Chrismas Vacation 2012 – California (Part 1/6)

by Nathan Stout (of

Last year we took a quiet vacation to Port Aransas which you can read about here. We skipped the early/mid-year vacation in 2012 for Disneyland at Christmas time. Our vacation entailed buying a Citypass which lets you get into Disney for 3 days, Universal for one, and Sea World for one.

We started our vacation at Universal Studios but didn’t get there until later in the day. Our first attraction was the studio tour. This is an hour and a half tram ride around the studio with a few ‘attractions’ which were like mini-rides. Here are the most notable bits…

King Kong 360 3D:

This ride is apart of the much dated Universal Backlot Tour. When the old King Kong part of the tour burnt down in 2008 (you can see the old snoozefest here) Universal got with Peter Jackson to make a new 3D attraction based on the newer movie.

Below is the link to the new Kong attraction. You can’t really experience it since you aren’t in the tram. It moves around (alot!) and really puts you in the action. There are also air effects and even some water spraying (from the dinosaurs when they roar right in your face).

I was going to embed the videos here in the blog but the width was too wide so I am just going to link to them. Here is a video of that part of the tour that shows the action pretty well.

All in all I was disappointed in the studio tour. The King Kong part was the only really good part. There was the old Jaws attraction, a kinda cool plane crash site from War of the Worlds, the old Earthquake attraction, a very out-dated fast and furious attraction, and the lame-o flooding street attraction. The rest was just empty sets. It was night and they weren’t lit very well. The Jurassic Park part didn’t even have the moving dinos.

Revenge of the Mummy:
Based on the Mummy remakes this (very short) roller coaster speeds you along in the dark. Apparently from video on YouTube the one in Florida is cooler. It was still fun though… when you see the bugs crawl out of the hole in the wall you feel them in the coaster car with you. They use little puffs of air to simulate the bugs. Here is the California version and here is the Florida version.

The Simpsons:
This motion simulator ride was pretty fun and ingenious. Riders load into carts and the carts are lifted into a dome-like theater (where all the other carts in the ride load) and the video plays out on the massive screen. The world of Springfield is in CCG and you are in Krustyland on a dangerous rollercoaster hijacked by Sideshow Bob. They use smell and water spray to add to the effects. The only gripe I have about the ride is that the screen was really dark. It could use some newer projection technology. Here it is. My favorite line is from Krusty ‘Welcome on a magical journey through my mouth’.

Transformers 3D:
Based on the crappy movies over the last several years I almost gave this ride a pass. Fortunately the line looked low so we went for it. Wow! This had to be the greatest ride I have ever experienced. It is Universal’s newest attraction and it blew my socks off. It is a motion simulator ride but it moves between rooms with massive screens which depict the ultra-sharp 3D movie. There are times in which you can’t tell if what you are experiencing is real or the video. The videos can’t even begin to let you know how this ride goes but it’s close enough I guess. Check it out.

Jurassic Park River Adventure:
This ride is a slow moving raft ride (until the end) that moves you through the park and suddenly takes a wrong turn as the dinosaurs break free. This ride is now dated unfortunately. The technology is old and the dinosaurs are slow. I’m sure that when the movies were the hotness this ride was super exciting but now it just seems a bit old. The final drop is fun but in order to keep this thing fresh they are going to have to add at least 100% more dinosaurs. Here it is.

That wraps up Universal studios in California. One final thing of note: the studio is built on a mountain so they installed several industrial-sized (and super steep) escalators to keep all those people moving. Expect to do a lot of riding on these. They are so steep that if you are not careful you will get vertigo (but that’s half the fun of the park!).

Day 2,3, and 4 were devoted to Disney. In California the two parks (Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure) are literally a couple of hundred feet apart. Most tickets are ‘park-hopper’ tickets that allow you to go back and forth between parks all day long.

Our first day was spent totally at California Adventure. It has a more modern feel wereas Disneyland feels more classic and older.

California Screamin:
This is Disney’s biggest rollercoaster and is more like the traditional coasters you can find in most amusement parks. It was fun but (like most coasters) it is more fun the further back on the train you are. There is one loop in it as well. Check it out.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror:
Apparently this (California) version is greatly different (in a bad way) than the one in Florida. Either way it is a creepy dropping elevator ride with lots of atmosphere. I wish it had been longer though. After watching the setup you stand in line in the super creepy basement of the hotel and wait to get into the haunted elevator. Once in you are shown what happens to you and everyone on the ride then the fun begins. There are several drops in the dark and at the top right before several drops the doors to the hotel open and you see the park laid out before you. The actual ride itself is only like 45 seconds long! Lookee here. If you are interested you can see the Florida version here.

Ariel’s Undersea Adventure:
Based on The Little Mermaid this newer dark ride combines some new animatronic technology with classic people-mover tricks. The figures move alot more and have much more human-esque motion as opposed to the older rides (like Pirates or Haunted Mansion). Since it is a people-mover the line never lasts long and we got on it twice. Here it is.

Radiator Springs Racers:
This year Disney California opened Cars Land (based on the Cars movies) with the pricetag of over 1 billion dollars! It’s an impressive part of the park, it looks just like the town of Radiator Spring from the Cars movies. The big attraction is the Radiator Springs Racers. It’s a combination darkride /car coaster. Passengers ride slowly through the majestic canyons and into a short dark ride complete with full-sized animatronic characters from the movies. At the end of the dark part you partake in a race with another group of riders in a race around the canyon. The feeling you are in a car is quite good and you get up to some fast speeds during the race. Check it out.

This is it for Part One.
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3
Click here for Part 4
Click here for Part 5
Click here for Part 6

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