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Why We Chose VIP Tour for Universal Studios Hollywood

My husband and I have been debating bringing the kids to Universal Studios for awhile. I’d never been and my husband had been many years ago. Since our kids are 4-years-old and 1-year-old, I had a feeling they might not be able to do most of the rides. So, when my Mom offered to fly up to watch the boys, my husband and I decided to live it up in Los Angeles for the weekend! And top on our list was a day at Universal Studios in Hollywood!

We spent a lot of time comparing the ticket options. I read a lot of blog posts about what people recommend. Friends gave me their advice. But, my husband is the one who convinced me to get the VIP Experience. I’m a movie and TV nut and the VIP tour gives guests a more in-depth studio tour. Plus, guests jump to the front of all the ride lines (even after the VIP tour ends.) My husband was really stoked about the free breakfast, gourmet lunch and valet parking. And they gave us ponchos and little amenity kits. Oh and all the bottled water we could drink! Since we only had one day to explore Universal Studios without kids, we decided this was the way to go! Affiliate links below.

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VIP breakfast at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California
I was really impressed with all the breakfast options. And they encouraged us to take food and coffee with us! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Checking In

So when you drive into Universal Studios, head to the Frankenstein Parking Lot. It’s the one closest to the park entrance. Pull into the Valet area and then simply walk up the stairs to get to the park. After security, head to your right and you’ll see a door marked VIP. That’s where you want to go.

After checking you in, you’ll be sent upstairs to their VIP Lounge. We had about 20 minutes to eat breakfast. They had juices, tea and coffee. I was also impressed at an assortment of pastries, croissant sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, etc. After we ate, our guide Chris came over to talk about our schedule for the day. He also gave us ponchos for Jurassic Park and an amenity kit that had mints, wipes, lip balm etc.

Insider tip: don’t eat TOO much because the first things you will do are rides!

The Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood

Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in California
Walking into Hogsmeade blew my mind! But my brain was a bit confused to see it in the bright California sunshine! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The first place we went at Universal Studios Hollywood was to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In preparation for this trip, we binge watched all the Harry Potter movies! I’m so glad we did because walking through Hogsmeade was incredible! Since we were in a tour, we quickly walked past the amazing shops in Hogsmeade to get closer to Hogwarts. Our guide Chris positioned us in the best place to get photos in front of Hogwarts. Then, we hit the ground running!

Flight of the Hippogriff

First up was Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s touted as a family-friendly roller coaster. The ride is about 21 seconds long. I’m a total chicken when it comes to rides, and it made my stomach a bit wonky. I’m glad I ate a very light breakfast!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Then, we headed straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The ride line takes you through the inside of Hogwarts, which lives up to the hype! We watched the paintings of founders of each house talk to each other! I assumed it would look like a projection or video, but it seriously looked like the images in the cracked paintings were moving on their own! So cool!

Once we got through Hogwarts, we handed our bags to Chris. You can’t have anything loose around you. Trust me: we got kicked off because my husband had a camera around his neck. Thankfully, we were able to get right back on. For those not doing the VIP tour, there are lockers for you to store your stuff.

The ride itself is pretty cool! You sit in line and you get to fly around Hogwarts. I started to feel a bit dizzy about half-way through, so I just closed my eyes on and off. The ride is a bit longer than I expected, but a must-do ride for Harry Potter fans!

Lower Lot at Universal Studios

Jurassic Park The Ride at Universal Studios California
My husband was the epitome of cool as he held onto his sunglasses when plummeting down the waterfall in Jurassic Park! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

When they say “Lower Lot” they really mean that you’ll be going down countless escalators to the valley below! I was shocked we were still at Universal Studios! After doing the previous rides, even the escalators felt a bit intense! But, I’m not really a ride person I guess! I took a time out from rides in the Lower Lot, but my husband did them all!

