Day 10 (June 15, 2008) L.A: Universal Studios


Universal Studios map

   This day has the simplest plan: we’ve paid the VIP Experience for the Universal Studios in Hollywood, so we only need to be in the entrance on time. Sionce4 then, the entire journey will be managed by them and our role is just enjoying it. Lunch is included.


Fountain at Universal Studios' entrance   It’s an easy walk getting Universal Studios from this hotel: just walking up along the stairs belonging to the “Frankenstein parking” until the fountain where we take our first picture for today, although it is not the well known one with the globe. Today is my sister’s birthday and our gift is the VIP experience we’re just about to join. No one inside the ticket boxes know about the VIP Experience, but I’ve addressed to a man who checks our printed vouchers and take us to a glass door beyond the entrance, on the right side of the street. There, another man looks for our names in a list he brought with him and after checking we’re indeed there, take us upstairs to a hall with armchairs and couches and the walls full of posters of famous movies from these studios as Gladiator, Shakespeare in Love, Shindler’s list, The Phantom of the opera, Frankestein,… We’re the first and we find ourselves alone with a small catering for breakfast, so we go for it. We’re already in the Universal Studios VIP Experience, let’s enjoy it!

   The rest of the group is appearing: one family from Boston, another one from Texas, etc… It was us, as Europeans, the most exotic people in there. Soon the guide introduced himself and the funny day we are going to have with jokes in his speech. Once finished, the questions from the people were mainly about the subject in the mind of all of us: the fire. We still were in Barcelona when the news talked about a fire in Universal Studios in Hollywood with a big part damaged, among them, a set with American streets and the square with the clock tower from “Back to the future” movies, which was one of my favourite highlights for this visit. I just asked for a confirmation we weren’t going to be able of seeing anything of it.

VIP Experience tramBurnt area in Universwal Studios

   Outside we’re got into our private blue trolley with space enough for changing sides at our convenience as it is a group of around 12 persons. The first ride is going down a road with posters of movies at its sides and the landscape of Hollywood in front of us. Soon we can see the damaged area. The guide explains they’re working hard for recovering the set as soon as possible as a big part of the benefits of the studios come from the rental of the sets. For example, the burnt set of “Back to the future” I wanted to see is used currently for filming “Ghost Whisperer” TV series.

Car from "The mummy"    Then we are driven across a huge zone with several identical buildings, like industrial premises, with a number for each one. We can read “Stage 18”, “Stage 19”, “Stage 20”… Our guide explains stages 24, 25 and 26 are for CSI Las Vegas, Miami and New York respectively. The 27th seems to be for “Heroes” TV show, which I’m following too. I’m amazed and still haven’t seen anything. I don’t know if we’re going to visit one of these buildings. Trolley stops and we walk following our guide to one of the premises. My heart is beating quicker every time trying to guess the show which set I’m going to see. It is finally no set, but the carpenter’s workshop where the sets are built. It is interesting, but kind of disappointing when I was thinking about visiting something like Grisom’s office.

   We go on with our tour by leaving that area behind after seeing the caravans, all identical, where the stars “live” while filming. We pass close to the damaged area and get a kind of vehicles exhibition. From the trolley we can see from very close cars from movies produced by Universal as Jurassic Park or Fast and the furious. There are old cars like the ones used in Marx Brothers movies, “The Mummy” or the black one which get filled with manure in “Back to the future 2”; and futurists as the ship from “Serenity” or the Delorian from “Back to the future II and III”. The Magnum’s Ferrari!!. This is getting better…

Movie cars in Universal StudiosMovie cars in Universal Studios

   Then the trolley gets into a closed set looking as a Japanese suburb. We’re told it is from “The fast and the furious 3”, which I had already guessed. I’m not going to spoil the things that happen in this tour, so I will skip the details but I can say I frightened for a second here. Then we go across “The lost world” area and arrive to a Mexican town where we can enjoy the effects of a flooding.

