Three things lured us to Universal Studios Hollywood: my oldest boys loving Jurassic Park, and my 4-year-old’s obsession with Transformers and great white sharks (he even sleeps with a stuffed shark, not a teddy). And so, I was bound to make his dreams of meeting Optimus Prime and Jaws become a reality.
As parents of three boys 8 and under, we’ve put off Universal knowing it’s not necessarily for babies. However, given our post covid “live life to the fullest” attitude, we decided to take the leap and surprise the kids with a quick trip to Hollywood, and are so glad we did!
Here’s the scoop- where to stay, play, and tips for visiting the park.
WHERE TO STAY + PLAY
We stayed at Loews Hollywood, an urban, upscale oasis conveniently located at Hollywood and Highland just past the Hollywood Bowl. The impressive property is next to an outdoor mall with tons of restaurants and shops, and it’s literally steps from the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the star walk), the Dolby Theatre, the TCL Chinese Theatre, and a bunch of touristy museums (the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripleys’ Believe it or Not, etc.). In fact, the afternoon we arrived, we stumbled upon “The West Side Story” red carpet premiere- it was cool to witness!
Ok, back to the Loews property… when you walk in the lobby, there’s a cool kid-friendly bar with great food (which we really needed after a full day at Universal). Our suite was on the top floor… overly spacious and perfect for our family. We had a big living area, kitchenette, and dining room. We also had a balcony where you could spot the Hollywood sign and the LA skyline.
The hotel is contemporary and clean- surely the best luxe hotel for visiting Universal. It took us about 5 minutes to drive to the amusement park!
Another big plus: breakfast!! The hotel has a lovely and delicious restaurant open for breakfast and lunch with quality meals for adults + kids.
Caveat: I haven’t been to Universal Studios in many years; the only thing remaining from my childhood is the infamous Studio Tour and Waterworld Show. So, much of the experience was new to me and my husband, making for an authentic adventure with our boys.
Compared to other amusements parks, Universal doesn’t open until 10- which I love! There was no waking early to wait in a 6:30am line; instead, we took our time, ate breakfast, and got excited. We left Loews around 9:30am, and by the time we parked, arrived to Citywalk at 9:45. (BTW, Citywalk is free- aside from parking fees. You can stroll around and check out shops, dine or find late-night entertainment.)
Getting through security and into the park was a breeze. Masks are required and they ask you bring your vax card or negative covid test taken within 72 hours. Kids under 12 don’t need to show proof of either.
Tip: Purchase express tickets, letting you “fast pass” through attractions one time- totally worth it. We never waited in line more than 5 minutes (but we were clearly there on a less busy weekday in the beginning of December).
When we went, the entrance was lined with a red carpet, making for the first of many photo opps. Since our older boys love “Jurassic Park,” we decided to hit the lower level first. (For those who remember going as a kid, you access the lower level by the multiple escalators going down.)
Tip: If one of your kids are too short to ride, you can do a rider switch after one parent goes with the older kid (in other words, avoiding waiting in line all over again). Here are height requirements for the attractions.
The Jurassic ride was fun and wet. The best part is the T-Rex battle at the end as your boat goes down a big slide.
Steps from Jurassic is the Transformers ride. However, before I dish about the attraction, I must boast about the character meet-and-greets. Just outside the Transformers ride is a dedicated area where characters come out at rotating times. There’s a constant shuffle between Bumblebee, Megatron and Optimus Prime, and they’re seriously the most fantastic things ever.
The best part: they talk to the kids! In addition to making great photo opps, keep your video rolling- sometimes they’ll ask your kids’ names and engage in conversation. Check out these videos of my Transformers-obsessed son meeting his idols.
As for the ride, the Transformers attraction is quite intense and scared my toddler a bit, but I thought the 3-D experience was very real and fantastic.
After Transformers, my husband and I took turns riding The Mummy with our oldest; it’s a thrilling coaster and a ton of fun, especially if your kid is fearless (it’s dark and spooky).
Following Transformers, we went up the escalators for the park’s remaining attractions... and first up: The Studio Tour. Keep in mind the tour is an hour, and completely nostalgic if you remember visiting as a kid. Some things were the same such as Jaws, the flood, and the earthquake; however, King Kong now has a 3D fight with a dinosaur and there’s a cool “Fast and Furious” race simulation. There’s still a great backlot selection and the kids enjoyed getting a taste of being behind the scenes. And for the record, our shark-obsessed son was totally terrified of Jaws but has since recovered and now wants to ride on Jaws’ back, so I suppose we didn’t scar him for life... thank goodness.
Following the Studio Tour we did the Simpsons ride, which was a big win and very entertaining. And then we made our way to Harry Potter land- a complete replica of Hogwarts. There’s a good lunch spot in HP town, and a great coaster- even our youngest loved it. However, the main Harry Potter attraction- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey- was seriously one of the coolest rides I’ve ever been on.
After checking wizardry off our list, we did the Minions ride (adorable)... then made the 4pm Waterworld show- which I remember as a kid. We ended the day with the last three rides, all suitable for littles: The Secret Life of Pets, Silly Swirly, and Kung Fu Panda (which is more like a show).
With the holidays in full swing, Universal is feeling festive and lights up at night with Christmas cheer and splendor. The park is infused with a “Grinchmas,” spearheaded by the Grinch himself, and there’s a really lovely tree lighting and snowy surprise. I also suggest catching the 6pm Hogwarts holiday light show- it’s a beautiful way to end the fun-filled day.
Reflecting on our trip, here’s what you should keep in mind:
· Our experience at Universal was simple and flawless. Granted, it wasn’t super busy, and we didn’t have many lines, but still- we never felt rushed or stressed.
· Universal Hollywood is easily doable in one day; in fact, we rode a few rides twice (like the Harry Potter coaster).
· The park restaurants have beer and wine! Cheers!!!
· Everything closes at 6pm, so plan for dinner in Citywalk (or skip to dessert- we bought a dozen mini donuts).
· There are tons of character meet and greets, and all are equally as wonderful. The donkey from Shrekhad a full-blown convo with our kids, and they also met a minion, Scooby Doo, Dracula, and Doc from Back to the Future.
· Loews is the ultimate place to stay for the best in family luxury. The staff is overly accommodating, and the accommodations are A-list. I can confidently vouch it’s the “nicest” place to stay close Universal.