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Ride review - Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

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Published: April 23, 2012 at 10:13 AM

Sunday afternoon I completed the Singapore/Hollywood double by getting my first chance to ride Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Transformers: The Ride 3D entrance

The ride's the same as Transformers at Universal Studios Singapore, which I reviewed when it opened in December. Here's what I said then, and it stands for this version, too:

Imagine if you could cram all the action of a Transformers movie into one five-minute, 3-D package. If you tried, you wouldn't do better than Transformers: The Ride….

Transformers: The Ride is, at its core, the same type of ride as [Universal Orlando's The Amazing Adventures of] Spider-Man - motion-base ride vehicles moving through a show building where you watch action heros battle bad guys on 3-D screens embedded into the show scenes.

But Transformers takes the experience to new levels - with action that's faster, wilder and more three-dimensional than Spider-Man. When I say "three-dimensional," I don't just mean in the sense of stuff popping off the screen in front of you. I mean that Transformers makes more effective use of three-dimensional space. It's not just robots moving back and forth and side-to-side. Riding Transformers, you really get a sense of height, and the vertical scale of these multi-story Autobots and Decepticons fighting in front you.

You can read the whole thing if you want more on the ride itself. And if you're looking for spoilers, look no further than my interview with the man who designed the ride (as well as Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), Universal Creative's Thierry Coup.

But long-time readers of Theme Park Insider have read all that before. Let's get to the fresh question: How does Transformers: The Ride 3D fit in Universal Studios Hollywood?

Transformers essentially replaces Backdraft, a fire effects show that long ago had ceased being an effective attendance draw for the park. The Lower Lot soundstage that houses Transformers also used to be home to Special Effects Stages, but that show's found new life in a much-improved form in the Castle Theater on the Upper Lot, so the additional of Transformers to the park turned out to be a plus for that show, as well.

With Transformers, Universal Studios Hollywood now offers two of the world's best 3D attractions, joining the Studio Tour's King Kong 360:3-D. Personally, Transformers is my third-favorite ride in the world at this point, behind Harry Potter and Tokyo DisneySea's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yes, that makes Transformers my favorite ride in Southern California right now, the first time I've said that about any ride outside the Disneyland Resort.

If there's a knock to be made on Transformers, it's that it continues USH's tradition of stranding its attractions without themed lands to "set the stage" for these shows. The fix to that problem is one of the many things I loved about Universal Studios Singapore. There, Universal created themed environments for each of its attractions: a well-themed, immersive Egypt for Revenge of the Mummy and a Far, Far Away for Shrek, in addition to full lands for Madagascar and Jurassic Park.

The Singapore Transformers calls Sci-Fi City home. That urban setting works as the hidden-in-plain-sight NEST headquarters, tucked inside the corner on a city street. In Hollywood, there's no attempt at setting the stage for this show. There's a huge soundstage at the end of the street. Walk in, and boom, you're in NEST. My son, who's a huge Transformers fan, said that even though he loved the ride, he still prefers Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as his all-time favorite ride - simply because of the far better exterior set-up for that attraction. I agree.

Note that in Hollywood, where the ride is announced with a giant, two-dimensional mural, Universal's appended the "3D" to the title of the ride. It doesn't that extra "3D" on the sign in Singapore, where a three-dimensional Bumblebee greets visitors from atop the ride's marquee. As they say in journalism school - show, don't tell.

Bumblebee, atop Universal Studios Singapore's Transformers ride

But that's nit-picking. That we're discussion Transformers' place among the very top rides in the world should say it all. Once you're on board, the ride's the same in both Hollywood and Singapore, and equally amazing (sorry to borrow your word, Spidey) in each. And a 20-minute drive sure beats a 20-hour flight when I want to experience it again.

So let's talk business. Universal's the third-most popular park in Southern California, trailing Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. Can Transformers help Universal close that gap?

From the time I've spent in each of the three parks, my impression is that USH relies on a higher percentage of foreign and out-of-town visitors than either of the Disney theme parks, which have a huge local base of hundreds of thousands of annual passholders. It's not the Universal hasn't tried to court locals. It's "buy a day, get the year free" plan nets Southern California residents an annual pass for just $77 - $122 less than Disney's cheapest annual pass, and with 147 fewer blockout days. (Universal's pass is good only until the end of 2012, and not for a full 12 months, but that Universal pass bought today still gets you in the park for more days than Disney's ticket.)

