With Six Flags Magic Mountain serving as an appetizer for our Epic Southern California Adventure, Hollywood would serve as our first course to the meal. We had spent our evening after leaving SFMM in the same hotel in Valencia that we stayed in the previous night, so we made sure to wake up early enough the next morning to account for traffic heading south towards Los Angeles. The traffic ended up not being too bad, and we found ourselves at the front gate to Universal Studios Hollywood a few minutes before the 9 AM opening time. Our park admissions were covered as part of the LA Go Pass, which offers USH as an option for any 3+ day card. Considering that the admission price to USH can be well over $120/day, even from discount websites, getting a 4-day LA Go Card through Costco for $230 is practically half paid for the minute you walk through the USH gate. The only drawback to the LA Go Card is that it does not include early entry. However, since Hogsmeade is the only section of the park open early, we didn’t feel like missing out on the extra park time was that big of a deal since the rides are virtually identical to the ones we’ve ridden in Orlando dozens of times.
Our biggest priorities on the day would be to experience Jurassic World, Waterworld, Kung Fu Panda, and the Studio Tram Tour. To avoid having to walk up and down the giant wall of escalators/stairs, we planned to start and ride all of the attractions on the lower lot before spending the rest of the day on the upper lot. We expected Jurassic World to command the longest lines, so we started our day at the park’s newest attraction. If you’ve been on Jurassic Park River Adventure at either IOA or USH, Jurassic World is pretty similar only plussed up. The new section through the Mosasaurus aquarium that replaces the old intro section is a HUGE improvement. You can complain all you want about Universal relying on screens, but in this instance, the screens are some of the most convincing I’ve ever experienced. The additional affects in the aquarium scene are also well done, and the transition back to the herbivore lagoon works well. The rest of the attraction adds just enough to make it fresh and to slightly change the narrative while not going overboard. I was hoping for a little more action on the lift hill, but that’s a very minor complaint for what has become a “classic” attraction refreshed for the 21st Century. As far as shoot the chutes rides go, Jurassic World has reclaimed Hollywood’s crown as the world’s best in my book.
While we were on the lower lot, we also rode Transformers, which was cloned at USF. The original version is still a great motion base dark ride, but we only felt the need to ride once through the reliably short single rider line (the standby line routinely was 30+ minutes most of the day).
My son loved Revenge of the Mummy at USF, but I made sure he knew that the version at USH was noticeably different so he wouldn’t complain about waiting in a 20+ minute line (even the single rider line was pretty long all day). He didn’t really pick up on the differences other than the longer backwards section here and the missing “fake out” from the USF version. I’m still torn as to which one I like better, because I find the conceit of being on the movie set at USF rather clever, but USH has the better overall coaster layout.
While we were in the Lower Lot, we also wanted to do the Raptor Encounter, but intermittent light mist kept pushing back the first show of the day. We didn’t want to hike up to the Upper Lot and potentially miss out on the experience, so passed the time with another ride on Jurassic World and Mummy along with a quick snack of spring rolls from Isla Nu-bar, which were a bit pricey, but hit the spot. While we were waiting, a triceratops came out. I thought the Transformers were convincing theme park photo characters, but this triceratops was about as realistic as I’ve ever seen.
Disney could take some notes here and find some way to get some banthas or other creatures like this to inhabit Galaxy’s Edge. Eventually Blue came out, and while the experience was pretty cool, I was disappointed that we couldn’t get as close to the creature as we could to the triceratops.
After finishing all of the attractions on the Lower Lot, we headed upstairs to the Upper Lot, and started with the Studio Tram Tour. It took us almost 40 minutes to board, which is typically longer than my son would be wait for anything other than a major roller coaster or thrill ride, but we convinced him that the wait would be worth it. As always, the Studio Tram did not disappoint. Having ridden Fast and Furious at USF last year, I definitely liked it being part of the larger experience at USH than the “expanded” attraction in Florida. While Skull Island expands upon the Kong portion of the Studio Tram, F&F is a virtual copy with nothing new added to the attraction aside from the heavily detailed queue, and is certainly not what I would call “Supercharged”. Waterworld was our last USH-unique attraction for the day, and it still is my all time in-park live show. The fact that Universal could not get rid of this show even when installing a Harry Potter land is all you need to know about how good this stunt show is.
