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(2017 - Spring/Summer Issue)


If you haven’t been to Universal Studios Hollywood since Bruce, the shark from Jaws, was the park’s biggest thrill, you’re in for a treat.

When the studio introduced public tours in 1964, filmmaking was a magical mystery unto itself; simply seeing the house from Psycho or the saloons and sheriff’s office that served countless shoot-’em-ups provided all the thrill a visitor could wish for. Now, in the age of computer-generated graphics, nothing less than being in the middle of the action will do.

Combining rides, shows and behind-the-scenes glimpses into filmmaking and snippets of movie fantasy that insert visitors into the story has turned one of the world’s largest movie studios into one of the largest theme parks.


The park’s newest blockbuster, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is more than a single attraction; it re-creates the village of Hogsmeade, where visitors encounter magical creatures and black-hearted villains. While roaming the classrooms and corridors of Hogwarts School, they come upon Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a 3D ride that sends them flying high above the castle grounds. Another ride, the Flight of the Hippogriff, is the park’s first outdoor rollercoaster. When rides, events such as Ollivander’s Wand Shop Show and numerous shops leave you drained of energy, the Three Broomsticks restaurant and Hog’s Head pub perk you up with traditional British fare and Hogsmeade specialties such as butterbeer and pumpkin fizz. All in all, a triumph of technology, acting and art. 

Besides Harry Potter, the park’s best 2016 addition is The Walking Dead, a permanent version of its genuinely scary, zombie-infested Halloween Horror Nights event previously produced for just eight weekends a year. It re-creates in intense detail some of the hit TV show’s classic events and settings.

The venerable Studio Tour, much enhanced from its early days, is still a top draw. (Lines can be long, but they move briskly.) A video version of Jimmy Fallon now hosts the nearly one-hour tram ride to backlot streets and sets familiar from such classics as Psycho (now with Norman Bates brandishing a rubber knife), The Sting, Back to the Future and Pirates of the Caribbean. Director Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3D has joined classic tour stops based on War of the Worlds and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Fast & Furious–Supercharged is the grand finale. Bruce the shark, along with some newer sources of excitement, still throws staged “disasters” in the tram’s way.


Other attractions also have movie or TV tie-ins. Newer ones, such as Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Transformers: The Ride–3D, get extra punch from 3D technology. Shrek 4D remains one of the park’s best attractions—a humorous, multisensory animated show combining 3D with other special effects, such as a wild flying dragon chase. The Simpsons Ride creates the sensation of 3D through a “virtual roller coaster ride” with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Soaring and looping high over the fictional Krustyland, it thrusts passengers into a wacky cartoon world’s midst.

Other notable rides include the Revenge of the Mummy, a high-tech indoor roller- coaster swooping through a dark Egyptian tomb filled with mummies, and Jurassic Park–The Ride, floating through five-storey T-Rexes and flying raptors to a drop and splash into sheer darkness. 

Just outside the park gate is Universal CityWalk (free entrance), a three-block-long pedestrian promenade packed with trendy brand-name stores, nightclubs and restaurants. In addition to a seven-storey 3D IMAX theatre, there’s the 18-screen CityWalk Cinemas, fresh from a high-tech makeover and some over-the-top amenities, including reserved power reclining seats and an upscale cocktail bar.


One-day passes start at US$105 for adults, US$99 for kids ages 3–9 and free for kids 2 and under. Prices rise depending on dates. Self-parking is available for US$20 from opening to 6 p.m. and US$10 from 6 p.m. to closing. Hours vary with season. Lines for rides can be long, and summer days get hot. Avoid weekends and school holidays, if possible, or pay extra for a “Front of Line” pass. For more information, visit universalstudioshollywood.com or call 800-UNIVERSAL (864-8377) or 407-224-7840.

If you plan to spend at least a few days in the area, the Southern California CityPass (citypass.com/southern-california) includes admission to Universal Studios Hollywood.

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