Kerry Smith
Kerry Smith


DESTINATION • October 2019

The Club’s guide to Universal Studios, California

The attraction that started offering film-set tram tours in 1964 is now a tourist juggernaut that throws tourists, retirees, teenagers and families together in a land where candyfloss is the food of the masses. By all means go where the adrenaline takes you, but travel journalist Kerry Smith has the highlights that families shouldn’t miss

Feel the magic

Feel the magic

Start your day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s one of the best and busiest attractions, and, ironically, almost the antithesis of a theme-park attraction, with only two rides. Instead the joy is in the details: in Hogsmeade Village you can drink butterbeer, buy interactive wands that cast spells, get talked at by paintings and visit a toilet where Moaning Myrtle moans. Then, have your mind blown by the hi-tech ‘5D’ Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, set inside Hogwarts Castle – the combination of projected images and real objects that come at you as your seat tips every which way is startling. The height restriction is 122cm. Flight of the Hippogriff is a tamer rollercoaster, but still huge fun (minimum height 99cm). Head back to Wizarding World in the evening for Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle, a light-show story beamed onto the castle.

For the kids

For the kids

On the way in, look out for a meet and greet with Hello Kitty (in front of the animation studio store) and Curious George (in front of the Universal Studios store). Universal is divided into a Lower Lot and Upper Lot, and younger ones are better off in the latter. There is Universal's Animal Actors 20-minute live show, where Hollywood-trained animals show off their tricks, while DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda is a new multi-sensory attraction with the first-ever interior projection mapping and 360 surround sound to engulf you in the world of adventure with Master Po and friends. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem takes children through Minion training on a 3D ride (minimum height 40”), and Super Silly Fun Land has character meet and greets, plus the Silly Swirly Fun Ride. Bring swimwear for the 80 water-play features in the Wet Zone.

Lads on tour

Lads on tour

Next, take the 45-minute tram tour at midday to escape the heat of the sun and rest your feet while you go behind the scenes of the world’s largest and busiest film and TV studio. While filming a movie on the backlot a few years ago, actor Jim Carrey gave guests an extra thrill by jumping out from the set of the 1960 horror classic Psycho, dressed as the film’s demented grey-haired matriarch. This probably won’t happen on your tour, but it will still be excellent. You’ll come face-to-face with Jaws, encounter King Kong in 3D, swing by the Bates Motel and ride along with the cast of the Fast and the Furious – Supercharged. The wait-to-experience ratio is unmatched.

Jurassic Park

Go prehistoric

Jurassic Park – The Ride has been a centrepiece of Universal Studios Hollywood since it opened more than two decades ago in 1996. The big opening this summer is the newly rebooted ride, featuring footage from the cast of the recent Jurassic World series. First, wander into an aquarium, home to the shark-eating mosasaurus, which looks hungrily at visiting families. Other iconic dinosaurs reprised from the movie included the colossal indominus rex and Blue the velociraptor. This packs plenty of tension, scares and wow-inducing special effects. Oh, and prepare to get drenched.


Need-to-know tips

If you’re heading to Universal Studios, California it’s cost-effective to buy a package that includes flights, hotels and entrance tickets. Fast Pass tickets that skip the queues are a good investment. There is also the Universal Studios app – download it before you go, for a map and waiting times for rides. To save money take a packed lunch, as there are tables (with shade!) in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It may not be technically possible to get anywhere early with children, but if you can, do.



Remember the 1995 box office disaster, Waterworld? Starring Kevin Costner, it was the most expensive film ever made, with an estimated budget of $175m. Turns out the tale of a post-apocalyptic world and a Mad Max-esque fight for survival works much better as a live stunt show. Lasting about 20 minutes, this is the perfect place to end a magical day. 


British Airways flies to four cities in California. To book your family adventure today, click here

This article has been tagged Adventure, Destination