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In the Parks

Be a Hollywood VIP, Star Tours Launch at Disneyland, Mermaid at DCA, Knotts Sparkles

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 05-19-2011 at 09:12 PM

Lights, camera action! We have an exciting and star studded update for you today from Disneyland and Hollywood! We'll start the update with the most exciting way you can experience Universal Studios Hollywood - a real life VIP Experience. We'll bring you along on our first hand account. Then we head down the 5 freeway to the Disneyland resort where the calm before the storm has settled in as they anticipate the openings of both Star Tours and The Little Mermaid in the coming week. The walls have come down around the Little Mermaid and we'll give you a full tour of everything new at the resort. We round out this update with a trip to Knott's Berry Farm and tell you what to expect for this summer. Off we go!

While you may think you have seen everything that Universal Studios has to offer, we have something to share with you that is nothing short of an amazing brush with Hollywood (and not just the fake theme park stuff). The Universal Studios VIP Experience takes guests further in to the realm of actual movie magic than the average guest will experience at the park on their own. Of course, this also means a higher price. Is it worth it? Let's take the tour and you decide.

MiceChat was asked to come along as guests of the tour and check out this optional way to see the park. We arrived before park opening at 10am and bypassed the regular ticket booths to head straight for the VIP Lounge to Check in.

VIP Lounge:
VIP guests are welcomed into a small foyer where they are checked in and given their lanyards indicating they are on the tour. Then you are escorted to a well appointed lounge one story above the entrance plaza of the park to wait for your guide.

Above the park before opening.

The VIP lounge is spacious and offers free coffee, fresh cut fruit, coffee cake and orange juice to those waiting for their tour. the 10am tour time arrived and our tour guide, Luis (Employee of the Month winner in May of 2009) introduced himself and laid out what to expect for the day. We would be taking our own private version of the world famous studio tour, then coming back into the park for front of line access to rides as well as a gourmet lunch buffet.


Luis led our small group of 15 people down to the Studio Tour area. We avoided the normal queue and were led to a small trolley that was parked just off to the right. What was striking was how intimate and open the trolley was. Unless one chose to sit in the small, enclosed area towards the back, the seating faced outward with nothing but a seat belt and small metal bar separating us from the world of movie making.

We initially drove down into the hive of production offices. Here is where films are greenlit, deals made, movies edited, mixed and screened. We were not actually permitted to take photos in the area for the sake of film maker privacy, but we saw Universal's collection on Emmys and Oscars as well. Pretty cool. The vibe one gets from being at the center of a working movie studio is surreal but exciting.

Inside a sound stage:
The tour then boarded the small trolley again and we breezed around the soundstages as the normal tour does. But since this was the VIP tour we were able to take a pit stop, got off the tram and tour an actual working soundstage. In this case, we explored the interior set of the T.V. show Parenthood.

The interior set of a house is built within this soundstage.

Lets' go inside.

Metro Sets and Courthouse Square:
Having seen an interior set, we got back onto the trolley for a quick jaunt into the Metro sets and Courthouse Square. Film geeks would recognize this famous area from the Back to the Future series as well as other T.V. shows like Ghost Whisperer.

It is admittedly a real rush to be walking around movie sets that you have seen so many times on the big screen. Imagine walking around the same set that Doc Brown was on. Yeah. Pretty freakin' cool.

Guests are allowed to wander if they like, just stay off the grass!

Courthouse Square

While the long trams of regular tourists zoomed by quickly, we took our time strolling the street sets by foot, putting us directly in the middle of the magic.

KING KONG 360º 3D:
After the intimate tour of the the Parenthood set, then a walk around the back lot, it was back on to the trolley. Our tour guide Luis handed us all glasses and our tiny little car went straight into the massive King Kong 360º 3D attraction. This thing is already huge. But us, in the ity-bity vehicle in this massive 3D attraction was something really amazing. An entirely different experience than it is from the tram.

