where they show you how a lot of the special effects are done. The best part of the ride, however, is the King Kong segment, which is currently the largest 360 3D experience in the world. The tunnel your car goes into is literally a giant screen, creating a seamless 3D environment that puts you right in the middle of the action. You wouldn’t think that a tram car ride would cause you to hold on to the seat backs in front of you, but this one does! If I had to pick, I would say this is the best attraction in the park.
Revenge of the MummySM – The Ride
This is one of the rides that wasn’t there during my last visit, and it’s probably the most thrilling attraction in the park. It’s an indoor roller coaster that reaches speeds up to 45 mph and goes backwards as well as forwards. I liked the Egyptian crypt-like setting you move through before you’re catapulted into the darkness. I admit it… I screamed like a little girl. My biggest complaint with this ride was the length. It was WAY too short. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait a long time to get on, because it would have really bugged me to wait an hour for such a short ride.
I had been on this ride before, and I enjoyed it this time as much as the last! It’s a “river ride” that takes you through Jurassic Park, where you’re taken through a beautiful setting with waterfalls and dinosaurs. And of course, about half way through the ride, things start to go wrong and this sets the stage for the 84-ft plunge at the very end. (Again, I screamed like a little girl) The whole experience is very well done, and I totally recommend this one, even if there’s a long line. (Going on this ride, and listening to the Jurassic Park theme music while in the park led me to revisit the movie again the other day. I just love Stephen Spielberg!)
The Simpsons Ride™
This one was a bit of a surprise, because I wasn’t expecting much here. It is, after all, a virtual roller coaster. In other words, you’re in a car that doesn’t move all that much, in front a a giant screen. The idea is that you’re on somewhat of a runaway roller coaster in the Krustyland amusement park that has suddenly been taken over by a madman. To be honest… this ride was very cool. The screen is more like a giant dome and the movements of the car you’re in really give you the sensation of being thrown around in the air. Ben and I were both surprised at how much we liked it. Another cool thing about this attraction is that it’s more than just the ride. As you’re waiting in line, you are entertained by screens that introduce you to the characters and set the stage for the actual ride. That’s one of the things I like so much about the Disney parks. You’re still experiencing stuff as you wait in line. (Because let’s face it. Waiting in line usually sucks.)
The Special Effects Stage
This attraction is actually a show that happens a few times a day. It’s an entertaining peek into how a lot of movie effects are done (and how they WERE done in the past). The show is fun, but I felt that it was geared more toward kids. I kind of felt that half of it was about the effects and the other half was about laughing at the poor volunteers they use in the demos. Don’t get me wrong. The quality of the show was good, and if you have kiddos, you should go. It just wasn’t totally my cup of tea in that I would have preferred to learn more and laugh less at this one.
The NBCUniversal Experience
This is kind of a mini museum featuring loads of famous movie props, wardrobe pieces, awards and facts. If you’re a movie fanatic like me, you definitely want to walk through here. It’s a smaller attraction, but it evokes a whole lot of nostalgic feelings from some great moments in Hollywood.
Terminator 2® 3D
This is a 3D show where the audience is put in the center of the unfolding drama at Cyberdyne Systems. Despite the fact that I’m not really a Terminator fan, I thought the effects are very cool and I liked how the show merged live action with film. Here’s a warning though… prepare to be very cold near the end of the show!
The little English village-like block
No, that’s not actually the official name for what I’m talking about. It’s not really mentioned in the park guide, but there’s a little area in the park that’s set up like a quaint little village, with a pub, cafe and shops. I really enjoyed walking around this area and it wasn’t that crowded, which was great!
There are definitely more things to do and see at Universal. I didn’t mention all of them, because we didn’t DO all of them. There were some things that were geared more toward kids including a Curious George attraction, Shrek 4D, and the Animal Actors show. We also didn’t get to see the Waterworld show because our timing was always off there. One of the good things about this park is that you really can see the whole thing in one day, if the lines aren’t insanely long, that is. It’d probably be better to split it into two days and go at a more leisurely pace though. Adjacent to the park is the Universal City Walk, which is a huge shopping area with loads of restaurants. I’d make sure to leave some time to check this out, and perhaps dine there after visiting the park. (If you really like to shop, you might want to leave a LOT of time for this place)
More to come…