Universal Studios HollywoodMy recent visit to Universal Studios Hollywood was an enlightening journey into the world of movie-making magic and non-stop fun.

Despite the scorching 95-degree forecast, my family and I ventured out on a Sunday morning, and it turned out to be a fantastic decision. Universal Studios has masterfully created an environment where the heat doesn't dampen the fun. Ample shade and mist fans create a comfortable atmosphere, almost like having their own microclimate.

Universal Studios HollywoodWhat elevated our experience was the “Express Pass”. This pass is a game-changer, offering a special line with minimal to no waiting for each ride and show. Just look for the Express Gate signs. Plus, most shows have reserved seating for “Express” pass holders.

Universal Studios Hollywood holds the title of the longest-running active movie studio in the world. If you're lucky, your visit might coincide with live filming of movies or TV shows. During our visit, the Nickelodeon Kids Awards were being filmed (though it required an invite).

Book a "Skip the line" Universal Studios Tour here.

The park is divided into three main areas: the Upper Lot, the Lower Lot, and the Studio Tour. I recommend starting with the Studio Tour to familiarize yourself with the park and witness the essence of its existence: the art of making movies and TV shows.

Studio Tour

Universal Studios HollywoodThe Studio Tour, lasting about 60 minutes, is packed with movie trivia, behind-the-scenes insights, and unexpected surprises.

Riding a tram, you'll descend the hill to the back lot, where real filming takes place. The backlot, rebuilt and modernized after a devastating fire in 2008, is a hub of cinematic activity.

The tour showcases versatile towns and buildings that can transform into any major city, like New York or London, or even a quaint Mexican town. You might even catch a glimpse of a movie scene being filmed.

Highlights of the tour include:

Picture cars - backlot tour

  • City streets and buildings
  • Courthouse Square from "Back to the Future"
  • A Mexican town with a simulated thunderstorm and flash flood
  • Desperate Housewives neighborhood
  • War of the Worlds scene with a Boeing 747 crash set
  • The "Bates" motel from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho
  • Amity Island from Jaws
  • Fast and Furious 3D chase
  • King Kong 3D
  • Picture cars used in movies

Films and shows shot at the backlot include "The Sting," "The Great Outdoors," "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," "Bruce Almighty," "CSI," "Battlestar Galactica," and "Transformers."

The most thrilling part of the tour is King Kong 360 3D. You'll be transported to “Skull Island,” finding yourself in the midst of a fierce battle between King Kong and T-Rex. This 360-degree immersive experience shakes and rattles the tram, making you feel like you're in the grip of King Kong himself.

Tip: To make the most of your visit, consider arriving early and planning your route around the park to avoid the busiest times at popular attractions.

Waterworld

Universal Studios Hollywood - WaterworldThe Waterworld show at Universal Studios is an exhilarating live performance based on the 1995 science fiction film. For those unfamiliar, the movie depicts a future where Earth is submerged in water due to global warming, with survivors seeking the mythical 'Dryland'. The show continues the movie's narrative, featuring Helen returning from 'Dryland' to rescue friends, only to be captured by the villainous Deacon. A spectacular sea battle ensues, with the hero Mariner arriving just in time. The show is a feast for the senses, complete with stunts, pyrotechnics, jet skis, powerboats, gunfire, and even a crashing seaplane. For a detailed synopsis of the movie, visit IMDB.

Expect to be immersed in the action, especially if you're seated in the 'soak zone', where splashes from the high-speed water stunts are guaranteed.

Tip: If staying dry is a priority, opt for higher seats to enjoy the show without the splash.

Shrek 4D

Shrek 4D is an immersive experience that brings the beloved characters of the Shrek movie series to life. This unique attraction combines 3D film technology with physical effects, such as moving seats, wind, and mist, synchronized with the on-screen action. Guests become part of the fairy tale, engaging with the story in a whole new dimension.