Nothing in between us and the huge ape. WOW!

The Prop House:
Luis calmed our nerves with a trip into the Universal Studios Prop Shop next. A prop is anything that is handled by an actor and can be removed from the actual set. the vast collections of movie curios from one of the busiest movie studios in the world was sure to hold some surprises. Entering a large warehouse we boarded an elevator to the third floor and there the fun began.

Yes, even the Where's Elvis game.

It's the wicked raptor of the east!

Yes, that is E.T. from the old attraction, sitting on the throne from Gladiator.

That's a lot of luck!

Grampa Munster's organ

Luis shared an interesting story with me about these props from Jurassic Park. Spielberg has a great attention to detail apparently. During filming, he required all crew members to fit their shoes with the dino feet in the far right hand corner of this case. Why? So that whenever the camera was rolling, where ever it panned on the set, there would only be dino tracks and not human footprints. WOW.

Another film geek moment: The actual mask from Creature from the black lagoon.

props from Hellboy and Hellboy 2

The sarcophagus from the 1930's Mummy film

sad but funny and true

Every little thing you could think of.

And this too.

The Backlot Tour:
What was continually impressive was that we missed nothing from the existing Studio Tour attraction but enjoyed it on a far more intimate scale and at a slower pace. In each tram attraction it was just us, nobody else.

Hey Luis!

Hunchback fans will recognize the Court of Miracles.

The blind man's house in Frankenstein.

And then we pulled into Earthquake.

Right in your face.

Fast and Furious blows up right in your face (and still manages to be the weak link on the tour).

Yay Jaws!

Norman Bates does not seem happy that we've stopped by. Heart racing, put that knife away Norman, we are strapped into the trolley and can't get away!

Grinch Sets

Our last walk around stop was through the War of the Worlds set.

But wait, that's not all. The VIP Experience isn't just about being able to get off the tram. We were guided to the International Streets near the T2 attraction and treated to a full on all you can eat gourmet buffet. Nice!


We knew lunch was included but who knew it would actually be GOOD!? There were salads, about 14 different dishes to please any palette or dietary concern, and dessert. Let's look at what we had.

There was the normal comfort food...

chicken breast

Lobster "Mac" and cheese

Tortellini salad

Caprese salad

and yummy finger food desserts

So that must be it, right?!

The rest of the Day:
Guests who opt for the VIP experience also have their day in the park planned out as well. There is no waiting in line, nor any scheduling conflicts. After the tour is handled and lunch is squared away, our guide walked us up to each attraction where we were escorted to the front of the line, no waiting. We hit The Simpsons, T2, Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Shrek 4D, and the House of Horrors all without a line. It was kind of like being a movie star. Right this way sir to the front of the line. Very cool.

I've got to do it, what does it cost?:
Is the VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood expensive? The price, at $259.00 per person, is steep. That's at least the cost of an annual pass to the other parks. But let's do the math.

A day pass at Universal Studios Hollywood costs $74.00. Currently Southern California residents can pay for a day and get the year free. But, for out of towners, this is a one day price. If you want the Premium pass that includes free parking, no black out dates, and priority access to the regular Studio tour, it is $139.00.

So, clearly, If you are a local to Universal Hollywood, you might not be in the biggest rush to get on the rides or shows on one particular day. You could simply wait for the off season and come back when it is less crowded. But there is no way to get the super fancy Studio Tour with walking access to the soundstages and backlots. For the true Universal Studios Hollywood fan, or the major movie buffs, this is a hands on Hollywood experience. We would highly recommend that, if you are looking to see this park and want to better understand how a studio works, do the VIP experience at least once. Save it for when friends or family come from out of town or just treat yourself to a special day. We would also recommend this tour for the busy season when lines are long throughout the park. You'll get the double advantage of an amazing tour and not having to wait in line.

