By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS – August 17, 2016) – The year was 1981 and we, as a family, were contemplating the big move across the “Big Pond” from the UK to the USA, so I could continue my broadcasting and journalistic career in America.
And so, as a trial run, it was decided that Norma, my wife, and myself, take our two sons, Andrew and Peter, on a vacation to the States, to see if they would like living in America, and during that trip, one of the places we visited was Universal Studios Hollywood, which we all enjoyed.
After the visit, we held a family conference and agreed that we would move to Southern California, and so, on June 28, 1982, after selling most of our belongings, we flew from London’s Heathrow Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, and began our new life in the “New World.”
However, after some time, both boys became committed Christians, and moved back to the UK to initially work with Youth With a Mission.
Eventually, they both married British girls, and now have their own families. (Peter’s three girls are Sarah, Anna Beth and Abigail, while Andrew has a strapping 14-year-old son, Edward.)
Now, some 35 years later after that first visit, Norma and I yesterday — Tuesday, August 16, 2016 — returned to Universal Studios Hollywood, with Andrew and Edward, who is himself a budding actor, and so it was particularly relevant for him.
Andrew says: “I loved Universal 35 years ago, but it has now become even better. Every time we go there is something new. But most of all, it is the perfect celebration of the television and movie industry in Hollywood. I would recommend it to anyone. All the old favorites are still there as well, and I was transported back 35 years when the Jaws shark squirted water at us yesterday just as it did back then.”
Edward, who also wants to be a game designer as well as acting in his spare time, particularly liked the video game feel of the “Transformers” ride. He went on to say, “I also loved the ‘WaterWorld®’ stunt show. The reason was that, as part of my drama studies, I had to learn stage fighting over a number of days. It was good to see how the professionals do this and make it so convincing. I still have a lot to learn!”
Universal Studios Hollywood, is billed as “The Entertainment Capital of L.A.” and is the only movie and television-based theme park to offer guests the authenticity of a working movie studio. Within its gates, the rich heritage of movies past and all the stars and excitement of today’s Hollywood truly come alive.
In a bid to cool down, we began our day out in the sizzling teSouthern California temperatures at “WaterWorld®,” known as a “A Live Sea War Spectacular,” which is an amazing live spectacular that has been transformed into the eerie-futuristic, mist-shrouded netherworld, and represents the most complex combination of high-tech special effects, pyrotechnics, flame and human stunt work ever attempted anywhere in the world.
Andrew and Edward took the “splash” seats at the attraction which put us all in the middle of the exciting action that involves hundreds of stunts and fiery special effects. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get very wet, as they were protected by part of the set from the water that kept splashing on the front rows from the stuntmen, but they loved it.
Highlights included giant fireballs rising 50 feet in the air and cascading to earth in a spectacular wall of fire and a seaplane that swoops in directly above the audience, skidding across the water and coming to an explosive crash landing just inches away from startled spectators. What a start.
Next was “The Simpsons Ride” where Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson — stars of TV’s longest-running series — rode along with us in the mega-attraction. We screamed as we were rocketed along with the Simpson family on a hysterical, almost unimaginable adventure. We experience a side of Springfield previously unexplored as they enjoy the ride’s interpretation of “Krustyland,” a new fantasy amusement park dreamed up by the show’s cantankerous Krusty the Clown.
Universal’s award-winning creative team collaborated with “The Simpsons” Creator and Executive Producer Matt Groening and Executive Producer James L. Brooks to create and open the first-ever mega-attraction based on the blockbuster TV series. It features the show’s classic humor and many of its instantly recognizable characters – all voiced by the original actors.
What made the ride even more enjoyable was that, on a previous visit to Southern California, an American friend of mine, Lance Wilder, who is a top background artist on the show, invited us all to the studios where the “The Simpsons” is produced and Andrew and Edward especially had the thrill of meeting many of the artists involved in the long-running animation show and also the design of the ride. So now they could experience the hard-work they had put into it.
Next came a real highlight for us all — the not-to-be-missed Universal Studios Hollywood’s signature attraction, the world-renowned behind-the-scenes “Studio Tour” which offers guests a unique opportunity to embark on an even closer journey to the inside workings of one of the most elusive businesses: Hollywood magic. With guidance from knowledgeable Studio Tour Guides and lively video narration from comedian and “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, guests navigate the 415-acre movie studio complex of soundstages, facades, working sets and special effects attractions, which were quite mind-blowing.