Jurassic Park—The Ride

This is a boat ride that ends in an 84-foot plunge. Our guide Chris helped guests get into their ponchos. i walked all the way to the entrance with the group and then Chris walked me out so I could take photos. My husband enjoyed the ride and thought the plunge was fantastic! His shorts got pretty wet in the front row (he failed to wear his poncho.) And it made him want to rewatch Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.

Revenge Of The Mummy—The Ride

Revenge Of The Mummy—The Ride is just a few yards away from Jurassic Park—The Ride. This time, a few other guests opted to sit the ride out. We spent the time taking photos of the dinosaur character hanging around. My husband again had a great time because he’d seen The Mummy! And he told me I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed it!

Transformers: The Ride 3-D

I opted to take photos with Bumblebee instead of the ride. I had a blast dancing with Bumblebee! My husband is a huge Transformers fan and he thought the ride lived up to his expectations. He got to fight alongside his idol Optimus Prime for an epic battle of war.

Waterworld Show

We headed back up the endless stream of escalators to make our way to catch the 12:15pm Waterworld show. The last time I saw Waterworld, I was in middle school. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was kind of thinking how weird it is when movies become live action musicals. I was wondering how they’d pull this off.

The Waterworld Show at Universal Studios Hollywood was very exciting!
This Waterworld show was full of excitement, cool water tricks and people on fire! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

What’s awesome about this show is that they set the stage with a bit of backstory. So, if you haven’t seen the movie, it doesn’t really matter. The show starts even before everyone is seated. Actors start spraying water at late guests and joking with the crowd.

Then, the show starts with jaw-dropping special effects! There are jet skis, water skiers, motor boats, etc. And lots of fire! You’ll see actors swinging from ropes and little gondolas. Oh and a plane lands in the water at the end of the show! It was insanely cool! And the actors in the show are also characters in well-known TV shows.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

My 4-year-old is a HUGE Minions fan, so I felt a little guilty going on this ride without him. We went in a little room to watch a video to set the scene.Then, we headed into our row, put on our 3-D glasses and started the ride. Our scene was that little Agnes was trying to give a present to Gru to celebrate the anniversary of their adoption. Super cute story, but I did have to close my eyes a few times with all the simulated drops.

Minion Mayhem at Universal Studios Hollywood, California
I can’t help myself when I see a cute photo op, especially when Minions are involved! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Insider tip: I heard from other guests that the story changes throughout the day, so it might be worth doing this Universal Studios ride twice.

VIP Lunch in Private Dining Room

Universal Studios Hollywood has a whole restaurant dedicated to serving VIP guests lunch. It’s a buffet lunch featuring sushi, seafood, meat, salad, soup and just about every other type of food. Lots of options for kids, vegetarians, carnivores, picky eaters and everyone in between. Plus, they had an array of desserts! The food was delicious and it was nice to sit outside in the under cover patio and rest a bit.

Insider tip: Use the restrooms here. They are HUGE!

These kids from Despicable Me were a hoot to take photos with at this character meet and greet at Universal Studios Hollywood
I’m all about maximizing our free time, so after we enjoyed our delicious lunch, we snagged a photo with the girls from Despicable Me before it was time to head to the VIP Studio Tour! Photo credit: Wonderful staff at Universal Studios

During lunch, the character of Lucille Ball was walking around chatting to the guests. She was super fun to talk to and to eavesdrop on while she was talking to other guests! Apparently, she travels to Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jameston, NY for their annual Lucy Comedy Fest.

Our guide Chris gave us a full hour for lunch, which was plenty of time to leisurely enjoy our meal and use the restroom. And we had extra time to check out the Minions merchandise in a gift shop and take photos with the kids from Despicable Me.

The VIP Studio Tour

Ok, so this was the part of Universal Studios I’d been waiting for! Instead of riding in a huge 4-car tram like the regular studio tour, we got to ride in a private open-air trolley. We teamed up with another VIP group, so I think there was 20 of us total. Since our trolley was small, we were able to squeeze through narrow alleys and get a lot closer than the trams. Plus, we were able to load and unload quickly, maximizing our time!

