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This is still a working studio and stars are often on set filming an upcoming blockbuster. First board the newly expanded Studio Tram Tour (included in admission) to see back lots and soundstages, the Bates Motel and Psycho house, Spielberg's War of the Worlds set, and the Jaws lake. Then, it's on to the movie- and TV-themed rides.
Thrill: King Kong 360 3-D Created by Peter Jackson is the latest addition to the Tram Tour: Come face to face with the ape battling a T-Rex—the high-def images and surround-sound effects are beyond intense! Next experience the ultra-scary Revenge of the Mummy—The Ride. Or try the milder Shrek 4-D, or wacky The Simpsons Ride, a virtual trip with Bart and the gang to Krustyland. Universalstudioshollywood.com; a one-week unlimited pass available online only $69, under 48 inches $59, with Front of Line pass to all rides and attractions, $129.
Chill: Located at Universal's main gate, the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City has a pool and views of the park and Hollywood hills. Hiltonuniversal.com; nightly rates start around $159. The hip, boutique-style Hollywood Heights Hotel is in the heart of LA (near the Walk of Fame), but just a few mile drive from Universal. Hollywoodheightshotel.com; nightly rates start at $139 when purchased in advance; 866-696-3157.
Southern California Travel Tip: Scope out local sights at DiscoverLosAngeles.com and Sandiego.org, and search theme park bargains at MousePlanet.com, MouseSavers.com, and AllEars.net. If you're planning to visit multiple parks, the Southern California City Pass might be a good bet: It gets you into Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland/California Adventure, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park (three-day park hopper); $269; ages 3-9, $229; citypass.com.