Thursday, June 30, 2016

Universal Studios Hollywood

Thursday, June 30, 2016


We have always wanted to re-visit Universal Studios, and especially the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exhibit. We decided to stop there for one day in Los Angeles, on our way to the island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia (Tahiti).

Our Southwest WN2235 flight was originally scheduled to depart at 6:20pm from San Jose airport (We were hoping to have a little bit of extra time in Los Angeles to visit Beverly Hills). However, it was delayed due to mechanical trouble (some gauge needed replacing) until 8:00pm.  

We arrived into Los Angeles' LAX airport around 9:15pm and picked up our suitcases. The traffic at the airport was extremely hectic, even at 9:30pm. We waited for our Alamo car rental shuttle (Costco special rate) and after waiting for 20 minutes finally boarded one (Hertz already had two shuttles during this time). The traffic through the airport was moving glacially and our rental car shuttle stopped at every terminal before heading to the car rental parking lot around 10:00pm.

When we arrived at the off-airport Alamo garage, the rental line was so long that we decided to use UberX instead. We were only staying one day in Los Angeles and visiting the Universal Studios theme park for the whole day. We really did not need a car (though a car is usually a must in Los Angeles).

We ordered an UberX and were quickly picked up and taken to our El Royale Hotel near Studio City. We arrived fairly late into our hotel but the hotel manager there quickly got us settled into a nice room. He was very friendly and helpful. We unpacked a bit and went quickly to bed.

Friday, July 1, 2016

We decided to get a good breakfast before heading to Universal Studios Hollywood and chose Aroma Coffee & Tea, based on Yelp reviews (and it's early opening time). Most breakfast restaurants nearby only opened at 8:00am and Aroma happened to open at 6:00am. We ordered an UberX car and arrived in the restaurant around 7:45am.


Breakfast at Aroma was outstanding and we really enjoyed our time there. We sat on the back patio enjoying the delicious coffee.


After breakfast, we ordered an UberX car and headed to Universal Studios. We pre-purchased front-of line tickets, to avoid long waits on popular rides. We only had one day to visit Universal Studios and did not want to miss any of the popular attractions.


Our UberX driver dropped us off at CityWalk, where we walked past many shops and restaurants. Since we already ate breakfast, we skipped all the restaurants an headed straight for the Universal Studios entrance. After a thorough security check, we walked into the park and headed for the tower where Front-of-Line tickets are handed out.


After picking up our Front-of-Line tickets, we headed straight for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.


There were many popular shops from Hogsmeade and a replica of the Hogwarts Express steam engine that took Harry Potter (and his friends) from London to Hogwarts (a school for budding wizards in Scotland).


The first ride we picked was the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It's a simulator that combines multiple Harry Potter novels together. Here is a short clip I filmed with my Canon G7x camera:

The lines for the ride were very long and the Front-of-Line pass came in handy. We did not have much to wait at all.


The Forbidden Journey  ride was very jerky, showing elements from Quidditch and an amalgamation of all Harry Potter movies. After the ride, my stomach felt a bit unsettled (which almost never happens for me on any roller-coaster ride). We really liked the Hogwarts building where the ride is located, as it housed many talking paintings and other Harry Potter artifacts.



Inna got to try on the Sorting Hat in the shop after the ride. There were many souvenirs for sale (including the Sorting Hat and Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin outfits)


Since Inna also visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, she told me about her love of butterbeer,


Inna was eager to see me experience drinking butterbeer. I tried it and had mixed feelings about it. It was a very sweet, soda concoction. I could understand how kids would like it, but I didn't care too much for it. I was hoping it would taste more like root beer.


After exploring some of the interesting shops in the Wizarding World, we headed to Springfield USA, the setting for the Simpsons cartoons, which was immediately adjacent to the Wizarding World.


Inna wanted to ride the Simpsons Ride, but my stomach was not quite ready for another roller-coaster.


We decided to head for Jurassic Park, as it was a more milder ride. We took the escalator to the lower part of Universal Studios and headed for Jurassic Park ride. When we got there, it turned out that the ride had some kind of malfunction and was temporarily disabled.


Instead, we decided to do "Revenge of the Mummy" ride, which was silly and not scary at all. The lines were very short and our Front-of-Line pass did not matter here.

We returned to the Jurassic Park ride and it was operating normally. We enjoyed the ride, the mechanical dinosaurs, and the final splash drop down the mountain. It was fun to sit in the front row of the boat!

Here is a short video of the Jurassic Park ride:

We really enjoyed the Jurassic Park ride, especially on this hot weather day, when getting splashed was something to look forward to. We also had a "close" encounter with  Raptor.


After the ride, we decided to get lunch at the Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I ordered the "Fish & Chips", while Inna ordered a salad. For once, theme park food was not terrible!


I really liked the fact that after ordering all of the dishes, a waiter finds you a table for your party, so you don't have to walk around, trying to spot a free table.


The "Fish & Chips" were surprisingly delicious.


After lunch, we strolled to see the "Waterworld: a pyrotechnic show based on the Waterworld movie (starring Kevin Costner).


The show is set in a post-apocalyptic world where all of earth is covered with water. Some humans have survived, and some, like the Mariner, have developed gills for breathing underwater. The Mariner and his young friends Helen and Enola are trying to escape from the artificial island (pictured above).


They are pursued by Smokers "the bad guys", in the belief that Enola holds the key to finding dry land.



There is a lot of gunfire, smoke, pyrotechnics, and stunts in this show, with the final explosion and airplane landing in the end that's truly amazing.


After "Waterworld", we rushed to see the "Animal Actors" show nearby. There were lot of birds, owls, dogs, cats, and other furry creatures. The show was interesting but not very exciting.


After "Animal Actors", we decided to do the "Studio Tour", to explore all the movie studios and sets in Studio City.


There were many automobiles on display from popular movies and television series.


The Ferrari 308 from Magnum, p.i. (driven by Tom Selleck) was prominently displayed below.


The many cars from the Flintstones were also prominently displayed.


There was a fantastic looking Dr. Seuss set.


There was a airliner disaster set that Steven Spielberg setup for shooting movies.


There was a nice set of the upcoming movie - The Secret Life of Pets.


We were surprised that we finished all the rides and visited all of the attractions (including Shrek 4D) before 6:00pm. Since we were a bit hungry, we decided to eat dinner at Studio City.


Inna thought that Wasabi Sushi looked interesting and we stopped by there,


The sushi was well prepared and we almost ordered too many rolls.I liked the Miso soup with mushrooms and the Dragon Roll (California roll half wrapped with eel and avocado).



After dinner, we strolled around Studio City, running into an indoor parachuting contraption, which looked interesting. Eventually, we ordered an UberX car to take us to our hotel and then to the LAX airport for our flight to Bora Bora.