Champions Set

Champions is a new show by Mindy Kaling filmed at Univeral Studios Hollywood
We didn’t get to take photos inside the sound stage (since it hasn’t premiered yet) so I was stoked to get to take photos of the outside of the set of Mindy Kaling’s new show! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

The first place we explored was the set of the upcoming TV Show called Champions. It’s produced by Mindy Kaling and premieres March 8 on NBC! The set we toured was a boxing gym that seems to be the main set of the show. They had filmed earlier in the day and were going to film later that evening, so we had to be extra careful not to touch anything. It was AMAZING! I love Mindy Kaling and we knew we’d be watching this show, so it was really exciting to get a sneak peak! The only downside to exploring this set is that we couldn’t take any photos. Or touch anything. My husband and I used every morsel of self-control to keep from taking a Jolly Rancher from the dish on the counter!

Courthouse from Back to the Future

Courthouse from Back to the Future on VIP Experiene at Universal Studios Hollywood
I can’t believe we could just walk right up to this iconic set from Back to the Future! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Next, we got to walk around the courthouse featured in Back to the Future. It was right next to a street used in Hairspray Live! The clock part was up just for tourists to take photos. I guess it’s such an recognizable set that they usually have to take down the clock if they want to film there.

New York Street

Another cool area we got to walk around was New York Street. It’s also decorated to look like London, Chicago, and countless other cities. The ends of the streets curve so they can connect it to other streets when editing. As we were walking around, I kept wondering how many times I must have seen this street in TV, movies and commercials!

Prop Warehouse

Prop Warehouse at Universal Studios in Hollywood, CA
One of the coolest items was this board filled with hold tags from well-loved TV shows! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

One of the coolest places we stopped on the tour was the prop warehouse. It looks like a thrift store warehouse filled with all kinds of knick knacks, furniture and memorabilia.  It would take hundreds of hours to really look at each item and we didn’t have that long. So we did a quick walk through and our guide Chris pointed out some cool items.

Prop cart for This is Us at Universal Studios Hollywood
This is a prop cart for the show Timeless that I thought was canceled, but must be back in production! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

I spent most of the time looking down the narrow aisles seeing what kinds of treasures I could find. I also started reading as many tags as I could. As we were heading out, I noticed a lady just standing in front of a cart. I was a little annoyed since I maybe wanted to take a photo and she was in my way. After all, I’m a tourist and my job is to take photos of everything! But, then I realized she was standing in front of a cart marked This is Us and she was pulling items for it! Like most people in their 30s, This is Us is one of my favorite shows! It brought me back down to realizing this was a working prop warehouse and all this stuff has been used (and will be used) for television and films.

The Good Place and Little Europe Sets

My husband and I are borderline obsessed with Kristen Bell’s show The Good Place. So, when we saw a set filled with yogurt shops, I squealed! We got to get out and explore the set, which was amazing! Each shop sign was funny and smart! And they had the train station. I could have spent 30 minutes wandering around here taking photos.

VIP Studio tour of The Good Place set at Universal Studios Hollywood
This storefront always cracks me up when I see it in “The Good Place” with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

That set is also used to replicate Europe. They just swap out the signs for ones in another language. With all the little alleys and nooks, it has a European feel. The set definitely felt like we were walking through a side street in Paris. It made me think a lot about our trip to Paris last spring!

King Kong 360 3-D

So by now you know I’m a total ride junkie, right? NOT the case. So, when I was told King Kong 360 3-D was the most intense 3-D ride in the world, I was a bit nervous. But, I actually kept my eyes open for the whole ride. You are kind of in a tunnel and there are screens on both sides. You’ll see dinosaurs and King Kong and he will move from one screen to the other. You wear 3-D glasses and it’s pretty cool.

Earthquake: The Big One Ride

Our trolley drove into a subway area used in an episode of Bones. Inside, our trolley shook as we experienced an “Earthquake” and flood situation. It was pretty incredible to see how they did it for the show! We even got a bit wet when the water gushed in. Had it been a real earthquake, I would have panicked over being sprayed with “subway water,” but this felt pretty clean.

