The time has finally come! Theme Parks in SoCal are starting to re-open and you can hear the collective scream of joy across the Southland. Like many themed entertainment fans out there, I’ve missed having our local parks. Whether that was because of rides, shows, or entertainment; not having these places was a travesty. But, now that COVID-19 cases are dropping, these beautiful parks are re-opening with new safety measures and reduced capacity levels. This can make for a very pleasant trip!
We were lucky enough to visit Universal Studios Hollywood not too long after its long awaited re-opening. We’d seen the images and videos of the park and its spectacular new details on social media leading up to our visit. But that never truly ruins it for us, if anything it made us happier seeing so many people enjoy themselves at the park. A reminder of the normalcy that we can attain if we stay focused on keeping case levels low. When we did visit, there were lots of new and exciting things to see and experience. But perhaps the most apparent new features were the new COVID-19 Safety measures around the park.
THE COVID-19 SAFTEY PROTOCOLS
Before getting into the park, there is a Temperature check to enter Citywalk. This isn’t anything new actually as it was implemented when Citywalk re-opened during the Pandemic. But it’s the first line of defense for USH in its fight to stop the spread. Along with that, there is a mask mandate which tells guests to keep their masks on unless in designated eating or rest areas. These two rules apply to inside the park as well. There are frequent recordings that play throughout the park reminding guests of these and many other important rules. In fact, all the rules that we’ve come to know are at play while inside the park.
We were very impressed with how attentive USH Team Members were in making sure mask and social distancing rules were being followed. When in line for Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, we saw a TM come from at least 20 yards away to tell someone to pull their mask above their nose. It’s that sort of attention to detail and dedication to safety that makes us feel incredibly safe during our visits. Additionally on each attraction, a TM sprays your hands with hand sanitizer. Just an extra step to guarantee a safe and clean ride vehicle.
The only criticism we have about the measures are how an understaffed park can create problems in maintaining these rules. While we’ve always said that guests are the true “X factor” inside parks, and it’s up to them to follow these rules; sometimes you cannot stop stupid. And something we realized is that happens most often inside the lines for attractions. When we waited for Jurassic World, there weren’t any TM’s to monitor guests in line. Often we saw people remove masks, have it under their nose, or completely ignore the social distancing markers. Thankfully that whole line is outdoors, so that helps alleviate a ton of the stress. Also, the social distancing markers do not take into account large groups of people together. It’s next to impossible to keep people together and they are bound to spread out way too much in the lines. Having a TM there to make sure guests are adhering to the COVID-19 rules would help these issues.
This was the one and only time we encountered a problem at the park in regards to the rules. Other than this moment, we found our visit to the park to be incredibly satisfying in terms of safety. We easily found locations to eat, where we were some of the only people around. Personally for us, we are incredibly picky in terms of where we find it suitable to take off our masks. But we never had an issue finding a spot where we felt safe.
SECRET LIFE OF PETS: OFF THE LEASH
Finally! After a long time waiting, guests can finally ride Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash at USH! The long awaited dark ride made its debut at the park during the re-opening. Early on in 2020, before the world shut down, we were lucky enough to be given a backstage tour of the queue for the attraction before it was all finished. Even then, with everything unfinished, we found the queue to be cute. Now being able to visit with all the finishing touches to the whole experience, it sets a new standard for USH dark rides. On top of that, USH desperately needed a family friendly dark ride.
When you approach the attraction, you make your way through Pets Place. The new themed area where the ride is located. Here you can find stores where you can adopt a puppy (an adorable stuffed animal) and plenty of fun hidden easter eggs from the Secret Life of Pets films. As you make your way to the entrance of the attraction, you’re met with a towering red bricked building with the sign for the ride. Off to the left you can find the Virtual Queue system and a tester seat. Trust me, we’ll be talking about the tester seat soon!
For the Virtual Queue you can either go to the kiosk and grab a return time ticket. Or you can go on the USH app and reserve a return time. Having these two different options makes it much easier to plan out when you want to ride the attraction.
As you enter the building, you’re told that it’s adoption day and all puppies need a forever home! As you traverse the line, you’re greeted by familiar faces from the films. Some are animatronics and others are presented through digital media. Either way, it’s fun to see the characters come to life in this format. Actually, the staggering amount of animatronics in this attraction is really impressive. The queue has a total of 5 different animatronics alone!
As you continue, you walk down hallways of the apartment and finally enter the unit of the family from the films. Great attention to detail was paid to make these rooms feel like they are really lived in by these characters. Even up to family photos on book shelves or walls. I think these details are my favorite to look at because it makes the experience that much more believable for the guest.
