Universal Studios Hollywood Update November 2013

One of the many construction walls now up at Universal Studios Hollywood in preparation for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2016

One of the many construction walls now up at Universal Studios Hollywood in preparation for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2016

It’s been a while since Theme Park Adventure visited Universal Studios Hollywood for an update on things other than Halloween Horror Nights, which was a huge success this season. Again, kudos to John Murdy, Chris Williams and the entire cast/crew of HHN 2013 on a job very well done!

As many of you know, Universal Studios Hollywood is in a massive renovation phase, as the entire property is updated from the infrastructure up in preparation for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, set to open in 2016. This is the biggest growth spurt that USH has ever undergone, and naturally, there is a lot to do between now and then. We thought it would be nice to take you on a quick tour of Universal Studios Hollywood and show you the very latest!

Infrastructure is the big push at the moment when it comes to preparing Universal Studios Hollywood for attractions to come, specifically Despicable Me in 2014 and Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2016. The latter may seem like a long way off – and it is, if you’re holding your breath – however, there is a lot of work to be done around the 50 year-old theme park (USH opened as a studio in 1915, but as a theme park in 1964) to ready it for crowds the like of which it was never designed for.

New bathroom location between The Simpsons and Studio Tour entrance

New bathroom location between The Simpsons and Studio Tour entrance

First up, new bathroom locations and improvements. From plumbing to new facilities, if you’re gonna have a bunch more guests in your park, you have to make sure your bathrooms are large, efficient, “green” and ready for the masses. We have seen a new bathroom installed downstairs by the load/unload area of the Studio Tour, and now the newest bathroom upstairs, next to The Simpsons Ride and entrance to the Studio Tour, has opened to the public. It’s not flashy or themed; however, it is clean, and now can better serve guests in this busy spot in the park.

The new plaza area is still being finished, and is the location of the massive Grinchmas Christmas Tree, which is all set up and ready for the holiday season. Earlier this month, Theme Park Adventure promised its readers that we wouldn’t post or tweet Christmas pictures until after Thanksgiving, because we hate cramming holidays despite their increasingly early arrival in retail stores and theme parks. So until we shoot December images around Universal to share, you’ll have to picture a huge, curvy tree adorned with thousands of lights and decorations and topped by a giant star in your mind’s eye. There is a large metallic structure behind the tree at the moment – likely a Grinchmas backdrop.

One of the biggest questions that fans have at the moment is the scale of Grinchmas this season at Universal Studios Hollywood. We know that the major construction around the park made for a complicated Halloween Horror Nights execution. Will it also give Grinchmas organizers a headache this year? At this point, it appears that may be the case. While USH has announced Grinchmas for the 2013 season, it appears that there will be no nightly tree lighting ceremony, and if there is, it will likely be very low-fi compared to years past. There are no bleachers, and as of now, it doesn’t look like there will be any snow play for children and families. This is all assumption – however, we didn’t see anything this week that indicates that the new plaza area will be home to the same Who activities we have seen in the past years. That’s disappointing, considering Grinchmas is a really popular event at Universal Studios Hollywood, bringing in locals and tourists alike for the holiday festivities. The new plaza was designed with these events in mind, but as it is still being finished, it appears that it impacted HHN (El Cucuy was supposed to go in the plaza, and that maze location had to be shifted due to construction) and will likely impact Grinchmas 2013.

The facade of Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood

The facade of Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood

Down the street from the plaza is the future Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem attraction, where T2:3D used to exist. While the attraction itself is going to be identical inside to the one that opened in 2012 at Universal Studios Florida, the facade of ours is much more impressive. In Orlando, the attraction’s facade is Gru’s house, California’s is an entire city block, which has fans buzzing with appreciation and excitement. Giving Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem more “there there” helps take away the sting of losing T2:3D, one of the greatest theme park attractions ever, in our opinion. USH’s Despicable Me attraction is scheduled to open in Spring 2014.

The frame of the Insidious maze remains standing in the extended Jurassic Park queue - left over from Halloween Horror Nights 2013

The frame of the Insidious maze remains standing in the extended Jurassic Park queue – left over from Halloween Horror Nights 2013

Halloween Horror Nights 2013 is taking its time to depart, although we’re pleased to announce that there are no bodies left over in the War of the World set as there were for weeks last year following the event! TPA was fairly surprised to see remnants of the Insidious maze still standing in the extended Jurassic Park queue. Usually, mazes come down rather quickly. Likely, Universal is using a skeleton crew to dismantle the mazes, as they are mostly out of sight and mind – unless you happen to be fans riding the Studio Tour looking for such things!

Another sign of Halloween Horror Nights are piles of flats and perhaps some tree props left outside of Stage 747 in the Back Lot area of the property; this was the home of Black Sabbath: 13 3D, and this stuff is likely all that’s left to be stored by the company. Most people wouldn’t think twice as they passed by, but there were some neon-colored props nearby, which leads us to speculate that this is leftover maze goodness.