The Simpsons Ride

Universal Studios Hollywood - The Simpsons RideThe Simpsons Ride is a thrilling adventure that starts even before you board. Set in Krustyland, guests join the Simpson family for a day of fun that quickly turns chaotic thanks to the villainous Sideshow Bob. The ride features high-definition dome screens and motion simulators that make the rollercoaster experience feel incredibly real. The ride is filled with the show's trademark humor and unexpected twists, including a surprise encounter with giant baby Maggie and a chaotic finale at the Simpsons' home.

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda 360Kung Fu Panda at Universal Studios offers a delightful and immersive experience. The attraction uses state-of-the-art special effects and sound technology, including motion simulation seats, to plunge guests into the heart of the action. One of the most memorable moments is a simulated waterfall drop, where the seats and effects work in unison to create a sensation of falling, despite guests remaining seated.

Interesting Fact: The Kung Fu Panda attraction at Universal Studios is a testament to the advancements in immersive entertainment, blending animation, physical effects, and motion technology to create a unique experience.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Opened in April 2016, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a magical addition to Universal Studios, located on the upper lot near the entrance and Waterworld. This area is a tribute to the beloved Harry Potter series.

Universal Studios Hollywood - Wizarding World of Harry PotterEnter the enchanting world of wizards and muggles through Diagon Alley. Here, you can visit Ollivander's for a wand fitting, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment for house robes, and enjoy a mug of butterbeer from a local vendor. For unique souvenirs, Filch’s Emporium™ of Confiscated Goods is the place to go.

The centerpiece of this world is the majestic Hogwarts Castle, home to the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride. This thrilling adventure takes you on a broomstick flight around the castle, complete with a dragon chase and an unexpected Quidditch match, all under the guidance of Harry Potter himself. Beware of Lord Voldemort's presence!

Universal Studios Hollywood - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Tip: Store your bags and loose items in free lockers before joining the ride to avoid the longer line. Also, take advantage of the single rider line for a shorter wait.

At night, Hogwarts Castle becomes the backdrop for a stunning special effects show, featuring house-themed music, laser lights, and more.

Tip: The first show of the night is usually crowded. For a more comfortable viewing experience, attend one of the last two shows of the evening.

Opposite Hogwarts, the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster offers a gentler ride, ideal for families with young children.

Special Effects Stage

At the Special Effects Stage, guests can discover how sound and visual effects are created and integrated into films during post-production. The stage showcases various mechanical and digital techniques used in filmmaking. Demonstrations include creating the illusion of a burning man and superimposing an astronaut's image against a cosmic backdrop.

Where to Eat

Universal Studios offers a variety of dining options, with additional choices available on Universal Walk. On the upper lot, options include:

  • Luigi's Pizza for a variety of pizza pies
  • Krusty's Burgers for burgers and hot dogs
  • Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream for treats and snacks
  • French Street Bistro for sandwiches and salads

The lower lot features the Jurassic Café, a cafeteria-style eatery offering a selection of main courses, desserts, and drinks. It has a large seating area, with additional space available upstairs.

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Jurassic Park

Universal Studios - Jurassic ParkEmbark on an exhilarating journey with the Jurassic Park ride, where tranquility quickly turns to thrill. The ride begins in a serene Jurassic habitat, populated with life-size animatronic dinosaurs. However, the calm is short-lived as a parasaurolophus attack diverts your raft into a raptor containment area, signaling the end of peace.

As you navigate through the chaos of destroyed vehicles and damaged fences, encounters with various dinosaurs, including a menacing Dilophosaurus, lead to an adrenaline-pumping 85 ft. plunge into the water. Prepare to get soaked, as the final descent guarantees a drenching splash. Don't forget to check out the automatic cameras capturing your plunge as you exit the ride.

