Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience

On my last trip to California back in October, I knew that I wanted to finally tick off an item that's been on my bucket list for a while. 

I'm a major movie lover and one of my favourites things to do in California is visit filming locations for different movies. There's the Father of the Bride house and Doc Brown's house in Pasadena, The Great Wall restaurant from Drive in Reseda, the portion of Pacific Coast Highway they drive in The Fast and the Furious (AMH and I visited all of these on this trip!) and so many others. Do you know how you can visit a lot of movie locations in a short amount of time? Take the tour at Universal Studios Hollywood! 

Our California trip was a short one. We had five days and decided to spend one of those days at Universal. When we looked to book our ticket, we were intrigued to see there was a VIP Experience that allowed special access to movie sets and promised to save time. With the VIP pass you get to skip the ride lines and hop right on. We read a few glowing reviews and after watching some YouTube videos on the Harry Potter and The Simpson's lands, and decided that this was the way to go. 

It's an expensive way to go, not going to lie. The cost fluctuates between $369-400 US depending on date (higher rates on weekends and holidays) per person. You really have to love movies to shell out for this. So you might be wondering if I thought that the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience was worth it? Well, read on and I'll give you a little tour and let you know what I think (you just might be surprised!) 

When I visit the west coast I find it best to stay on east coast time. This helps prevent jet lag and means that we are up earlier than everyone else and can get quite a bit done early in the morning. We started the morning with coffee and watched the sunrise at Griffith Park in LA before heading to Universal City. We arrived an hour before our ticket time of 9:00 am. Our VIP tickets included complimentary valet parking ($45 regularly). We were advised to head to the Frankenstein lot but ended up redirected to Jurassic Park parking due to construction (NBD). 

After parking we walked through the downtown Citywalk area which is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants and made our way to the Universal entrance. After a quick security check we found the VIP meeting area.

Inside was a continental breakfast of pastries, fruit and coffee. Here we waited to meet our tour guide for the day and the others who we would be spending the day with. The Lounge area also has some necessities for your day, cold water, SPF, chap sticks and mints. The tour guide made sure we had what we needed and we headed out to our waiting bus to start the movie backlot tour. Our group was a good size, around 20 people. Before we boarded the bus, we met up with another tour group of 20 and doubled our group size. 

The movie studio tour for the VIPs follows the exact same path as the regular tram tour that is included in your Universal ticket with one exception...

The VIPs get out at certain spots and get to walk around these real movie sets! This is why we decided to book this tour. I was really excited to see the old Back to the Future clock tower (behind AMH and I above) even though it looks wildly different now. This city block has been used in so many different things from blockbuster movies, to tv shows like Ghost Whisperer (my fave!)

The old Lyons Estates gates from Back to the Future

After everyone had taken their photos we were back on the bus and drove to "The New York" set. I instantly recognized this from The Mindy Project. We were ushered down an alley where they filmed a scene from Captain America. 

Back on the bus we made our way to the old Europe set where we recognized buildings from the original Frankenstein movie and is currently used for the show The Good Place (tried watching, not my cup of tea). Here we were allowed to walk around and take a few more photos. 

The guides asked if there were any fans of the tv show Desperate Housewives and the response was crickets. I genuinely felt awkward for the guides as they pointed out moments from a tv show that premiered in 2004 and that no one in our group was interested in hearing about. 

Finally an area that everyone was interested in, Amity from the classic Jaws! We spent about 30 seconds here, it's nothing more than a drive by. 

But that's ok, all was about to be redeemed. What sold me on the VIP tour was the fact that you got to leave the bus and walk around in the plane crash scene from War of the Worlds. That movie happens to be one of my absolute favourite movies. We're talking desert island I can bring a handful of movies, this one is in the pile. 

Well, seems that today they were not letting anyone out to visit the set. We visited in October and the park had set up scary mazes for the evening (which we opted out of as it was another couple hundred dollars). One of the mazes was near here so we couldn't get out and take photos. 

We breezed passed the Psycho house, stopping only for a moment so the guide could say a scary line, push a button and then Norman, dressed as mother, would appear at the window. Took our guide two tries to get it right. 

Alright so the bus ride through the movie sets wasn't as exciting as I was hoping it would be but we had two more stops that I just knew would make it all worth it, The Edith Head Costume Department and the Prop House. 

You can imagine that as someone who loves clothing and design and movies, the Costume Department was high on my list of things to see. This is all we got to see. We walked into the lobby of the building and there were three costumes on display. I asked if we were going up to the 4th floor to see more and I was given a polite but firm no. We had to press on to the Prop Room. 