Even better for those from out of town:
The perspective changes if you are an out of town guest. You can spend $74.00 for a one day ticket, or $139.00 on a one day ticket that would include a front of the line pass (not including the $15 parking). But you would not get the amazing, VIP version of the world famous Studio Tour, and you would also have to be concerned with the cost of meals.

The VIP experience really takes the stress out of planning your visit to this park and gives you a perfect tour of the back lot and park shows and attractions. You get your breakfast, a guided tour, walk-throughs of working sets, all the studio tour attractions, no lines on any of the rides and a huge buffet in the middle of the day.

So, our take on it is that if you think Universal has nothing new to offer this year, think again. You can plan to get a whole new perspective on this working movie studio and theme park. It does come at a price, but to out of towners and fans of the park, it is certainly worth the splurge. When mom comes to town to visit, THIS is where we are taking her. She'll be beside herself as she walks through the actual sets of her favorite shows and movies.

You can book a VIP Experience by following this link here.


Work continues on the CityWalk Cinemas and the CityWalk stage.

New signage has gone up on CityLoft for the Infusion Lounge.

A new smoking area adjacent to the Blues Brothers stage has opened replacing the one between Cartooniversal and the Gibson Amp entrance.

Louie's is now closed until mid-June for some back of house improvements.

A wall has gone up once again separating Western Street and the old Wild West Arena. Unlike previous walls in that area, this wall features silhouettes of characters made famous by Universal (Frankenstein's monster, the creature for the Black Lagoon) or that are licenced in the theme park (Shrek and Donkey). The decals were individually applied to the wall and look rough in some areas.

It was finally announced that Jimmy Fallon's debut on the Studio Tour will take place on Thursday June 2nd.The first set of new props have been added to the War of the Worlds set. This batch is mostly trees and bushes.

This week we take a gander at the progress at Transformers and even get a glimpse of track.

Disneyland has been previewing the new Star Tours and the Pirates premiere has completely moved out. Here is what the parks looked like this week.

The gardens around the hub are a blaze of vibrant purple (we did not enhance the color)

Crowds were huge over the weekend then dropped off to nothing during the week.


After the Pirate Premiere, more construction walls shot up around the Golden Horseshoe. While across the way work continues on the new outdoor vending location in front of Big Thunder.

(Please don't let it be another french fry cart!)

We like these full graphic tarps. Construction is never pretty but these really help keep the spirit of the area. A very nice touch.

Tight clearances in Frontierland


Star Tours: The Adventures continue has begun Cast member Previews and this weekend a few lucky pass holders will get to take their first rides on the newly re-vamped attraction. In short, it is a huge success. This is a very well made update to a now classic ride which breathes new life into the Star Wars universe. The multiple story lines will have you getting back in line over and over again for a long time to come.

Looks beautiful on the inside and out

California here we come! Right back where we started from. Scaffolds, construction walls and concrete. Here is your weekly fix of all things being constructed inside DCA.

But before we get to that we have this editor's note from Al Lutz. Lutz wrote on his site...
The World of Color programmers cooked up a new Pirates segment for the upcoming Halloween show, and felt it worked better than the original version from last summer. Some schmoozing between TDA and Studios execs two weeks ago at the movie premiere party about furthering the great Anaheim-Burbank relationship led to an offer to slot most of the new Pirates segment in as a summertime encore to promote the film further. This new Pirates encore and a freshly tweaked World of Color show debut tonight and should run through the summer season.
Interesting, no? Okay now on to the dca update.


The Pan Pacific entrance is becoming more visible as the white accents are appearing against the teal blue structure.

'Round the backside.

The Carthay Circle theater building

This is the Performance Corridor where the Carthay is going up on the left and an unidentified new structure on the right (just before the Grizzly waterfall)

Do you see anything missing here?

An info booth and covered seating area was here just a couple weeks ago

The info booth is now history.

New attraction posters have appeared in the Blue Sky Cellar as well as a new video featuring more from The Little Mermaid Ride.


