Click here to see the full photo gallery of my April 2017 visit to Universal Studios Hollywood.
While Universal Studios Hollywood in many ways competes in Southern California with the likes of Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Legoland for families and thrill seekers, it has the distinction of also being a working film and television studio. So in addition to the rides and attractions, Universal also appeals to fans of television and movies, and those interested in seeing the industry behind the scenes.
Though not as often as Disneyland, I’ve visited Universal several times over the years. One of the first times was when I vacationed in California with my family in the mid-1970s while we still lived on the east coast; again in the late ‘70s on a road trip with my brother and east coast friend after we moved to Northern California; then, after I re-located to Southern California for college and work, at least once during the ‘80s, and more recently, several times over the last decade when I’ve visited with my own young family.
At first glance, the studio still feels quite familiar, particularly the tram tour. I always get a kick out of being on studio lots—I’ve walked around the Warner Brothers lot thanks to a friend, and have been on the Culver Studios, Paramount Studio and Fox Studio lots on business or for screenings. (Ironically, I've never been to Sony Studios—formerly MGM—though I live right down the street from the lot!)
In fact, the Universal backlot remains so recognizable to me that, in just the past few months, I've spotted its locations in shows like Netflix's "Love" and TBS's "Angie Tribeca."
Live attractions and shows related to the magic of movie-making have also always been part of the experience. Again, this has evolved much over the years—I recall a live show that selected audience members to participate in filming sequences from Airport (complete with a water tank). There used to be an Old West stunt show that is now a Waterworld stunt show. Today, the park offers entertaining special effects and animal shows in small arenas.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened to great fanfare and anticipation in 2016. It’s an immersive environment that features a snow-covered village from the Harry Potter series dominated by Hogwarts Castle. (Construction of the themed area required the destruction of the Universal Amphitheatre, a concert venue I visited several times over the years.) Rides in the themed area includes a magic motion Forbidden Journey ride and a Flight of the Hippogriff kiddie rollercoaster.
Unlike Disneyland, which can easily keep you entertained for a full day and more (especially with its sister park, California Adventures), I usually was ready to leave Universal after about three-quarters of a day. The expansion and new additions now makes it a fuller day. And don’t forget to visit the Universal City Walk right outside the main entrance, with plenty of fun shops, restaurants, and a movie theater complex.
For the full photo gallery of my visit, click here.