See Universal Studios Hollywood in One Day
Kids big or small can appreciate the variety Universal Studios Hollywood has to offer, and even the most jaded and dubious of difficult adults may be pleasantly surprised and delighted. I know. I was one, and now I’m a convert.
You see, our daughter wanted to celebrate her 12th birthday with a weekend trip to Universal Studios, and she was so excited about the incredible rides, the Hollywood movie sets, and the non-stop entertainment. We just had to give in, and I’m so glad we did.
We drove up from San Diego with a carload of tween girls, past Sunset Boulevard and its famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, the iconic Capital Records Building, the Hollywood Bowl and its array of star-studded outdoor concerts, and finally the Hollywood Sign peering over our gang like a blinding North Star. Just beyond all this, we pulled into the extremely well-situated Hilton Los Angeles / Universal City, which could not have been a more convenient hotel to all the sights nearby.
Best of all, the Hilton is within short walking distance to the theme park. (There is a complimentary hotel shuttle as well.) Because we arrived at dinnertime, we got settled and went downstairs to partake in what can only be described as the biggest and grandest buffet dinner I think our family has ever experienced. The kids were in heaven, because we pretty much let them have whatever they wanted. (Don’t judge — it was a birthday party after all!) The amount of items dipped in the bubbling chocolate fountain was epic and delicious.
On a Mission to See it All at Universal Studios Hollywood
To make the most of our single day at Universal Studios, we plotted the course I share below. We saw everything (and some favorites multiple times), and still made it out alive and ready for dinner in Universal City Walk, which is adjacent to the park.
The park opens. You should get there by 8:45 am and have your tickets all ready to go, maybe even 8:30 am in the summer just to be safe. We found the Front of Line tickets, which allow you to proceed straight to the front of the line at each attraction, to be totally worth the few extra dollars. Plus, wearing the lanyard and tag around your neck makes you feel kind of VIPish. Proceed immediately to the Lower Level. Do not be swayed by all the amazing things you see along the way, like other visitors with short attention spans are. Head for the escalators near the Simpsons Ride and travel down.
Ride Transformers: The Ride-3D. Again and again. It’s that good. Right out front, Transformers characters make appearances to take photos with the kids (and maybe a grown-up or two) and it’s awesome. Our birthday girl, her sister and friends were pretty gobsmacked.
Travel a few steps over to Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride. Note: It’s a little heart-pounding, so younger kids may not love it. We thought it was spectacular, and the backwards motion is an added surprise I have never before experienced. If you loved the ride, it’s worth a second go, right then and there.
Stop for a moment to witness the tamed Raptor character performance from Jurassic Park. He is so well conceived, you would swear he’s real as he poses for photos with tourists. And then things go a little sideways, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. (People ran away, but with smiles.)
Queue up for Jurassic Park – The Ride. By now, you will be really appreciating those Front of Line passes you bought — just sayin’. This ride is a bit wet, but don’t fall for those ponchos they sell. The kids had a total love/hate experience with the splashes of water they experienced — all in good fun.
Run back for a quick re-do on either the Mummy or Transformers rides. You’ll be leaving this area soon, so get it out of your system!
Travel back up the escalators to the main level, where there are many choices for food and drink. All have funny themes that relate to Universal’s movies and shows, and all offer healthy choices as well as the more traditional theme park fare. I needed a salad fix after all that chocolate fountain action from the night before.
Minions! They are so cute and cuddly, and the area where the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem theater is situated is surrounded by themed rides for the younger kids. The Minions ride itself is very clever, and it’s nice to sit down in the cool air-conditioned theater.
Head over to The Simpsons Ride, which is another clever 4D experience that had us laughing hysterically. The effects are really well done, and there was so much going on that we decided to go back and ride again immediately so we could catch all the dialog and action we missed on the first go. The kids loved it, and the parental humor was not lost on us older riders.
From here, head down to the Studio Backlot Tour. I remember this from long ago, and boy have they upgraded this experience. It was really fun and so great to see the kids awestruck by the sets they have seen in the movies and overjoyed by some of the cool special effects. This is not to be missed and was a highlight of the entire trip. The Fast & Furious – Supercharged experience is Hollywood special effects heaven, and so is the King Kong 360 3-D.
Stare wistfully through the gates at the soon-to-be-open Harry Potter World. A good reason for us to return, this attraction looks so authentic that they even have a Hogwarts School perched up on a cliff overlooking the village. I can’t wait to experience this when it opens in Spring 2016!
The Shrek 4D experience was very entertaining, starting in the waiting area. The park designers did a great job keeping us entertained outside the theater, as an animatronic Donkey, Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio and the gang kept us laughing until it was time to go inside. The actual 4D show is just as fun.
Go stand in line for the WaterWorld show. You’ve saved this for last, because it is by far the most spectacular. When inside the amphitheater, be careful where you sit because the splash zone is definitely that, plus a few rows. We were BLOWN AWAY by the special effects in this live show, with real Hollywood actors and stunt people that put on a stunning display. I’m not easily impressed, and this dropped my jaw to the floor. I didn’t even mind getting a little, ok maybe a lot, wet. You know that squishy sound that wet shoes make when you walk? Yeah, that.
You’re good to go! You can linger and repeat favorites, or exit like we did and go back to the Hilton for a shower and change of clothes. Then we walked back over to Universal CityWalk for some dinner and shopping, did some heavy people watching, posed for more than a few photos, and went back to the hotel for a late night swim. The kids loved the pool in the dark, and it was the perfect end to a perfect day. We settled into our comfortable beds and were out like lights.
So there you have it — with these Universal Studios Hollywood tips you can see the whole park in one day, even with a group of tween girls, and live to tell about it. We hope this helps you plan your adventure. Have fun!
Universal Studios Hollywood supplied four passes for our family as part of my assignment in blogging for Hilton Mom Voyage.
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- Read about all of our family vacations to Los Angeles
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
A Cali boy his entire life, Jon prefers to be near the water at all times. He grew up in San Francisco and now lives in San…