As a wee Canadian girl, I would hear and fantasize about visiting Universal Studios in Los Angeles. The other day, a considerable amount of years later (I won't say how many. A woman never reveals her age), I decided to take the plunge. I drove to Universal City (I love that its name is inherently paradoxical. Is it simply a city? Is it universal?) to take the Universal Studios tour. Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, I figured that I would be the only person in the Hollywood-themed park. Most people had already left town. However, when I pulled up to pay for parking, I waited in a long line up of cars filled with passengers who were all sticking their arms out of their vehicles taking pictures. Of what? I'm not sure. Maybe the parking lot?

As a wee Canadian girl, I would hear and fantasize about visiting Universal Studios in Los Angeles. The other day, a considerable amount of years later (I won't say how many. A woman never reveals her age), I decided to take the plunge. I drove to Universal City (I love that its name is inherently paradoxical. Is it simply a city? Is it universal?) to take the Universal Studios tour. Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, I figured that I would be the only person in the Hollywood-themed park. Most people had already left town. However, when I pulled up to pay for parking, I waited in a long line up of cars filled with passengers who were all sticking their arms out of their vehicles taking pictures. Of what? I'm not sure. Maybe the parking lot?

I paid for preferred parking (this, I was told, would save me a 15 minute walk to the park) and I was directed to choose either the Woody Woodpecker or the Frankenstein lot. Nothing against Frankenstein, but I chose Woody, parked my Dodge Stratus (yes, people fear me) and walked to the park's opening gates. I had paid $20 for parking, so I was hoping that a ticket wouldn't be too costly. I was sadly mistaken. The cheapest ticket I could purchase was $59. However, since I arrived at 3 pm, and the park was closing at 6 pm, I was advised by the overly gregarious ticket seller to purchase the $69 ticket so that I could bypass any line-up. Normally, that ticket is $94. After 2 pm, the prices go down. Reluctantly, I shelled out $69 dollars.

The music blasting from the park was Disney-esque. I prefer darker music with fuzzed-out guitars and less of an orchestral bent, but I suppose that is not very amusement park-like. The atmosphere at Universal Studios is supposed to be one of dreams, fantasies, fairy tales and absolute bliss. A place where nothing could ever hurt you and life is perfect.

I was a little annoyed, because I had already spent $89 dollars. How do people afford to take their whole families here? What if I got thirsty? What if I wanted to buy fudge? Who doesn't crave fudge when they stroll past theme park candy stores? I wondered if I'd have to sign away my eventual first-born to be able to get through this day.

My primary focus, once I entered the park, was to take the Universal Studios tour. Immediately, I walked to the boarding location. There were hundreds of people in line ahead of me. Thankfully, due to my bypass the line laminate, an employee said I could hop right onto the tram, which was loading up and waiting to leave for the next tour. There were two trams from which to choose. One tram was Spanish. The other tram was English. I chose the latter because, since I have been a resident alien in the US for quite some time now, I have become bilingual. I can speak both American ("huh?") and Canadian ("eh?") English fluently.

As our tram headed out on our tour, we were taken past sound stages and told what has been filmed there. Stage 12, for instance, is the home of 'Scarface' and 'Jurassic Park.' Stages 22, 23, 24 and 25 are the homes to 'CSI', 'The Rockford Files' and 'Kojak'. It's not like we could see anything beyond the outside of a large building, so it was the same experience it would have been had they driven us past any warehouse in any part of town. Yawn.

Next, we were driven by little houses called banos (Um, I thought this was the English-speaking tram.), which used to house big directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, when they were filming on the Universal lot. After that, we were driven by vehicles, like the 'Back To The Future' DeLorean, which were used in movies. Ho-hum. I wasn't finding the tour to be very compelling.

At one point, I considered hopping off the tram and walking back to the park. But, we were locked in. And, having been to many studio lots for film screenings, I know that security is tough at film studios. I'd have been thrown out of the park if, somehow, I managed to escape the tram.

