We took a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood for the Lunar New Year
So, we’ve already told you that Universal Studios Hollywood is running a unique and exciting event to celebrate the lunar new year right? Well It’s the Year of the Rooster and Universal Studios Hollywood going all out to celebrate. I took this opportunity to head out and celebrate as they put on this amazing cultural celebration right here in our backyard, and it turns out they really are “the entertainment capital of LA.”
Now I haven’t been to Universal Studios Hollywood in a long time. Like a seriously long time, which is a shame, because I’m somewhat of a theme park junky and I’ve been missing out. So I decided to binge the whole park as I swooped up as much of the wonderful and whimsical atmosphere as I could and I wanted to bring to you my experience as I did so.
Universal City Walk
As soon as you arrive you’ll find yourself walking through Universal City Walk, it’s so festive and alive, it’s an attraction all of its own. This free to enter shopping district makes up the pathway to the front gates of the park but is so much more than an outdoor mall. They have an overwhelming selection of specialty shops, from It’s Sugar, to Hot Topic, as well as some of the world’s most highly regarded restaurants. I’d recommend making a reservation on your way in, and coming back for lunch, or even better dinner. The night life is flourishing and mesmerizing with the lights, and club hits from around the world turning the whole path into a night club. I ate at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. but that’s because I’m a die-hard fan of sea food and it’s a lot closer than the San Francisco location. Also just recently opened is a soon-to-be-sensation called Dongpo Kitchen, a unique casual dining concept restaurant operated by the famous Meizhou Dogpo of China, serving up Sichuanese cuisine and just in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Inside the Park
Well the first thing we noticed was Waterworld was under construction. You can’t blame them for that, and although I did want to see this ride personally it by no means put a hamper on the day. I made a B-line over to the Gru’s Neighborhood, which is the setting for the Illumination studios movies “Despicable Me” and of course “The Minions Movie.” It was really neat the way they transformed the place to reflect location in the movie, and the ride was actually very memorable. I was skeptical at first because I felt that it would be more like a kid’s attraction, but that whole misconception was shattered rather quickly.
In fact, as a parent, the thing that I feel most parents would want to know who haven’t been to Universal Studios Hollywood is this; Just about every ride is family friendly, and even better, when they’re not they have something called Child Switch! If you bring along a child who’s simply not ready to ride a ride, they have a toddler play area, complete with playground toys and cartoons, near each ride that one adult can wait at while the other rides the ride, when they’re done, switch adults without anyone having to wait in line again. This is something I don’t feel is nearly publicized enough. Along with free lockers for oversized items at the rides with smaller safety pockets, Universal Studios goes above and beyond making the experience top notch for children and adults.
Anyone who’s ever turned on a television set probably knows who Homer Simpson is, in fact you’re probably familiar with his whole family. If you’re like me, you probably have a few seasons memorized verbatim, and all your friends ask you to stop quoting the episodes when they’re having a serious conversation with you. Either way, a trip into Springfield was something out of this world. The bright vibrant colors and intense attention to detail make it feel like you’ve stepped in through your TV Set. Even if the Simpson’s 3D ride wasn’t both hilarious and thrilling (but it was) Springfield would still be a top tier destination. We made the hard choice of Luigi’s Pizza over Krusty Burger, but that didn’t stop us from seeing every little detail we could, and trust me there’s a lot to see here. Also, that “Meat Haters Pizza” AKA the veggie pizza, was better than what I ever would have expected from a theme park eatery. That’s probably because Universal Studios has been using expertly trained world class chef’s in all their restaurants. So even if your dinner has a silly name like “The Clogger Burger” or “The Chicken Thumbs” you know that some serious skill and a lifetime of culinary art went into crafting these fun and satisfying meals. (I mean seriously, we could talk about their executive chef, Eric A. Kopelow CEC all day, but you’d be better off just trying it for yourself.)
Hogwarts in California!
The newest land to open up in Universal Studios Hollywood was Hogwarts! The Wizarding world of Harry Potter comes to life with two thrilling rides that speed through the air. The cold air all about made the snow feel that much more real. I stopped in for a wand fitting session, one of the most immersive and whimsical attractions that I’ve ever taken part of at a theme park, the wizard at Ollivanders was spot on with his recommendation for a phoenix feather core wand, for healing magic, and the park guest who was “picked by the wand” was beaming with joy the entire time. Although there’s a ton of things to do and see in this area of the park, I’d have to say the best part of the whole trip was that unique and frothing taste of authentic Butterbeer.
The pathway to the lower lot was beautiful this weekend. A gorgeous and green view of the the Hollywood Hills were impossible to pass up on the walk down. As soon as we stepped off the last escalator we were greeted by a large crowd watching a jungle-cruise-ish live performance of a Jurassic Park/World raptor trainer. It was really neat seeing the 7-foot tall raptor, from right out of the movies walk around at the end of the chain right in front of us, and it was very cute seeing the trainer bring a kid in from the audience, to help “train” the raptor. The Jurassic Park ride was as thrilling as I remembered it last from so many years ago, not a single thing about it needed to change, in fact Jurassic Park is the one ride we ended up buying the on-ride picture deal for. We went from Jurassic Park, over to Transformers, which was one of the more exciting rides of the day, then to the Mummy’s Revenge, which was THE most thrilling ride of the day. After some sight-seeing we took off up the ramp and hopped a rail for the studio tour.
The Studio Tour
We got in line for the English tour, but you’ll probably be pretty impressed to hear they also had a Spanish tour AND a Mandarin Tour. In honor of the Lunar New Year, they’re offering their rich and storied back lot tour around the real Universal Studios lot in expertly prepared Mandarin. The King Kong wasn’t the felt covered animatronics King Kong of my childhood visits, but instead a fully directed 3-d experience that happens all around the tour bus in thrilling special effects, based on King Kong’s epic remake by filmmaker Steven Jackson. Also along the tour we got to see the original sets of great Universal classics, such as Back to the Future, Psycho, and the real authentic plane crash scene from War of the Worlds. We also got a glimpse of some real film cars, and a pretty exciting 3d Fast and the Furious show. All and all, the hour long studio tour might just be my favorite reason to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. Perhaps if they served ice cold Butterbeer along the way!
The Lunar New Year Touch
Our visit wouldn’t have been complete without the visit to the completely decked out Universal Plaza. Each pass through was beautiful, the 12 Zodiac banners that represented all of the Chinese Zodiac animals. Po and Tigress from Kun Fu Panda were there as well, for all the wonderful photo ops, as well as their Universal friends Curious George and Woody Woodpecker all dressed up in their beautiful traditional Chinese outfits, and the towering Megatron who was speaking to the guests in Mandarin. The beautiful red Chinese lanterns lit the walk ways and the plum blossom arch was simply breathtaking. The entire atmosphere felt so unique and exotic and yet so intimately well understood and genuine. I couldn’t recommend everyone attending this special event that’s going on now until Feb 5th anymore.