- May 26, 2010
Took my first post-pandemic trip to Universal Hollywood this past Sunday (the 20th). Figured I'd pass along my thoughts and observations.
- Parking, security, turnstiles, and overall park entry were all on-point. Very efficient - no complaints whatsoever.
- I got the Gold Pass now that they've relaxed the overall number of blackout dates. It's honestly an excellent value, and we are fortunate that - outside of Disney - it really is a buyer's market for theme park fans in terms of affordable passes.
- Guests were let in prior to 8:45am (not sure of the exact time) ahead of a 9am opening. Potter rides opened first, but Pets was open when we rounded the corner at 8:50.
- Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash is a much-needed addition to the park and an excellent dark ride in its own right. A staggering number of animatronics, a pleasurable loose storyline, a series of inventive and amusing gags... it all comes together into something very sweet and entertaining. The best part of the Pets movies were the anecdotal incidents where pets got up to comical mischief, and that's basically the entirety of the ride's content. It translates beautifully, even if you aren't familiar with the franchise. Had to say I loved the dark alley cats the most, particularly the "creepy piano crawler" and the "painting." Great stuff.
- As a quick aside, including queer and multicultural couples for the adoption portion is an appreciated touch.
- Loading and ops for Pets are atrocious, and something is going to have to give - especially as the park returns to normal. We were fortunate enough to walk on to Pets twice - first when the park opened, and then again after we hit the Lower Lot attractions. By 1pm or so, it had switched to virtual queue - we were able to easily grab two times and had plenty of options. However, upon actually returning, we found the virtual queue filling a great deal of the improvised switchbacks near Minions. That might be fine if the line moved faster, but it doesn't. The throughput on this ride is bizarrely low and gets worse whenever they have to slow the belt for larger guests that don't fit (which is its own preposterously limiting design choice) and those with disabilities/mobility issues. This happens almost constantly, so you have situations where only Express guests can board. We bailed on our first time after we barely moved after 20 minutes (keep in mind we hadn't even yet entered the building itself). We stopped by for the last virtual queue slot - they stopped around 7 for a 9pm park close - and ended up waiting 65 minutes. That's unacceptable, and Hagrid has a similar issue - "virtual queue" has always been presented as a means of avoiding physically waiting line, not having permission to wait in a long, slow-moving line. Guests around us were not happy, and it definitely dampened our third and final ride. (They reopened the stand-by queue once they got through the excess virtual queue folks.) The solution here may be to... cut Express, which I don't see them doing.
- Jurassic World upgrades are very good and make the experience feel far more complete. We got a flawless ride with all effects working. The additional moving bushes and shrubbery in Predator Cove add a lot of kinetics and tension to the scene, and the compies/shattered Gyrosphere are vastly more arresting than the pteranadon corpses from the previous iteration. The extra Indominus head also fills what had been an awkward and vacant moment. The full-bodied Indominus feels like the glorious and intentionally terrifying figure that's rarely made anymore - the Yeti feels like the closest comparison in that they both figure into the ride's climax and loom menacingly over the riders. It is a pity that only the back two rows really get a good look at the T-Rex/Indominus face-off, which is inherently limited by the setting/medium but still rings chaotic and impressive. The ride struggled and stalled on our second ride much later in the day, but we did get the full Indominus profile by the time we rounded the corner. While sitting on the lift (and letting my eyes adjust to the darkness), I noticed that the left-side platform for the defunct first raptor is still sitting there unused. Bizarre.
- Revenge of the Mummy looked as good as it has for the past several years. The E.T. figure is back on the right side of the treasure room on top of the chest. Both warriors dropping, Imhotep motion profile looked great (included a neat jaw unclench I hadn't noticed before), and leg ticklers doing their thing. The projections in the Scarab room could really use an upgrade, however, as they look very low-res and out of focus. I'll even say the finale turntable looked better than it usually does - they pumped a substantial amount of fog in there, effectively masking the edges of the final projection screen and the lack of any other visible room elements. I worry about the park's balance when this inevitably goes, as the park does need a semi-serious coaster of some kind.
