Across the Universe (California Vacation Oct 2011 – Day 5)

I’m not really sure at what age the amusement park phobia hit me. I  do recall however, that in my teens I would go on ANY ride without thought but somewhere along the way even that crazy swinging pirate ship at our local fair had me hanging on for dear life.

Other than the sheen of  the Disney’s sugar-coated false sense of security, (there have been deaths look it up!) for some reason I am also okay with rides that are either completely in the dark (no matter how scary), involve water in some way or are inside of a building. Bonus points to those rides that qualify for all three. I am all about not knowing what is about to hit me, I’m a first class worrier.

The reason I bring all that up is the next stop on our California amusement park extravaganza was Universal Studios. The last time I set foot in Universal I’m fairly certain they didn’t have any rides to speak of other than the studio tour. I didn’t even get to see much of that because Chris was 2 and a half at the time and after the classic Battlestar Galactica Cylons jumped out of the trees and started shooting at our tram, I spent the bulk of the ride trying to peel a screaming toddler off me.

These days they’ve put money into it and built themselves some pretty darn good rides, certainly not of the Magic Mountain gut busting calibre but certainly my speed.  Admittedly I did do a little youtube research before I committed to riding (mamma’s not crazy) and it looked like I would be able to handle everything there without freaking out.

We managed to get out the door a little earlier this go-round which was needed to get through the LA traffic. Universal is more of a drive from where we were staying and guaranteed we would be stuck in some sort of traffic.

I tried to get a shot of the “Hollywood” sign from the freeway but no dice. My new little camera is excellent for its compact size but didn’t have enough oomph to get a clear shot from a moving vehicle at that distance. I did catch a semi-non-blurry shot of downtown LA as we zoomed by only cos of the FIB tower from “Independence Day” and the fact I think the architecture is kinda nifty.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Okay well here is a Hollywood sign, not the famous one.. but still ;)

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

The weather that day was simply gorgeous, warm with a blue blue sky and considering it was late October a sight for this Raincouver resident’s eyes I can tell you. In fact sitting here writing this while the weather here calls for snow tonight has me wishing I was back there right now :(

California Trip 2011 - Day 5
We made pretty good time getting there and the lines to the parkade were moving quite efficiently. They offer two rates to park there, one that with extra dough gets you closer to the entrance to Universal but the walk from the parkade is negligible and takes you through a downtown area similar to downtown Disney (Downtown Universal?) with shops and restaurants. I kind of liked walking through all that personally it had a fun vibe. We figured we’d check out the stores on the way back to the car so we didn’t end up carrying stuff around, especially as there were rides in our future.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

I really found I enjoyed this family trip more than the ones in recent past. The boys being older and finally appreciating what they were given were fun to be around and in good spirits. Seriously people shouldn’t bother travelling with teenagers, they just don’t get it unless they are 12 and under or over 19 at least in my experience.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Oh, quick word of advice if anyone who happens to read this finds themselves at Universal, USE THE FAST SELF SERVICE LINE! It was kind of sad/annoying how many people stood in line at the conventional ticket booth and some guy had to get on the loudspeaker every minute or so to encourage people to use the self-service. I mean the lines at the booth was HUGE and it boggles my mind how people who have to be used to ATMs or some other sort of self-service device avoid ticket machines like the plague. I see the same phenomenon at the movie theatre and mind you, I also hate being stuck behind some person that cannot for the life of them operate one of these so I guess it is a double-edged sword.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

We were quickly ticketed up and headed to the park. We found out that we could turn our one day admission into a season’s pass (no extra $$ required, just a visit to a booth inside the venue at any given time that day.) Sure who knows if we will be back in LA in 2012 but no harm, no foul to convert them. They use a bio-metric fingerprint scan for identification, I’m guessing to ensure you are the person who uses the pass from then on it. I’m sure that has the conspiracy theorists and privacy people in a tizzy. Eh, if people don’t like it don’t do it. I feel the same way about a retinal scan, if it gets me through line-ups faster at Customs I’m all for it, I’ve got nothing to hide.

