Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Universal Studios Hollywood Trip Report, June 2022

The second park we hit on our trip was Universal Hollywood. To be fully straightforward about this, we were primarily going to go on the backlot tour, which is the entire reason the park was built in the first place. All of the other attractions are secondary, and frankly I am glad that we were not really into the different IPs because each ride had a 45 minute wait. We basically went and rode the backlot tour first, saw lines that were 45 minutes to 90 minutes for each ride, and decided to just head out. 
The park is landlocked and has a small footprint, that is understandable, but I think it is unacceptable to charge about 30 bucks to park and over a hundred bucks to get in to the park, just to basically have a walking around pass and no guarantee on getting on pretty much any of the rides unless you go and blow another hundred bucks on the line skip pass. I would prefer if the park came up with a way to have set reservation times in a logical manner so that everyone can get to ride. Maybe make a nominal gate pass price to walk around that is much lower than the current ticket rate, and then maybe 10 dollars additional per ride reservation on a sliding scale with a guaranteed ride time, similar to what you would get with a reservation for a session time at a ski area or something. I am sure the park has no motivation to change as long as the money keeps flowing. After a while though, I think enough people will have a bad experience that their attendance will begin to drop. Especially with families who want to make their recreation dollars count when they realize that their admission ticket is basically just a gate pass to walk around and not really ride anything. 

Anyways, on to the real star of the show, the legendary Studio Tour. The neat attraction that almost makes the exorbitant admission prices worth it. 
Courthouse Square has been showcased countless flicks, including, most notably, Back to the Future. It is done up a little differently for something they are filming there at the moment.

Magnum PI's Lambo
Back to the Future cars, Biff's car in the 1950s and the future flying car from Back to the Future II
Flintstones movie vehicles
Jurassic Park vehicles
Jurassic Park lab vehicle
Jurassic Park vehicle
Part of the western set. This area has been used for countless flicks too, including a ton of westerns with John Wayne, Tom Mix, and Jimmy Stewart.

It is cool walking around the themed areas, but I think it is ridiculous that you have almost no guarantee to ride more than one or two rides after you plop down all of that money. I will say that the studio tour is *almost* worth the amount of money you spend, and I am sure the kiddos love random stuff like Minions and whatever, but I am glad that the only themed area that one of us had any interest in was Harry Potter land, because it would be brutal having to obligatory wait for one of the rides, let alone all of them. I feel bad for parents of little kids that blow a ton of money to get in, only to have their kids probably have one long wait for a ride in them. I have a little bit of interest in the Simpsons, but not enough to wait an hour for. I also rode the Simpsons in Orlando and thought it was kinda boring. I miss the old days with the Star Trek Adventure in Hollywood, ET, Back to the Future, Battlestar Galactica on the Studio Tour, Terminator II, and the old King Kong experience, which was destroyed in the fire that also destroyed countless priceless tapes and films of American cultural significance. I have to say though that the King Kong and Fast and Furious sections in 4D are pretty neat. 

The theming in the Harry Potter Land is pretty incredible. People were packed in like this all across the park. It was lively but absolutely jammed. 

The Star Trek Adventure was one of my fondest memories of the park from when I was little, and the slightly later Star Trek Experience in Vegas. Walking though the Harry Potter land and seeing all of the intricate details, and seeing the die hard Harry Potter fans getting to walk around in their fantasy land made me a little envious of them It made me wish that I could still have that same kind of experience of wonder with an IP that matters to me, like Star Trek. 

Did I mention that the walkways were absolutely jam packed with people? The food options were few and far between and of low quality and exorbitant price, basically only burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, pizza, and tacos. People were waiting 30 minutes for a standard hamburger. Themed food options seemed like a swing and a miss. By no means is this problem isolated to just Universal, because Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knotts had similarly long waits for overpriced food, but at least with a place like Knotts, the stuff is of decent quality and they have some signature entrees. 
Simpsons land had Duff beer brewery, but the food options were in a separate area and pretty weak and jammed up with people. Harry Potter land had the butter beer, which was cool, but minimal theme otherwise with the food? With some creativity, they could do cool things with the food, but then again, why bother if people are willing to wait 30 minutes for a 15 dollar bland hamburger? They had the Moulin Rouge themed sit down restaurant and we were like "hmmm maybe lets shell out for that" only to find out that the proletariat aren't allowed to go there without buying another separate VIP experience thing. We ended up just leaving when we were getting hungry and had no interest in waiting for the rides. We ended up eating a little better and a little more affordably out in the CityWalk area, but once we walked out there, we weren't going back in the park. Don't get me wrong, we had an alright time, but I wouldn't say that we had several hundred bucks worth of fun. Feels like a tourist trap rip off. Still a cool place and the backlot tour has so much priceless Americana on it. If it were not for the backlot tour, it would be a rip off. If you are a real movie buff, you are better off just driving and walking around for free in Hollywood. Next time we go we will probably go check out some of the other studios as well. Overall, it was neat and we recommend that everyone goes on the Studio Tour at least once, but if you are pressed for time and money, go on a tour through Hollywood instead and wrap up by heading up to Griffith Observatory and seeing the numerous scenic overlooks to experience real Hollywood magic. 


