There’s a great tour option available at the Universal Studios park in Hollywood, Calif. called the VIP Tour Experience. It includes elements of their normal tram tour, but also includes walking tours of sets, stages and production buildings, plus gourmet food and Front of the Line privileges to the park’s shows and rides. Each day’s set of walking tours is different because production schedules are always changing. This article shows what the VIP Tour Experience was like on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, including a sneak peek at the set of the Scream Awards which air on Spike TV Oct. 18.
The Hollywood resort has two on-site hotels. One of the hotels is to the right, the Hilton. You can also see a banner for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights on the entrance gate. Rock musicians and showmen Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper have helped to create scare houses for the Hollywood park.
When all of the VIPs in our tour arrived, we headed out to board a tram. Normally the trams have four cars. The VIP tour has just one car, with plenty of seating room for all aboard. Note the “00” tour number in the window.
We began our tour by circling on perimeter roads. This is not the normal tour route. I’ve taken the normal tram tour about 60 times in 20 years. Our tour guide pointed out a few things on this side of the property that I did not know.
For example, in this Google Maps satellite view, the bottom arrow points to fields used for filming a school baseball game or other park scenes. It’s way easier to shoot here in a well-isolated space than in a city park. The two arrows at top point to areas seen in the next photos …
The Scream Awards theater is next to this giant blue screen, used generally for outdoor water scenes involving ships. They shoot close ups and effects shots that would be too hard to do on location at sea.
The first stop of the VIP tour was the only area that did not allow us to take photos. It was a walking tour through the sound production area. The walking route we took is indicated with arrows, circling two buildings in the center. We entered one building to see a sound recording stage. One production we walked by in the building was the Muppet movie that is scheduled for theaters this November.
The dining room. Very little production lighting was on, so things are a bit dim in these photos. With the dark lighting, at times I thought I was in a Halloween Horror Nights house and zombies would jump at us any second!
The print shop also does floors. They are printed on a material with an adhesive backing. They are easy to apply, have quick removal, are flat for camera dolly wheels and much cheaper than actual flooring. If you didn’t know these were printed, you’d assume these were real flooring elements.
Our VIP tour did most of the same elements as the regular tour – the Earthquake effect, King Kong 360, Jaws, etc. No photos of the standard tour stops here. However, it was also different to do these tour stops in a single car tram. No spoilers, but one of these tour stops involves a fifth tram car. It was funny to be in a single tram car when the fifth tram car gag happened. At one point we also got to get out of the tram and walked through the European street sets.
A photo of a section of the backlot for some orientation.
The Earthquake tram stop in Hollywood is roughly equivalent to the finale of the Florida park’s “Disaster: A Major Motion Picture Ride… Starring You”.
The European sets are in the walking tour photos, above.
And the next stop we did in the VIP Experience is the costume and props building.
On the loading dock, actual costumes from the upcoming The Thing movie. (Note: There is a The Thing haunted house at Universal Studios Florida this year, which is said to have replicas of the movie sets.)
Actual costumes from the recent Cowboys and Aliens movie. It’s pretty amazing to see costumes in the tour. Like seeing costumes on display at, say, a Planet Hollywood restaurant but without the display cases.
We walked through long hallways, lined with hundreds of costumes. We also walked by offices with artists drawing and designing new costumes on their computer screens (past doorways labeled: no photos).
After lunch we could be escorted by our tour guide to the theme park attractions, or break out on our own. The VIP Experience includes Front of the Line access which allows you to go to the front of the line of the rides, and also to have the best seating at the shows. Some of the shows have behind the scenes sessions after the show concludes. These sessions are for VIP guests and Front of the Line guests.
In this behind the scenes session, two of the performers from the Waterworld stunt show chatted with the audience and explained how elements of the show work. They revealed, for example, that only two of the performers are microphoned. The others lip sync. They also disclosed some secrets about how the big finale works and how a show element safely slows down.
Current admission prices at Universal Studios Hollywood are: $77 for one day/2nd day free ticket; $129 for a Front of the Line Pass; and $249 for the VIP Tour Experience. For more information visit universalstudioshollywood.com