Universal Studios Theme Park
The Early Park
Even though Universal's backlot tour didn't officially open until 1964, fact is that the studio allowed the public to tour the studio long before that. Curious visitors could peer at movie sets and even walk through the dressing rooms of the stars. As the years went on, the tours began to get a bit more elaborate. Instead of a guided walking tour, for example, a pink-and-white striped tram was added - dubbed the GlamTram, complete with a witty guide who could expound a mountain of knowledge about the studio and its most famous stars, adding comical anecdotes along the way. (Incidentally, the modern-day tram tour was added as a way to sell more lunches at the studio commissary!)
Universal's backlot tour remained pretty much the same until 1977, with all attractions being reached via the tram ride. In the late 1970s, however, the studio began to add separate shows and attractions, like Screen Test Comedy Theater and the Animal Actors stage, bringing visitors to the studio's Upper Lot, where more attractions would be added to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park [website] through the decades.
The Studio Tour Evolves
Since Universal first opened its doors to the public, an estimated 100 million visitors have gotten a glimpse at the magic of movie making. The first tours took about 90 minutes and included visits to sets, dressing rooms, and a make-up show. Soon, the Prop Plaza was added, which would be the site of the first Western Stunt Show. Endeavoring to keep up with parks like nearby Disneyland, the creative minds at Universal added fun attractions like The Parting of the Red Sea (from The Ten Commandments), The Flash Flood, and the Collapsing Bridge. Jaws, King Kong, and Earthquake soon followed.
These days, the tour takes just under and hour to complete and guests explore about 415 acres of prime Universal property, where they can see sets from some of the world's most successful movies and television shows. Many of the old attractions still elicit screams of excitement from guests - including all of the above. Others have come and gone, like The Ice Tunnel and The Avalanche. Recently, the trams have added new video screens that allow riders to view scenes from movies filmed at locations they will see on the tour.
As an added bonus, a ride on the Tram ride may place you face-to-face with someone famous! The trams travel different routes each day, according to what is currently filming, and those actors who are particularly friendly with the public have been known to come out and chat, sign autographs, and pose for pictures.
Even if you're not star-struck, however, the studio tour should be on everyone's to-do list while visiting Universal. Unfortunately, many guests overlook it in favor of a day spent doing the thrill rides in the other portion of the studio lot. Too bad! This is Hollywood at its best and viewing the magic behind the movies provides an unforgettable experience!
The Theme Park
Thankfully, the theme park at Universal Studios Hollywood has always maintained its early connection to the movies. The powers-that-be at Universal have resisted the temptation to merely add a roller coaster or two and, unlike its sister park in Florida, this park seems to respect its early history.
The park is divided into two sections: the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot. The Upper Lot is also known as "Entertainment Center" and this is where you'll find the majority of the theme parks rides, theaters, food kiosks, and shows. Here you can experience the fun and excitement of The Simpson Ride, where guests ride a simulated roller coaster through Krustyland (a simulated theme park); Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, a 3D roller coaster simulator that follows the antics of Gru, Agnes, Edith, Margo and the Minions; Shrek 4-D, a family-oriented film that will have everyone laughing hysterically; WaterWorld - A Live Sea Spectacular - an exciting water-based stunt show.
In the Lower Lot, you can visit NBCUniversal Experience, which contains exhibits of props, wardrobe, plus other movie and television artifacts and trivia; Jurassic Park - The Ride, a boat ride through the Jurassic Park River among dinosaurs that squirt water, through a dark tunnel and then sends guests plunging down an 84-foot water slide; Revenge of the Mummy, a "dark" ride that's actually a high-speed (45 MPH) indoor roller coaster that goes both backward and forward; and Transformers: The Ride 3D, which is a thrilling ride simulator that takes you through a robot battlefield. Also in the Lower Lot, you'll find a handful of restaurants and some shops.
Costumed characters can often be found roaming throughout the park. Kids will love the opportunity to pose with Spongebob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Scooby Doo, Curious George and Woody Woodpecker, just to name a few. Guests of all ages can be seen posing with roaming characters such as Shrek, the Simpsons, Frankenstein, Beetlejuice and others. There are also stationary characters, namely Donkey in his waffle shop, and the ever-popular Jaws exhibit. The best part about characters at Universal Studios is the lack of wait time to pose with your favorite character. At Universal Studios, you can usually get to any character within a few minutes.