Sunday, June 26, 2022

Six Flags Magic Mountain: A Trip Report from a 1st Timer Plus Wonder Woman Updates

I like visiting a park for the first time with a clear mind. While many of you have been visiting the park for many years or even decades, it is good to see a little perspective sometimes from someone unbiased by nostalgia. My extent for nostalgia in the park is in some of its classic rides and the park's representation in films and TV shows. The park is probably one of the most prolific in the industry in regards to being used for filming shows, commercials, movies, etc, with examples being seen in National Lampoon's Vacation, Spinal Tap, CHiPs, Wonder Woman, TJ Hooker (yeah I know super random but that is what popped into my head), the intro for Step by Step,  and more. Aside from the obvious Universal Studios Hollywood, which as a park does not generally get represented within film directly, and possibly the park's metropolitan area neighbor in Knotts, no other park has been represented in film as much. I had always looked at the rides with anticipation to ride, but having just visited for the first time now, I visit without the bias that can happen when you've visited a park a bunch of times. 
I feel like this visit was one where most of my expectations for rides were blown away. Many of the rides I thought looked blah were really solid, and others I thought looked decent ended up having disappointing aspects, or were outright bad. It is clear what parts of the park were planned, with excellent shade cover and landscaping, such as the lower, upper part of the mountain, and lower area around the Looney Toons area in addition to Goliath and Twisted Colossus, versus the unshaded and brutal corner of the park that just feels like it was thrown together with West Coast Racers and Apocalypse. I think that West Coast Racers is a winner, but that corner of the park is devoid of shade, which is a terrible thing for a park that is basically within the desert on a 90 degree day. I appreciate that the station for West Coast Racers has a queue that is within an air conditioned building but that section of the park is just brutal in the heat. The blacktop asphalt road "theming" on West Coast Racers was especially rough in the heat. We sadly missed out on Apocalypse, which was closed along with Batman. Wonder Woman was not open yet either, but it looks like they are putting their finishing touches on that. That should be a good and tame family coaster in that side of the park, just like its near clone, Jersey Devil at Great Adventure. 

Additionally, you can see where the initial planned areas were for the park, with smartly landscaped areas with shade, versus later addition areas like West Coast Racers where blacktop is used for pathways and minimal shade
These three coasters (Twisted Colossus, Goliath, and Superman) were a ton of fun. Twisted Colossus and Goliath are tied for my overall favorites in the park. Both blew me away for I did not expect them to be as great as they were. I was not prepared for how great the lateral forces and initial airtime on Goliath was going to be. With Twisted Colossus, I expected a typical cut and paste element layout like you do on most other RMCs, but this was strange and the airtime was wicked. Easily my favorite of the I-Box RMCs. I do not think either of these rides, or any in the park, rise to the top when it comes to my absolute favorite coasters, but they are a ton of fun. 

Tatsu and Revolution are both really fun rides. Revolution is such a relaxing ride, with a silky smooth and classic ride experience. I love the way Schwarzkopf built the ride right into the terrain and utilized smooth and flowy turns and drops, emphasizing the anticipation of the ride. I really enjoyed the long drop into the loop, staring it down up ahead. I absolutely adore the way Schwarzkopf was able to build unique, fun, and relaxing enough rides for the whole family to enjoy like he did with Revolution here at SFMM, and Whizzer at Six Flags Great America. The placement of both of these rides in the front of the park is fantastic and the popularity of these rides really shows in that they seem to have long queue lines all day long. 

I really enjoyed Viper. It has definitely aged pretty well and it was surprisingly smooth considering that it is an Arrow mega looper. I am not sure if it is better maintenance, better overall design, or the fact that the higher inversions likely put less strain on the train overall, but this ride has held up much better than its close sibling, Great American Scream Machine, which was demolished 12 years ago now at Great Adventure. It seems like the opposite story has happened with Scream and Medusa, but we will come back to that.
The first coaster we rode was X2. We got right up to the ride for its second ride, but the train system that locks the chairs back upright in the station appeared to be having trouble. We ended up waiting like 45 minutes for them to get that straightened out. The ride is incredibly intense and popular, but you have to wonder if the park will be willing to sit through more extended downtime with this coaster. You have to wonder about the sustainability of having maintenance bogged down with the coaster, plus having a new maintenance nightmare with the new RMC single rail coaster coming in. We saw last year at Great Adventure that maintenance was getting bogged down with the multitude of daily issues at Jersey Devil and a series of maintenance issues popped up on other rides around the park, including one at El Toro that caused the ride to be closed for the rest of the year, and another on the log flume. 

