I haven’t been to Universal Studios since the days of Back to the Future and Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time. Universal Studios Hollywood was known as “that park by City Walk that you can do in half a day and visit every 10 years.” My, my have times changed! Universal Studios Hollywood is a completely different park than it was. Since the opening of Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there’s been a newfound interest in Universal. Instagramers have represented their houses around Hogsmeade. Even indie fashion designers have done photoshoots and marketing photos here.
For my birthday, I wanted to check out Universal Studios Hollywood to see what we’ve missed. There’s a completely different list of park attractions now. It’s also a day park as well. What Unlimited Bound Works found was that not only Universal has stepped up their game, they’ve mastered the art of theme park immersion.
As basic as it seems, Unlimited Bound Works decided to represent their house colors. I’m of House Ravenclaw and Jared the Greek is part of House Slytherin (after years of thinking he was a Ravenclaw). Jared’s outfit is all from the closet. I’m wearing a dress by Elhoffer Design and a hat made by Sweet Mildred. Both of us are wearing house cat themed pins from Tee Turtle – we got a ton of compliments from Universal employees.
City Walk / Entering Universal Studios
City Walk has been around since the early 90s. This has set the standard for downtown entertainment centers around Southern California being the first of its kind.
Upper Lot This and That
There’s a lot about the upper lot! Jared and I have not been to Universal Studios Hollywood in over 10 years. We had the whole day to ourselves. We simply took our time to explore the Upper Lot. The entry way echoes of Old Hollywood style architecture – no wonder why Instagrammers like to come here in vintage clothing to get some photos taken! We really liked the Kung Fu Panda displays. We got our photos with Po. We even waited in line at the Dreamworks Theater to see the Kung Fu Panda 4D show. While we were donning Harry Potter house clothes, we were really hyped for Kung Fu Panda. Not so much for Minions this and that. We’re still sad that Terminator 2 3D is no longer here.
This was a new addition to Universal Studios Hollywood. It emulates the home of The Simpsons. As long time fans of The Simpsons, we were really impressed. We were afraid this would be a cheap overlay that could be changed once The Simpsons lost popularity and pop culture relevance. However, for fans who remember The Simpsons for the first ten seasons, you’re in for a treat. This is complete immersion into Springfield. Jared had a Duff Beer and the two of us had a Flaming Moe’s at Moe’s Tavern to top off the day. Even while we’re dressed in our house clothes, we were really into what Springfield USA had to offer.
The Simpsons ride was what replaced Back to the Future. I was really uncertain if this would live up to my childhood favorite. The Simpsons ride is a complete satire of theme parks from the moment you enter the queue. The posters are parodies of Disney park attractions. The video monitors showed clips from various season 1-10 episodes of The Simpsons where theme parks were involved. Jared and I knew all the quotes and the lines. We felt like the biggest nerds in line! The ride itself lampooned theme park tropes from overpriced merchandise to gift shops being the exist to a theme park ride. It’s well worth it to check out if you’ve been going to theme parks for as long as I have.
And we haven’t gone on anything Harry Potter related!
Both of us haven’t been on the studio tour in a while. The last time we went, King Kong was an audio animatronic. Jared’s dad worked for Universal; Jared recalls actually walking around the sets when he was in grade school. The studio tour was now hosted by Jimmy Fallon. The studio tour is my favorite part of Universal Studios – there’s lots of trivia dropped here. I also like seeing sets from my favorite movies like Back to the Future. The script of the tour has been updated for 2018 to reflect current pop culture. For example, Wisteria Lane, home of Desperate Housewives, was also used in 80s horror comedy, The ‘Burbs. That piece of trivia isn’t mentioned.
Universal really likes to show off 3D in their park attractions. I wasn’t really feeling their King Kong section. I still miss the giant life sized ape and going on the old bridge. Fast and the Furious Supercharged was allright, I thought I’d never miss the cave from Avalanche. I could also do without Jimmy Fallon’s tram anthem…
And down the four part escalator we go to the Lower Lot! The Lower Lot had one major change since we were last there. The Special Effects Stage and Backdraft are completely gone and have made way for Transformers. Jurassic Park was closing down, but the line was wicked long. The Mummy had about a 60 minute wait for a 2 minute cheap thrill. I wasn’t a fan of The Mummy ride when I went on it 10 years ago; it’s Indiana Jones without the budget. However, I was thoroughly impressed by the Transformers ride. While it was a while before we got on, there’s a lot of love and dedication put into this ride (even though it takes on the Bayformers timeline, I’m very okay with this). I was even impressed by the cast members having a sense of urgency to save the world – these people are really into their job! The ride had more of a cohesive plot than the Bayformers movies and it had everything you could ask for when it comes to bare bones Transformers – robots beating up other robots – and you’re in the middle of it!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Save the best for last! We started out at Olivanders. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was a 30 minute wait. Basically, a lucky visitor will get a wand fitting. There’s a performance before you actually enter the (crowded) gift shop. The wand shop keeper allows the lucky guest to go through a few wand tutorials before selecting the wand that would best fit them. This was a nice way to enter the actual shop itself – reminding guests to select the wand that best suits them. I ended up picking up Luna Lovegood’s wand. A majority of the Hogwarts era characters have their wands here. The wands are special because they can interact with various places around Hogsmeade! I highly suggest to stop by here – getting a wand will maximize your enjoyment of Wizarding World!
We went on Forbidden Journey – the ride that lives in the Hogwarts castle. I’ve heard so many amazing things about this ride. We went on the standby line – it was about a 60 minute wait. However, the queue is very entertaining and you go through Dumbledoor’s office, the greenhouse, the sorting hat, seeing Hogwart’s founders talk smack to each other…this was a very entertaining queue that made the wait seemed shorter. The ride itself is one of the most intense park attractions I’ve ever been on – if I were to use a Disney Parks description, it’s the wonder of Soarin’, the horror of Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and the excitement of Indiana Jones. The technology used here to make you feel like you’re flying is very cutting edge, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t know if it’ my age showing, but I felt very overwhelmed after stepping off.
We spent the rest of our time at Wizarding World looking at the souvenir shops and candy shop. Jared took home a few chocolate frogs.
Universal Studios Hollywood is a completely different park than what I remembered. I love how Wizarding World is laid out – even though it’s a smaller version compared to the version in Florida. I was very happy to be a magical gal in my house outfit. Elhoffer’s maxi wrap dress was perfect for a summers day in the San Fernando Valley. Not only I was impressed by Wizarding World, I was floored by how much effort is put into the park. While I still love the studio tour, I feel most of Universal’s wonder is in their current attractions. The Walking Dead walk through was a lot of fun, the Kung Fu Panda 4D was a pleasant surprise, Transformers the ride superceded the movies it was based on, Springfield USA is a love letter to Simpsons fans, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is simply magical!
Unlimited Bound World is considering an annual pass for Universal. The highest tier gets free tickets for Halloween Horror Nights, front of the line passes – for the same price we’re paying for our Deluxe passes at Disney! We’re hoping to see more unofficial dress up days pop up here. The Old Hollywood Days kinda died out and Dressed to the 9 3/4’s is coming up in November. If you haven’t been to Universal Studios – do check it out. It’s a completely different park. What was once a half day park is now a full day park.