My smile hides how truly disappointed I was in this tour. There were no photos allowed in the prop house except for pictures with ET so this is all I have to share. But let me break it down for you - Picture a furniture department at Goodwill. Expect there are tags on each item, similar to a barcode on a library book. That's the prop department. And all you do is walk the perimeter and gaze at old desks and couches from different eras (this no signage to say what movie/tv show it was in). This is a working prop house and not really set up for spectators. 

The VIP Experience includes a hot buffet lunch (no alcohol, btw) that was adequate. The day had gone rather slowly and we talked to our tour guide over lunch to get a lay of the land for the afternoon. We'd already been on this tour for three hours and honestly, if we didn't see something exciting soon, we were ready to leave. 

Our guide explained that now that we were finished with the larger tour, we were going to break off into our original groups of 20 and head into the parks. With our badges we would get front of the line access to every ride and special seating at the show Waterworld at the end of the day. The intention is the guide walks you to each ride, you board before the other lines (which are long) and they will hold anything you might have (back pack, sunglasses) and then lead you to the next ride. If you'd like to skip the ride, they direct you to a point where we are all to met at the end of the ride. 

Our group was a mix of families with young kids, a few elderly couples, and then us. Thrill seekers who were no longer interested in sticking with the group. After lunch, we left our tour and headed into the parks on our own. 

The Harry Potter land is a must do for any Harry Potter fan. My boys only read the first three novels and got board (thankfully because so was I!) so this wasn't that a big a deal for us. Which is good because both Harry Potter rides broke down while we were on them. 

What I am a big fan of is The Simpsons. Walking through the land was pretty cool. Stepping inside a full version of Moe's, entertaining. Getting a high five from Sideshow Bob, who just so happens to be one of my favorite characters, amusing. Going on The Simpsons Ride, nauseating. I've always prided myself on always be ready to ride any amusement park ride, no matter how scary. My husband too. It's why we make a great team at the park. We both left that ride greener than grass. I thought maybe we were getting too old for these rides when we ran into a few groups of rather young kids who were all about three seconds from losing their lunch too! 

It's not even a scary ride but it's a lot of 3-D and bouncing. It just upsets the stomach. 

We managed to ride every ride within 45 minutes. If we had stayed with the tour group, it was going to be three hours. By this time we didn't even care about going to see the Waterworld show (and can I add, that movie is highly regarded as one of the biggest and most expensive bombs of our modern age so why did they make a show for a movie that no one saw and no one under 30 has even heard of?)

On the way back to our car I stopped by the statue of Hitchcock to grab a photo. Sadly, it was the highlight of my day. 

You might be able to guess but AMH and I did not like the tour and I don't think the VIP Experience is worth the high ticket price. It all started with the chaos of them changing parking garages, which was a big deal as they are on two totally different sides of the park. Our tour guides could not be less interested in showing us around or talking to us about movies (early in the day we were talking to our guide about how great it must be to work around all these movies and, well, let's just say I don't think they like their jobs) Every attraction we were excited to see was closed or we only got to see it for 30 seconds whizzing by on a bus. The attractions themselves are outdated and irrelevant. A tour group of 40 does not make you feel like a VIP. There I said it. 

I read a good amount of reviews before booking this ticket. AMH and I would read each other TripAdvisor reviews, we watched YouTube reviews and I leaned on the advice of a number of fellow bloggers, who all gave the VIP Experience two thumbs up. I wholeheartedly disagree. I searched and searched and couldn't find a review that didn't praise purchasing the VIP Experience ticket. I'm highly suspicious of that, especially of those reviewers who received their admission complimentary. It's one of the reasons that I stopped accepting paid or comped travel and tickets and much rather pay out of pocket for all my travel. This way I don't feel beholden to anyone and can give you my honest thoughts. 

If visiting Universal is on your bucket list, as it was mine, I recommend purchasing a Universal Express ticket ($179-259) which gets you front of the line access to the rides and just take the regular tram tour of the studio lot. Other than getting out at the Back to the Future clock tower, there really was no advantage in having the VIP Experience tour so I don't think you'll miss much. I am confident you can do the tour and ride any of the rides you want to try in a matter of only a few hours. 

If you're a big Harry Potter fan, you would enjoy The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Like I said, it's not my thing but I went to take photos and purchase items for friends back home who all loved every Snapchat photo I sent so in that case, if you're just looking to visit Universal for this, just buy the regular admission ticket and spend half a day there. 

I would love to hear from you if you've been on The Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience tour before and I'm so curious to know how you made out! Did you love it? Did having a surly tour guide damped our experience because yours was a rock star and you loved the tour? Tell me in the comments below!

And if you're from Universal and reading this, feel free to send me an email and I'll gladly share my ideas on how you can improve the tour for the movie lover who seeks a true VIP experience. 

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