- Transformers looked fine but predictably paled in comparison to Spider-Man, which I rode in Orlando just a few weeks ago. This could definitely use the projection upgrades that Orlando got a few years back - a few screens seemed fuzzy.
- Isla Nu-Bar is great - and they brought over the tasty Jurassic World IPA, complete with custom tap! - but man, practically of the park's bars are now forcing you to pay a several buck premium to get your beer served in a dinky plastic "collectible." There's no option to get a basic plastic glass, and the result is the Jurassic World IPA costs a minimum of $17. It's now literally cheaper to buy a (fairly strong!) mixed drink at $15 than it is to buy a beer that must also come with a glass you don't need. Does anyone know if you can bring back the glass and have the fee waived?
- I do miss Walking Dead a bit. It was always a weird outlier for the park, but it was something you could easily slot in between other attractions and didn't require much of a time investment.
- Waterworld cast was in great form, and boy, did they manage to fill up that stadium. Some of the pre-show stuff is back, complete with guest drenching and call/response crowd work. The gaiters feel completely performative and pointless to me, and it looks like they were annoying the performers. Hopefully those get dropped soon.
- Park handily managed the crowds on Sunday - which were nothing like the deluge that resulted in 180 minute waits on Saturday - but it could still really use the Special Effects Show. My guess is we won't be seeing that for quite some time, sadly.
- Some signs around the park need help. Despicable Delights was practically unreadable, and some of the Simpsons facades are fading.
- Citywalk restaurants are clearly having serious staffing issues. Antojitos had ample available seating but not enough staff to fill them, meaning it had pretty substantial waits for lunch before noon. Margaritaville and Vivo were both not offering lunch service, and NBC Grill & Brew is still sitting there finished but open. That doesn't leave you with a lot of options if you want something outside the park - we ended up at Dongpo Kitchen, which we did not initially realize was open. They're running a limited menu right now, but I'd recommend them - the service was prompt, the food good, and the drinks significantly cheaper than what you'd find in the park (Angel City IPA was $7).
- Despicable Me is also having serious operations issues. Not exactly sure what was going on, but we faced a rough delay in the second preshow where the poor team member had to vamp for a solid 5 minutes. Once we were inside, everyone loaded quickly, but they were having issues lowering the lap bars, padding the experience by another solid 3 minutes.
- 2D Despicable Me is a serious downgrade and made me appreciate the attraction less. Without the benefit of the 3D frames, it was always apparent to me that I was watching a static movie screen with other simulator bays around me. The first preshow is also now a ho-hum recap of the films instead of a clever satire of ride safety videos.
- Forbidden Journey was looking pretty good. The dragon had more motion than on my last visit and had the full fog blast. Some of the spiders had a bit of a jangly shake to them upon descending in the forest - not sure if that was a new animation or cause for concern, but either way, it looked nice. I find myself really preferring Hollywood's dementor finale to Orlando's, though I deeply miss Orlando's improved locker situation.
- Queue estimates throughout the park were pretty off-base. A 25-minute wait for Jurassic World was 5 minutes, while a "10 minute wait" for Hippogriff was closer to 25. Despicable Me reported 50 minutes throughout the day but was clearly only 20 or so. Simpsons was reporting 90 minutes from opening on, which made me wonder if they only had enough staff to run a single dome or something. (We didn't bother to ride.)
- They have the Fast & Furious 9 cars out with some signage in Universal Plaza. Nothing really to report on the HHN construction front.
- Looks like construction on Super Nintendo World has stalled. No idea what the deal is - or maybe they're all working inside the show building - but I saw no progress on the exteriors throughout the day.
- Studio Tour was a good time, and the insane waits that some were reporting over the past few days are no longer really a thing. Can confirm the guides are no longer really trying to set up Fast & Furious, for better or worse. Jaws and Earthquake both looked great.