Universal Studios Hollywood is more than just a Theme Park it’s one of the worlds biggest working movie studios with a few rides attached. In the few times I’ve been lucky enough to visit the park over the last 20-odd years it’s seen some incredible changes and always seems to have major construction ongoing every time I visit. The true pillar for the park though is still the Studio Tram Tour which has been delighting guests in one way or another for over 100 years, but does the rest of the attractions add enough to make the park worth a visit?
Family Rides – 7/10
For a park not exactly dedicated solely to rides, Universal Studios Hollywood has a reasonably strong mix of fun family attractions. And things like the upcoming Secret Life of Pets ride and the rumoured Super Nintendo World will do wonders in making this park feel more complete.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a mainstay in all Hogsmeade lands around the world, whilst I suspect this is mostly to do with it being a cheap second, family-friendly addition to the land it’s still a great way to get an awesome view of Hogsmeade, Hogwarts and even a little bit of Hollywood. Seemingly no Universal is safe from the yellow blobs that are the Minions and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. This is the exact same enjoyable if not confusing simulator ride as in Orlando and Japan and like Japan the ride has an attached Miniland full of some carnival games, a small spinner ride and a chance for your kids to get absolutely soaked.
The Park also has some strong stepping stone rides to build your children up for something bigger, such as the Simpsons ride which is an awesomely fun and hilarious simulator ride, which feels incredibly true to the feel and humour of the show, as well as Transformers The Ride, which has some truly jaw-dropping moments and effects and shows that Universal can use a great mix of screen and practical effects, when they actually feel like it. Finally one new don’t miss addition is the Kung Fu Panda Adventure in the Dreamworks theatre which features some spectacular effects that truly bring the film to life.
Thrill Rides – 7/10
Whilst Universal Studios Hollywood arguably has a much weaker line up of thrill rides compared to most other Universals around the World, it features just enough to fill up your day with a handful of thrilling experiences.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a marvel of modern Theme Park attractions, featuring a truly immersive mix of practical and digital effects that combine to make it truly feel like you are flying around, exploring Hogwarts. If you’re a Theme Park Buff like me next time you ride stick your head in front of your carriage and look to the sides to see the incredible technology of the ride at work.
Universal Hollywood recently updated their Jurassic Park ride to become the World’s first Jurassic World attraction. Whilst the ride has some cool moments, it’s arguably a downgrade from the original. Missing key moments like the jaw-dropping reveal through the gates and big practical set pieces like the car falling, the ride just feels a little bit empty and things like the T-Rex and Indominus Rex battle at the end probably sounded awesome on paper but don’t quite work in person.
The park also features a sadly inferior version of Revenge of the Mummy the ride and even has a permanent walk-through horror attraction with the Walking Dead the Experience. Whilst we are hitting a bit of zombie fatigue, having this as a permanent attraction allows for some incredible set pieces that truly bring the TV show to life.
Experiences – 9/10
Universal Studios Hollywood has what I would call the greatest Theme Park Experience in the world – The historic Backlot Studio Tram Tour. Being placed in one of the World’s busiest film studios allows for an offering that nowhere else in the world can quite match. You never quite know what or even who you might see on any given day. Being driven through sets from famous films such as War of The Worlds and one of my all-time Favourites Back to the Future plus all of the added mini-attractions on this hour-long tram tour is what truly makes this park worth a visit.
Throughout the number of times I’ve visited the park over the years the tram tour has seen so many changes, I was lucky enough to experience the Original King Kong, the Collapsing Bridge and of course the utterly Bizarre Fast & Furious Extreme Close Up. Since then though all of these have been replaced or closed and not necessarily for the better. King Kong 3-D is Indicative of the path Universal seems to be going down, much to the disappointment of a lot of fans, whilst the experience is interesting, a purely screen-based 3D attraction can’t hold a candle to the previous fully realised practical King Kong ride through that sadly burnt down in a fire. One other disappointment on the tour is Fast and Furious Supercharged, which is the new finale to the tour, whilst arguably better than the old Mummy Spinning Tunnel, it further proves Universal’s current disappointing reliance on screens and here the experience somehow feels even less realistic than King Kong battling a Dinosaur.
But don’t let these few low-points detract from the spectacle that is the tour, it still has a ton of awesome experiences such as Jaws and my personal favourite Earthquake as well as the chance to see where true movie magic is made.
Entertainment – 8/10
Parks like this for me are more about the experiences and entertainment than the rides. Universal Hollywood has always billed itself as a place where you could glimpse behind the curtain and see where movie magic took place. I’ll always miss now forgotten attractions like Backdraft and the Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show it’s great to see the park still have a few movie-making based shows.
Whilst it’s a shame the old Special Effects Stages with the variety of three mini-shows has been replaced by the one catch-all show, the new show in the Castle Stage still brings a good mix of a behind the scenes look at movie making and a little bit of comedy. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again WaterWorld is my favourite Theme Park Stunt show in the World, and may even be my favourite non-Disney Theme Park show full stop. Just be aware the “Splash Zone” section warnings are not to be taken lightly. Also if you’re in the park and just after a good awww make sure you check out Animal Actors.