This week a new concrete wall is being constructed just on the other side of the construction fence near Pacific Wharf. Is this how the are going to ease the transition from the wharf into Cars Land or will it somehow be obscured?

Here is a more intimate look at the Curio Shop and Luigi's

And now for the Restaurant and shop report. Things are coming along, yes indeed.

Palm trees have been planted along the corridor and
green roofing is being installed on the archway.

The Garden Grill.

Beer Hut

A colorful new sign has emerged or Seaside Souvenirs.
Perhaps they painted that basic looking carnival on the sign so we'd feel better about Paradise Pier?

The Corn Dog Castle sign has also been repainted.

The new dining area near the Corn Dog Castle is going to be a nicely shaded place to chow down on an artery clogging meal.


Goofy's Sky School recently had its animated 3 dimensional signs installed and a nice, puffy cloud pattern has been applied to the facade walls obscuring the otherwise ugly track and supports. Disney also gave us the first look at the new attraction poster. pretty cool.

New attraction poster


The Little Mermaid walls have come down and we get our first look at the marquee sign and queue.
As with Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure has been previewing to cast members and will hopefully be followed soft openings before the opening day on June 3rd.

Knott's is gearing up for summer. We already know that Snoopy's Starlight Spectacular is coming on May 28th and that Windseeker is well on its way for a summer 2011 debut. But just announced is the new ice show over at the Charles M. Schulz Theatre called “Happiness is….Snoopy”. We are sure that the upcoming show will have the same fun music, sets, costumes and choreography that have become the hallmarks of the Knott's ice show spectacular.

•"All Wheels Extreme” returns to the Calico Stage on June 18. Guests will be amazed by the skills of gravity defying BMX bikers, in-line skaters, a trials rider, gymnasts and even a skateboarding canine in a fast paced, action packed production.

It was just officially announced that Snoopy's Starlight Spectacular will be returning this year on May 28th. Of course we've known that for quite some time as we've watched the lights being strung in Camp Snoopy. A little something to look forward to.

the planetary scene has been intsalled.


Knott's is taking this last opportunity to get ready for summer as The Dragon Swing, Wave Swinger, and Sierra Sidewinder are all down for refurbishment.

Windseeker is finally close to going vertical. The foundation is set and the pieces to the tower are all on-site.

The tower is in pieces just waiting for assembly

Today's update was brought to you by the following members of our fantastic and talented crew of photographers and news contributors: F!an, Captphoebus, Ericbramey, Fishbulb, and Dustysage.

Show us you appreciate this column by sharing this page with your friends!

Would you like to be part of this crew? Do you have a park, zoo or botanical garden that you'd like to share with our readers? We are looking for Southern California theme park reporters. We'd love to hear from you! please contact [email protected].

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Updated 05-20-2011 at 07:37 AM by In the Parks



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  1. Emmanuel_4's Avatar
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    Great Update!
  2. KingEric's Avatar
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    What awesome updates. I will admit that I like the Little Mermaid show building better now with the walls down.

    I love the VIP tours at Universal, and I do think that they are worth the money especially if you are an out of towner.
  3. skoolpsyk's Avatar
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    "Ariel's Undersea Adventure has been previewing to cast members and will be followed by AP Preview giveaways and soft openings."

    Is there a sign up somewhere for an AP preview drawing like there was for Star Tours?
  4. WheresMickey's Avatar
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    Great update!
  5. Wendygirl's Avatar
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    I was wondering the same thing about AP previews for Little Mermaid. Entered and got a spot for Star Tours but I've not seen anything for LM. Great update by the way!
  6. SpcMtn77's Avatar
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    I am absolutely in love with the detailing around The Little Mermaid attraction...the railing, the mosaic tile inlay on the ground, the sea anemone knobs on the posts...makes me happy
  7. In the Parks's Avatar
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    Sorry about that folks, minor typo on the little mermaid section. As far as we know there no AP previews for Mermaid.
  8. DOMINGUESS's Avatar
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    The Universal VIP tour sounds great! Do you know if there is an age limit to this?

