Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood for the first time. Universal Orlando has always had a presence in my life right alongside Walt Disney World, but Hollywood was always seemed to be on the opposite side of the country. In order to explain my feelings on Universal Studios, I think it best to share a little personal history and what connection I share to this brand.
For many years my great-grandmother, Nana, lived in Marco Island, Florida. Once a year my mother would pack up her children and set out on what felt like the world’s longest road trip. My grandmother for sanity purposes almost always accompanied her, at least that’s what my mother claimed, but I’m not quite sure that was always the case. This was long before the days of cell phones or GPS so you can imagine how much longer these trips actually were back in the day with my mother at the wheel – a woman who gets lost backing out of her own driveway. Love you mom!
No matter how long the trip took, as soon as we stopped at the Florida Welcome Center and took our first sip of orange juice (a family tradition), we knew it was worth it. For us, Florida was a magical place where Nana lived. It was always warm and there were lizards everywhere. The beaches were beautiful in Marco Island and in one of the most incredibly awkward moments of my life; we discovered they were partially nude as well. That’s a story for another day. Now, as much as we loved spending time with Nana, Florida also meant something else for us as well: a trip to the theme parks!
One of the special requirements for the kids to partake in the trip to Florida was that we each had to earn at least $50. That was a lot of money when I was 9. Actually, it’s still a lot of money to me. I would earn my money by sorting through my grandparents’ recyclables. I would count them all up, bag them, and take them with my grandfather to the recycle factory. I did this as often as my grandfather would take me. I made bank. Well… $50, which was bank to me. This is important to the story later. I always felt so good about those trips to the factory, and then coming back to my grandparents’ house to add money to the envelope my grandmother kept on her nightstand.
My mother would always take us to two parks – Magic Kingdom every year and either Epcot or Universal Studios Florida would rotate in for the second park. At a young age, I developed an affinity for movies. I loved playing parts, but was never a big action figure kid. Why play with the Power Ranger action figure when I could get the costume and actually be a Power Ranger?
Universal Studios was the perfect park for me! We could actually see Nickelodeon Studios and be on actual shows. I could get in a DeLorean and help Doc Brown. I would get on a bike and ride with E.T. back to his home planet. I was there and I mattered. I attribute these experiences at Universal Studios Florida to my affinity for filmmaking.
Fast forward to now. It has always been a bucket list item of mine to spend some time in California, so when I was invited by The DIS to partake in a California adventure, I was over the moon. Myself, Craig, and JeniLynn of The DIS Universal podcast had the opportunity to spend a day at Universal Studios Hollywood. I was very excited and a little nervous to be honest. I’d always seen brochures when I was younger of the park out west but never dreamed I’d really make it there. Well, make it there I did.
At the entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood you are greeted by a red carpet that sprawls from the Universal globe to the main archway entrance. The moment you step through the turnstiles, it becomes a celebration of filmmaking. The streets are themed to different areas of the world like New York, Paris, and London. Current and classic film and television characters are there to take pictures with you. As you continue through the park, the worldly facades give away to ones of fantasy like the Minion’s Super Silly Fun Land from Despicable Me and the streets of the Simpson’s hometown, Springfield. Soon you’ll even be able to visit Hogwarts by traveling the streets of Hogsmeade.
When you come to the edge of the park there is a breathtaking view of the California landscape as it becomes clear that Universal Hollywood is literally built into the side of a mountain. You can enjoy the scenic view as you descend several sets of escalators to the Lower Lot of the park where thrill rides like Jurassic Park River Adventure, Transformers: The Ride – 3D and Revenge of the Mummy reside.
My favorite experience of the day was the Studio Tram Tour. This was just so amazing. You are taken on a tram with a tour guide through actual backlots that have been used and continue to be used for films. You’ll get attacked by a shark on your ride through Amity, spit on by some dilophosaurus and swept away to Skull Island where the big guy, King Kong himself, will have to swing in and save you from some trouble.
We closed out our day with a visit to the WaterWorld stunt show. Whatever your feelings on the movie are, it spawned this incredible show and I am thankful for that. It was quite the wet and wild spectacle that all comes to a climax with a seaplane crash landing in front of you!
I have to say, that as soon as I stepped into Universal Studios Hollywood, I immediately became that little kid holding his wrinkled envelope and smelling like old soda cans. It’s as if the carpet had led me right back into that same type of emotional experience. My life was coming full circle from the kid at Universal Studios loving the feeling of being in a movie to the adult-child being here who loved the feeling of seeing the making of the movies.
When I started writing this article, I really debated about how to tell someone about my experience. Do I just say the things we did and describe them? Do I compare and contrast here and there? In the end I just want you the reader to understand that this trip to Universal Hollywood was an emotional experience for me. I think that’s the best thing you can get from any experience: a positive emotional take away. I hope that someday you will get to have an experience like mine that you can share with others as well.