2023 Trip: Part 1 - Universal Studios Hollywood

August 15, 2023 5:17 pm

Our big trip this summer started on July 24 when we drove down to Hollywood. Once we got to the hotel the girls went swimming for a bit and then we walked to Universal Studios City Walk, ate dinner at Johnny Rockets, and then had fancy dessert from the Chocolate Emporium.

The food at Johnny Rockets was pretty good. The fancy milkshakes from the Chocolate Emporium looked pretty cool, but weren't worth the price (unless your primary goal is to post cool-looking pictures on social media).

On Tuesday, we got up bright and early and walked to Universal Studios at opening. We walked directly back to Super Nintendo World and got in line for the Mario Kart ride. Although this was where 75% of the people entering the park were going we managed to get in pretty quick and line "only" took 90 minutes.

The final section of the line had a ton of really cool stuff to look at, but for whatever reason we had to basically power walk through it all and barely got to see it. It would have been way more interesting to spend the 90 minutes wrapped back and forth in that space instead of the lightly-decorated areas we were in.

The ride was fun and everyone enjoyed it. You put on the Mario "hat" and when you get in the kart you connect an augmented-reality visor to it which overlays game entities during the ride. The idea is that you're in an actual Mario Kart race against Bowser's minions and you to have throw shells at the other team to earn points.

However, the instructions didn't indicate that aiming your shells is done based on where your visor is pointing and if you don't figure that out it will seem entirely random. The whole thing does feel a bit chaotic, but I guess they matched the feel of Mario Kart 8 which has a more chaotic feeling than the earlier entries in the franchise.

Super Nintendo World was crazy packed by the time we got off the ride so we decided to head back up to the upper park and visit Hogwarts for lunch.

We had the family feast at the Three Broomsticks, which was far more food than we needed, but we actually made an appreciable dent in it. It was pretty decent. We had a couple of frozen butterbeers with lunch.

By this point it was miserably hot (high of 98F) with a Heat Advisory in effect. The line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was advertised as 90 minutes, so we went and got in line. More than 2.5 hours later we finally got on the ride. So much of the line was outside and the final section before entering the castle proper is in the greenhouse-themed area (which took ~1 hours itself). By that point we had to already put our water in a locker. It was miserable. I'm amazed we didn't see anyone pass out. I'm also quite annoyed that the worker standing in that section is apparently explicitly trained not to tell people how long the wait is (everyone was asking). Had they told us that it was still another hour from that point we probably would have bailed.

Anyway, we went through the air-conditioned castle areas and finally got on the ride. Great. Here we go. After 45 seconds the ride shut off and left us staring at a blank screen for about 7 minutes (while, I presume, the whole system rebooted or something). Heather about lost her mind, but we did survive. The ride finally started back up and Heather about lost her mind again because of the intensity of the ride. It took her about an hour to calm back down afterwords (Corinne was fine).

As we got off the ride we were given 2, 6-person, one-time-use Express Line passes for the inconvenience of the ride stopping. Heather needed to calm down so Corinne and I went back to the lower park to ride the Jurassic World log flume ride. I believe the regular line was advertised as 2 hours at that point. With the Express Line we were off the ride and walking out the gift shop in 20 minutes.

Then we went back to the upper park to ride the Secret Life of Pets ride as something extremely chill for Heather to enjoy. This ride has a virtual line (via the Universal Studios app) so had we intended to do it originally we could have done it without a line, but the Express Line got us through in about 30 minutes.

By that point we were all super tired and hot. We'd been in the park for about 12 hours and, yes, did 4 rides. 2 of which wouldn't have happened without the free Express Line passes. My conclusion is don't bother going unless you're willing to pay the extra $100 per person for the Express Line. With it you could ride every ride and probably be done before lunch. Without you will spend the entire day standing in lines.

We headed back to the City Walk and had dinner at VIVO Italian Kitchen and dessert at the Crêpe Café. Then I walked back to the hotel to get the van and pick up Jess and the girls and we drove out to the eastern edge of the LA metroplex to our next hotel in order to avoid some of the morning traffic the next day as we headed east.

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