Challenger School

Family Vacation Suggestion: Universal Studios, Hollywood

If you’re interested in movies and television or just wholesome fun, visit Universal Studios.  Opened more than 50 years ago in conjunction with the film studio that has produced some of the world’s biggest grossing movies, it combines a backstage studio tour with a theme park.

The Studio Tour is a tram ride that takes you on the Universal lot where you’ll see the sets from such movie classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie Psycho, and physically experience your tram being threatened by a T. rex and King Kong, Jaws, a flash flood and an earthquake.

The rides were fabulous.  One of our favorites was The Simpsons Ride, in which you ride on a simulated roller coaster combined with a zany film of the Simpsons characters.  Another popular ride with my family was Transformers, another bumpy simulated ride in which you enjoy various characters protecting AllSpark from the Decepticons.

They offer several live shows.  One, WaterWorld, was an exciting show combining stuntmen and water.  Another, Special Effects Stage, demonstrated how Hollywood’s dramatic visual effects work.  A third, Animal Actors, was our children’s favorite.  Seventy-five different animals, from dogs to guinea pigs, performed tricks onstage to the delight of audiences.  Afterward, we had a chance to meet the animal performers.

Among the newest attractions is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  From throughout the park we could see Hogwarts castle.  Inside this section of the park we enjoyed attractions such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff.  Forbidden Journey is the most popular ride, allowing you to soar through the corridors and classrooms of Hogwarts castle.  You can also buy a wand at Ollivanders and enjoy Harry Potter-themed live performances.  There are also some great options for dining; make sure you try the popular Butterbeer.

We went in the weeks before Halloween; soon the park will prepare for “Grinchmas,” its annual Christmas celebration which runs through early January.  It features characters from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas—including the Grinch and his dog Max—and  live shows themed to the season.

We ate burgers and fries at Mel’s Diner, a 50s-style restaurant in the center of the upper level of the park.  Also, we saw many live characters of different eras strolling through the park for photo opportunities, including various characters from the Simpsons.

One suggestion if you can afford a little extra: get the Universal Express Pass and you’ll find yourself walking onto the attractions.  It allowed us to avoid the lines and hit all the major attractions in a single day.  We’ll definitely be back.

About author

Jim Graves

Jim Graves

Jim Graves is a family travel writer. He is married to wife Carol, and has two daughters, Shelby & Claire. He specializes in finding family-friendly travel opportunities and sharing them with other parents.