As far as the ride itself goes, I was amazed. I knew the ride would be really intense, but I was just floored by that first drop sequence. I could do without the bobbing around on the final turns though. You have to wonder if all of that bouncing around does a number on the complicated electronics systems on the train. I can see why they opted to go with a design that does not do any turns on the newer 4D Freespins, but those rides also don't hold a candle to X2. That ride system is also not nearly as comfortable as this one either. I wish they would try to build another 4D coaster of the size and scope of X2, with its style of trains, but with the vertical footprint of the 4D Freespins. 

Now to Revolution! Such a terrific classic. It really welcomes visitors to the park so well as an inviting ride that pretty much anyone can experience and have fun on, and its unique layout that contours with the terrain is great. It is also a pretty rare experience for a steel coaster to be surrounded by woods like this. The coaster is still a winner, just 4 years shy of its 50th birthday. The first modern looping coaster still delivers. 

Honda Express, the park's funicular that takes guests up to the top of the mountain from the lower midway, is fantastic. Unique rides like these add so much to the overall experience of the park. If only they had similar rides in the other major directions. Walking up those hills in the desert heat is not pleasant. 
We went right to Tatsu after heading up the funicular. The hype is definitely legit for Tatsu. A terrain based B&M flyer of immense size and proportions. The enormous pretzel loop is next level intense for an inversion that is already ridiculously intense. My favorite part of the ride though is the feeling of being really high up in the final helix area. I love the overall feeling of enormous height throughout the entire ride. It really makes the flying experience truly feel like flying. 

There is Brit on Full Throttle. We adored this coaster until that awful set brakes leading into the brake run. There is no way that Premier initially proposed that concept. It had to be a budget cut that had it end that way. Why would you have the coaster from its tallest drop when the train has its highest momentum, right into the brake run? What a ridiculously awful setup. You are getting terrific typical Premier ejector air and then boom into the brakes. So painful. Up til that point, I thought the ride was perfect and a ton of fun. I wish they would go in and let Premier finish the coaster layout. There is no way that this was the first design concept for the coaster. I wouldn't be surprised if anyone has ever gotten hurt from going full speed right into the brakes. Yikes that was unpleasant, which really stinks because otherwise this ride is fantastic. 
Ouch time on Full Throttle

I love this part of the midway.

Now on to the park's most recent completed addition, West Coast Racers, with its shadeless blacktop theming.
This Quasi Möbius racing coaster by Premier has a racing and dueling single track with four launches and lots of weaved together inversions. It is a lot of fun. Not top tier by any means, but still a decent ride, especially as something that is pretty family friendly. For how large the crowds get at the park, I always wonder why they add rides with such low capacity. You don't go to Magic Mountain to expect a decent theming experience on a coaster, and I like that they put in at least a little bit of an effort, but because of this, they probably actually saved money on what would be considered acceptable landscaping around the ride. Large swaths of black top asphalt make up the whole midway. On a 90+ degree day in the desert, this is ridiculously unacceptable. When you go back to the older midways, you see a beautifully landscaped area with strategically placed shade trees. This feels like it was straight up built in a parking lot, which is a great recipe for heat stroke. 

Unfortunately, we missed out on Apocalypse. I did not get any pictures of Gold Rusher, but I did enjoy this old Arrow Mine Ride. At one part of the ride, there are piles of lost hats on either side of the track. At the brake run, they had to stop the train and come out because some unaccompanied kid from a summer camp had their foot out of the side of the train! I never saw anything like this at any park. Apparently this is a common thing at the park, with the same thing having happened on Full Throttle with someone last year. The park may be seriously needing to think about how stupid some of the guests are and put higher side lips on the trains, or even like little netting cargo netting things or doors like you have on the side of a sky ride. 
A view of Tatsu doing its thing from Samurai Summit. This section of the park is one of the prettiest in regards to tree cover and views of the desert mountains, but it could really use some paint and carpentry work. There were sections of the wooden facades of buildings that were falling down. The paint was faded, and often flaked and gone. This is probably the most scenic section of the park, with its awesome views of the surrounding landscape. 
The woods in this area of the park are so pleasant. They feel like an oasis in the middle of the desert after walking out of the blacktop asphalt haven of West Coast Racers.
The views of Tatsu and Ninja up here are awesome.
Ninja is a really fun ride. I love the way it slaloms down and how it flies over the flume pool and has great views. It is a ton of fun. Probably my favorite of the three Arrow suspended coasters that I have ridden (Ninja, Iron Dragon, and Flight Deck). It is also incredible how much this ride uses the terrain to make a huge ride that still hovers low to the ground, with thrilling visuals of the mountain, tree tops, and water pools from the log flume. 
The Superman line is brutally slow, but this is definitely a fun ride.
I was not expecting much out of Goliath, but I absolutely loved it. The high speeds, giant drops, great airtime on that second large hill, and the really strong lats make this ride really stand out. To be honest, this was everything expected Raging Bull to be. I love when my expectations get blown away. I adore this ride. It is strange and it is fun. Stengel and Giovanola goodness. I imagine that if Schwarzkopf ever made a hyper, this is what it would be like, with decent laterals. 

