SUMMER GETAWAYS: Adventure, thrills await at Universal Studios Hollywood
Blockbuster rides, attractions within reach for Central Valley families
These are the best days of summer, no matter what price is flashing at the pumps.
Families in this part of the Central Valley live too close to Southern California to not venture out and enjoy a cool summer adventure at one of the best amusement parks in the world.
Disneyland may come to mind, but consider the amazing entertainment at Universal Studios Hollywood — not to mention the idea of saving an hour or more behind the wheel in heavy traffic, and arriving comfortably before check-in at a more affordable hotel in Burbank.
My daughter and I were booked at the namesake Hotel Burbank, formally the Holiday Inn center, that can been seen from the I-5. We actually arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we drove up to the nearby Griffith Observatory. We got lucky and found a parking place at the top, and then we proceeded to have an enjoyable time checking out the panoramic views of the Los Angeles Basin, Downtown L.A., and the Hollywood Sign. The Observatory facility, featuring exhibits and a planetarium, is free to enter.
Later we found the streets of Burbank easy to navigate, and they led us to some fantastic restaurants along South San Fernando Boulevard. A free, safe-looking parking lot was just around the corner. It was all really perfect.
The next day, we started out fresh and early, and arrived at Universal Studios after a short, upbeat drive along Olive Avenue that took us around Warner Bros. Studios, and left us feeling like unashamed Angeleno pretenders.
Once we were out of the car (parking was a breeze in the massive Universal lot; $30), we followed the crowds through the Universal City Walk — a dynamic outdoor shopping and dining complex that features popular restaurants and one of L.A.’s most popular movie theaters, Universal Cinema, which showcases recliner seats in screening-room quality theaters. We could have easily spent half the day inside the City Walk, but we were anxious to get inside the park.
Get your theme park tickets in advance at Universal’s website, of course. California residents get a discount (starting around $104 – not bad at all compared to other sites and considering what Universal Studios has to offer). We recommend you add on the “Universal Express” pass if available. The pass will get you onto rides and attractions faster — especially on busy weekends.
Once inside … Well it’s impossible to do and see everything in a single day.
But no matter how long the stay, we are absolutely positive that people of all ages will be glad they visited.
My daughter’s favorite thing: The new “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash” ride — inspired by the hit movies of the same name. You can tell by all the wide eyes and smiles in line that this ride is a hit among the little ones. It’s an impressive ride that combines 64 technologically-advanced animated figures with hyper-realistic media and projection mapping designed to take fans of all ages on a journey to meet some of their favorite characters from the films, including Max, Snowball, Daisy, Gidget, Chloe and Duke, along with a host of other animal friends, who have all been transformed and transported into the live-action world.
My favorite thing: “The Studio Tour.” It’s Universal Studios Hollywood’s signature attraction, the world-renowned behind-the-scenes tram ride that winds around the 415-acre movie studio complex of soundstages, facades, working sets and special effects attractions. Highlights include recreations and simulations of “Earthquake — The Big One,” “Flash Flood,” and “Jaws Lake.”
Here’s the latest news from Universal Studios Hollywood:
• Universal Studios Hollywood celebrates 4th of July by extending its Independence Day festivities throughout the weekend from Saturday, July 2 through Monday, July 4, inclusive of dazzling nightly fireworks displays, live music performances, specially themed décor and more, all included in the price of admission to the theme park. Beginning nightly at 9 p.m., an elaborate fireworks display will splash across the sky, synchronized to a score of Universal-themed music and patriotic favorites from two locations inside of the theme park.
• After watching the epic conclusion of Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World Dominion, which opened as the #1 movie in the world, guests can experience “Jurassic World—The Ride” where they will be caught in the middle of an extraordinary battle between the Indominus rex and her arch-rival, the Tyrannosaurus rex.
• Minions continue to run amok at Universal Studios Hollywood as the theme park prepares for the theatrical release of Illumination and Universal Picture’s newest film, Minions: The Rise of Gru, on July 1.
• From Monday, June 27 through Sunday, July 17, mischievous Minions will take center stage at Universal Plaza, where guests can meet the newest Minion, Otto, along with fan favorites Jerry and Dave before they set off on an adventure aboard the “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” ride. The Minion activation also features exclusive experiences for guests, including interacting with a 16-foot Minion squishy and engaging in a specially-created Minion-themed game through Sunday, Aug. 14.
• “The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle” returns with a dazzling light and special effects projection display set against the backdrop of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As night falls on Hogsmeade village, guests can enjoy an awe-inspiring spectacle that showcases the four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin, accompanied by a special musical arrangement based on original scores from the film series.
• This summer also sees the return of the “Special Effects Show,” a fast-paced and entertaining behind-the-scenes peek at the world of Hollywood movie-making magic. The Special Effects Show will run daily from Friday, July 1 through Sunday, August 14, then weekends only, beginning Saturday, August 20.
• Halloween Horror Nights begin on Thursday, Sept. 8, with eight frightening haunted houses. The events will run select nights through Monday, Oct. 31, and additional details will be revealed soon. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
Preparing for a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood to experience the Best Day in L.A. is easy with a series of convenient online tools that range from Universal’s interactive mobile app and website and all-new Discover Universal hub, designed to help maximize trips for the ultimate visit.
More information is available at www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com.