Hollywood's Universal Studios https://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/ is Southern California's the best backstage tour of a busy working TV and movie studio, but the tour not only has its own first-class action attractions, it is at one end of an innovative theme park based on some of the hits Universal has produced, making the combination unique.
The way to minimize waiting in lines is to get there early, preferably on a weekday (but express passes are available). We went on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 when it opened and decided to save time by skipping the dozens of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs in the adjacent CityWalk (which features a 40-foot tree with 200,000 LED lights). The park was gorgeously decorated for the holidays and very clean compared with other parks.
We headed first for the Studio Tour, which is an amazing and informative hour-long experience on connected trams through the 415 acre complex. We were fortunate to have Paul as our guide, who seemed to know everything about not just the history of the studio, but exactly what was being taped at that moment. Many of NBCUniversal's network TV shows, films, and content for its Peacock streaming service are actively being made there and sometimes Paul had to stop speaking when the red light was on at one of the soundstages (FYI the tour is offered in multiple languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and Mandarin). "The Kelly Clarkson Show" is regularly taped there and now has a live audience again.
His comments were supplemented by clips from some of the studio's 8,000 productions since being founded in 1912. Paul pointed out Duane Johnson's office and the one Alfred Hitchcock used. The Western Town was a regular location for Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. We were shown the clever way that a flash flood can be instantly produced with 40,000 gallons of water: it was coming right for us and then drained away. Spielberg's blockbusters were featured by Jaws Lake, Jurassic dinosaurs, and crashed the 747s from "War of the Worlds." We didn't mind the Big One Earthquake being in maintenance, with the thrills provided instead by King Kong 360 3-D and Fast & Furious cars.
The theme park itself is always evolving. Super Nintendo World will be opened in early 2023. Alas, two of our favorites, Animal Actors and the Special Effects Show, will have their last performances on January 8.
Christmas in the Wizardly World of Harry Potter is a chance to visit the Hogsmeade village when it is especially magical, with special decor, activities, and a light show in the evening and (through Jan. 1). It was our first chance to try out Harry Potter and the Magical Journey, which utilizes a moving chair, immersive screen, and physical characters as you follow him on his broom. It ranks as one of the best theme park rides we have ever experienced (though those who are prone to motion sickness might want to avoid it).
Down the street, WaterWorld is a crowd-pleasing spectacle of fire, water, and stunts, with a back story based on the Kevin Costner movie about defending the last fortified islands after the continents sank.
Also on this Upper Level are family-friendly attractions like Disney's Kung Fu Panda Adventure (in an immersive 3D theater), Springfield/The Simpsons Ride (through Krusty the Clown's amusement park), Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (a ride and play area), and our favorite, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash (their behavior when their human companion animals are not home).
On the Lower Level:
Jurassic World--The Ride was in maintenance, but gets rave reviews for those who don't mind being harassed by dinosaurs (fortunately, we already had plenty on the Studio Tour).
Transformers: The Ride-3D is one of the park's most popular motion-based rides, but we decided to just go with one we could relate to, since we haven't seen the movies.
Revenge of the Mummy--The Ride was appreciated for its mythological aspects, since we visited Egypt, but essentially is a high-tech roller coaster that moves back and forth in the dark, delivering a memorably intense experience in just a few minutes.
Go now for the holiday experience or plan for it next year.