When Nashville Buy Local travels we try to tell you about some of the best local spots to eat and have fun. Sometimes though we have to be total tourists and today is no exception. We will discuss more our two Holiday trips to Southern California but today we focus on Universal Studios Hollywood and their VIP Tour and is it really worth it. We will discuss the five things you’re going to Love and the 5 things you’re going to HATE. These are in no particular order. For a better in-depth look, check out this behind the scenes with Steven Spielberg (Click Here)
First, let’s set it up. We decided to order our tickets online for the day after Christmas in 2017 and three days before Christmas 2019. A notoriously crowded time period in the parks but since we were already at Disneyland on the lower crowd days (which was the smarter move) we knew we were going to need help. Universal Hollywood is hard to see in one day if you just get general admission. Two-day passes may help see the whole park. You can make it easier with the front of the line or unlimited front of the line but we weren’t there for just rides. We wanted to see the studio tour and see it on steroids. That’s why we opted for the VIP tour. That leads us to our first thing you’ll hate.
1.HATE- The Price. Because it was peak season the three of us were $409 a piece (You can get it for around $350 in off-peak times). YIKES. For you our readers though we bite the bullet to give you more about the experience. In no terms is this normal but how does Universal justify $280 more than a single day ticket? We’ll get into it below. Also, buy online.
So, the day arrives and we get up really early. We were lucky we were staying a mile away because we drove right to our Valet parking spot (which comes with the package). Honestly, I should put this in Love because before and after a day in the park you want a close parking spot to save your energy and help your tired bones. We arrived for our 7 am tour at 6:30 am (You pick when you want to arrive) before the park opened where we were greeted with our first love, the food.
1 LOVE- The Food. Not only is your morning started with an empty park but a wonderful breakfast (Black Forest Ham & Cheddar Cheese Croissant, Egg & Munster Cheese, Asparagus wrapped in Smoked Salmon, Pastries Galore, Coffee, Latte, Yogurt and because it’s California the freshest fruit I’ve had in a while) with a great room surrounded with Emmys and movie posters in a fantastic room. You could have dined on the patio overlooking the main walk-in but we were there too early so, no crowds.
We will get more into the tour but since we are on food I must mention our Lunch and breakfast come with the price. If you’ve eaten in an amusement park the food is usually “meh” in taste and “Whoah” in price. Well, this was a fantastic eating day in a park with fantastic food. Easily if we ate the way we did in the park without this tour it would have been $75+ per person. So, you’re seeing they are making up for the price difference pretty quick. While we are on food lunch is in the Moulin Rouge.
Obviously, this photo is at night but the decor of this restaurant isn’t really themed as you’d find in other parts of the park. It has some photos of Les Miserables and Moulin Rouge and oddly Dracula comes to pose for photos and tell you where you can get a clean plate for seconds at the marvelous buffet. It’s a bit odd but who needs theming when your view is this:
To the right are people working but they were working on getting the pet actors ready for the show. Then down below is a wonderful view of the working studios and Lakeside Golf Course (which membership is roughly $150,000). So you really are there for the nice weather and the views. Also, the food which had a hodgepodge of regional favorites, seafood, beef, salads and desserts, and everything was fantastic:
Now let’s back up to the morning since the big food question is out of the way. You’re on your own for dinner and it’s not included. That is where we suggest heading into Burbank for a local spot to eat. After breakfast, you meet your tour guide. In 2017 Doug was our tour guide and in 2019 we had two guides. Doug was still working that day in 2019 and I gotta say, Doug is one of the best. The guide walks you through the park to our personal tram for the backlot tour. The difference between this tram and the normal one you get with general admission (which we took later in the day to compare) is that there are comfortable seats and complimentary drinks on board. Oh, and this one stops and sees things the normal tour will never do.
2. Love- Our Love #2 was an immediate delight they had taken us for 5 minutes to the set of NBC’s Superstore. Since we are were not allowed to shoot photos in 2017 but we were in 2019 here is a video sample of the show:
We admit it is a little weird for a Buy Local page to be excited to see the inside of a box chain store but, this is a great show and we got to see their sets for the upcoming May sweeps. We also noticed Hollywood is still in the middle of an area with critters like our own. It appears raccoons had invaded the set the day we were there (both years). They taught us about hitting your mark and how product placement has played a big role in funding TV shows. It was apparent by how some of the products were displayed in certain shots. This is definitely not part of the normal studio tour and if you are into TV or film this will obviously be a better deal than say the Warner Brothers basic tour (which we’ve taken). Many others who’ve taken both say this backlot tour is better than the others. We were also very fortunate to be on the set of a show we liked. So this love we might be a little biased.
