Yesterday morning we departed a slightly damp Heathrow airport and approximately ten hours later we landed in sunny southern California.
As they say, nobody walks in Los Angeles so we collected our hire car from the massive Hertz lot and headed out onto the famous LA freeways. Once I’d got over that initial weirdness that comes from driving on the right/wrong side of the road it wasn’t so bad.
Our hotel is nice. It’s the W in Westwood, a pleasant district just west of Beverly Hills and home to UCLA.
I suppose it was appropriate that our first stop in LA was Hollywood Boulevard to check out the Walk of Stars and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre the forecourt of which is covered in feet and hand prints of lots of famous actors stretching back more than sixty years – from Humphry Bogart to Harrison Ford. The cinema opened in 1927 and has been the location of many premieres and even two Academy Award shows although they now take place in the massive Kodak Theatre that looms next door. Sid Grauman, who died in 1950, seems to have been well liked as a number of the cement slabs out the front bear personal inscriptions to him.
As the sun was setting over the Pacific we headed for the beach at Santa Monica and burgers at Jonny Rockets.
Today we spent the whole day at Universal Studios taking the VIP tour of the studio / theme park. The place is massive and in fact is its own little city called Universal City. It has its own Fire Station, shops and has so many cars it has its own DMV office. Universal Studios was started by Carl Laemmle in 1914 when he purchased a chicken ranch in the San Fernando Valley and since the very beginning has been running tours.
We had a great time and although it’s pricey I would recommend the VIP Experience tickets. They only run small groups so you need to book in advance but you get a guide who takes you round the whole park and you get to go to the front of the queue on all the attractions. No waiting in lines! Our guide, Will, was fantastic. We hit the rides straight away with a thorough soaking on the Jurassic Park ride followed in quick succession buy the rather disorientating Mummy Returns indoor roller coaster and then drying off in the highly inflammable Backdraft show.
After the rides we saw the spectacular Water World show. This was basically Kevin Costner’s Waterworld condensed into about twenty minutes and performed by stunt men and women who drove boats, jumped jet skis and leapt off tall things into the water below while on fire. In fact there was a lot of pyrotechnics the climax of which was a plane that explodes over the scenery before landing in the water.
After lunch (included with the VIP pass) we went on a private tour of the actual studio back lot which is used for filming. This was really interesting and with the VIP pass you get to get off the little tram and walk around. Particularly interesting was the props department; a huge warehouse with aisle after aisle of everything you might need in a film. One row was nothing but phones, while another might have toasters and yet another would be filled with different kinds of shovels or fire extinguishers. It was fascinating and I would have liked to have spent more time in there seeking out famous props like the hoverboard used in Back to the Future II.
We finished the VIP experience with a couple of 3D films: Shrek 4D and Terminator 2. The Terminator show was a clever mix of live action and 3D film (and lots of smoke, gun fire and general noisiness).
It was a long day but it never got boring. Our guide was great and I would definitely recommend it for the whole Hollywood experience.