Finally, we were taken to a location that was supposed to be exciting. We were shown some special f/x. Two cars attached to robotic arms were heaved towards our tram while fake bullets shot out and fire shot up from behind the cars. It wasn't thrilling. Too contrived. We were then driven to a bridge which shook and partly fell apart as we crossed it. It unsettled my stomach. Last year, I was in Costa Rica zip-lining across jungles and white water river rafting. That was way more dangerous and electrifying.



We were taken past a flash flood which soaked people sitting on the left side of the tram. That didn't make them happy. I had been sitting on the left side of the tram until I spotted the flood heading towards me, so I quickly jumped into the lap of the guy sitting next to me. That did make him happy.

We were then shown fake styrofoam trees used in 'Jurassic Park'. Um, whatever.

What was interesting was when we were taken through an area called Six Points Texas, which was designed to look like the Old West. Some buildings' doors were incredibly small and some were very large. We were informed that this was to make actors look taller and actresses look smaller and more petite. Wow! Hollywood deceived us? I find that hard to comprehend.

Another interesting fact - we were told - that, originally, Bela Lugosi had been offered, but had turned down the role of Frankenstein's monster. He didn't want to play a role which had no speaking lines. He suggested that they choose a background actor instead. Thankfully for Boris Karloff (He emigrated to Canada from Great Britain in the 1910s, which is where he changed his original name, William Henry Pratt, to his stage name of Boris Karloff), who was a background actor at the time, he was given the role of Frankenstein, which required four hours of make-up application and two hours of removal. But it was worth it. He became one of the most famous horror movie characters of all time. Myself, I am always too lazy to remove my make-up before I go to bed, so I always wake up looking like Frankenstein's monster.

We were taken past a set from 'Jaws' where a very fake-looking shark jumped out of the water. And we were driven down the artificial, suburban street on which 'Desperate Housewives' is filmed. We were also driven past the Bates Motel ('Psycho') where, during the tour, an actor who is supposed to look like Norman Bates runs out of a motel room holding a blonde woman in his arms while carrying a knife. The actor then pretended to come after our tour guide in a very unconvincing manner.


Finally, the 45-minute tour was done. To me, this was the most exciting part - being able to get off the tram.

I wandered around the park for half an hour before I decided to call it a day. There is a 'The Simpsons' store where you can purchase an overpriced can of Duff energy drink for $4.95 ("D'oh!"), or a $10 beer opener (You can do that with your teeth for free, kids). There were some theme rides like 'Revenge of The Mummy' and 'Jurassic Park', but I'm not as young as I once was and I didn't feel like going on any of the rides. Besides some stores (Studio Souvenirs, Universal Studio Store) and a fake tattoo place for children where they airbrush tattoos, the park seems designed for gorging oneself all day long on Cinnabon, Dodger Dogs, El Pollo Loco (Brad Pitt, before he was famous, used to dress up to be their chicken mascot) and Ben & Jerry's.

For $89 dollars gone, I felt it was a waste. For that kind of money, I could have purchased 44 bottles of Charles Shaw wine. In my apartment, that would never go to waste.

Maybe, after a few years here, I've allowed myself to become jaded by living in Los Angeles. After all, the entire town is like one big Universal Studios tour. Sometimes I see police officers and I assume that they are just actors who are dressed up (until I am paying my speeding ticket). Maybe I'm just not fun anymore and I have forever lost the ability to embrace my inner child. But, I don't recommend spending your money on the Universal Studios tour unless you are 7 years old, babysitting a 7-year-old or the parents of a 7-year-old. But, even then, I'd say to opt for Disneyland. It's more expensive, but you get what you pay for.

Having spent my grocery money for the week on a crappy tour, I am now going to be forced to eat oatmeal for lunch. And, I will be cursing the Universal Studios Tour until my next paycheque.
CATEGORIES The DL From LA