Once you approach the the ride vehicle, you step on the moving conveyor belt and sit in your card board boxes. Yes! The ride vehicles look like card board boxes and its adorable. After that, you’re off on an adventure with all the characters from the film! In fact, you’re turned into a dog yourself and are looking to get adopted at the pet store. It is adoption day after all! To sell this idea, there is a really fun effect at the beginning of the ride where you see yourself as a puppy! It tracks your movement, so make sure to wave and see your puppy self wave its paw around on screen. After that, you’ll have to ride the attraction yourself to see what sort of antics Max, Gidget, Snowball and Duke get into! Or if you wont be making it to USH anytime soon, make sure to watch SoCal Attraction 360 video of the attraction! Their videos are phenomenal!
Overall, I feel like Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash mixes old school dark ride fun with new school tricks. People tend to complain about the over use of media in Universal attractions. But this one delivers the perfect mixture in spades. An over abundance of practical effects that are enhanced by some fun digital media. We cannot praise this attraction more and it makes us really excited to see more like it at USH. Could you imagine an updated ET attraction with this type of technology? One can dream…right?
Now, let us talk about the one sore spot of the attraction…the ride vehicles. When one thinks of slow moving dark rides, attractions like Haunted Mansion come to mind. The restraint system for that attraction is a simple lap bar that is very accommodating to larger guests. For some reason, Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash uses restraints that are akin to a roller coaster. A massive, chunky lap bar that leaves very little wiggle room and alienates lots of people of different sizes. We witnessed lots of people disheartened by not fitting in the ride vehicle outside the attraction and it pains us to see this because it’s a family ride! It should be welcoming to all families. There is no reason why this attraction doesn’t have a simple lap bar. We are unsure of the reasons behind the restraint system or if they will change. But we sincerely hope they do because all people deserve to enjoy this adorable family attraction.
JURASSIC WORLD: THE RIDE
Back when Jurassic World: The Ride opened, we thought the additions and changes to the ride were great. We had our small problems, but overall we loved the refresh the attraction got. Little did we know at the time that there were other changes coming that didn’t make it in! For comparison, watch this video to see how the attraction looked before the pandemic. The changes mostly happen when you reach the Raptor paddock.
Now, you can watch the amazing video from SoCal Attractions 360 to see what great additions were made during the pandemic!
Needless to say, the additions take this attraction to a whole new level of awesome. Originally, the ending had the new Indominous Rex hiding in the bushes and only revealing its head. Now, it’s a massive full sized animatronic that looms over guests as you head down the massive drop. It really changes the entire attraction now that it has this phenomenal ending. Jurassic Park: The Ride was always fun because of the T-Rex ending, but this just takes it to the next level.
Other changes that occurred on the ride were the switch-out of the dead and bloodied Pterodactyls for a broken down Gyrosphere vehicle and an additional appearance of the Indominous Rex right before you ascend the lift hill. When we first rode JW, we were shocked at the amount blood in the Pterodactyl scene. We are not shocked in the slightest that the scene was changed to something a bit more tame.
Overall, Jurassic World: The Ride has now completely cemented itself as a classic Universal Studios attraction. With wildly impressive animatronics and a finale that almost no attraction can compete with; we are jazzed to ride this one again and again. Who knew that almost getting eaten by dinosaurs would be so much fun! Also, we now think Islands of Adventure SHOULDN’T get this attraction and hear us out! We find that having Jurassic World: The Ride in Hollywood and Velocicoaster in Orlando creates an amazing “sister attraction” situation. Both using the same IP, focusing on different animals from that IP. Secondly, having Jurassic Park: The Ride and Velocicoaster really (in our opinion) celebrate the IP as a whole. Showing where it started and where it is today.
SUPER NINTENDO WORLD CONSTRUCTION
While at the park, there are so many angles to see the new neighbors moving next to Jurassic World. Those dinosaurs are getting some Italian plumbers as neighbors! To say that we are pumped about Super Nintendo World is a complete and drastic understatement. After seeing all the incredible pictures and videos from Universal Studios Japan, our bodies are ready for USH to have one of its own!
To be completely honest, we are the types of people that are overly cautious during these times. We wipe things down, we double up our masks and make sure there is ample room between us and the person in front of us at the supermarket. So needless to say we have high standards in terms of how we live in this pandemic world. But we felt so safe at Universal Studios Hollywood. From a guest perspective, it makes us feel so secure at the park when we see USH TM’s actively implementing and enforcing the COVID-19 rules and regulations. Couple that with amazing new additions to the park and USH is looking like it can have an extremely successful recovery from the pandemic. We applaud all those who’ve worked so hard to get the park back open and celebrate those who are continuously striving to adhere to the new safety standards. We look forward to more visits in the near future to celebrate the re-opening of our beloved Universal Studios Hollywood.
If you want visit Universal Studios Hollywood, make sure you visit their website for updates on tickets, reservations and COVID-19 Safety Regulations.