Revenge of the Mummy

Universal Studios Hollywood - Revenge of the MummyRevenge of the Mummy is not your typical rollercoaster. The ride begins with a sudden, accelerated takeoff, thrusting you through tombs and treasures amidst attacks from scarab beetles and warrior mummies. The combination of twists, turns, rises, and falls through a labyrinth of caves is enhanced by cinematic special effects and well-timed bursts of air, adding to the thrill and eeriness of the experience. Just when you think you've survived, the ride restarts, but this time in reverse.

Transformers: The Ride-3D

Universal Studios Hollywood - Transformers: The Ride-3DTransformers: The Ride-3D is Universal's newest attraction, blending HD 3D imaging, motion simulation, and a track-based ride system for an ultra-realistic experience. Initially, you're aware of being in a simulator, but as the action unfolds, you become fully immersed in the intense battles between Autobots and Decepticons. The sensation of flying alongside Optimus Prime or crashing through buildings makes you feel like a participant in the epic struggle. The ride's exhilarating realism leaves you wondering about the potential of this technology for full-length movies.

The Walking Dead

A must-visit for fans of the popular TV show, The Walking Dead attraction immerses you in a harrowing world of zombies. Enter at your own risk and confront your fears in this haunted house experience, where zombies lurk around every corner. The walkthrough ends all too soon, so take your time to spot the 18 hidden artifacts from the TV series.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Join the lovable yet mischievous minions in Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. If you've ever dreamed of becoming a minion and assisting Gru in his schemes, this is your chance. The 3D simulated ride plunges you into a whirlwind of adventures and mishaps, making you an active participant in the mayhem.

Universal Grinchmas (Holiday Celebration)

Universal Studios Hollywood - GrinchmasIn December, Universal Studios transforms into a festive holiday wonderland for Grinchmas. From the entrance, you're greeted with elegant Christmas decorations. Throughout the park, encounter the Grinch and his Who-Ville friends, with opportunities to take pictures with your favorite characters.

The centerpiece of Grinchmas is the Winter Wonderland, where guests of all ages can play in real snow, build snowmen, and engage in snowball fights. A towering Christmas tree adorned with beautiful ornaments stands tall above the snow, serving as the venue for the tree lighting ceremony. For the best experience, attend one of the last two ceremonies to avoid crowds.

Universal Studios Hollywood - Grinchmas Snow PlayWhile the snow may harden by the afternoon, the joy of playing in it remains undiminished. Additionally, enjoy celebrity readings of Dr. Seuss’ "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" near the Grinchmas Winter Wonderland.

If your primary goal is to soak in the holiday spirit, consider skipping the lower lot and taking the Studio Tour tram, which includes sing-alongs at Who-Ville as part of the festive experience.

Universal City Walk

Universal City Walk - Hard Rock CafeStep outside the park gates and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Universal City Walk, a 3-block promenade brimming with dining, shopping, and entertainment options.

Whether you're a fan of live music, nightclubs, movies, or delectable cuisine, City Walk has something for everyone. Shopaholics can explore over 30 unique stores, offering a variety of merchandise.

For dining, City Walk presents a plethora of options, ranging from casual eateries like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, Johnny Rockets, and Hard Rock Café to quick-service restaurants such as Panda Express, Antonio's Pizzeria, and Subway.

Universal Walk - Dancing WatersFor an exhilarating experience, visit iFly, an indoor skydiving facility where you can experience the thrill of flight. After a brief training session and gearing up, you'll be ready to soar in the flight chamber.

As night falls, City Walk comes alive with dazzling lights, captivating dancing water shows, and engaging street performances, creating a lively and entertaining atmosphere.

Tip: Universal City Walk is not just an extension of the park; it's a destination in its own right. Make sure to allocate time to explore this lively area, especially in the evening when it truly comes to life.

Parking

For convenience, opt for Valet Parking at $23, allowing you to park in a covered structure close to the entrance. This is a small premium over the $20 general parking fee and saves you from long walks or tram rides.

100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 622-3801

For more information, visit Universal Studios Hollywood's official website.