Frankly, I was excited to ride Scream. Medusa at Great Adventure is identical in layout and that is a solid ride. We sat in the front seat and it was terrible. Was it always that bad or has this just aged really poorly? It should have been a decent ride. I wonder if something went wrong with installation or if one piece of track is out of alignment and it has screwed up the trains or something. The side to side action was horrendous with head banging, and you know that I am a pretty big B&M fan. Something is wrong with the coaster. 

I did not take any pictures of Twisted Colossus from within the park, so this one will have to do. This is another coaster that blew away my expectations. I think this is my favorite RMC I-Box coaster. As of late, the RMCs have had lots of cookie cutter designs. This one has some of the earlier strangeness that I loved in Goliath. It has a relatively simple out and back design with a couple of oddball inversions, with both tracks of its Quasi Möbius design, but each hill has terrifically violent ejector airtime. 

I am a little disappointed though that I didn't get to ride its celebrity predecessor. I always wanted to ride Colossus whenever I would see it in film when I was little. 
The two giants of the park. 
This visit was on the 16th. As of today, the 20th, the trains on Wonder Woman are testing, though I heard that was shut down pretty quickly, along with an order from the manufacturer to shut down the rest of their single rail coasters. On the day of our visit, there were workers checking out the block areas of the coaster. If this clone of the Jersey Devil Coaster opens, it will be a nice and smooth family sit down looper, just like Jersey Devil. If you are looking for an intense ride, this is not it, but it should be a good family sit down looper. 

On the flip side the much taller Riddler's Revenge, next door, is a great ride. It definitely lives up to the "best stand up coaster" moniker. It feels like B&M finally figured out the standup design on this one. They seem to understand how to make the centerline work on this one without head banging. I was surprised at how smooth it was compared to the much younger Scream being downright lousy. 

The lower part of the park looks so nice with the night lighting coming on. The initial planning of the park with landscaping in the lower midway through to Twisted Colossus is great. Nicely built pathways, facilities, built in shaded areas, and more. All of these details make this one of the most pleasant sections of any 70s era suburban amusement parks. The lower midway from Revolution, all the way through to Twisted Colossus is as beautiful and pleasant as pretty much any of the 70s mega amusement parks, except for Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The combination of the rides with the natural landscape looks so great. 

On another note, does the observation platform at the park still operate? It would be great to get the view from up there, not just looking out over the park, but out over the desert mountain landscape. One of my favorite aspects of many 70s era parks was their prominent use of observation tower rides and platforms. The park could really use a Star Flyer swing tower to take in those views, preferably from somewhere up on Samurai Summit.

Overall, Magic Mountain has a lot of decent aspects to it, especially the originally planned areas with beautiful shade and landscaping that make this park in the desert a little more bearable to visit on a 90 degree day, but also areas in which it can improve, specifically in the newer areas that seem to lack that same attention to overall park experience. Additionally, the food offerings were pretty pathetic. The only place with edible food and a good place to sit down in the air conditioning and cool off, was the Full Throttle Sports Bar, which is close to the front of the park. The other food stands had absolutely garbage food, with 30+ minute waits for with ridiculously slow service and overpriced swill. The food service at this park is an absolute wreck. While the park is home to a lot of solid rides, none of them pop to the point of being on my shortlist of absolute favorites. This park is well worth a visit, especially on a cooler day, but we probably will not get back here unless they build something mind blowing or until their next few coasters are built. 

With that being said, four of my favorite examples of their genres are located at this park, with my favorite RMC I-Box coaster being Twisted Colossus, my favorite flyer in Tatsu, my favorite suspended coaster in Ninja, and my favorite stand up in Riddler's Revenge. Across the board, the park's lineup is pretty solid. I would love to see them add a larger scale invert that utilizes the terrain of the park, and I would like to see them add a giga at some point. The park could use a few more high capacity rides and a swing tower ride to take advantage of the scenic views that the park has to offer of the surrounding landscape and another transport ride to the top of the mountain, specifically from the area of West Coast Racers to the top of Samurai Summit, and from the area of Riddler's Revenge to the top as well.