From family fun to four-alarm fires at Universal Studios/Universal CityWalk
September 23, 2012
UNIVERSAL CITY, USA – It sounded like a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster movie–New York was on fire! Entire streets were going up in flames, and even as helicopter crews from the fire department raced to the scene, four acres of brownstones, stoops, and bodegas were engulfed in the inferno.
Except it wasn’t a movie, and it wasn’t New York. It was the New York “street scene” backlot at film-location-cum-theme-park Universal Studios. In June of 2008, a brush fire claimed most of the historic set where countless classic movies with New York as a backdrop had been filmed. Yes, tragically, it was piece of film history. But–looking on the bright side–it was just a fake!
Today, the rebuilt (new and improved!) backlot is now a centerpiece of the Studio Tour, a tram journey that weaves through the sets of many a Hollywood blockbuster from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds to classic thriller Psycho. For all you Desperate Housewives junkies, Wisteria Lane is right here. If you’re really a movie buff, you might want to opt for the “VIP Experience,” which allows you to visit areas like sound stages typically closed off to the public and affords you “special treatment” in the attached theme park (translation: skip to the front of the epically long lines).
The theme park itself is a little on the cheesy side, but I’ve got to admit it’s fun cheesy. Each of the rides is inspired by a Universal Studios film. There’s Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride, Jurassic Park – The Ride, The Simpsons Ride…you get the idea. Some of the rides are a little dated, though families with small children don’t seem to mind one bit. In addition to these roller coasters (and virtual roller coasters), there’s also a critical mass of 3D experiences like King Kong 360 3-D and Terminator 2: 3D. Basically, if you’re not so partial to the thrills and chills of special effects, you’re going to be a tad overwhelmed by the theme park sensory overload.
If dining and shopping are more your speed, head on over to the adjoining Universal CityWalk, a pedestrian promenade of sorts (OK, really just an outdoor mall) with popular chain restaurants and brand-name boutiques. By night, there’s lots of neon and packs of teenagers, and entertainment options abound. You can bowl a strike at Jillian’s Hi Life Lanes, shake your thang at Infusion Lounge, or get in some laughs at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club. Of course, there’s also a cinema multiplex.
With all this outsized entertainment, CityWalk is a bit like a simulated Times Square, complete with a clutch of overeager street performers (no doubt hired by Universal) who draw oohs and aahs from the tourist masses. There’s even one who’s been known to twirl batons of flame…which, if you ask me, just seems to be inviting a sequel to a New York facsimile going up in flames.
Read more about Universal Studios/Universal CityWalk in our Los Angeles Guide.
Rachel Levin contributed to this post.