After being wowed by Waterworld, we left the park for an early dinner at Karl Strauss Brewing Company. We contemplated eating dinner in the park at the Springfield eateries, but I could not bring myself to spend $13 on a Duff (or any of the other in-park custom brews), which is twice what it costs in Florida, so eating in CityWalk was an easy choice. After dinner, we returned to the park to finish the remaining attractions we had missed earlier in the day. Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest is a definite step from Shrek 4-D, even though we’re not as familiar with the characters. The projection mapping throughout the show (including in the pre-show) is top notch, and while I wouldn’t consider the attraction a “must do”, I highly recommend it for a change of pace in the middle of the day.
We also made sure to see the Dark Arts nighttime show in Hogsmeade to finish our evening. I knew the evening projection show was highly rated, and the crowds backed up the popularity of the show, but I did not expect the relatively short show to be so incredibly impressive. The drone segment at the end alone was worth being packed into the tiny viewing space, and while I wouldn’t put it on the same level as Fantasmic! or World of Color, mostly because of length, I would absolutely plan time to see it every night I was in USH or IOA on a day when it’s playing.
Overall, we had an excellent day at USH, and were easily able to experience virtually every attraction in the park including the Special Effects Show and a quick run through The Walking Dead. Even without Universal Express or early entry, and leaving the park for over an hour for dinner, we were able to see everything we wanted and more. I really enjoyed seeing the subtle differences between USH’s and IOA’s versions of Hogsmeade, and the slightly different wand effects.
I don’t think there’s enough differences to say one area is better than the other. However, even with the dead end formed by Hogsmeade at USH, I liked the layout and overall feel of California’s land than the one in Florida, though when you add Diagon Alley and the Hogwart’s Express, Florida is definitely the superior location for Harry Potter fans.
Our next few days would see us take a diversion from traditional theme parks, and take in some of the more touristy sites around downtown LA and Hollywood. We spent most of Friday visiting attractions associated with our LA Go Card. The first half of the day we went to the Grammy Museum and Que Skyspace on top of the US Bank Building. Having been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Experience Music Project in Seattle, we had relatively low expectations for the Grammy Museum, which takes up a rather small space near the Staples Center. While it only took us a couple of hours to see most of what the museum had to offer, we thought it was time well spent, particularly the multimedia exhibits. We probably wouldn’t have visited this attraction had it not been for the Go Card, but we didn’t feel like we wasted our time. The Que Skyspace was a similar attraction for us as we’ve been to the top of numerous tall buildings around the world. While the US Bank Building is the tallest occupied building west of the Mississippi, the height was not nearly as impressive as other attractions we’ve visited like the Willis Tower in Chicago or One World Trade in New York. Que Skyspace does provide some great views of LA, and has some other interesting exhibits about the city of LA, but again, I don’t think we would have visited here we didn’t have the Go Card.
In the afternoon, we headed north back up to Studio City where we had reservations for the Warner Brother Movie Studio Tour. This was also part of the La Go Card, and represents the highest value attraction available aside from USH. Robert has covered the WB Tour, so I won’t go into it with great detail, but the advantage of the WB Tour for us was that it allows children as young as 8, while most other studio tours (aside from USH) have much higher age restrictions.
I love to see the science and technical aspects of movie making, and the WB Tour gives guests a great behind the scenes look at the craft. The ending of the tour has gotten far more commercialized than it used to be with a half dozen photo ops that employees try to up-sell you (I was tempted by the well executed forced perspective Hobbit set), but it’s worth getting upsold to get a chance to hold an Oscar.
Our Saturday was another day away from theme parks, but did see our first baseball game of the trip. We spent the first part of the day at the Getty Museum. Living near Washington, DC, we are spoiled with all of the Smithsonian museums and their free admission, so we are naturally drawn to any well regarded museum with free admission (though you have to pay for garage parking). The Getty combines some impressive architecture and gardens with art, mostly from the classical to impressionist eras. The museum even includes free guided tours if you’re a little hesitant to explore the extensive galleries on your own. I was more impressed with the gardens and mesmerizing views than the art, but I would say that a visit here is worth at least a few hours of your time even if you’re not an art fan.
After the Getty we headed south to Anaheim to see the O’s play the Angels.
After the baseball game, it was a drive even further south for the San Diego portion of our trip. While we were tantalized by the Disneyland fireworks that we could see from Angels Stadium, we would have to wait a few more days to see them inside the Happiest Place on Earth.
Next time – San Diego…