Staff – 8/10
The staff as a whole at USH are great, with a clear dedication to the park and its guests. It always felt like there was a Team Member nearby who could answer any questions you had. There was a couple of times on our most recent visit we were told things from Team Members that turned out to not be true, leading to some wasted time in queues or waiting for food. Luckily these handful of interactions were rare and there were a ton more positive experiences with the staff than negative ones.
Theming – 7/10
Universal Studios Hollywood’s theming is exactly what it needs to be, fully immersive in some areas and clearly a movie making trick in others. With recent additions mostly going down the fully immersive area which brings about a new sense of cohesion and strength of the theming.
Areas such as Springfield and Harry Potter are completely realised and really feel like you’re stepping into those franchises. The levels of Springfield really bring some nice immersion to the area through height, it feels great to get the Clogger From Krusty Burger and wash it down with a nice Squishee from the Kwik-E-Mart. Hogsmeade here is as immaculately themed as everywhere else, though there are a few parts of the land where you can see out into the Hollywood Hills and beyond, which is a small issue thematically though the view is so spectacular it can be forgiven. The lower lot is a little weaker though once you get past the well-themed Jurassic World area, with the classic tan show building Studio Park troupe still being strong.
Merchandise – 8/10
My love of so many of the properties present at Universal has always made me a sucker for their merchandise (My back to the future metal lunch box still comes with me to work every day since buying it back in 2015).
Every franchise featured in the park has a ton of Merchandise available both in the themed area as well as the exit and Citywalk gift shops and of course there is plenty of Harry Potter merchandise for all you potter heads. There is a strong collection of Universal Studios branded merchandise, though it was a little hard to find something specific to Universal Hollywood and not just the parks in general. It took me a bit of searching but I eventually left with some small pieces of branded merchandise such as some pins, a magnet and a shirt.
Affordability – 6/10
Universal Studios is not a cheap park to visit for the day by any means, using surge ticket pricing similar to Disneyland, but even though the day we most recently went was incredibly quiet and featured super short park hours of 10-6, we still had to pay the middle ticket price of $119 USD per person plus tax. Of course, the park offers plenty of upcharges on top of that including express pass and even a VIP Studio Tour.
Food and Merchandise are about what you’d expect to pay (and same as always, there seems to be a nice Harry Potter tax on any items purchased from the Wizarding World compared to the same items from a different franchise). The true value of the park is in the Studio Tour, not the rides, so if the tour really doesn’t interest you it might be hard to justify the asking price for entry.
Atmosphere – 8/10
The atmosphere of Universal Hollywood truly feels alive, and even though you know it will probably never happy, you always have this feeling that a big A-List celebrity may just walk past you at any minute.
But even if a celebrity doesn’t character surely will, they’re everywhere throughout the park from your favourite Dreamworks characters, people hanging out the windows and plenty more. I have a strong memory of my visit to the park in 2008 where Groucho Marx decided to walk arm in arm with my grandmother, with her getting the fright of her life after a good 30 seconds when she realised it wasn’t one of her grandchildren who had linked arms with her.
The park has a much more international feel than Disney down the road with its guests. It was great to walk around sharing some amazing moments and memories with fellow guests from all around the world.
Services – 8/10
If handled incorrectly Universal Hollywood could be a nightmare to explore, luckily they know what they are doing and great consistent signage throughout the park helps explain the confusing multi-level layout. The starcade is still an oddity in the Theme Park world taking around 10 minutes of escalator riding to get between the upper and lower lots. We recommend trying to minimise the number of times you make this trip and we only ever make it once in a visit. One thing I love that Universal still has around is the Wait and showtimes boards, in the world of smartphones and apps these are dropping off in popularity but the ease of access and seeing everything in one place still makes them a go-to for me even with the app in my pocket.
The park also features some great food choices spread throughout with Hogsmeade giving you the classic English food, Springfield giving you a classic American Burg and everything else in between offered elsewhere throughout the park. There a few upcharge ways to enjoy your trip including the classic Universal Express pass which has never really been required if you choose your visit dates wisely as well an experience I’ve always wanted to do the VIP Studio Tour which lets you get off and walk around the studio backlot in parts as well as taking you to places unseen by regular day guests. I just wish the experience wasn’t around $500 Australian Dollars for the day.
Final Thoughts –
Without the Studio Tour, Universal Studios Hollywood would be an incredibly underwhelming park, but the Studio Tour alone makes it one of the most unique parks in the world to visit, with everything else just being the icing on the cake. I’m incredibly excited to see what the future holds for this park with plenty of construction underway with plenty more exciting rumours floating around.
ReviewTyme’s Final Score for Universal Studios Hollywood is 75/100