Universal had offered to let local bloggers in for a preview day on Transformers, but then said that it would leave preview tickets at Will Call on a day of our choosing instead. When I showed up Sunday morning, no one at Will Call knew what the heck I was talking about, so I went ahead bought the $77 annual pass tickets for me and my son instead. The ride was in "technical rehearsal" (i.e. soft opening), so we got on anyway, with no wait. And then, we went around and got on again.

The last time I bought the "buy a day, get the year free" deal, I have to fess up that I never came back for the second day. Once I'd done everything in the park on my first day, I just didn't feel the need to come back and experience anything again that year (outside of covering media events at the park, of course).

But now, with Transformers in the mix? Brian's already asking when we can come back again. And I can't wait to ride again, either. With these tickets in hand, Transformers might help make Universal Studios Hollywood the best theme park deal in Southern California.

Transformers: The Ride 3D opens officially on May 25. For more coverage of Transformers: The Ride, take a look at

Readers' Opinions

From Eric Malone on April 23, 2012 at 10:24 AM
Which is why I keep hoping that they bring it to Orlando, too. I don't want to fly to California to ride.
From Dominick D on April 23, 2012 at 10:29 AM
If I'm going to SoCal next year, this ride pretty much makes me want to go to USH. It looks very good, but it's not Spider-Man level IMO. Also Robert, what would your top 10 rides in the world be? ;)
From James Anberlin on April 23, 2012 at 10:56 AM
I second Dom's request.... I heard your guest spot on the top ten dark rides in the US, but I would love to see your list for overall worldwide rides.
From Anon Mouse on April 23, 2012 at 11:37 AM
A bit of amateur hour for them to not leave you tickets as promised, but I guess you can now go to the park for the rest of the year.

My problem with a Studios park is that Hollywood is the only place that deserves such a title. Singapore and Florida doesn't have actual studios. Immersive themed lands is something USH should aspire, but maybe that will come with Harry Potter.

From Daniel Etcheberry on April 23, 2012 at 11:56 AM
I'll be there this summer :)

Robert, I'm looking forward for your review of Radiator Springs Racers. Maybe your favorite SoCal ride could change; it looks promising. All I know is that I will buy the photo at the store (hopefully riding the Lighting McQueen car)

From Tony Webb on April 23, 2012 at 12:02 PM
The Universal Singapore comment is exactly why i picked that theme park in the poll last week..Great rides with incredible theming
From Robert Niles on April 23, 2012 at 12:32 PM
I did throw that "right now" in there, didn't I? (As for other ride openings, I'm planning on covering Manta and Radiator Springs Racers this spring.) We'll see what's on top by summer.
From Dan McNeely on April 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I just got back from USH this morning. They were still running technical rehearsals so I got to ride it 5-times in a row with no wait!

Its a step up from Spiderman which was my 2nd favorite ride behind Harry Potter. (Now Transformers takes spot #2) It will be interesting to see where Radiator Springs fits on my list after it opens this summer.

Transformers really immerses you in every scene and the action, sense of speed and ride length were incredible!

My mind is still trying to comprehend how they pulled off the biggest secret of the ride. I didn't see it mentioned in any ride reviews and no photos were shown of it so I'm guessing universal asked that it be kept a secret.

I don't want to ruin the magic for other riders, but try and figure out why the building is SO tall. :)

From N B on April 23, 2012 at 1:11 PM
Sounds awesome....
From Jay R. on April 23, 2012 at 1:55 PM
I rode it a few times this morning! I had to ride it more than once to actually catch everything that I missed the first time. I like the NEST people.

I caught Megatron at the end, I do have a question about something towards the end though!

From Robert Niles on April 23, 2012 at 2:24 PM
I know the secret Dan referenced. I could not figure it out in Singapore, even after riding multiple times. Only after walking the track in Hollywood did I learn how the trick works.

But even after learning that, I still don't recognize it happening while on the ride, even when I know it is occurring.

Other who are not bound by a non-disclosure agreement may fill in the details.

That said, Jay, what's your question?

From Jay R. on April 23, 2012 at 3:56 PM
Robert, my question isn't really a technical one, more story based.....(there was soo much going on)

What happened to Starscream at the end?

I think I know secret that's being talked about, but not sure how its done.

