Saturday, July 19, 2008

PASYALAN: Universal Studios

When I was still living in the Philippines, Universal Studios Hollywood theme park was a dream destination. That's why, the first time I got in in 2000, I was like a kid in...Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

Sure it's a tad pricey (click here for ticket prices info), especially in these economic times, but it is a must-visit whenever you have out-of-town (and country) visitors so it makes sense for us SoCal peeps to have annual passes.

The weekend before the July 4th holiday, we visited Universal Studios in Hollywood. But what put a damper on an otherwise fun day at the world-famous "entertainment capital of L.A." was an incident I witnessed at the gate: at least two Pinoy families were not able to come in because they didn't realize that they came on a black-out date. They drove from far away, with multiple disappointed family members in tow, and didn't realize that their annual passes are not valid on certain dates. Sayang!

Mga kababayan
, if you have an annual pass, you have to be aware of the black-out dates. They are specified in your pass cards - the same one you present at the gate. If you'd rather not deal with black-out dates, you should purchase the slightly more expensive no-black-out pass rather than the regular one.

Our passes also had date restrictions but we were able to get in because we had a limited-time-only coupon that allowed us to get in on a black-out day. My best friend (and Universal Studios frequent guest) Teeny clued me in on how to get them AT NO COST: register your annual pass at the Universal Studios website and get exclusive member benefits, which in this case was a coupon for entrance on June's black-out date. Through this, we also got Priority Boarding and 20% discount on food & merchandise purchases.

For one member of our group who didn't have an annual pass, we were also able to save by using a $15 off coupon that I clipped from the L.A. Times Sunday coupons.

It was our second visit this year, and the first ever for my mom. No matter how many times you've been to Universal, the park never ceases to entertain.

The newest attraction was the Simpson's Ride. My friends gave it a two thumbs up - I couldn't go this visit because I was keeping my mom company and she wouldn't be able to stand the ride's sudden movements. But there are plenty of other enjoyable attractions for the whole family: For instance, we all had a blast at WaterWorld. Action, adventure, a handsome cast, and lots of water - what's not to enjoy? (Digression: The guy currently playing Mariner is already worth the price of admission, if you ask the girls in our group. Sigh. What a hunk.)

Of course, a trip at Universal isn't complete without taking the Studio Tour. In fact, on the official studio map given out at the gate, they mention this one as the first thing to do. "See how Hollywood magic really happens. Explore Hollywood's backlot..." Yes, all that & more.

Though I've seen them before, I was still enthralled with the eeriness of the War of the Worlds crash set, still yelled like a little girl at the faux earthquake subway scene, and still got wowed by the two dancing and hurtling cars of The Fast & the Furious. If you're a silly bunch, as we are, the ride could be rife with funny moments: For instance, we are still laughing to this day when we recall how one of our companions, a manly man in all respects, yelped when Jaws suddenly appeared on his side. Ha-ha-ha! I think that's the one that's really worth the price of admission.

The Shrek 4-D attraction is also a must-see for the whole family. It's funny, and I have five words for you: Watch out for the squirts! Also, a tip, when you're lining up outside the auditorium where the "prisoners" are doing their bit, try to get through the middle door as they are the best seats in my experience. Heavily pregnant women & others who can't stand it when the chairs suddenly move can occupy the back seats where they could enjoy the show without the jarring movements.

We ate at Doc's Brown's which has really great chicken & okay prices, but unfortunately, they have uneven service. Tip: When you're lining up to order & you're paying by credit card, you can skip the regular long line & go to the right line where you can pay self-service - so much faster, though we were stuck by a few minutes when the cashier can't complete the transaction for some reason.

At lunch, we were serenaded by an awesome mariachi band. After that, we went around some more, and took photos with the characters. Before we knew it, the day is done! We missed going to The Mummy & Jurassic Park rides & others but our aching feet told us that we've had enough for the day.

If you're planning a visit soon, here's extra info from Universal: "If you are a "Regular Annual Pass" or "2008 Pass" member and you would like to re-visit on a Black-Out Date, there are two ways you can: (1) Purchase a special 1-day upgrade; or (2) Purchase a full upgrade to a "Premium" or "No Black-Out Annual Pass". Both upgrade options are available at the Annual Pass Center near the Universal Studios Hollywood entrance turnstiles when you arrive at the Park."
For the rest of us, there's always (the almost black-out-free) September!

1. Go early. The park opens at 9 am so you'll have more chances of stuffing your day with all the park has to offer.

2. Don't forget to get a studio map at the entrance.

3. Bring some light snacks para tipid.

4. You can ask any employee about your fave character appearance times. For WaterWorld, you can pose with the actors right after the show.

5. When you get the Sunday paper, clip the Universal coupon. You never know when you or a friend might need it. Sayang din yung $15 discount per person, di ba?

[The lovely lady up top is my friend, L.T. The other one is of another friend, Nini & her fam. The high-flying girl is from WaterWorld. All PHOTOS are from our February '08 visit.]

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