Laura and Lee's
Universal Update

November 16, 1997



Universal Studios, Hollywood. A place neither Lee nor I had been in years...my only memory of the last time I was there was seeing Grandpa Munster in costume! :-) Lee's experience was somewhat more recent, but not much. Interestingly enough, the one who had been there most recently was our friend Jeff Spencer, who met us there - and he's from Alabama...It was rather embarrassing getting directions to a California attraction from someone who lives in a completely different state. :-)

Universal Studios (as the name suggests) has a motion picture theme - the rides and attractions and shows are patterned after different movies, such as Back to the Future, Backdraft, and Jurassic Park. There's a working motion picture studio attached to the theme park, and one of the attractions is a tram tour of the backlot, where you can see various sets (like the Bates Motel) and locations used during the filming of all sorts of movies and TV shows.

Lee and I left San Diego - it was a beautiful day - sunny, though not especially warm by California standards. We had the traffic report turned on and learned that Interstate 5 was shut down because of a big accident - fortunately we learned that in time to re-route and take 405 instead!

The lines to pay for admission were pretty long and moved VERY slowly, but we finally made it in, and got past the "papparazzi" who wanted to take our picture, and went to see the "Animal Actors" show - lots of birds and dogs performing. It was cute.

We had just missed getting into the "Waterworld" show, so we went to the "Back to the Future" ride instead. The line was less than 10 minutes long - we strolled right through the queue! We sat in the back of our Delorean, which I think is the preferred spot, since you can't see the other cars - something which detracts from the experience a bit. The ride is a motion simulator, where you chase "Biff" back into prehistoric times and have to contend with ice and lava and dinosaurs. I liked it, and thought it was better than Star Tours at Disneyland.

Jeff, who was flying into L.A. that day on a business trip, called us not too long after that to tell us that he'd been delayed a bit, so we'd be meeting a little later than planned. We had to go through the "papparazzi" again - they were annoying. Lee told the one guy "no, no, no, no, no", and the guy said "Gee, you only had to say it once" - despite the fact that he had continued to bother us. As persistent as these people were, they could be *real* papparazzi - no wonder the real celebrities get upset.

Lee got a bite to eat at the Japanese place - the guy behind the counter was a charming older Japanese man who was just tickled that a non-Japanese person was ordering something - he even gave Lee a free iced tea drink, and told him it had wonderful healthy properties.

We saw the Wild West Stunt Show - predictable, but fun. The stunt people do a good job. By then it was time to meet Jeff at the front gate, and then make our way back through the papparazzi. They started to bug us, but one of them recognized me because of the stuffed Tigger I was carrying and said, something like "oh, it's the Tigger lady - just leave her alone." :-)

We got lunch at a place that made "crepe cones" - the guys both got the one with shrimp and peppers and onions - I got the one with ice cream and strawberries. :-)

Next stop was the Waterworld show - they warned people about the "Splash Zone", and they were right - if you sat there, you got WET. We didn't sit there, but a lot of people did. During the pre-show the cast members actually threw buckets of water on the audience. :-)

The show was quite good - lots of jet skiing, gunfire, stunts, explosions...

We took the Backlot Tram Tour next - there was about a 25 minute wait for that. The tour itself was almost an hour long. Driving past all the soundstages was not very interesting - they're just big buildings and there wasn't anything going on outside - not surprising, since it was a Sunday. :-)

The soundstages that you drive into are actually set ups for the tourists - the tram gets attacked by King Kong and lives through an 8.5 earthquake. It's still entertaining, though.

The outdoor sets (like city streets, western frontier town, ocean front community) were pretty interesting - we've probably all seen those same sets many different times in movies and television, but the set can look so very different depending on how it's "dressed" - what cars are on the street, what people are wearing, what's written in the storefront windows...

Special attractions on the tour were the Bates Motel, and the little seaside town of Amity - home of Jaws. :-)

After the tram tour we were finally done with the upper part of the park, and took a huge set of escalators down to the lower part. By this time it was after 4:00, and the sun was behind the clouds and it had cooled off considerably. (The weather report will become more important in a moment - bear with me. :-) )

The first thing we headed for was the Jurassic Park ride - none of us had any idea what this was. They were just in the process of changing the "Wait" sign from 10 minutes to 5 minutes as we walked in...we kept walking, and finally walked right onto a boat. The seats were *wet*, and everyone else on our boat was wearing plastic ponchos. Uh oh. We had a bad feeling about this, but it was a little too late.

The dinosaur animatronics were well-done, and looked fairly realistic. We all got a laugh when Jeff noticed a Disney mouse ears hat floating in the water near one of the dinosaurs... Some of the dinosaurs splashed water on us, but we hadn't gotten too terribly wet...until the final drop. Which is about 76 feet high. And washes a wave of water over the boat (see the picture). After *that* we were soaked, and looked like a bunch of drowned rats. And it was late afternoon, the sun was no longer shining, and the breeze had come up...so we were cold, too!

Fortunately the "Backdraft" special effects show was right there, and was our next destination. It was nice and warm in there, especially in the final scene during the "chemical warehouse" fire. By the time that was over, we were almost completely dry.

We went to the "Backstage Magic" tour next. Before we even went in the building they told us they needed a brave volunteer - and I helpfully raised Lee's arm and he was selected. So they whisked him away into makeup. The next time we saw him, he was playing "Doc Brown" from Back to the Future, perched up on the clocktower during a lightning storm. Lee gave a very realistic scream when the lightning struck him. :-) The tour also included audience participation in blue-screen effects and foley sound effects. Mainly it was nice to be inside where it was warm, though. :-)

The ET movie ride was next...you get to ride a "bicycle" to ET's home world, because he's needed there. The concept was good, but it wasn't carried out especially well - it looked cheap. But maybe we're just spoiled by Disney's attention to detail. :-)

We headed back up the HUGE escalators - Lee and Jeff seemed to especially enjoy this ride. :-)

The last show was the "Beetlejuice Rocking Graveyard Review". Definitely rockin', and a little too loud. One of the singers reminded us a LOT of a friend of ours - she was really good.

We did another ride on Back to The Future - again, almost no wait. And this time we sat in the front of the car...I definitely think the back gives you a much better experience.

The park was closing, so we went out and posed for pictures by the big Universal sign, and then went into their "City Walk" area, which is full of stores and restaurants. We decided to try Wolfgang Puck's, which was pretty good, and it was nice not to have to wait for a table! After dinner we said goodbye to Jeff, and drove home - fortunately all the traffic problems were gone, and it was a nice drive.


Text and photographs copyright © 1998, by Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

Laura Gilbreath, lgil@cts.com
Last updated 1/6/98

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