I tried to ask the Nest team some questions after, but they just smiled and laughed said "Just get the all spark out"

Also, on another note, it seems like there are going to be improvements to other areas of the park in anticipation for the transformers / summer season

I rode Juraasic Park & notice they are building something (dino based) next to it. Also the T Rex was missing from the final drop (could just be repairs or improvements)

From Robert Niles on April 23, 2012 at 4:10 PM
On Starscream, I found this.
From Jay R. on April 23, 2012 at 5:39 PM
Thanks Robert, haha. I saw Starscream taking off at the end, and I'm like "Why are you flying away?"
From Mark Kausch on April 24, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Robert, you said that there was absolutely no difference between the Singapore and Hollywood versions. Yet I heard that the Hollywood version was plussed in the same was that Spidey in USO recently was.
From José María Sandoval on April 24, 2012 at 12:06 PM
excellent review!!
From Dan McNeely on April 25, 2012 at 3:38 PM
****SPOILER ALERT******

So I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how they incorporated the secret elevator in the ride. I was timing each scene and the part where you encounter the first elevator is noticeably longer than the other projection scenes in the ride.

This became an issue because the lift is 'One Way' so once you are dropped off at the second story the lift then has to return to the bottom to grab another ride vehicle, which ads even more time between lifts.

I then saw this video on YouTube and my mind was again blown by the creativity and ingenuity of Universal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vSU7yisYiic#!

At around 1:39 you see a picture of the basement ride track. I've highlighted in Red the part that I couldn't figure out but now makes PERFECT sense that I see it.

http://screencast.com/t/sZyMdMpcDJ

What's better than 2 secret elevators?? 4 Elevators. :)

This is the same feeling I had when I discovered that the motion on HPATFJ was produced inside a series of half domes.

I've been a life long Disney fan and I really wish they would push the envelope like Universal is when it comes to rides. I'm excited for RSR, but in all honesty I think its going to be a ramped up version of 'Test Track' with better theming.

Hopefully the new Ratatouille ride will help Disney regain some of the notoriety as being someone who pushes the boundaries in theme park entertainment. Right now my favorite rides are all owned by Universal. (HPATFJ, Transformers and Spider Man)

I think the Ratatouille ride needs a few things to really stand out.
-Trackless ride system (Same one from Pooh Hong Kong)
-Motion/Screen action AND Live Sets (If the entire ride is on a screen I will be disappointed)
-SFX (Water, Mist, Smoke, Etc)

All in all, even if Ratatouille is great, I think its time at the top is short lived. Anyone else as excited as me about the new Gringotts coaster? :)

Here's a patent showing what we can expect.
http://www.coaster101.com/2011/09/19/universals-motion-base-track-patent/

From Skipper Adam on April 26, 2012 at 9:24 AM
Reminds of to Tot at DHS. Four elevator shafts going up, and only two going down. Most people don't count the shafts, which I guess makes them hidden. Also trackless too.

However, I wouldn't call four hidden elevators anything more than logical, certainly not brilliant.

From Dan McNeely on April 26, 2012 at 10:34 AM
I disagree, I think it is brillant!

IMHO, there's a reason Universal made early reviewers sign NDAs, because you would never know about the elevators unless someone told you about them.

From Robert Niles on April 26, 2012 at 3:43 PM
(nods, smiling to himself about nothing in particular...)
From BehindTheTheme Disney-Universal on April 26, 2012 at 5:50 PM
Transformers the ride 3D is Transformerific. From start to finish you in the battle of you life trying to protect the all spark and not get demolished by the many Decipticons. The capacity for this rides great. once the car in front of you turns into the first screen its about maybe 10 sec before the its your turn. Elevators are virtually seem less to those unseasoned theme parkies. Even the first time i didnt sense when we went up or down. After seeing the old SES and BackDraft sets torn down and wait 2 years for this ride I must say the wait was well worth it. After the rides over the adrenaline in your system is so high you feel like running to the next attraction or just getting back in line. Best part of the que by far are the Military personnel. once in your ride vehicle line you are prompted to GO, GO, GO( lots of people where really running into EVAC. LOL.) into your seats to start you adventure and on your way out you prompted to MOVE, MOVE, MOVE(which many people promptly got out of EVAC).
From Manny Barron on April 26, 2012 at 9:04 PM
I wonder if theres a hidden nod to the previous attraction in that space, Backdraft. Kind of how theres a King Kong figure in Revenge of the Mummy in Florida.

From Doug Jenkins on April 28, 2012 at 4:44 AM
Has anyone seen Transformers and the newly renovated Spiderman in Orlando? Wondering how they compare.

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