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With a face-lift, Universal Hollywood doesn’t look 50

“The Simspsons”
“The Simpson” play a role in the face-lift at Universal Studios Hollywood, celebrating 50 years.
(Lori Rackl / Chicago Tribune)
Tribune Newspapers

Like a lot of people living in the nation’s entertainment capital, Universal Studios Hollywood looks much younger than its age.

The West Coast theme park — twice as old as its counterpart in Orlando — celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with a face-lift that changed the landscape and added several major attractions.

Studio tours have been expanded to offer occasional nighttime explorations of Universal’s legendary back lot, where trams snake through the exterior sets of box-office blockbusters like “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws.”

The signature tours culminate with the new Fast & Furious — Supercharged ride, an adrenaline-pumping adventure featuring hologram-like images of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and other stars of the car-centric film series. With the help of 3D glasses and whiz-bang technology built into a 65,000-square-foot facility, trams get dropped into the white-knuckle world of a virtual high-speed chase through Los Angeles streets.

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At least that’s the idea. Technical glitches forced the ride, which debuted in June, to inexplicably stop during my two attempts to experience it.

“It’s kind of like when Apple launches a new product; there’s always kinks to work out,” an apologetic staffer explained as we filed off the tram.

Fans of “The Simpsons” no longer have to head to Universal Studios Florida to visit the real-world incarnation of Springfield. The park added a Moe’s Tavern, Duff Brewery, nuclear power plant cooling towers and more to anchor its wildly entertaining “Simpsons” simulator ride.

More transformation is on the way in 2016 with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The immersive experience built around author J.K. Rowling’s fantasy franchise already has proven to be a popular draw at Universal parks in Florida and Japan. It’s slated for a spring debut here, where a snow-capped Hogwarts castle can be spotted rising from an area that remains fenced off for now.

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The $95 daily admission to Universal Studios Hollywood includes free entry for the rest of 2015, excluding blackout dates. Short on time but not on cash? Buy a front-of-the-line pass for $169 at www.universalstudioshollywood.com.

Lori Rackl is a freelance reporter.


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