Walking through the gates we saw this..ut oh.. I know it is Hallowe’en time and all but seriously? Clowns?
California Trip 2011 - Day 5

I really really really hate clowns, and there were some really messed up clowns there and regular clowns are scary enough. I’m telling you if there were any live clowns walking around you wouldn’t have seen me for dust.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Not to worry, there were also zombies.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

I can handle zombies, and they may, you know, eat the clowns.

Having zero clue where to go first we decided to head in a counter-clockwise pattern and walked right into the first venue; a “4D” Shrek movie.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

It was cute and interactive and you haven’t lived until you’ve been sneezed on by a donkey.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Next we decided to bite the bullet and line up for the studio back-lot tour in case it got even busier in the park.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Good plan as it turns out, because though we faced a fairly long line-up the line behind us was a LOT worse.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

It also seemed they were having some tram issues because there was a very long stretch before we actually saw one pull up. They finally got their rhythm and there seemed to be a new one every five minutes or so. The video “host” of the tour is Jimmy Fallon so you are forced to get to watch a bunch of Jimmy Fallon skits while standing in the people corrals. They get old pretty fast. So what do I do? I take more pictures of course.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

When it was our turn we ended up on the first car in the tram along with the non-video host, an affable fellow who gamely interacted with the taped video tour and actually seemed to like his job. I’ve experienced a lot of people in this type of role who you can almost hear the click of their eyes as they roll back in their heads and rattle off their patter.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

As we drove along the sound stages we encounter our first celeb sighting. Oh my gosh some of the gang from Scooby-Doo!

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Yeah, anyone going on these tours expecting some kind of close encounter with an actor is going to be sorely disappointed but I thought it was a cute set-up and probably fun for the kiddies. Pretty easy gig for the characters too as they just stand there and wave rather than posing with kids and they were in the shade. Of course Daphne and Shaggy there have it better than the poor sap in the fur suit.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

The guide pointed out various sound stages and mentioned what was currently being filmed there. We passed the ones being used by CSI (Vegas) and while I couldn’t see anything from my side of the tram Sean said he could see into the Lab so that is kind of cool. You don’t get to visit any of the sound stages on this tour. Now THAT would be fun.

What is really sad, is the loss of a lot of the town square from Back to the Future and other iconic sets due to the fire they had at Universal a couple of years ago. They also lost the King Kong animatronic figure with the banana breath. It has since been “replaced” by a 3D movie battle between King Kong and some angry Dinos which you experience while sitting on the tram and surrounds you. It was pretty cool but the dinausaurs spit some pretty gnarly smelling water at you. Universal really likes to spray you with water.

Here’s an old report the day after the fire.

Not much of the set is left, even though they often re-purpose things for other movies it was fun to see it the last time I was down there. From what I’ve since read the original clock tower had caught fire in the past. I still have some of the original set’s pictures in my print archives which I need to drag out and scan one of these days. Most of them were taken by my ex because of the previously mentioned terrified toddler stuck to me so many of the pictures aren’t particularly good! Ah well.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

It is also pretty hard to take pictures as the trams move pretty quickly and often what you really want to see is on the other side so you get a lot of shots across the people in your row and a little piece of the set in the background. You know like this: I really wanted to get a shot of D-Day’s Deathmobile from Animal House but this is the best I got.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Somethings don’t change though, part of the tour takes you through a subway station and lo and behold and earthquake strikes and causes a train to derail and pipes to burst. That and the flash flood haven’t changed that much from my recollection.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

One thing that did change a little was the town of Amity because while also used in Jaws I seem to remember it was also used in Murder She Wrote. It is all clearly Amity now.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Of course it wouldn’t be Amity without a little Jaws sighting…

The tour also still takes you down the “Colonial Street” cul-de-sac with a lot of the classic tv show houses that now are occupied by the ladies of Wisteria Lane a shame really, I mean even the Munster’s house was modified and is now part of the set. But I guess as a working studio they need to use their assets.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Another sucky part is the proximity of sets to one another sometimes when you’re trying to take a picture. For instance the set of The Grinch is right behind the set from Psycho. My first attempt to get a shot of the Bates Motel had some weird Who-ville building blooming out of the back of it.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

A quick adjustment and I managed to get at least part of the motel, sign and the house in a shot without wondering where Cindy Lou Who may appear from. It would ruin the mood yanno?