3. Love- Our next stop was the place everyone wants to go…. Hill Valley (or the courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird).
We were able to stop and see the great Courthouse Square (as seen in Back to the Future 1 and 2 as well as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the TV “Hairspray Live”). We don’t want to give it all away but there are so many things in this tour that make it worth it and being able to get out and explore here, “Psycho House,” “War of the Worlds” and “Little Europe” definitely made it worth it for us. Also, stepping foot in “The Good Place” and on the set of the spot they filmed the Westerns for “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” is pretty fantastic.
4. Love-Props department. We had a wonderful time on this part of the tour which is called the Edith Head building where all the movie props are stored. We won’t go into detail here about what you will see because you can find it on the interwebs and some have placed it on Youtube. It is a great place to visit if you want to have a glimpse at the job of a set designer. Not to mention just outside of the building is Walton’s Mountain and the hill from Spartacus (which on the other side is the Hollywood sign).
The tour continues and we visited Jaws, King Kong in 3D, Little Europe (where it’s set up for “The Good Life” television show), Whoville as well as Wisteria Lane. Honestly, there are many redundant things on the backlot tour and the VIP but on the VIP you get more access and you are able to pose with sets and props that make for great photos to post on social media. This is when our guide Doug (WHO WAS AWESOME) gives you more detail and insight on the day to day workings along with extra information the normal tour does not discover.
2. Hate- Fast and Furious- I’ve enjoyed the hokey series of Fast and Furious but this is the worst part of the VIP and Backlot tours. They both do it and it’s just bad. Not like the script is bad because that is a given. This is bad because it’s not any better than the Kong one and it comes after the Kong portion. They should get rid of it because it’s toward the end of the tour and it kind of leaves it on a low note.
3. Hate- Not enough time on VIP tour- This is me just being greedy. I wanted more set visits. More time on the streets where they film (which we did get more in 2019). Others obviously wanted to get to rides but the thing that makes this park a must-do is the backlot tour. Nowhere else will you find access to a backlot like Universal Studios Hollywood.
4. Hate- Rides. Let’s get this out of the way. The rides are fine at Universal Hollywood. That said if you have visited Universal Orlando the rides in Orlando dwarf Hollywood’s. So much so The Mummy is one of our favorite rides in Orlando. In the Hollywood version, the story is less and so is the ride.
55. Hate- Harry Potter. Again, this is if for those who have been to Orlando. You are spoiled with the sheer size of Orlando’s offerings. Not that Hollywood’s isn’t great. It is and if you never have been to Orlando you are going to love it. The Hollywood one is overcrowded, the wand ceremony here is ‘meh’ compared to Orlando. That’s because it’s more crowded and when you get the wand there are fewer things to do with it once you buy it, compared to Orlando’s interactive setup. So, if you only care about Harry Potter go to Orlando.
4. LOVE- Front of Line. Although I just criticized the rides they are still great rides in general and I actually like the Simpson’s portion better in Hollywood theme-wise. The thing about VIP everything for you is front of the line. There is zero wait for any rides. So, I wasn’t upset like some will be with a general ticket waiting 90 minutes for a ride that may be 40 seconds, looking at you Flight of the Hippogriff.
5. LOVE- Shows. This is true with anything based in California compared to Florida theme parks. The talent is better. The shows are more entertaining. Also, with the VIP you get premium seating. We had the best seats at every show because of the pass.
So, after the last show we were with Doug it was 3 pm. We had experienced all the major attractions and eaten our weight in great food. You have a personal guide through the park for roughly 8 hours (He holds your bags while you are on your ride and finds drinks if you need them as well). Personally, I would suggest the VIP Experience and I am not sure I could go to Universal (Hollywood not Orlando) without it. We are more interested in this park for their studio and backlot offerings so VIP made more sense. If you and your family are there for the rides and only sorta care about the film studios and sets…. get front of line pass and not VIP. To be really helpful, if you care about rides go to Knott’s Berry Farm. Better rides for half the price. Universal is about experience and intellectual properties. We didn’t mention that when we were there Whoville and Harry Potter were celebrating Christmas. Christmas time at Universal is everything we hoped it would be. Also, Max the dog from The Grinch (not the actual dog) is the sweetest dog ever (Photo Above). Go to Universal Hollywood and splurge. Get the VIP tour. Go during Christmas. Hogwarts projections are worth a visit. Some photo and video highlights below.