Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie magic at Universal Studios

Now that I've discussed the rides, let's move on to the shows. The first one we caught was Shrek 4D which turned out to be identical to the one in Movieworld, Gold Coast. It's still fun though and the effects are excellent.

Of the four shows we watched, the best was WaterWorld. It's a live stunt show with real fire explosions, cool water vehicles and three-story free falls that made me nervous.

Another excellent show is Lights, Camera, Action. Steven Spielberg appears on screen to introduce a movie set which you'll experience first-hand, with all the special effects that Universal Studios is famous for.

The only show that was a little ho-hum was Donkey Live, featuring an animation of Donkey in an interactive sequence. It's probably fun for a younger audience, especially if they get picked to engage with Donkey, otherwise you're not missing much.

Overall, I find the stand-out shows at Universal Studios are the ones that showcase their strengths - their stunts and movie special effects. Apart from those, the shows at the Disney theme parks are of a higher quality, in my opinion.

For lunch, we had burgers and fries at Mel's Drive-in which is a 1950s themed restaurant like something out of a Grease movie set. Typical theme park fast food and the portions were pretty generous.

Later in the afternoon, we made a rest stop at the Discovery food court in Lost World. Right in the centre of was a huge T-rex skeleton like the one in Jurassic Park. Very nice touch.

And I must say Universal Studios really knows how to milk their themes to the hilt - they even offered the very local Milo Dinosaur on the drinks menu! Which of course Andre had to have.

One thing I noticed at Universal Studios was that unlike other theme parks, there weren't many costumed mascots walking around. We only sighted two - Woody Woodpecker and Kung Fu Panda while waiting for the park to open and didn't come across any others throughout the day (although Kenneth did spot a couple walking by when he was waiting for us at Mel's Drive-in).

My guess is that these appearance are limited because it must be sweltering in those costumes, more so here in our tropical climate. Seeing Kung Fu Panda keel over of heat stroke wouldn't be cool (literally) and probably send flocks of kids into therapy.

I thought I'd share a few tips on making the most of your visit to Universal Studios.
  1. Do buy your tickets beforehand, online. Universal Studios has a daily quota for the number of tickets they sell, to ensure the park doesn't get over-crowded. During school holidays, tickets can be sold out as early as weeks ahead so don't count on buying them at the park.

  2. One of the pitfalls of having a theme park in a tropical climate is that rain can ruin everything. Some parts of the park are covered but many of the rides are weather-dependent and tickets are non-refundable, so PRAY for good weather. On the day we were there, there was intermittent rain, the kind of petty, sniffly rain that is just miserable and puts a dampener on things. What we did was catch the shows when it was raining and went for the rides when there was a reprieve. However, we were pretty grateful for our pithy rain when we realised that there was a torrential thunderstorm the day after our visit. Everything is relative.

  3. I've had friends who visited the park and never got to go on some of the popular rides. Time management is key. The park is less crowded about one hour from the opening and closing times, so be there when it opens and immediately head for the popular rides first, which would be Rapids Adventure, Canopy Flyer, Treasure Hunters and to some extent, Enchanted Airways (although the last one clears more quickly because it seats more at a time). When the park is crazy crowded, go for the shows and the other rides, take your photos, do your shopping, have your meal breaks. At its peak, the queue for Canopy Flyer was 1½ hours which is plain ridiculous. If you plan your time well, you can experience everything without wasting too much time queuing. The longest we queued for any ride was 35 mins. The park is small so you can keep checking back your favourite ride to see if there's a sudden lull. When the crowds started to thin by about 6pm, Andre honed in on Enchanted Airways where the waiting time had dropped to about 10 mins. That's how he managed to chalk up 9 rides on this goodie.
This trip confirmed in my mind that we are very much a theme park family. All the vacations we've enjoyed the most so far have featured a theme park. Andre especially, is the ideal theme park companion as he just launches himself into every experience with enthusiasm bubbling from every pore - that childlike exuberance is very infectious.

As an indication of how much Andre enjoyed himself, as we walked out of the park, he kept turning back and saying "bye bye Universal Studios" in a mournful, my-cat-just-died voice. This was despite our reassurance that we would visit the park again some day.

Theme park + fancy hotel + great food = our dream vacation. Funnily enough, even though this vacation was one where we didn't even travel out of the country, it turned out to be one of my kids' favourites. A friend once mentioned that going on holidays was buying memories. If so, this one was worth every cent.


Anonymous said...

u're right that universal is all about movies and special effects. even in LA, i was more thrilled by the Disney fairytale stuff than Universal's top feature (it was Backdraft then..). but because the queues were longer at Disney's and their food quality and pricing sucked big time, i thot that Universal offered better bang for my limited buck. (i think i only went after working for 2 years... so very poor then) now, reading your post, i feel like gg to stay at RWS. argh!

not to mention that i had gone there a wk or more ago to check out RWS' own household store. bot a tonne of stuff for the home. tiny stuff like organic soaps (from france!) at 50% off, Georg Jensen ring holder for 30% off... not that i desperately need these :) kjj

monlim said...

KJJ: Universal has its plus points, the only thing I didn't like is that while Disney offers free Fast Passes for rides so you don't have to queue, at Universal, you had to BUY the pass which costs almost as much as another full priced ticket. Sounds like a scam to me.

But bug the hubby to go go go and relive your youth!!