Fat and the furiousThe Lost World


Flooding town   The next is to go all over sets as cities from different countries and ages: streets of adobe buildings looking as some South American towns, bricked facades looking as 20’s or 30’s American city, etc... Along this way, the guide points one facade looking as if it was a kind of temple and says it’s has been shooting a scene of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” lately. I could see the entrance to “Lyon States”, McFly’s neighbour in Hill Valley,l but our guide hasn’t talked about so it has been unnoticed. Then we go across a river, which is “cut” by the middle. This is, the dry road used by the trolley goes through the river limited at both sides by walls retaining the water and letting the vehicles to pass through it like 1.5 meters below the level of the water. The reason of this is not only allowing vehicles across, there is a filming reason too as can be seen on the left side, where a model of the border of King Kong island with the boat is set. We can see on the screens inside the trolley images from the making off of this Peter Jackson’s movie with the shooting in this spot by night, and how this high makes things easier for standing filming.

Set from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull   On the other side of the river we get again into a city. This time is looking as centuries XIX-XX one from the Center of Europe. Our guide explains these are the sets where were filmed classics as Frankenstein or several of the Dracula movies. We can then leave the trolley and walk around for exploring these streets. Obviously all these cities looks as “ghost” cities, with anybody in them, except now, when we are giving live to these streets. We can check everything is false, but looking as real, which is really their purpose. The buildings are just a web of joists for keeping facades stood. All around look as paved streets, but there are not paving stones anywhere, they are “drawn” in the floor instead.

Model from King KongDracula streets in Universal Studios

   It’s funny having an entire city for you and we walk around changing of environments. Before coming back to the trolley, our guide come to me and explains the girl of the Boston family is going to go spend some months in Barcelona. That’s shocking, I’m sure she is going to like it and I say so and offer myself for answering any questions about Barcelona, but the girls is shy and do no questions although her father is encouraging her to it..

Giant trolley in Universal Studios   Next stop take us to one of my more expected visits for this VIP experience: the biggest warehouse of movie objects in the world. Outside we can see a lot of stuff like mailboxes, telephone booths, traffic lights, litter bins, lampposts, etc.. the necessary for transforming one set to a street of any city in the world. I take this picture to Eva with a two-metered shopping cart.

   In the entrance we can see a bench with a little paper labelled with the logo of “House” TV series. Our guide tells this object is booked for being used on that show. And once inside: the chaos. The warehouse is indeed huge and it is in a mess: tons of objects piled over and over. The only organization is, like in supermarkets, by aisle: they’re thematic. There is one for corpses, which is different than the one for skeletons. A big are for the fake food with, curiously, one whole aisle for fake cheeses. Trophies, pictures, weapons, glasses, antiquities …It’s too much! I try to focus on interesting objects for me such a skyboard from “Back to the future 2” or the model of statue of liberty used for “The day after tomorrow” or the power saw from “Doom”, or the dinosaur eggs from “Jurassic Park 3” …In the area where the bombs are piled I can see one I reckon from one episode of CSI Las Vegas and, overall, the briefcase from “12 monkeys”!! A whole universe that, obviously, there is not enough time to explore even a tenth part of it .

Corpses in the Universal storehouseBriefcase from "12 monkeys"

    Once again in the trolley we get into a set as being in a metro station and then the disasters, in plural – what a bad day for that station!! - appear.It is an amazing FX demonstration. ThenPsycho in Universa Studios we get into the set of “Shark” where some things happen around the marina and the picture below is a spoiler. The following is being driven along Wisteria Lane, the houses with garden used in “Desperate Housewives” series. These houses are used for other filming too and our guide points to one of them as the recently used in “Hancock”. We see a set from “The Grinch” and the Motel Bates after it. The name of the motel is in a neon sign in case somebody doesn’t reckon it by itself, the car end the mother’s house upstairs. The whole set of “Psycho” is here and we’re allowed to leave the trolley and walk around. We can then have a closer look of the house and see a rocking mummy has been set in the window. Then we can go further to the set from “War of the worlds”. As Tom Cruise did, we walk across a plane crash over a town. The details are spectacular and the houses and the big remains of the plane can be perfectly seen here.

   Our studio tour ends after a big ground of grass with deers, real deers!, as our guide tells. It finishes with a big water pool, wide but not deep with a big greens screen at the bottom. We’re explained this is used for filming scenes in water as the ones Jim Carrey did in “Bruce Almighty”.

Set from "War of the worlds"Shark in Universal Studios

    The tour continues in the theme park, but no trolley anymore. Now we’re a walking group and we’re going to start in “Jurassic Park”. We’re given a yellow slicker to each of us and seat in the first rows of the next boat, which is entirely for us. We then sail over the river across the jungle with sounds and appearances of small dinosaurs attacking to us with its “lethal” water. Then we get indoors, in a kind of bunker, quite dark and noisy until the big and wet end as last second escaping from the Tyrannosaurus.

