Lots to love in LA

February 2018

The epicentre of entertainment, LA is a fabulous family-friendly city that piques the curiosity of kids and adults alike, as well as converting reluctant ride goers into hard-core thrillseekers.

There is nothing like travelling with kids to make you see the world through fresh eyes. The million questions about cultural and landscape differences revive the wonder of travel for even the weariest wanderer.

LA is a gold mine for sensory stimulation. The firm favourites and some of the more obscure attractions are of such a high standard in every respect – clean, well run, interesting and over and above our expectations. We were marveling for weeks at the ambition, the vision, the investment, authenticity and the sheer showiness of American presentation.

Universal Studios, Hollywood was top of our list. Thanks to the Youtube generation’s appetite for sharing their experiences, our kids were primed for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with its elaborate village, rides and personalised wand fittings. But the extent of the marvelous movie-magic at Universal was beyond our wildest imaginations.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s signature attraction, the world-renowned behind-the-scenes “Studio Tour” is a tram ride through the 415-acre movie studio complex of soundstages, facades, working sets and special effects attractions. Guests experience for themselves some of the action scenes familiar from the big (and small) screen.

Housed within a two-story soundstage containing a recreation of a modern subway station, ‘Earthquake – The Big One’ puts guests in the midst of a convincing movie set. In two minutes, the earth literally collapses, simulating the devastation of an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. As the pavement collapses above them, we face sparking power cables, telephone poles crashing to the ground, smoke, a crashed 18-wheeler containing highly flammable contents and a massive torrent flooding the area.

Thankfully, we all survive. From there, visitors take in the line-up of Famous Fast Cars that have appeared in cult-film favorites, including Kit from Knight Rider, plus cars from Jurassic Park and Back to the Future.

Jaws Lake features an animatronic great-white shark similar to the one used in Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws, which collides with the jetty, causing it to erupt in flames, and the shark lunges out of the water for the ultimate movie making special effect. Spoiler, sorry.

Other movie sets include Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, “War of the Worlds,” which features a 747 jetliner crash with still-smoking wreckage and shattered debris, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, the snow-covered town of Whoville from Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the Psycho House and Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho.

The newest part of the Studio Tour is the addition of 3D experiences: King Kong 360 3D and Fast & Furious – Supercharged.

Created by Peter Jackson, King Kong 360 3D is the largest, most intense 3D experience on the planet, combining thrilling visceral effects with the world’s largest Surround Digital projection system. We don our special 3D glasses and enter a darkened soundstage aboard the Studio Tour tram, then are transported via the magic of Surround Digital 3D projection, deep into the jungle.  We find ourselves caught in the middle of a titanic struggle between a 25ft Kong and a 35ft voracious dinosaur, complete with trembling and rocking action of our transport, which gives the impression of sending us to the edge of a chasm and certain doom.

Fast & Furious – Supercharged is as it sounds: a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-fueled thrill ride and the new grand finale to the Studio Tour. This gripping, technologically-advanced ride, inspired by Universal Pictures’ most successful film franchise of all time, stars the film’s original cast members.

Once again, our tram enters a backlot building, this time a 65,000 square foot structure and we buckle in for a 3D-HD ride which propels us into the underground world of fast cars and daring escapades, traveling at accelerated speeds of up to 120 miles per hour.

Needless to say, we emerge shaking, some of us damp from the actual spray of virtual beasts and giggling with relief that it was all an incredible illusion.

On to more sedate activities, or so we thought. More than five years in the making, and inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters that were brought to life in the Warner Bros. films, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is faithful to the visual landscape of the fiction and films, including Hogwarts castle which looms large over the land.

With its snow-capped turrets, the quaint town of Hogsmeade bustles with life: merchants hard at work, a train conductor welcoming new arrivals and a pub packed to the gills with hungry patrons. The land’s signature ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a sensory feast, taking us soaring above Hogwarts, confronting dragons, dodging their fiery breath, participating in a lively Quidditch match and zooming through subterranean tunnels.

Outside, the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster revives the oldies, for whom 3D is a new and slightly overwhelming experience. Our kids, previously nervous passengers, handle each and every ride like pros.

There is not sufficient room here to outline our two days of fun at Universal Studios. Other attractions include The Simpsons ride, which rockets you through “Krustyland” amusement park; Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, an immersive journey in the world of Minions;

Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride rollercoaster boasting animatronics, sophisticated motion picture technology, audio and robotics engineering; Transformers: TheRide-3D, a dynamic, motion-based thrill ride with sophisticated special effects.

Zombie fans will love The Walking Dead attraction, based on AMC’s top-rated television series and the most-watched show in cable television history which raises the bar for themed walk-through attractions. Not recommended for those under 13 years of age, the attraction delivers an intense realistic experience of animatronics and real actors.

One for all the family, and our favourite, was the arena performance of WaterWorld – A Live Sea War Spectacular. With jetskis, boats, ziplines and a seaplane scene that is beyond belief, WaterWorld comprises the most complex combination of high-tech special effects, pyrotechnics, flame and human stunt work ever attempted anywhere in the world.

Highlights include giant fireballs rising 50 feet in the air and cascading to earth in a spectacular wall of fire and a seaplane that swoops in directly above the audience, skidding across the water and coming to an explosive crash landing just inches away from startled spectators.

Like the Los Angeles itself, Universal is bold and breathtaking, an alluring mix of theatrics and thrills, talent and tenacity, facades and freaking good fun!

Buy tickets online and save on General Admission, Universal Express, VIP experiences. Make navigation easier by downloading the Universal Studios Hollywood App with maps, ride wait times, show times, plus free wi-fi.


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