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Published: August 9th 2016
The Harry Potter theme dominates the park.
Today we were to do the inevitable family thing and visit the Universal Studios. Given that that meant driving all the way back up to Hollywood again, we were beginning to question the logic of staying at Redondo Beach. Whilst it is a nice, safe place to stay, it is not exactly convenient for most of the places we wished to visit.
When we met our friend and his family yesterday they had advised to get to Universal early and cover the Harry Potter ride and the Studio Tour before the crowds build up and the queues start to get out of hand. We hence got down to breakfast as soon as it opened and hit the freeways as early as we could.
I know that we have only been in Los Angeles for three days, but we are already totally and utterly sick of the sodding freeways. They are an amazing achievement - a grid of huge, wide roads that interconnect across the city and with some of the junctions being massively impressive feats of engineering, but even they are not sufficient to cope with the vast amount of traffic and consequently they are a huge, interconnected multi-lane
Encounter on the studio tour.
traffic jam. The word "slow" doesn't even come close. Like yesterday our target arrival time came and went and we were still crawling along in yet another jam.
This being America, if you can afford it, there are express lanes, in which you can pay to avoid the worst of the jams. Contrast this with the little 'tent villages' on some of the bridges, presumably where the homeless spend the night.
A few other things about LA roads. First of all no one gives way to anyone. If you want to change lane expect anyone in the lane you want to move into to accelerate as soon as they see you indicating. Consequently, and perfectly understandably, no one indicates and they just cut across lanes as needed. Furthermore, the road signs do not actually tell you where to go. They are very good at telling you which street each junction exits onto, but they do not actually tell you where they lead to. A word of advice, if you plan to drive on the LA freeways, you need three things: patience, lots and lots of time and a very effective satnav.
Tomorrow we are going to give
Impressive Waterworld themed stunt show.
the Metro Rail a try.
We arrived and drove straight into the huge car park (which cost another $18, despite us having spent hundreds of dollars on the entry tickets). Mugged-off #10.
I visited Universal Studios when I travelled around the world with some mates back in 1989/90. Back then it was dominated by the studio tour, with a slight hint towards a theme-park. Now it is clearly a theme-park, with a slight hint towards a studio tour.
That said, the "world famous studio tour" was definitely worth doing and we did still manage to get on before the queue got too out-of-hand. It started off quite dull, with the train just driving around a load of anonymous looking, numbered studio buildings, with nothing to see unless any of them had left their doors open. It is important to remember that these are actually working studios, but the guide at least told us what was going on in most of them - mostly a load of American TV programmes that we had never heard of. It then got a lot more interesting with a lot of outside sets, cars and other various artefacts from different movies.
The pier on Hermosa Beach at sunset.
There were also a few things that I remembered from the previous time I was there, including the Bates Motel, a flood wave and the same totally unconvincing Jaws shark.
The theme-park is completely dominated by Harry Potter, with a new ride that has just opened, which was excellent, but left us feeling quite ill and a rather tenuously linked and very short roller-coaster. The queue for the new ride was not that long, as it was still early, which was a shame as there was lots to see in the queue itself, particularly the moving and talking pictures all over the walls.
Outside, there is a recreation of the Hogwarts Castle, which is absolutely massive and stunning. It pretty much dominates the park. The collection of Harry Potter merchandise available in all the shops is vast. All the guides were wearing Hogwarts gowns and there was also a little choir singing with the frogs, as per the start of Prisoner of Azkaban I think.
Come lunchtime, my wife and I still felt quite rough after that ride, so we went back to an area outside the park called City Walk, which is basically a huge area of shops and restaurants. Some good stodgy American food to settle the stomach. We'd had some Butter Beer outside the Harry Potter ride, which really hadn't helped - nice, but very sickly.
On the way out, we saw the old Universal Studios sign, which I had had my picture taken with 26 years ago, so I thought I would try a 'then and now' picture.
Back in the park, the queue time estimates had generally been overly pessimistic, presumably so when you did get on the ride, you were pleasantly surprised by how long it had actually taken. The one exception to this was the Jurassic Park water ride. It was estimated at 70 minutes and it took considerably longer. The whole park has free wifi, so that gave us plenty of time to update our social media, particularly given that it was late evening in the UK and everyone seemed to be online. It was also starting to get really hot, but the queue was in the shade and there were lots of fans blowing out a fine spray of water, which was really effective at keeping everyone cool. The ride itself was good, but it's guaranteed that you will get extremely wet. We soon dried-off in the heat afterwards though.
The Waterworld themed stunt show was very impressive.
It was then time to face the gauntlet of the freeways to get back to Redondo Beach, not helped by it being deep into the evening rush hour (but then every hour seems to be a rush hour on the LA freeways). The Interstate 101, jammed solid, The Interstate 110, jammed solid. The Interstate 405, jammed solid. We had been planning on watching the Olympics in the evening, but I think they were all over and done with by the time we got back to the hotel.
It is a shame that the Harry Potter shops didn't sell broomsticks.
We are getting used to this whole turning right on a red light thing now. Previously we had just been waiting for someone to horn behind us to get the hint that we were supposed to drive through, but now we're getting a bit more confident to go for it. Hopefully we will leave LA without having been pulled over by California Highway Patrol.
As we had already eaten and it looked like a nice evening, a walk along the beach during the sunset seemed like a great idea. Redondo is dominated by a huge yacht harbour, but just north is Hermosa Beach. This is exactly what you would expect from a stereotypical LA beach; wide and golden with lots of people playing beach volleyball and a pathway full of skaters, runners, skateboarders and other people just out for a stroll. Oh and, of course, there are the Bay Watch like lifeguard towers. Very pleasant and perfect for getting over the stress of the freeways.
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