So I spent the weekend in Los Angeles for my high school reunion, and my sister got us front-of-line passes to Universal Studios Hollywood.
Front-of-line passes are exactly what they sound like. They allow you to cut in front of everyone and get on every ride ahead of all the people who have been waiting for up to an hour for a two-minute experience of thrills, chills and motion sickness. It also meant that we rode everything in the park in about two hours, give or take, which amped up the motion sickness by a factor of 10.
It's important to note that a lot of the rides at Universal aren’t really rides per se. In some of them, you sit in a dark room and don’t go anywhere at all. Instead, you wear a pair of 3-D glasses and watch an Imax-style movie as your chair moves and shakes to give you the illusion of movement. That was the case with the Simpsons and Despicable Me rides. The Harry Potter and Transformers rides were a hybrid between virtual reality and roller coasters, where you were whisked from one simulation to another, and it was occasionally difficult to separate physical props from digital images. The Mummy ride and the Jurassic Park ride were a lot more old-school, as they didn’t require eyewear and they involved actual riding.
Jurassic Park was my favorite because all the dinosaurs were real. Or, should I say, the dinosaurs were fake, but at least they were real fakes, i.e., tangible objects. The whole thing begins like a prehistoric variation of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, where you drift past a placid triceratops and a couple of brontosauri before — oh, no! — things go “horribly wrong” and the velociraptors take over and drop you down a log flume and get everybody wet. It becomes Jungle Cruise meets Splash Mountain with dinosaurs. (I'm pretty sure that’s how they pitched the concept in the brainstorming session.)
That’s the kind of experience the simulation rides are trying to, well, simulate, and, to their credit, they simulate it very well. If anything, they simulate it too well. The screen is crammed with so many visual images it’s impossible to take them all in, even with repeated viewings. You’re also pushed and pulled in so many different directions while you’re watching that the whole thing becomes both overwhelming and disorienting, and it leaves your head spinning long after the ride is over.
That’s probably fine if you have 30 or 40 minutes waiting in line between simulations. But front-of-line passes really cut down on your recovery time. In a matter of minutes, you lurch from being attacked by Sideshow Bob in the Simpsons to playing Quidditch with Harry Potter to being morphed into a minion in Despicable Me and then somehow saving the world from rogue Transformers. (Yes, that’s right. I saved the world. At least, that’s what Optimus Prime told me when the ride was over when he leaned down and said, “Thank you for saving the world.” So you’re welcome.)
I’m not really complaining. I had a great time, and these rides were clever and inventive and a whole lot of fun. It’s just that my middle-aged constitution can’t handle so much world-saving in so short a time. If you’re going to get front-of-line passes, just know that it requires a great deal of stamina to repeatedly save the world in a two-hour time frame. Of course, maybe not everyone who saves the world ends up feeling as queasy as I did.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.