We have tickets for three days at Disney, but we know from the last time we were here, that it’s possible to sneak in a day at Universal Studios and see the other kind of Parklife (damn, got that song stuck in my head now…) The difficult bit is deciding when to leave, because no matter when you choose to go, it’ll take about two hours because of LA traffic. The park opens at 9, and that’s when we left.
Obviously, I didn’t take any pictures while driving over there, and the kids were zonked out in the back, with Mrs Dim doing my navigating for me. We DID spot the Hollywood sign, way off in the distance, so cross that one off the list.
For some reason I was a little grumpy when we arrived. Might have been the driving, or that peculiar aggressive grumpiness that suddenly seizes people when they realise they have to share something fun with other, ordinary people. The last time we came to Universal we had a wonderfully strange stroke of luck, with impending bad weather keeping most people away, but never appearing. This time it looked like we were going to have to share, and worse, QUEUE. Then I dropped my phone and shattered the screen. Bother. BUT….
It was still a really good day. We kicked it off by heading over to Hogsmead. The snow looked ludicrous in the heat, but we snagged some cold Butterbeer and started to relax.
We were trepidatious about the main ride in Hogsmead, but the wait time was only 20 mins. This sounds rough, but after weathering a 90 minute wait in Disney, it seemed reasonable to us. Plus, the queuing system for this ride takes you all through Hogwarts castle, and the decoration is fantastic. The portraits are animated and talk, and there’s something happening in every room you pass through – in the Defence against the Dark Arts Classroom, for example, Harry Ron and Hermione are wandering around under their invisibility cloak. Items move, doors open and close and their voices are clearly heard. Turns out, 20 mins isn’t long enough to see everything before you reach the ride.
The ride itself is an amazing combination of physical ride and simulation. You move through actual environments like the Forbidden Forest and the Observatory, and 180 degree screens project the illusion of flight around the outside of the castle and across the Quidditch pitch. Sounds, light and physical interactions like hot air and water help sell the experience. It was great!
You’re helped off the ride and gently ushered into the Gift Shop, of course. Like Galaxy’s Edge, there’s not a lot to ride in Hogsmead – the Hippogriff coaster and the Hogwarts ride are the only two, but there’s the “wand-choosing” experience, which provides you with a wand that can activate a number of shop window displays when you perform the spell action correctly. This is an amazing thing for the kids (and adults!) All those times you have wished you could perform real magic, and here’s a very convincing simulation.
At that point we had to leave before Eldest Weasel sold a kidney to buy yet another wand. We had to go all the way down to the lower lot to see the Jurassic World stuff. Dinosaurs, remember? (She did say the ideal thing would be to ride between the two lots on a velociraptor, on a broom, drinking Butterbeer and throwing amber left and right, with Porgs on both shoulders. Kids today, huh?)
The old Jurassic Park ride has been replaced with an updated Jurassic World ride. Although the essentials of the ride are the same (you ride in boats, get wet, and there are dinosaurs), the details are different enough that it felt like a new experience. And wet enough that we didn’t take photos. When it finished, Eldest Weasel shook herself and ran over to the Velociraptor Encounter (which was the only reason she came…)
She was told the book was probably in bad taste, but Blue the Raptor didn’t seem to mind too much.
After that, the only sane thing to do was go on the World Famous Studio Tour, currently celebrating its 55th anniversary. We had ridden the tour two years ago, and weren’t expecting major changes. Of course, you get a different commentary each time you have a different guide, and Marcellus was a master raconteur. He knew a lot about the shows being filmed, even if we rarely recognised any of the ones he mentioned. We were thrilled to go through the streets used for The Good Place though, a show that didn’t EXIST two years ago…
The best bits of the tour are still there: the Bates Motel and house, the Jaws attack, the earthquake in the Metro station, the flash flood, and the two newest additions, the King Kong 360 3d and the Fast and the Furious “What the heck is going on, who are these people, what was that, why did it explode, please let it be over, why does Vin Diesel play anyone but Groot?” experience.
On a whim, we wandered into the Special Effects Show, which was short but punchy, and paid tribute to some of the less sexy areas of special effects, like the Foley artists, who deserve more credit and adulation. After that, it was time to cruise the gift shops once more and head out… Except that on our way we passed the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and opted to have an early dinner, rather than rush off to sit in traffic.
The decor was great, combining movie memorabilia with info and pictures from behind the scenes. Our server, Chris, was attentive and knowledgeable, and pointed out the sign on the table. It said “Run Forrest Run”, but if you flipped it over it said “Stop, Forrest, Stop”. If you needed assistance, you flipped the sign, and ANY server would stop to see what they could do for you. We ate great food, and Mrs Dim FINALLY got her cocktail.
After a good meal and such a busy day, the ride back through LA wasn’t too bad at all, despite the reappearance of the Christmas songs in our random playlist. Still, if you’re driving through LA on a hot October evening after playing with Dinosaurs, why not do it with The Muppets singing the Twelve Days of Christmas?