Americans have had a love affair with movies for over a century, not to mention the mystical place that produces them known as Hollywood. This is where it all happens, right? And if you should happen to visit Tinsel Town, what could be more fun than seeing how the movies are made? The special effects, the elaborate sets, the glamorous stars? Well, how about two out of three?
Universal Studios has been making films since Carl Laemmle purchased the 230-acre ranch in 1914. Fifty years later, they began officially offering the public a tour of their facilities. And today, after numerous incarnations of the tour, Universal Studios has evolved into an amusement park of sorts, offering a number of rides and shows, in addition to its original backlot tour.
Since its expansion in the 60s, the backlot tour has offered a chance to see sets from some of America’s best loved films, including the eerie Psycho house, the town ravaged by Frankenstein and the rest of the Universal-based classic monsters, the residence of television’s The Munsters, and the town square from Back to the Future. Facades of various eras and locales line the many roads that the tram tour encompasses. Within a matter of minutes you can pass through an old western town, European cobblestone roads, New York City, and even Old Mexico.
In addition to the sets, a number of special effects have resided along the tram tour over the years. A number of them have remained in service for decades, including an unexpected flash flood, the ferocious man-eating shark from Jaws, and the parting of the Red Sea. Other special effects now reside on the list of extinct attractions. Some of the most memorable ones from yesteryear include the avalanche (of rubber boulders), the Battlestar Galactica attraction, the runaway train, and the treacherous collapsing bridge. And who could forget the ice tunnel where the Six Million Dollar Man fought Bigfoot? Now that was good television!
In the 70s, guests could choose from two shows, the Animal Trainer’s Studio and the now-defunct western stunt show (with quicksand added in 1975.) In more recent years, shows such as the A-Team stunt show, Miami Vice, and Waterworld have enthralled audiences with exciting live-action entertainment. In the 80s, guests could also talk to the Knight Rider car (KITT), soar on a bicycle with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and come face to face with King Kong.
In 1993, a few years after Universal Studios Florida was opened (and envisioned as more of a theme park), both parks began introducing movie-based rides. First came the motion simulator, Back to the Future: The Ride, which was followed with a Jurassic Park-themed boat ride and The Mummy, based thrill ride. 1993 also saw the opening of Citywalk, a massive shopping and dining complex designed to accompany the studios (and lure away more of those coveted tourist dollars).
While Universal Studios may not offer many opportunities to see the stars of Hollywood (although, some guests do get lucky), it does offer a fascinating glimpse into the world of movie making. And one can’t help but get nostalgic once you see the sets where literally thousands of movies and television shows have been filmed over the years. Universal Studios is definitely a (tram) trip down memory lane.
Did you ever take the Universal Studios tour with your family? We’d love to hear all of your recollections in our comments sections, as we celebrate the glory days of this iconic place where movies are made.