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Ride the Movies
Universal Studios Hollywood boasts some of the best theme park attractions in the world. In fact, nearly all of its major attractions are world-class. Let's count down the top ten best rides at the park.
First, a little history. When Universal Studios Hollywood first opened in the mid-1960s, it wasn't a theme park in the conventional sense. Its primary feature was its backstage studio tour, and it didn't offer any dark rides, roller coasters, or any other attractions found at places such as Disneyland. That began to change as the park added shows and elements to the tour that were designed more to entertain and enchant than demonstrate how movies were made.
The park truly began evolving in 1991 when it opened the E.T. Adventure, its first story-based attraction. Using impressive animatronics and whimsical bicycle-style ride vehicles, Universal demonstrated that it could compete with Disney and develop its own E-Ticket rides. (E.T. has since closed.) Around the same time, Universal... Orlando opened, and Universal Creative, the merry band of designers whose counterparts are Walt Disney Imagineering, began turning out remarkable attractions on both coasts.
And by remarkable, I don't mean attractions that take a back to seat to Disney's. I mean attractions that are remarkable in their own right and even, in some cases, surpass what the Imagineers have accomplished. Universal has introduced some stunning breakthroughs in ride design, immersive environments, and theme park storytelling.Continue to 2 of 11 below.
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Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Allrighty, let's move on to the best rides and start with the top-ranked attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
This not only gets the nod for the best attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, it ranks as the top choice for the best theme park ride in North America. It is part of the richly themed Wizarding World of Harry Potter and is located inside Hogwarts Castle (which serves as the ride's queue and is an attraction in itself). It is an update on the groundbreaking attraction first introduced at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. With its re-rendered imagery, which is presented in eye-popping 3D (and requires "Quidditch Goggles"), it's even better than the Florida original. Read my review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.Continue to 3 of 11 below.
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With its old-school trams, jokey tour guides, and stops in the studio's backlot at an Old West set and other locations that date back decades, you might think the Studio Tour would be a nostalgia-filled snoozefest. But you'd be wrong.
Nostalgia plays an important role. The trams pass the original Psycho house and a cheesy reenactment of a shark attack from Jaws, for example. But the tour offers a great balance of old and more contemporary properties such as Jurassic World and the War of the Worlds remake. It also offers a mix of real Hollywood moviemaking interspersed with immersive attractions. Passengers pass real soundstages with movies and shows that are in production. They also experience an earthquake, flash flood, and more through impressive effects and theme park trickery.
The long tour (it can last 45 minutes to an hour) is thoroughly entertaining and enlightening. It dates back to the park's opening in the mid-1960s and remains its heart and soul. Unlike other movie theme... parks, Universal Studios Hollywood is a real, working film studio with a storied history, and the Studio Tour offers a great way to tap into its authenticity.Continue to 4 of 11 below.
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Transformers: The Ride-3D
Using a groundbreaking roving motion base ride system that Universal Creative developed, the attraction takes passengers into the world of the popular Michael Bay movies. The action is frenetic, and the visuals are dazzling. Like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, this is one of the premier attractions in all of parkdom. Read my review of Transformers: The Ride 3D.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Universal's own Minions and the other characters from the popular and funny Despicable Me movies are featured in the wonderful ridefilm. The high-def resolution helps make the attraction particularly immersive and engaging. Read my review of Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.Continue to 6 of 11 below.
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King Kong 360 3-D
Rather than a standalone attraction, King Kong is actually one of the highlights of the Studio Tour. It is a motion simulator ride that (ingeniously) incorporates the trams. They enter an immersion tunnel and are locked down onto motion base platforms. Although the trams never actually move more than a few inches in any direction, you'll swear that you are being tossed to and fro mercilessly as the big ape battles it out with dinosaurs. What a hoot!Continue to 7 of 11 below.
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Fast & Furious – Supercharged
Another element of the Studio Tour, Fast & Furious serves as the finale. Like King Kong, it is a motion simulator ride that utilizes the trams, motion platforms, and an immersion tunnel to transport passengers to an alternate reality -- in this case, the underground racing world popularized by the Fast & Furious movies. Again, the trams barely budge, but guests feel as if they are flying along at 120 mph.Continue to 8 of 11 below.
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Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride
Because Universal Studios Hollywood had less space to work with than sister park Universal Studios Florida, the longer and more elaborate Orlando attraction outshines its California counterpart. Still, the hybrid dark ride/indoor roller coaster has some cool scenes and thrilling coaster moments. Read my review of Florida's Revenge of the Mummy . Also, check out my article, Mummy vs. Mummy: How Universal's Hollywood and Florida rides differ.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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The Simpsons Ride
Housed in the same show building that used to host the gone-but-not-forgotten (at least by me) Back to the Future: The Ride, The Simpsons Ride is a motion simulator attraction. The media is projected onto a hemispherical Omnimax dome. Like the TV show, it's very funny. You may be a bit put off by its 3D-style animation (the TV characters don't quite look like the ones we all adore) and its slightly grainy and dark imagery. Read my review of The Simpsons Ride.Continue to 10 of 11 below.
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Jurassic Park — The Ride
It's a compelling dark ride that takes boatloads of passengers past animatronic dinosaurs and into a real(ish) version of Jurassic Park. It's also a thrill ride with a heart-in-your-throat tall, steep, and fast finale down a flume.Continue to 11 of 11 below.
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Both the Universal attraction and the Shrek movies on which it is based are getting a bit long in the tooth. Still the 4-D attraction shares the same funny and anarchic spirit of the films. Presented in a theater, this isn't really a ride. The tricked out seats do move, however. Read my review of Shrek 4-D.