Extreme theme park makeover: Universal Studios Hollywood edition
Published: January 16, 2014 at 4:27 PM
Is "CAT" Universal Studios Hollywood's current mascot?
Yeah, there's a lot of construction going on, as Universal has torn up about half of its Upper Lot as part of its ongoing $1 billion-plus "Evolution" plan to remake the Universal City property. This month, Universal tore down the old Doc Brown and Cantina restaurants, making them the latest in a growing string of closures in the park. Our Universal Studios Hollywood page might have the shortest list of attractions and restaurants of any major park in the world since we started accepting reader ratings and reviews of theme park locations back in 1999. As of today, the park has just 11 attractions and eight restaurants, all counter-service eateries.
Compare that with Universal Studios Hollywood's big Southern California competitor — Disneyland — which offers 44 attractions and 22 restaurants.
A simplistic calculation might lead you to think that USH offers just one-fourth the park that Disneyland does. But let's take a closer look at what's left inside Universal Studios Hollywood:
- Two walk-throughs (House of Horrors and the Universal Experience)
- One 4D movie (Shrek)
- Three live shows (Waterworld, Special Effects Stage, and Animal Actors)
- Five rides (Transformers, Jurassic Park, Simpsons, Mummy, and the Studio Tour)
What's missing from that list? How about spinners, or any other off-the-shelf amusement rides? We wrote yesterday in our #IfIRanAThemePark post about running a park without any spinners, the often low-budget carousel and scramble rides that parks often use to pad their attraction counts. Universal Studios Hollywood is just one of three major U.S. parks without any of those rides. (FWIW, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios are the others. Universal Studios Florida used to be on the list, but dropped off when it added the Kang n' Kodos spinner ride to its new Springfield land last summer.)
Carnival rides might soon be coming to Universal Studios Hollywood, with the debut of the Super Silly Fun Land area that will stand next to the park's new Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride that will open in April. But for now, Universal stands as a test case, a response to the once-hypothetical question: What might a theme park be like without all the filler?
Even Disney's California Adventure, during its billion-dollar refurbishment, left more on its table than Universal Studios Hollywood has. This is a park stripped to its foundation, awaiting the additions that will transform it into something very different than it's ever been. Within a few years, Universal on its Upper Lot will have complete lands devoted to Despicable Me, The Simpsons, and Harry Potter. The Evolution plan calls for new attractions to replace Special Effects Stage, Animal Actors, and Waterworld, as well — clearing space for up to two additional themed lands. (Shrek's days likely are numbered, too.) The new Universal Plaza provides the park with a much-needed physical focus, a place to "hang out" and simply enjoy the energy around you. Universal always lacked that central design focus, before.
Universal could use some better "placemaking" on the Lower Lot, with more impressive facades for Mummy and Transformers, as well as creating some social spaces for people to sit and enjoy their time in the park. And a signature table-service restaurant somewhere in the park would help, too.
But, for now, hey, this is the moment of calm before the chaos, the chance to visit Universal's core attractions before the expansion crowds this park with millions of additional visitors a year. If you've visited USH recently, please share your thoughts about the park's transformation, in the comments.