   Next one is the Mummy ride, darker and more original as our vehicle doesn’t follow a straight way and a constant speed: it changes from slow to fast and goes back some times. I liked the Egyptian environment and the moment with the beetles when you can see you’re surrounded by them and can feel something in your feet.

The mummy in Universal StudiosJurassic Park ride

   As our guide mentioned before the Mummy ride we’re going to lunch now and we go upstairs the Jurassic Park attraction entrance where there are some packs ready for us with a nice burger and its typical complements. We have 15 minutes to lunch before next animal show begins. I’m fast eating, but not enough for these American people and their use to the fast food. Besides, my women are of slow eating, so the guide give me the indications to the theater where animal show is about to start to meet the group once we’ve finished and leave us finishing our lunch peacefully.

   When we arrive the show has just started. It is a funny and shocking demonstration of animal training. There are chimps, orangutans, dogs and even birds.

   From there we’re going to the highlight of the park: The Simpsons. Our guide know the time for all the shows and how attractions works so he can follow a way of going one after another, all the attractions in a row and without any waiting as we access immediately to them on despite of the rows of people could be there .

The Simpsons ride   This way, we’re waiting for the people inside The Simpsons’ ride to finish to go next. “What is this about for such expectation?” I’m wondering while waiting in a kind of carnival set with a video of Homer’s sisters in law, which are constantly joking about him. Outside the row of people is huge for this specific attraction.

   People out, which means it’s our turn. Then we get into a small room with a roller coaster car for a big group. I seat there thinking this is not that spectacular and being quite sure I’m going to be disappointed.

   And it starts. Then, images cover the whole ceiling so they’re around us. Obviously, this is a first person film, and we’re in a roller coaster and The Simpsons family is in the car in front of us. You feel yourself automatically inside the story and get the feelings of the turns and falls of the roller coaster. Suddenly, a big ball breaks the rail in front of you and I find myself thinking, for a moment, “Oh my God, we’re going to die!!”. Since there the story evolves to delirious situations as each of The Simpsons episodes use to do. I’m freaking out. When it finish and lights makes us to come back to reality we are looking around and, while leaving the room, we’re looking at the car as if it was magic, as if the evidence we haven’t been moved from this room was not an acceptable answer top what we’ve just lived in there. It’s magic!
   I can read a daily satisfaction about the faces of the people in the smile of our guide. Now we’re going to the Waterworld show. When we’re seated our guide let us know we’re going to enjoy the next attractions by our own as he is leaving us at this point He recalls to us in his farewell we only have to show our accreditation as per skipping rows and having 25% discount on any shop.

   Waterworld is a show with water bikes, explosions and fights with actors. Then we find ourselves into the park by our own for the first time, so we take the map and look for what is still missing. This way we go to Shrek 4D, the Horror house, Backdraft and Terminator 4D. We enjoy the “Blue brothers” show for a while and spend a good amount of bucks on trying to get two shoots of three attempts in a basket to win a plush could be paid with the cost of the first attempt which, by the way, I didn’t manage to win.

   The place is full of picture chances with Hulk, shark, terminator, Bourne, the Simpsons, etc… We can even find a set as a street from Paris and the one in London with the bookstore set of “Notting Hill”.

Set from "Notting Hill"Terminator in Universal Studios

   We finally leave the park when feeling closing time near, after some shopping in the gift store to take advantage of the discount. At exit we find the famous Universal globe and once into the Citywalk we can see the bars and restaurants full of people watching the NBA finals. I forgot about the match I’ve been obsessed to for months! We seat in a Western thematic one named “Saddle ranch chop house”. I take the price list as we are going to need to order something if we want to watch the game seated in a table but I think it’s going to be expensive because of the “touristic tax”. We take some Coronita beers as I’m not driving today and choose a couple of snacks: nachos and miniburgers. The price was quite low for those, so I’m expecting small shares, but when they’re brought to table it becomes to be a big platter with six miniburgers with the size of half of a “Big Mac” and a lot of fries and another platter with the same size full of nachos with three different sauces. Our eyes are still widely opened when we start eating. The price is right, so we end taking a complete dinner for three and some beers by 20€ in total. We’re happy and it seems in a happy day things keep being happy. Even Lakers won their match. A day to remember.

Universal Studios against the heatUniversal Studios logo