Despite being in the L.A.-area for a couple of weeks each year, I’d managed to never take the Universal Studios studio tour. I think it’s because I knew that at some point in the tour JAWS would happen, and I am terrified of sharks so it kept me away. But this year I got brave and embarked on the VIP tour with my cousin Alana.
At Universal, there is a tram-style studio tour which is included in the price of theme park admission. It takes you through some of the backlot areas so you can check out things you’ll recognize from the movies. Or, if you’re feeling like a hotshot, you can take the much more in-depth VIP Experience tour, and spend some time on a soundstage and in the prop house, as well as eat a delicious buffet lunch and get front-of-the-line access to every ride, all day long. I very highly recommend this tour, especially if you can get Peter as your guide. He was amazing!
Where is the studio tour? The VIP tour is at Universal Studios, at 100 Universal Hollywood Dr in Universal City, CA. It’s all linked up with the theme park.
What time is the tour? The VIP Experience tour starts at 10:15 am, though you should get there about 20 minutes early to park, check in, and enjoy the scrumptious (free) breakfast they’ve set out for you.
How much do tickets cost? Tickets for the VIP Experience are $349 per person. It sounds steep, but I have to say it’s worth it. Not only are you getting a tour, but you’re getting two meals (breakfast and lunch are included in the price of admission), free valet parking, and a theme park experience. The Universal tour is the only one that includes the theatrical element of rides, special effects demonstrations, etc. Plus once the tour ends you have a couple of hours to roam the park with unlimited front-of-the-line access to any rides you want. Since space is limited, it’s advisable to buy tickets ahead of time here.
Where do I park? VIP guests are offered complimentary valet parking in the Frankenstein lot, which is directly adjacent to the park entrance.
How long is the tour? The VIP Experience is about six hours long, running from 10:15 to about 4:15 or 4:30. For much of the tour you’re driven in a comfortable trolley, but there is a fair amount of walking through the park, so make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes and footwear.
What should I bring? Definitely bring a camera, as there are a lot of great photo ops and you are allowed to take photos in almost all areas of the tour. If you’re going to hang around the park after the tour, bring some extra cash to buy dinner or souvenirs! You can bring your cell phones along, and they offer you bottled water on the trolley.
What’s the tour like? The Universal VIP Experience is half studio tour, half theme park adventure. It’s really fun! One of the cool things about the Universal tour is they can show you a video on the tram of the movie that filmed where you’re standing! It gives you a good idea of the studio’s history and lets you imagine yourself in the picture. The first thing we did was cruise among the sound stages where some great TV shows (like “The Mindy Project” and “Bates Motel”) are currently filming. Then, we got out at one of the stages from “Parenthood” and got to walk through Adam and Kristina Braverman’s house! It was very cool, most especially because they actually let us take pictures inside the set! This is the only tour I’ve ever been on that allowed photos inside the sound stage. So that was VERY exciting for me! I also love “Parenthood”, so that was even better! After that we were able to visit some of their backlot streets, like their brownstone area that was used in “Home Alone 2” and on “The Mindy Project” and the town square area that has been used in a ton of things, but most notably “Back to the Future”!
My cousin Alana was super excited as “Back to the Future” is one of her favorite movies. We got to take a lot of photos with the clock tower! Our tour guide, Peter, who was THE BEST, also pulled me aside at one point and took me over to the Luncheonette from “Parenthood” and snapped a picture of me in front of it. It was SO NICE of him, because it wasn’t an actual part of the tour, and I was so thankful. What a sweet thing to do for an excitable tour guest!
As the tour continues, it’s a fun combination of tour and theme park. So not only did we see Wisteria Lane from “Desperate Housewives” and the Bates Motel and Bates house from “Psycho”, but we experienced the King Kong 3D, the Earthquake ride (where they actually filmed part of an episode of “Bones”), saw a “JAWS” scene, got a demonstration of fake rain and a flash flood, and drove through the plane wreckage from “War of the Worlds”.
We got to eat a delicious buffet lunch that offered everything from roasted turkey to spinach ravioli to sushi to chicken fingers and french fries. It was so good! It’s prepared by executive chefs who cook for movie sets, so there’s an added glam factor to the deliciousness.
After lunch we saw the Animal Actors show, which was really cute, and afterward we got to go down and meet the animals and snap photos with them. After that, it was onto front-of-the-line access to all the great Universal rides – Jurassic Park, Mummy Returns, Shrek 4D, The Simpsons, and the new Despicable Me ride. We also walked through the House of Horrors which was terrifying and I think Alana and I screamed like four-year-olds every time anything jumped out at us. But we got a good laugh out of it once we survived.
At the end of the day your tour guide turns you loose to roam the park as you please, and with your VIP badge you continue to get front-of-the-line access on all the rides all day long. Universal also has CityWalk, which is a bunch of restaurants and shops and even a bowling alley and comedy club. So you can definitely have a very full, very fun day as part of the VIP Experience.
My thoughts: I loved this experience! I can’t believe I waited so long to do it but I will definitely do it again. It’s definitely worth the price of admission and it’s fun to be treated like a VIP! The tour guides were great (shoutout to Peter and Kevin!) and know their stuff. There’s also a long line of filmmakers and actors who were once Universal tour guides, like Steven Spielberg and Jack Wagner. The whole park has a long history and the tour will not leave you disappointed. Whether you’re a behind-the-scenes person or a thrill-seeker, this experience has a little bit of everything. My new favorite tour!
STORY & PHOTO CREDITS