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Trip Report: If you're going to Universal, get there early.


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  • Trip Report: If you're going to Universal, get there early.

    Just last week I had the most phenomenal experience at Universal Studios Hollywood with my significant other, though I doubt it would have been as excellent had we arrived any later than 10 or so. Sunday, arriving around 9am, we had zero problems parking, aside from the ridiculous $30 priced parking fee, and we continued through Universal CityWalk which was at that time layered in a chilly fog. It was very cold, yet quite charming, as we passed the classic signs and displays, finally reaching the main entrance which was cordoned off to funnel people towards the metal detectors and COVID screening. We presented our Vaccine cards and ID, the whole process of which took no time at all really, and continued onto the red carpet, through the Entrance, laden in Christmas decorations, trees, lights, and cute Christmas hats throughout.

    We immediately made our way to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and were completely enamored by the sight. Hogsmeade was overlain by the fog which only added to the immersion with Hogwarts peeking through the density in the distance. I cannot emphasize enough how good a mood this put us in, witnessing the land in what felt like its most appropriate state, chilly, magical, quiet, and with only a few people here and there. Seeing the Hogwarts Express in person was a dream. We had no idea about what rides were there, so we meandered through, peeking through windows, enjoying watching the would-be wizards and witches waving their wands at various things, expectantly waiting for something to happen. It was awesome. For huge fans of the series, this was absolutely incredible. We made our way to the castle, not really knowing what to expect from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. There were free 2h lockers using fingerprint tech to store our backpacks and such as they weren't allowed on the ride. It was better that we had no idea what the ride entailed as we were chock full of wary excitement as we passed through the various hallways, corridors, and rooms of Hogwarts, so devoid of wait that we didn't really have a good chance to see what each queue section had to offer. We would return to see the queue in its full glory later. So cool!! The ride was one of the best dark rides I have ever ridden and whatever good mood we were in was amplified tenfold after.

    We rode Flight of the Hippogriff directly after... And that brought us right back down to just a regular old "good mood". Massive disappointment.

    Still in good spirits, we then passed straight through Springfield and down the escalators to ride The Mummy, choosing to return to Hogwarts when the sun came out (too cold for butterbeer). The Mummy was just as good as it has been since I was young, but my significant other did not appreciate the sudden jolt of speed and claimed later on the next day to have pain in her shoulder from it. I enjoy the queue for The Mummy, but the exit leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. Its like leaving out of the emergency back door of a grocery store or something, very immersion breaking. Starbucks was directly next door to us (the line was getting pretty long at this point), so we got some Pumpkin Spice lattes and a breakfast sandwich, relaxing for a bit nearby Transformers The Ride. As soon as we finished eating, Megatron emerged from his domain.

    The improv game of the character actors at Universal Studios is worth the price of admission. They are downright hilarious and immensely entertaining to watch and engage with. After watching Megatron berate child and adult alike for a while, we picked up some alcoholic beverages from Isla Nu-bar, bypassing getting food at Studio Café since the pricing there was laughably bad. Actually, that goes for most of the food and dining choices at Universal Studios. The food pricing is atrocious and definitely one of the worst parts about our trip. We went back up the escalators, stopping halfway to sit and watch some dots in the distance play golf while we finished our alcoholic drinks, and headed towards Waterworld. Definitely a classic, loved it. The pyrotechnics felt great on our skin as the sun had only just begun to peek out and we were still cold af. It was about 1pm and the park was about as full as it was going to get. I have to say, being pretty buzzed from the alcohol definitely took the edge off of being among the horde. The crowd at peak hours wasn't horrible, but its a crowd. Everyone was masked, though I did see a few exposed noses here and there. I didn't think too much of it as everyone there was either confirmed vaccinated or COVID negative.

    We just kind of floated around the park at this point, checking out merchandise and different shops for about an hour or so, eventually ending up at Universal Plaza, laden with Grinchmas decorations, a massive Whovian tree, and many of the characters from the Grinch movie, including the titular character and his dog, Max. We ate at Minion Cafe, splitting a plate of nachos which was pretty good. Split between us it still filled us up well. We went around taking pictures with various characters, The Scooby Doo gang, Beetlejuice, Frankenstein, Dr Emmett Brown. Very cool. At this point my feet were killing me so my significant other and I trekked back to the car for a nap, asking for a stamp for reentry on the way out. We had brought blankets and pillows just for such an occasion lol. When we awoke it was around 5 and it was dark enough that the Christmas lights, the displays, and the numerous CityWalk signs were all on. We reentered the park feeling very refreshed and made our way back to the Harry Potter area, but stopped to watch Donkey from Shrek bantering with people, spitting jokes, and entertaining a small crowd nearby. DreamWorks Theatre was right next to us and the line didn't look too long, so we went in. Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest was the feature. I was not expecting it to be a 4D theater, so when my chair started rumbling and bucking, I was very much so engaged. The story was pretty meh, I guess it's more for kids if anything. Still interesting to experience once as the technology used is pretty cool.

    We reentered Hogsmeade and it was beautiful. There were Christmas lights throughout, the lanterns and shop windows were all illuminated. It was about 6pm by now and we wanted to experience the Forbidden Journey queue so we rerode it, enjoying all the little easter eggs in each of the rooms. I have to say, the 2nd ride was not as thrilling as the first, but thats typical of any ride with invariable pathing. As soon as we exited we went straight to the Butterbeer cart and got a frozen one. It was a sort of cream soda flavor, deeply sweet, started delicious, ended very chemically. Pretty disappointing, really. My significant other gave up finishing the one cup we shared with each other only a few sips in, stating that it was waaaaay too sweet. Fair assessment. We'll try the regular Butterbeer next time. We watched The Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts Castle and it was so pretty! It was the perfect way to end the night. We actually ended up watching it twice as it occurred every 30 mins during nighttime. We headed out to our final ride of the day which was closed earlier, but open now, Transformers The Ride 3-D. It's definitely the best executed 3D ride I have ever been on, for sure. It was just fun fun fun! We left earlier than closing to avoid traffic, but on our way out, seeing the classic Bubba Gump Shrimp sign, we were like moths to a flame. It was pretty tasty, I had a Po Boy with fries and ranch, and my significant other had a big ol bowl of seasoned shrimp and side mashed potatoes. Dank.

    Overall, it was a great experience. Since we arrived early, we were able to ride everything we wanted without being inundated with wait times or crowds. I'm sure the COVID screening thinned the numbers as well, lol.

    A few tips:
    Bring 1 or 2 water bottles, maybe a small cooler with food in your car. The pricing of food and drinks is horrible.
    Acquire means of getting drunk for midday fun, if you're into that sort of thing.
    Learn the layout of the park before you go. It's not Knott's level confusing, but its still a little strange.
    Use the app for show times and ride wait times. They also have electronic screens throughout the park that update ride times.

  • #2
    Thanks for the report! I haven't been to the Hollywood one in years, but this brought back the memories.
    “I think, therefore I am... confused.”
    ― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh


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