KidTripster Teen: Everything you need to know about visiting this SoCal theme park
There are countless theme parks around the world, but there’s truly nothing like Universal Studios Hollywood. What other park boasts a mummy, a giant ape, and Harry Potter all hanging out in the same ‘hood? Where else can you get an intimate, inside look at an actual working movie studio? And that’s just the tip of the rollercoaster! Universal Studios Hollywood has so much to offer. Whether you like battling Decepticons or walking among the undead, you’ll find something to fulfill all your theme park dreams.
What to do?
Universal Studios Hollywood is so massive that it has two levels and is divided into an upper lot and lower lot. On the upper lot, you’ll find attractions like The Simpsons Ride and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Across the way, sits Super Silly Fun Land, which is modeled after the amusement park in the Despicable Me movie. Inside, there are rides for smaller kids as well as a whimsical water play feature. Cruise a little farther down the road, and you’ll arrive at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP). Man, we could devote an entire article to this place alone. Oh wait, we already did! For more about the WWHP, check out KidTripster’s 6 attractions that are must-dos for muggles. Also on the upper lot, you’ll find AMC’s The Walking Dead walk-through attraction. This one is not for the faint of heart; I’ve even seen burly, grown men walk out of there looking white as a sheet, and that’s no exaggeration!
KidTripster Tip: AMC’s The Walking Dead Attraction is non-stop shock and not recommended for anyone under 13. Don’t allow kids to go in if you have the slightest notion that they may get frightened. It may give them serious nightmares, because the attraction is just so intense - and I mean, intense! Sometimes, I get a little nervous even eyeing the entrance.
When you’re ready to sit back and be entertained, take in the sensational shows at Universal Studios Hollywood like Shrek 4D, Animal Actors Show, and Special FX Show. By far though, my favorite is WaterWorld. This show is a live-action extravaganza based on the movie with thrilling stunts, wild pyrotechnics, and yes, you guessed it, lots of water. Be careful though, if you sit in the splash zone, you will get wet.
One attraction you cannot miss is the Universal Hollywood Studios Tours. It’s a tram ride that rolls through the backlot of Universal Studios passing by the amazing sets from countless TV shows and movies that have filmed here such as Desperate Housewives, Psycho, and War of the Worlds. As part of the tour, you’ll also get to experience two more incredible attractions, King Kong 360 3D, the award-winning attraction designed by Peter Jackson, and Fast & Furious – Supercharged, another 360-degree, heart-pounding attraction.
Want more thrills? Go down to the lower lot, if you dare. This is the realm where T-rexes, mummies, and Decepticons dwell. Down here, you’ll encounter amazing adventures like Transformers - The Ride 3D, Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, and Jurassic Park - The Ride. Also on the lower lot, you'll find several cool photo ops with Transformers as well as Raptor Encounter. Throughout the day, Bumblebee, Optimus-Prime, Megatron, and various raptors from Jurassic World will appear to take pictures. Be careful of the raptors though, as they have been known to bite!
KidTripster Tip: Feeling guilty about one too many trips to the snack stand? Try the lower lot stair dare; it’s an unofficial challenge. Accessing the lower lot involves taking the Starway, an extensive series of escalators. Alongside it, you’ll see a dizzying course of stairs. It’s 354 steps or the equivalent of climbing an 18-story building. Ready for the dare? On the way back to the upper lot, attempt to climb this ¼-mile trek. It’s one of my favorite things to do at the park, and it doesn’t require waiting in any lines!
Where to eat?
Universal has lots to offer in the Eats department. The park even has its own executive chef! There’s plenty of restaurants and food types to choose from. Luigi’s Pizza has Italian food including pasta and single slice pizza. If you want a more American vibe, you can chill at Mel’s Diner, serving burgers, fries, and shakes. My favorite food stop has to be Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck. As the name implies, it's a food truck that sells tacos, and boy, are they delicious! If you have an allergy, know that they are made with corn tortillas, so they’re gluten-free.
KipTripster Tip: To pack in more park time, snack on the fly and enjoy a proper meal later. After the park closes, head directly to CityWalk. Crammed with cool restaurants and cafes, it offers a real culinary trip around the world and is a perfect spot for grabbing some great grub after a long day of “themeparking.” My favorite choice is Camacho’s Cantina, a casual Mexican eatery with a festive atmosphere and tasty, authentic cuisine. It even has a live Mariachi band on Friday and Saturday evenings!
Where to stay?
If proximity to the park is your main priority, there are two hotels within walking distance of the park entrance: Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City and Sheraton Universal. (The only way to stay closer would be to stow away in Hogwarts Castle!) Both cater to families and offer similar amenities like pools, kids’ activities, and restaurants with kids’ menus. Both hotels also have vacation package deals with Universal. Look for them and other hotel partners on the Universal Studios Hollywood website. Rooms start at $254/night.
If you’re looking for more of a resort-style stay, Loews Hollywood Hotel is the place for you. It’s located at the center of all the action on Hollywood Boulevard but also just a short drive to the park. It’s an urban oasis with beautiful rooms, many providing stunning views of the Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood sign, and even the iconic Capitol Records building. From complimentary cabanas at the rooftop pool to the decadent menu at Exhale Spa, you’ll feel pampered. And even though it does have a grown-up atmosphere, the hotel works hard to make sure the whole family enjoys their stay. Upon arrival, kids (under 10) receive a complimentary welcome gift, and tweens and teens get a music download card. Another kid-friendly feature is access to the Kid’s Closet, which is stocked with everything you could possibly need. Teens will appreciate the collection of board games and gameboys available for use and a list of all the teen-themed sightseeing and shopping hot spots in the area. Rooms start at $289/night.
Photo courtesy: Loews Hollywood Hotel
Here’s some insight into the newer and somewhat complex price structure at Universal Studios Hollywood. Current options include one-day or two-day general admission, one-day anytime admission, plus Front of Line and VIP Experience. All options are cheaper (at least $5 per ticket and on certain days and tickets, even more) if you purchase online; you’ll also get early admission. One day ticket cost: Youth (2 and under) Free; Youth (3 to 9) $99; Other $105.
With general admission, you can select a date or get the anytime ticket, which costs more. An additional $14 will get you an extra day of fun but know that you must select your park day and use the second day within the next seven days.
The Front of Line ticket is a bit pricier at $179/person but may be worth it to you, if you’re not a fan of waiting in line as you will get priority access to all attractions at the park. The caveat with this ticket is that it only applies once for each ride and show.
Want the all-out royal treatment? Buy the VIP Experience which gives you everything - unlimited front-of-line access to all shows and rides, personalized guided tour of the park and backlot, continental breakfast, lunch at an exclusive VIP dining room, and valet parking. Prices vary for this lavish experience depending on the day but start at $359/person.
KidTripster Tip: At the gate, youth tickets are determined by height not age. So if any of the older kids in your party are minion-sized, you may want to pick up your tickets at the entrance and save a few bucks.
Universal Studios Hollywood is located about an hour’s drive north of the airport and 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
Laine Messier is a homeschooled high school student, who currently splits her time between Los Angeles and New York City. She’s lucky enough to be able to explore the globe with her parents and is always on the lookout for unique and exciting experiences. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her surfing, jamming on her guitar or searching for new adventures with her trusty canine sidekick, Tess.