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

A nice touch though is another “actor” in the role of Norman who we “catch” in the act of carrying a body. Norman then grabs a knife and comes at the tram. The people in the back probably get more of a close encounter as we were well on our way in the front before he got too close. He was looking right at me when I took this pic though.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

EEk! Run! Can I also say though, NICE CAR THERE NORMAN BABY!

We also went through the set for “War of the Worlds” which was really well done. The destruction was impressively real looking..

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a REAL destroyed jet fuselage included.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

Not to mention smoking wreckage…

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

I love the details they’ve put into this including a dust buster caught up in a bush outside a destroyed home.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

After the tour (it is worth it, it is still fun for me) we went back up the escalators to the main park area and went on the Simpson’s Ride. It is one of those virtual reality rides where you’re in a box that moves around while you watch a movie. Cute and well done though.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

I also like how their souvenir shot is set up as a Kwik-E-Mart.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

The next ride de jour was “Revenge of the Mummy” which is an inside roller coaster in the dark (check and check!) I was getting a wee bit nervous looking at the ride warnings beside a video showing (warning?) what to expect to the folks while they wait but I went on it and man I’m glad I did, it was AWESOME! I know for a fact I screamed a lot though but in glee not terror. HUGE difference for me!

After the ride you walk out and there was this guy on stilts in an Egyptian costume standing very still who jumped out and scared people. We had just seen him do it to someone so we weren’t his target (I think I would have peed myself if someone did that to me) but it was darn funny watching it happen to other people. A group of girls got the fright of their lives and when they realized a second later what happened and they laughed he started to chase them and they ran off screaming it was hilarious! He gamely posed for pictures with them once they calmed down (ha!) and then came back and joined his female counterpart for more picture posing. I nudged Chris up to pose with the girl (didn’t take much prodding with her in that outfit) and Tom went along with it.  I ended up with this picture. Classic!

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

We then went to the Jurassic Park ride which the “scary” part is A) Inside B) In the dark C)Involves water (check, check and check!) It is definitely a splashy ride, I mean you get wet the minute you sit down because the boats you ride in are still wet from the many rides prior but that is nothing compared to the final plunge down an 84 foot near vertical drop into a lagoon. You get soaked! Loved it! Left up to me we would have gone on it again but the boys had no interest (Tom was willing). They just don’t appreciate the water rides, I had the same reaction when I wanted to go back on Splash Mountain (sigh).

Hunger was calling by then so we went back up another set of escalators to forage for food. Part-way up the long multi-escalator ride is a space capsule with some cardboard cut-out figures from Apollo 13. I just couldn’t resist those ears.

After consulting the map and then still wandering around some we decided to try a place that was set up like a diner from the 50’s. The food was, shall we say underwhelming and waaaay overpriced but that is standard for these places no?

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

On the way out we converted our tickets into season’s passes and then decided we’d had enough for the day and checked out a few shops before we headed out. I picked up a nifty Bates Motel mug and Sean bought a Jaws t-shirt of the classic poster shot and the words “do-do… do-do… dum dum dum dum” (or something like that) written on the back. Clever!

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

We did the cheesy pose in front of the sign thing of course…

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

And a shot of the Universal globe thingie too.

California Trip 2011 - Day 5

We walked back through Universal City Walk and poked into a few of the shops there. I managed to find a store where I picked up a Beatles Yellow Submarine mug as well. I needed to keep in mind the small shared suitcase every time I was tempted to buy anything on this trip!

Would I go back again next year should we find ourselves back in SoCal?  Yep! You bet! But I would try a different restaurant or wait to eat until we left the park.

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