More than any of its Southern California competitors, Universal Studios is a theme park with a capital 'T'. The theme here, of course, is the movies. The park offers a necessarily selective ramble through the studio's hits and even one or two of its misses; it's difficult to know whether the park is here to promote the movies or vice versa. Either way, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've bought tickets to a colossal marketing exercise.
The rides aren't as exciting as you might expect: certainly, they lack both Disneyland's charm and the sheer terror inspired by Six Flags Magic Mountain. You're here for the illusion of glamour, the silver-screen memories brought back by the rides rather than the rides themselves. Kids may enjoy Jurassic Park: The Ride, and all ages should be tickled by the ride based on The Simpsons. Other films brought to something approaching life include Transformers, The Mummy and, bizarrely, Waterworld. However, the pick of the themed attractions, for both grown-ups and kids, is the cheeky Shrek 4-D movie.
Similarly, the studio tour itself is more about association than excitement. Despite all the hype boasting of how you're being let behind the scenes, the closest you'll likely get to seeing some actual action is spying the occasional spark's car parked behind an otherwise faceless sound stage. Still, once you've resigned yourself (and your kids) to a star-free afternoon, there's a great deal to enjoy, from old movie sets seemingly left lying around by careless stagehands, to the cheesily compiled set pieces and a dazzling chase sequence inspired by the Vin Diesel movie The Fast and the Furious.
Most attractions have the decency to save their souvenir shops until the end. Not here. You can't reach Universal Studios without strolling down CityWalk, a loud, colorful and oppressive pedestrianized street crammed with souvenir hawkers and junk-food retailers. If you've got children, don't be too surprised to find your finances severely depleted before you've even reached the gates of the studios.
Note that the prices detailed above are for basic admission only. A large variety of queue-jumping tickets are also available, starting at $139 for an off-season "Front of Line" pass to $249 for a VIP ticket. Check online for a full list of ticket options and for detailed opening hours, which vary by the season and sometimes by the day.
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