Day one in Los Angeles had been full of surprises, not all of them pleasant. On the debit side, an unremitting downpour and the discovery that there is more nightlife in Frinton than in parts of downtown LA.
For our 20-year-old daughter, there was compensation in initial retail therapy (we did not chance on LA’s three Urban Outfitters branches until later in the trip) and for us both, an evening of glorious spectacle watching the LA Kings ice hockey team at the Staples Centre.
In that escapist vein, we headed out early on day two for our first Hollywood excursion, arriving at the Universal Studios’ entrance bang on opening time and in mercifully better weather. Not having hired a car, we had found public transport efficient, if not frequent, and it was an easy commute to the theme park, which is close to a Metro stop and with a free shuttle for those who don’t fancy the walk.
Heading the helpful hints list on the attraction map is the advice to begin your visit with the 45-minute studio tour. But in deference to daughter, our first stops were the Shrek 4D adventure — you literally do feel the action —- followed by The Simpsons virtual coaster experience. In busier periods a priority pass might be a worthwhile investment, as it takes holders to the head of queues and affords backstage access at some shows.
But in winter we found ourselves deriving infantile pleasure from the Jurassic Park ride, culminating in the theme park watery plummet, but with captivating dinosaur scenery en route. Things then warmed up on the Backdraft set, showcasing special effects from the inferno-themed movie.
Universal is about fun and wonderment and scores heavily on both. Indeed, in our regressive state, we opted to forego the putative thrills of the most screamworthy ride, Revenge of the Mummy, for more childish pleasures, not least the photos with Shrek and Donkey, or more excusably, with the battered Blues Brothers vehicle. We also took in the Blues Brothers concert, one of a plethora of shows, of which Water World is the most spectacular. We ended with the studio tour, an unmissable tram ride through the production areas, giving movie buffs a taster of classic films from Psycho to Jaws and TV junkies a Desperate Housewives close-up. We encountered dancing cars, man-made climatic changes and blockbuster cliff-hangers.