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If you're stuck in one city for 12 hours, you don't want to spend those precious international hours lolling about at the airport (unless you're really broke).
The best thing to do is to find an activity that's not going to make you check your watch every hour in fear of missing your flight.
And the best option in Los Angeles is Universal Studios Hollywood, where you can while away five or so hours in absolute meaningless, unadulterated, frivolous fun.
And you can hit Universal every year without fear of it getting boring, while the park undergoes constant upgrades.
To ensure your day is hassle-free take the following steps:
1.Remove any obstacles around luggage you might have by not doing any shopping. Organise your shopping days prior to the day you depart and save yourself the hassle of repacking your bags.
2. Organise a rental car in advance and self drive your way to Universal Studios. This alleviates any worry about where to put your luggage; and you can access a last minute change of clothes before boarding your flight at night. Shuttles will run you to and from the airport (try Alamo, through rentalcars.com). Parking at Universal costs $US20.
3. Alternatively, if you don't want to drive, you can get an Uber – it does work out more expensive though (about $US40 both ways). You can store your luggage with laxluggagestorage.com, which will arrange to have your luggage collected and delivered to LAX.
4. Pre-purchase front of line ticket passes from Universal. They're about $US70 more than a regular ticket, but they're worth it when you consider how long the queues are to some of the rides – which can stretch to two hours or more on weekends. You will never have to queue with one of these passes, shrinking your park time from eight to four or five hours of casual fun.
3. If you can, fly out on a Tuesday. Tuesday is the least busy day to fly, and if you're coming in and out of LAX, Thursday through to Sunday can be a nightmare. If you cannot avoid flying on those days, allow yourself plenty of time to get in and out of the airport (arriving three hours earlier for your flight is a sensible, stress-free option).
4. Grab a map and plan your rides. The earlier you get to the most popular rides, the less busy they will be.
5. Don't miss the new attractions. The Walking Dead maze is a good way to start your Universal experience, especially if you're not feeling particularly alert – you will be after. Then work your way through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where the tiny medieval English village of Hogsmeade has been transported into sunny LA – its both bizarre and novel. Poke your head into candy shops, drink hot butterbeer, watch singing toads, ride on the (world's thankfully shortest) roller coaster and experience a thrilling POV ride following Harry and his friends around the castle on a broomstick. It's an impressive feat.
6. Check out the new Simpsons' "Springfield", which includes a Krustyburger, Moe's Tavern and Cletus' Fried Chicken Shack, Bumblebee Man's Taco Truck, and a Duff Brewery. You're probably well advised to do this after the Simpson's ride.
7. Don't forget the older rides downstairs in the lower lot. While Transformers may be starting to date, Jurassic Park is still fun but The Mummy was our favourite, for both its comic relief and scare factor.
8. For the ultimate comic relief, don't forget to check the photos Universal takes of riders at the scariest point of each ride. You won't believe some of the faces your friends are capable of making.
8. The Universal Studios backlot tour will take an hour but is totally worth the time. Plan ahead to fit this into your schedule as they only run on the hour, every hour. The tour takes you past the offices of some high-end movie producers and directors, past actual working sheds of TV shows and 3D movies, plus you get to see how some special effects are created, featuring some old favourites such as Jaws and Psycho, where you can have a close encounter with Norman Bates.
9. For those of you who have already been to Universal – you can go again! There's always new rides to enjoy and the older ones are constantly updated; I was very impressed to see a whole new Simpsons fitout, new additions to the backlot tour plus work being carried out on some of the older rides in the lower lot. New spaces are also being created in the backlot ready for an expansion.
10. Universal has free Wi-Fi – make sure you check Google maps to see how long it will take you to get to LAX (at peak hour, it was an hour).
11. Don't restrict yourself to dining at the park. Check out Universal Citywalk, which offers many more adult-oriented dining options, which you are free to access during the day. Wolfgang Puck has a bistro, but if you are after something quick, LA's celebrated French chef Ludo Lefebre runs Ludobird – a takeaway outlet that cooks anything from chicken burgers to chicken salads, which are a cut above Cletus' chicken shack within the grounds (sorry, Cletus).
Portland's famous Voodoo Donuts are also newcomers to the Citywalk – but just like in Portland, the queues are long. Or you can enjoy adult drinks and Tex Mex at the new outpost of Margaritaville, located at the opposite end of Citywalk.
For more information, head to universalstudios.com
The writer was a guest of Universal Studios Hollywood
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