always had a certain fascination with Universal Studios.
From my first visit in the early 70s, that special
combination of movie magic and theme park really struck
a chord with me.
then, it was called simply Universal Studios Tour and the
main attraction was really just a tram ride through the
backlot. You rode aboard salmon-pink striped canopy clad
Glamour Trams, and your onboard Studio Tour Guide gave you
a true, behind-the-scenes look of an actual working production
ride through Six Points Texas, sets from Spartacus,
a few thrills along the way (a torpedo launching submarine,
and a flash flood were the highlights), a walk through
Lucille Balls dressing room, some movie-making demonstrations
inside an actual soundstage, a break at Prop Plaza, and
then to the Entertainment Center for a few live shows
and a better appreciation for the film-making process.
It was an easy-going, low-key half-day experience
-- back when half-day experiences werent
later, as a young college student, I signed up to become
one of those Tour Guides. Although selected initially,
the training was intense; part of it involving learning
great chunks of Universal history -- which I can still
recall. (Back in 1912, studio founder Carl Laemmle purchased
land from a chicken rancher, and began making movies.
Grandstands were set up and visitors were invited to the
studio for free to watch movies being made. Fans could
cheer the heroes and boo the villains [this was the silent
era, of course] and then, ever the businessman, Mr. Laemmle
would sell visitors a chicken box lunch for a nickel.)
guide training also involved verbatim spiels
sections of dialogue that took place on the tram
tour that had to be memorized word-for-word. Although
an actor, I didnt really apply myself very well,
and was cut after the first round. Somewhat humiliated,
I redeemed myself a year later, when I moved to Florida
and became a Walt Disney World Tour Guide so there.
Glamour Trams started in 1964, and since that time, Universal
Studios has continued to expand into much more of a theme
park experience multi-million dollar rides, attractions
and shows are now part of the landscape. First and foremost,
though, its still the worlds biggest working
film studio, and the Backlot Tram Tour is still the centerpiece
attraction, because you still get that real, behind-the-scenes
Megan and I had taken frequent trips to Universal CityWalk
but never went into the Park. Last summer, after struggling
with ever increasing Disneyland crowds, we took the plunge
and for about $8.00 per person more than a one-day admission,
we all bought Universal Studios Deluxe Celebrity Annual
Passes featuring no blockout days, no restrictions,
and an ID picture that actually looks like you. Universal
City is just 15 minutes away, crowds are noticeably lighter,
and we can catch a quick theme park fix without having
to invest an entire day in Orange County.
a design perspective, this Park is almost a living case
study of how to build and expand a theme park, when you
have no room to expand, and it was never designed to be
a theme park in the first place. Its always been
fascinating to watch. The layout itself is pasted together
and uneven (the worlds largest escalator down to the lower
lot is maddening), the theme-ing is scattered and confused
(walk from a Western town, to Mels Diner, to a European
street, to Bedrock, to a New England shanty town in about
50 square yards), but overall, it all adds to the charm.
Plus, the designers seem to be afforded a certain luxury
and freedom of not being under constant scrutiny, and
to just upgrade and enhance things without having months
and years of incessant planning.
a recent visit, and were struck by several new things.
bronze statue was added to the fountain just inside the
entrance. Really nicely done, it features a life-sized
cameraman, boom microphone operator, and a director. The
figures appear to be filming, booming and directing YOU
as you walk into the Parks entrance plaza. It adds
a lot of interest, and has become a very popular photo
The Mummy Returns -- Walk-through Haunted Movie
Nickelodeon Blast Zone a very well put together
frenetic kids playground.
Planet Live! -- replacing the long-running'Animal Actors
Stage' they've re-done the gift shop, and kept a neat
feature - visits with real Animal stars.
- A new live show stationed outside the old Castle Dracula.
Soak a smaller-scale water playground now sponsored
by Coca-Cola. Its a bit more sedate, and features
a series of interactive buttons and devices designed to
squirt you with water. This is one of Megans favorite
spots, and if we remember to bring a change of clothes,
she can cut loose for an hour and get soaked.
here it is theme park season, and yet, no new
cutting-edge ride, no mega-giga coaster, just a series of
little tweaks and upgrades. Nicely themed and constructed,
these little plusses I think theyre called,
have an economical, lets-get-it-open-in-time-for-summer
feel to them, but they really add to the overall ambiance.
And we are always pleasantly surprised.
you may have noticed, were not a thrill-seeking,
run-from-ride-to-ride family anyway, and the re-do of
a restaurant can provide just as many oohs and ahhs,
as the addition of a whole new attraction. What can I
say. Were weird
been a fun year, and weve come to enjoy Universal
for the relaxed atmosphere that theyve been able
to maintain -- the lighter crowds, the fun entertainment,
and the really cool people weve encountered, all
make us feel very welcome.
last week, when a pleasant woman from Universal Studios
Hollywood phoned me, and asked if we wanted to renew our
Celebrity Annual Passes, without hesitation I said "Yes
we do!" Beyond being convenient, and that it cost
us about $60.00 per person, phoning us was just another
little plus that kept us coming back.
place. Great people. Excellent salesmanship. Seems that
Mr. Laemmle would approve.