Studio Tour: Universal Hollywood’s Centerpiece

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The Studio Tour is the centerpiece of Universal Studios Hollywood and one of the longest attractions in American theme parks. The tour departs from the tram boarding facility to the right of The Simpsons Ride and down the escalator. (Note that there’s also an escalator to the left of The Simpsons Ride, so don’t get confused.)

Studio Tour

Tonight Show host and former Saturday Night Live star Jimmy Fallon is the tour’s prerecorded host. All studio tour trams are equipped with high-definition monitors showing clips from actual movies that demonstrate how the sets and soundstages were used in creating the films.

The tour circulates through the various street scenes, lagoons, special effects venues, and storage areas of Universal’s back lot. The tram passes several soundstages where current films and TV shows, such as The Voice, are in production and actually enters three soundstages where action inspired by Earthquake, King Kong, and The Fast and the Furious is presented.

Other famous sets visited include those from Psycho, Jaws, War of the Worlds, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

A simulated flash flood, long a highlight of the tour, has been enhanced with new sound effects. Back to the Future fans will spot the restored Lyon Estates gateway on the tour.

The award-winning King Kong 360/3-D is a virtual experience inspired by Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. Guests enter a darkened tunnel where tram-length curved projection screens transform into the jungles of Skull Island. A family of hungry V. rexes decides to dine on your tour group, and Kong himself swings to save you, with hydraulic lifts under the cars simulating the sensations of their tug-of-war. The experience is visceral and visually stunning, especially when seen from the middle of a row (sitting on the outside exposes the top of the screen, spoiling the illusion). At only about 90 seconds, King Kong is too short to be a satisfying stand-alone attraction (it was substantially expanded for the Orlando incarnation), but it’s a terrific addition to the overall tour.

In 2015 Universal debuted Fast & Furious: Supercharged, a new finale to the tram tour, featuring Vin Diesel (Dominic “Dom” Toretto), Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz), Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce), and Luke Evans (Owen Shaw) from the long-running car-racing franchise. Inside a 50,000-square-foot soundstage built on the site of the old avalanche-effect tunnel, the “3D-HD thrill ride” uses hydraulic platforms, 400-foot-long screens, and 34 4K 3-D projectors to make it appear as if your tram is in the midst of a high-stakes car chase, pursuing an international crime cartel at 100-plus miles per hour through the streets of Los Angeles. The Fast & Furious finale begins when your tram driver spots Dom’s iconic Dodge Charger along your path, prompting the revelation that a member of your party is a crime witness being sought by both the bad guys and the FBI. Your tram shelters in an industrial warehouse, where a rave is in full swing—until the feds crash the party. The F&F crew come to your rescue and escort you on a virtual high-speed highway chase filled with CGI car crashes and simulated explosions. After so much hype, Supercharged is frankly somewhat disappointing, failing to advance the Kong 360 technology in a meaningful way or capture the visceral thrill that made the Fast & Furious films so popular. The dialogue and visual effects are shockingly cheesy (even by theme park standards), but it all goes by in such a nitro-fueled blur that audiences emerge applauding.

Nighttime tram tours were introduced in 2015 to mark the Studio Tour’s 50th anniversary, and they continue to run seasonally during summer evenings with extended operating hours. The nighttime studio tour still showcases additional lighting on the back lot sets, but live encounters with “celebrities” such as Frankenstein’s monster have been discontinued.

The great thing about the Studio Tour is that you see everything without leaving the tram—essentially experiencing four or five major attractions with only one wait.

Touring Tips
Though the wait to board might appear long, do not be discouraged. Each tram carries several hundred people and departures are frequent, so the line moves quickly. We recommend taking the tram tour after experiencing the rides on the Lower Lot.

Including your wait to board and the duration of the tour, you will easily invest an hour or more at this attraction. Remember to take a restroom break before queuing up. This is one of the few attractions that allows food and beverages to be brought on board. Though the ride as a whole is gentle, some segments may induce vertigo or motion sickness—especially the Kong encounter and Fast & Furious finale. Finally, be aware that several of the scenes may frighten small children.

The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Seth Kubersky, Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, and Guy Selga Jr. covers all there is to see at Universal Hollywood, Disneyland. and Disney’s California Adventure. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for our newsletter here.

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