    I loooooove how the Little Mermaid queue & building looks, just beautiful!

    Thanks for yet ANOTHER fantastic update! Happy Friday!!!
  9. Sparky's Avatar
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    Thanks for the review of the Universal VIP Tour. Three years ago, when I was turning 50, I wanted to do something special to celebrate the milestone birthday, and I had decided that the VIP tour was what I would do. Then, one month before my birthday, the tragic fire destroyed the New York streets and the beloved King Kong attraction. So, I didn't end up doing the VIP tour. It would have been too sad and depressing. Not the way to celebrate turning 50! Decided to wait until things were rebuilt. I'll have to do it one of these days. Do you get to walk around the Western streets? That is what I have always wanted to do. I would also recommend the Warner Brothers tour. I've done it a few times and it is a lot of fun for movie lovers.
  10. BC_DisneyGeek's Avatar
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    Great update, loving the attention to detail on the Little Mermaid attraction.
  11. churrocharlie's Avatar
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    The detail on Little Mermain is amazing. Thanks for the great picture!
  12. Mousecat's Avatar
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    Excellent update. I could not agree more with your assessment of the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP tour. I have taken it and I thought it was a bargain at the $259 price. Speaking of USH, there may be something about the park in next week's Samland....

    SamLand's Disney Adventures
  13. TCadillac's Avatar
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    That's actually not a bad price for the VIP tour. The prop shop visit would be worth it right there alone. Lots of cools stuff in there!
  14. jaxbistro's Avatar
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    Good stuff Maynard!
  15. Dustysage's Avatar
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    The Universal Studios VIP Tour is an amazing opportunity. Few people know about it and the ones who do often balk at the price. But, we can assure you that it is a really great time and a wonderful way tot experience the park.

    Excited about the World of Color news that Al Lutz broke today. Looking forward to seeing the new Pirates 4 segment in World of Color beginning tonight.

    Hooray to Fishy and the entire In The Parks crew for an epic update today!!!
  16. Disneykin Kid's Avatar
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    I think $259 for USH VIP tour is ok, it's like their version of Discovery Cove at Sea World Orlando. Maybe Disney should consider a VIP tour of DL, really getting into the back stage, or a tour of the Disney studios.

    I realize the name is Corn Dog Castle, but I don't like the corny king, I think they could have rethemed it better.

    I'm sorry, I don't like the attraction posters for LM and GSS, I DO like the ones of Mickey's Fun Wheel, Screamin, and Swings, they're just stronger graphically.

    I do like the marquee and details of LM, now if only we could get a great E Ticket version of Snow White, Peter Pan and every other classic. Maybe in the proposed third park.
  17. Matterhorn's Avatar
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    Are you kidding? $259? If you want to have a "backlot" experience for $48, try the Warner Bros. Studio Tour which is about 2 miles from Universal Studios. Tram rides around the backlot, tour of Props & Wardrobe, working stage tour, then use the $210 you saved to buy front-of-the-line passes at Universal and still have $70 for a really nice dinner. The Universal VIP tour sounds great, but holy smoke, don't get ripped off just because you haven't done the research.
  18. disneymademoiselle's Avatar
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    Wow, Little Mermaid looks spectacular! There were a lot of details hidden behind those walls
  19. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    The Universal Prop House Tour looks like a great idea with all the old classic movie props. Although Disney sold off most of their Studio props, they probably could put something with 3 dimentional items together like a Natures Wonderland Train, Sky Way Buckets, some Flyiing Saucers, costumes through the years, etc.. The Mainstreet Gallery is a Great idea and maybe some of these could be included. Maybe Captain Nemo's Victorian specimen display case from the movie, that was in the One of a Kind Shop before it closed.
  20. TodAZ1's Avatar
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    I liked the french fry cart! I just didn't like that the McDonald's name was all over the place.

    LM looks fantastic, btw!
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