The tram tour ended with the heart-stopping encounter with “King Kong 360 3-D.” King Kong, who is among the screen’s most powerful and enduring icons, reemerged in summer 2010, as a new signature attraction created under the direction of Peter Jackson on the famed Studio Tour. Created by Peter Jackson, it is the largest, most intense 3D experience on the planet, combining thrilling visceral effects with the world’s largest Surround Digital projection system to create a next-generation theme park experience. In the attraction, guests wear special 3D glasses as they enter a darkened soundstage aboard the Studio Tour trams and are transported – via the magic of Surround Digital 3D projection — deep into a tangled jungle location.
They find themselves caught in the middle of a titanic struggle between a 25’ Kong and a 35’ tall voracious dinosaur — action which sends the packed trams sliding ever closer to the edge of a bottomless chasm.
To cool down from that, we then descended the futuristic “Starway” which links the upper and lower portions of the Universal lots. With spectacular views, this multi-layered escalator and adjoining steps stretch over 1/4 mile to an area of the studio previously inaccessible to the public. “Revenge of The Mummy—The Ride,” “Jurassic Park—The Ride” and “Transformers: The Ride—3D” are some of the attractions located on the lower lot.
Not to waste a moment, we immediately headed for “Jurassic Park,” where we thankfully did get soaked! On this ride, Universal Studios Hollywood has brought famed director Steven Spielberg’s epic movie roaring to life with “Jurassic Park—The Ride®.” The phenomenal interactive ride thrusts guests into the living, breathing, prehistoric world of Jurassic Park, a land where stormy skies are pierced by colossal, three-dimensional, five-story dinosaurs and a world where visitors discover that they have become prey for a terrifying T-Rex.
“Jurassic Park—The Ride” combines the most sophisticated state-of-the-art computer and robotic technology to create animatronic figures that are more advanced than any other ever designed.
After enjoying the “Transformers” ride, the rest of the family decided to take a rest, so I went on my own onto the theme park’s first-ever roller coaster, “Revenge of the Mummy —The Ride,” which is based on the phenomenally popular “Mummy” films. A state-of-the-art roller coaster, the attraction taps into rider’s primal fears through immersion in a total multi-sensory environment. Utilizing animatronics, sophisticated motion picture technology, state-of-the-art ride, audio and robotics engineering, the ride preys upon common human phobias: fear of the dark, fear of insects, fear of speed, fear of heights and fear of death to deliver the world’s first psychological thrill ride. And what a ride it was.
We also packed in many other rides, and ended our wonderful day out with “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™,” which was more than five years in the making, and inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters that were brought to life in the Warner Bros. films, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™,” has been masterfully recreated at Universal Studios Hollywood. The land is faithful to the visual landscape of the fiction and films, including Hogwarts castle which serves as its iconic focal point. From its snow-capped roofs and cobblestone streets to the historic British sensibilities that characterize the whimsical look and feel of the land, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” transports guests of all ages to the very places they read about in the stories or watched on the silver screen.
Upon entering the land through the archway, Hogsmeade bustles to life with the same vitality of a quaint local village: merchants hard at work, a train conductor welcoming new arrivals and a pub packed to the gills with hungry patrons, but with the added element of enthusiastic guests intent on experiencing them all, including the land’s signature ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” and Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor roller coaster, “Flight of the Hippogriff™.”
I realize that there are those who do not approve of the stories of Harry Potter, but I must say that we enjoyed being transported back to England through this astonishing land.
All I can say, is that it was that our return to Universal Studios Hollywood, proved to be a wonderful and joyful day out for all of us, and one we won’t forget for many years to come. And it also helped us remember back to that period when our lives were about to change – forever!
For more information, please go to: http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com.
Photo captions: 1) Norma holding hands with our grandson, Edward, with our older son, Andrew, at Universal CityWalk. 2) The Wooding family leaving for America at London’s Heathrow Airport. 3) The “WaterWorld®” seaplane that swooped in directly above the audience and landed safely. 4) Edward exchanging friendly banter with Sideshow Bob of “The Simpsons.” 5) Edward and Andrew by classic car used in a movie. 6) The Hogsmeade train conductor with Andrew and Edward. 7) Dan, Norma and their other son, Peter, during a previous visit to the theme park.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. He now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of some 45 books. He also has one weekly radio show (Front Page Radio) and two TV shows “Windows on the World” –- with Mark Ellis — and “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding,” all based in Southern California.
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