universalhollywoodHead over to Universal Studios Hollywood for two new rides and an expanded Studio Tour! It’s a perfect Summer Vacation Idea.

Plus, right now when you “Buy a day you get the rest of 2013 free.”

Prepare for Battle! Transformers™: The Ride-3D is NOW OPEN!

King Kong 360 | 3-D, created by Peter Jackson on the Studio Tour. The world’s largest 3-D experience.

During an ‘LA Confidential’ 40th birthday roadtrip with five of my best girlfriends we spent a whole day at Universal Studios Hollywood. I have to admit a few things first:

1. I had never been to a Universal Theme Park – and had no idea what to expect

DestinationReview2. Universal provided tickets for us — and unknown to us, we were generously given Front of Line Passes (see below)

3. I’m generally a frugal (okay, stingy) traveler; no one can accuse me of being Luxury TravelMom

4. I love rollercoasters and was a little worried there wouldn’t be any ‘REAL’ rides at Universal. 

Surprise! Our first ride of the day was the Back Lot Studio Tour. My friends insisted on calling it the ‘Tram Tour’, and it starts out on several linked open bus-like vehicles. OKAY. Trams. Whatever.

Travel Tip: try to be on the front tram, where the live tour guide is directing the ride. Then get a photo with him afterwards!

The studio tour is fabulous, much better than I imagined, I was expecting a slow ride through movie set memory lane. And it is, you see the full outdoor set of ‘Wisteria Lane’, the ‘Real’ plane wreck from the Tom Cruise movie ‘War of the Worlds’ and be prepared when you get close to the ‘Jaws’ water set (fair warning) plus much more.

But all of that is nothing compared to the point when you begin to descend into King Kong’s Cave.

It’s dark and you have NO IDEA what’s coming. Hurry! Put on your 3D glasses because… over there! Dinosaurs are jumping on the tram! Water is spitting at you from the rain forest. And you are squishing the poor lady next to you because the tram has been converted into a 3D RIDE!

Imagine a 3D barrel of a movie screen wrapped around you on 3 sides and THAT is what the new King Kong ride is like! It was a complete blast and completely unexpected.

Transformers: The Ride—3D is just as UNexpected. Even better… before you get to the ride entrance Transformers (2 stories tall!) are waiting to thrill your kids! And don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t rollercoasters at Universal!

I was completely freaked out by The Mummy Ride (the ride is short, but halfway through the ride it returns to the start IN REVERSE!). Both Shrek 4-D and The Simpsons Ride are hybrid movie plus ‘ride’ experience. I swear not knowing exactly what was going to happen during these rides was the best part of the experience.

We only had time to see one of the 4-5 shows, we saw Special Effects Stage. While I can’t tell you about the other shows (Animal Actors, Waterworld, Blues Brothers) I can say SEE the special effects show! We loved watching how they made old school movie effects alongside new (but not necessarily ‘better’) effects. All of it wrapped up in a comedy show. I LOVED it.

Is the ‘Front of Line’ Pass worth the extra money?

Remember I said I was a frugal… ah… stingy traveler? Well, I plan to save up my frugal nickels and take my whole family to Universal, splurging on the Front Of Line pass. Why? Because it’s exactly that. You skip the huge lines and instead divert into the ‘STAR’ line where the wait is less and you will be placed in the premium spots on the rides!

A Front Of Line Pass provides you with one-time priority access at each attraction and priority seating at each show, in addition to all day admission to the Park. Cost is $120.

NOTE: limited quantities of Front of Line Passes are available each day, so they recommend buying yours online in advance of arrival.

Mom Travel Tip: I recommend ages 8 and older for Universal, most of the rides you must be 40 inches to ride.

Cost for Universal Hollywood for a day with family of 5

Total: Around $700
Front of Line Passes = $600
Parking = $15
Lunch Meal = $35-50 (Allowed to bring in water bottles but no coolers)

$700 is a crazy price for a day of fun! But you’ll see every single thing in one day with Front of Line tickets!

Disclosure. Carissa was given tickets to view, enjoy and review Universal Hollywood. Her thoughts, photos and friends are her own.