To cap off our summer, and as part of the trilogy of birthday events I arranged for myself this year (so greedy), we packed our bags and went to Hollywood with two goals in mind – visit my brother and his family and go to Universal Studios.

I'd heard that the Express pass was well worth the price of admission.  For all intents and purposes it's no different than general admission, but gets you to the front of the line once for each of the different attractions (rides and shows) in the park.  So scanning the website to buy tickets I was about to purchase them when I noticed the VIP Experience, and it's really not that much more expensive.  So what does it include?

For starters, you get that same line-skipping privilege as Express, but there's no limit to how many times you can use it per attraction.  Want to ride Jurassic from open to close?  Knock yourself out.  That's not what caught my eye, though.

The few times I've been to Universal, I've always enjoyed the Studio Tour.  This is the one where you pile into a tram that drives you around the park and puts you through a few adventures while enlightening you to a bit of how movie magic is made in between.  Love it.  The VIP Experience ups the ante, significantly.

Instead of a multi-car tram you're put on a small bus and get to step out and see things up close.  You get WAY more information about fantastically interesting things, provided by guides with incredible knowledge, over a three hour period.  I was sold.  That, alone, was worth the ticket price, in my book.

We got an early start, at 8:15.  Our guide, Angela, was armed with a tiny little wand capped with a yellow orb that had a VIP logo on it.  That wand, I kid you not, was able to consistently part crowds throughout the day.  Our group of 13 walked past all the "early access" guests and into the park before it opened.  It was a bit surreal with no one around but us, and my wife even took a pic looking back at the horde of people waiting for the iconic theme music to play, announcing the start of their days.

We made our way to the bus and were joined by another guide, Tim, and his group.  Tim shared that he'd been doing this for 18 years, and it showed.  Angela was no slacker, by any means, and the two together were epic in their knowledge and entertainment.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was visiting the set of Superstore.  The details on the set were fine where they needed to be, and not-so-fine where the didn't.  It's amazing to see how well thought-out everything is to maximize the impact without overworking the designers, construction crews, the actors, and the extras.

We got the 3D attractions of Kong and Skull Island, as well as the Fast and Furious feature, of course.  More interesting was getting to walk the set of the plane crash from War of the Worlds, which is right next to the house from Psycho.  We weren't allowed to get too close, though, as there was an active emergency crew drill rehearsing a hazmat event.  We were informed that they do the same for disaster scenarios, search and rescue, and other beneficial trainings - leftover sets playing a practical role.

(more to come...)