Flood Scene from Big Fat Liar

We drove through the set of a Mexican town and got to see how they simulate rain. We saw the sprinklers, water on rooftops, simulated lightning and a flood! Afterward, we watched the clip from Big Fat Liar (starring Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes) to show the scene that featured the flood. I was surprised how realistic the rain looked. And I’m a Seattle girl, so I KNOW rain!

Fast & Furious–Supercharged

Another ride is this 3-D experience featuring the cast from Fast & Furious. The video was really incredible because it looked like the actors were outside our trolley. The ride was mostly us chasing bad guys. The trolley shook a bit, but not too bad. It was cool, even if you aren’t a big Fast & Furious fan.

Jaws Set

One of the last rides we experienced was Amity Island on the set of Jaws. The town sits on a man-made lake. We watched a guy get eaten by a shark and then the shark came right up to our trolley and sprayed us with water.

The Bates Motel

I’m not a Psycho fan, but I’ve heard of Norman and The Bates Motel. It’s an actor who is shown putting a body into the trunk of his car and then he notices us. Naturally, he comes toward us with a knife. Nothing too scary, but very cool to see an actor on this tour.

War of the Worlds Set

Something really cool for my husband was exploring the War of The Worlds set. He’s a Boeing engineer so it was interesting for him to see how they destroyed the Boeing aircraft for the movie. It was crazy to see all the destruction and we thought the set was eerie.

End of VIP Experience

The Simpsons Ride

After the Studio Tour concluded, we headed to The Simpsons land. We were able to get a quick photo with Krusty the Clown before heading into The Simpsons Ride. Our guide Chris was able to get us into Car 6, which put us right in the middle of the screen. Super helpful since this was a virtual reality roller coaster ride. I used to love The Simpsons, so I did this right. However, I had my eyes closed during a lot of it.

Photo op with Krusty the Clown in Springfield before The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood
We were able to get a quick photo with Krusty on our way to The Simpsons Ride. Photo credit: Awesome Universal Studios staff member

The Walking Dead

This experience uses real actors and they take 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off. I knew The Walking Dead wouldn’t be up my alley. So, I went to the entrance and Chris walked me to the exit. It’s a super quick walk though experience. By the time I got to the exit, our group came out about 30 seconds later. Half the people exiting looked freaked out while the other half laughed.

End of our VIP Experience

After The Walking Dead, our Universal Studios VIP Tour was officially over. Chris reminded us that we could still use our passes to go to the front of the line for any other rides until the park closed. The whole VIP experience lasted more than 6 hours.

Hogsmeade at Night

My husband and I had thought the Hosgmeade looked a bit funky in the bright California sunshine. So, we opted to head back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as the sun was going down. This gave us the opportunity to get a quick photo with the train conductor.

We loved this photo op with the train conductor of the Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood
This train conductor for the Hogwarts Express was so cheerful and we had a great conversation! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

I always rave about how people should experience Cars Land at Disney California Adventure at night. Hogmeade takes the cake! It was magical and felt so true to the movies! We sipped a Butterbeer and just soaked in the ambiance. It was the ultimate way for use to end a whirlwind day at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Final Thoughts on the VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood

In the end, we thought the VIP tour at Universal Studios Hollywood was definitely worth the money. There’s no way we would have been able to do all the rides we did without that VIP pass. We also would have wasted valuable time looking at maps and trying to figure out where to go. And the in-depth studio tour lived up to my high expectations! It was exactly the type of Hollywood experience I wanted for our kid-free getaway.

We were also very appreciative of the valet service to pick up our car on the way out. We had our car 2 minutes after leaving the park exit.

Insider tip: Ask for Chris to be your tour guide. He guides all the celebrities around Universal Studios and EVERYONE knows him. You’ll really feel like a VIP!

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Insider Peek at Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience and Tour