Universal Studios Hollywood is the most unique of the 4 big studio tours in Hollywood. A tour of the studios and backlot is just 1 of many attractions within the theme park.
Universal has a long history of offering tours, but in the 80s they decided to construct a theme park. As the park developed, they designed the studio tram tour to be an attraction within the park. There is currently no way to tour the studios and backlot without paying for admission to the park.
Studio Tram Tour
After entering the park, you can make your way to the queue for the tour. Much like any ride, your wait time depends on a number of variables, including the season and time of day. Once it’s time, you board a large tram (usually 4 to 5 cars) to begin the tour. While you have a driver and a tour guide at the front, most of the tour is narrated on video screens by Jimmy Fallon. The tours follow the same general route, however sometimes they will adjust the route based on filming schedules.
The Tram Tour starts by driving past some of the soundstages on the Universal lot.
The tour continues through the backlot areas. This includes a western set, a New York City backlot, and the plane crash scene from War of the Worlds.
The tour includes a drive down Colonial Street, which is a residential street used for many productions. These include Leave It To Beaver, The Munsters, and The Burbs. This area was also used as Wysteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.
Personally, I was most excited to see Courthouse Square, as I’m a huge Back To The Future fan. Of course, our tour didn’t go by due to filming in the area. That was a big disappointment, but one of the risks of visiting an active studio. I was able to catch a glimpse of the Courthouse from the upper level of the theme park.
The park has decided that a studio tour is not enough to thrill guests, so they’ve added some ride experiences to the tram tour. These include a spot where the tram is trapped in an earthquake, and another with a mechanical shark from Jaws. At least the theme park shark is more reliable than the one in the movie.
Overall the tour only lasts an hour, and is the least personal of the studio tours. You cannot leave the tram at all, and there is no guide that you can ask questions of or interact with either.
You can take pictures throughout the tour, but you may find your view is restricted based on where you are in the tram. Depending on your seat, you may be on the wrong side or have shoulders blocking your view. I suggest trying to take the tour during a quiet period, as you may be able to get a row to yourself. Alternatively, ask if you can sit in the very back row. You may need to wait until the next tram, but the back row allows you to take photos of everything behind you. This will result in a more panoramic and unobstructed view.
Since you have paid for admission to Universal Studios Hollywood, you can enjoy all the rides and shows as well. You can also do the studio tram tour more than once if you wish. There’s some great attractions based on franchises like Transformers, Jurassic Park, The Simpsons, and Despicable Me. The Waterworld stunt show is also excellent. While the movie was a flop, the show is very good.
Another perk to Universal Studios is some of the props they have on display. As you take the escalators from the upper to lower level, the midway landing has the capsule from Apollo 13 on display. In addition, the lower level had a small indoor museum. The DeLorean Time Machine from Back to the Future was on display, along with props like the flux capacitor. They also had an ET model, an Oscar Award, and several other items on display as well. I have heard that the DeLorean is now on display at a Los Angeles car museum, so not sure if this museum is still open at Universal Studios.
Universal Studios Hollywood does have a way for you to get a more personal look at the studios, their VIP Tour. While much more expensive, it gives you an up-close look at the studios and backlots. Universal Studios website does mention that you get a small-group tour in a cart. This allows you to get out and walk around in certain areas (again depending on active filming, some areas may be off-limits). This VIP option also includes a gourmet lunch and front-of-the-line access to the park and attractions. I haven’t had the opportunity to do this, but the reviews are generally very good. So if you want to really see the studios up close and also skip the lines, this could be the perfect option for you!