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The new Picture Cars portion of the Studio Tour – renovated and looking good!

Moving on to the Tour itself, there is a lot going on in the Back Lot portion of the property. An all new Picture Cars area has been completed, and is much more uniform than it’s been in the past. It looks good, and features an impressive lineup of vehicles from films including The FlintstonesBack to the Future and Transformers. Nestled next to one of the property’s hillsides and above the Landscaping storage area, the Picture Cars location has been looking pretty ratty in the past year or so, constantly exposed to the elements (not that Southern California has really strange or harsh weather, but well, you know). This much-needed renovation looks great and the presentation is polished!

Stage 55, the home of the Fast and the Furious attraction on the Studio Tour, appears to have closed permanently. Slated as one of the designated “new attraction” locations along the route, this portion of the tour remains shuttered, and likely will not reopen. It’s always been a mediocre experience in our opinion, so we have fingers crossed that whatever replaces this attraction will be fresh and exciting.

Our tram did not go through the Red Sea area of the Back Lot, as work continues on a large parcel of land next to the Prop Warehouse. Rumors fly that it will be part functional studio facility and part Tour attraction; that remains to be seen, literally, as foliage along the alternate route just outside of Six Points Texas is fairly dense. We did see what appears to be a massive satellite dish now installed on that land – that’s at least what it looked like. TPA only caught a glimpse of it, and it wasn’t at all picture-worthy, so we didn’t even try. Perhaps in the coming months, we’ll get a better view and idea as to what’s going on there.

The Earthquake attraction has a new high voltage show set piece – when the doors open to reveal a sparking transformer to the right of the tram, it is now a “kinder, gentler” effect; much more quiet and definitely less “violent” and loud. We can’t imagine this was part of any sound abatement program to appease the neighbors, but it’s definitely a different show piece than what was there for years.

Lots of set construction activity at the Chicken Ranch location at Universal Studios Hollywood

Lots of set construction activity at the Chicken Ranch location at Universal Studios Hollywood

Currently, there is lots of activity taking place at the Chicken Ranch set. Our tram driver was blasting by very quickly (final tour of the day – they obviously wanted to finish so they could get home – Vrrrrrrooooom!!!), so we apologize for the blurry images. At the Chicken Ranch, new facades and what looks like a virtual neighborhood are going up around the famous practical set; according to our Tour Guide, it is for a new television show that is going to shoot there soon. In the past months, we have seen this set altered a couple times, most notably for the shooting of the ill-fated reboot of The Munsters. There is no further word what the new sets going up around this location will be for at this time.

The Whoville set is being prepped for Grinchmas 2013, so it is pretty safe to say that guests riding the Studio Tour will still be treated to a rousing rendition of “Trim Up The Tree” by the Whos and the Grinch himself this holiday season!

There is more Halloween Horror Nights debris and some sound walls still erected next to the Psycho House… if the crew doesn’t put that all in storage pretty soon, who knows what Norman Bates might hide there!

There is a lot of construction activity taking shape at Falls Lake. One the trams pass through the War of the Worlds attraction set, they make a sharp turn, looping back toward the Whoville sets before returning to the Tour unloading area. Another designated new attraction location is where the old Ice Tunnel/Mummy’s Tomb attraction was. We’ve received conflicting reports that the iconic attraction has already been demolished. This cannot be seen from the Tour route; if it hasn’t already happened, it is bound to very soon, as all phases of Studio Tour construction seem to be in motion now.

Which brings us to the big item on everyone’s radar…

The former home of Gibson and Curious George; now the future home of Harry Potter

The former home of Gibson and Curious George; now the future home of Harry Potter

The Gibson Amphitheater has been completely demolished and wiped away, as has the Curious George play area inside the park. What’s left now is a massive expanse of dirt and steep hillside that will over the next couple of years, be transformed into Universal Studios Hollywood’s biggest attraction addition to date, Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It has been said that California’s WWOHP will include the wildly popular Forbidden Journey attraction. We also can safely assume that there will be Butterbeer in abundance, as well as a fantastic Wand Shop experience and of course, dining and shopping options available to the masses. Given the 2016 opening date, there is also speculation that Universal Studios Hollywood may also get the Gringotts coaster attraction that is currently under construction in Orlando. This could work out in our favor, since it’s certainly enough time to get that built here by 2016. Whether our Potter area opens with one or two major attractions remains to be seen – but will be pretty evident once vertical construction begins; once that is set in motion, it’s probably inevitable that Universal will announce more details of the thrilling adventures to come.

And that wraps our quick look around Universal Studios Hollywood! Theme Park Adventure will return to USH in December to bring you oodles of Grinchmas 2013 images from one of our favorite theme parks in the world!

What are your thoughts on all of the construction and change taking place at Universal Studios Hollywood these days? Are you excited about Potter, or bummed about the Gibson being leveled? We want to know! Sound off below and discuss with fellow TPAers!

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