Happy Memorial Day! Hope everyone is having a great holiday, we’re relaxing and catching up on laundry after a packed weekend in LA that I’m still going through hundreds of photos from between hubby and I! We left Thursday for a long weekend in LA that included going back to Little Pine, Universal Studios Hollywood, and the Eat Drink Vegan festival at the Rose Bowl! And it’s tough to come back down to reality after so much fun packed into just a few days.
We tried to get a light lunch at the Sacramento Airport before our flight out, but the vegan options were pretty weak at Terminal B and we ended up snacking on chips, salsa, and guacamole from Dos Coyotes.
It was actually cool and mostly overcast for the weekend in LA, I almost did not pack warm enough clothes. We started with dinner at Little Pine since it was so amazing last year and the menu did not disappoint!
I wish I could have ordered one of everything, but we started with the watermelon caprese salad and butternut bisque, both amazing and perfect portion size.
Then it was the panko crusted piccata and pan fried gnocchi. The gnocchi was great, but it was the piccata that really stood out this trip, hubby says it was his favorite thing he ate for the entire trip. The texture and tart lemony sauce worked perfectly.
And dessert, of course. I got the s’mores ganache, amazing, and hubby got the banana cream pie, which we had on last year’s trip and had to have again because it was so amazing.
We walked around the neighborhood for a bit after before heading back to the hotel, I was bummed to see the chandelier tree was off, but the giant eye in someone’s front yard was pretty interesting.
Friday morning we got up early to get to Universal Studios Hollywood to check in for our VIP Experience by 9:30 AM. Surprisingly the traffic to get there from Pasadena was not bad at all and the weather was again overcast and cool, but no rain.
Years ago when we lived in Central Florida, we were spoiled by going to the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park during the pre-opening weekend. Tickets were cheap then and the park was sparkling new and not crowded. We road the rides many times in a row because there were no lines and we could handle it because we were in our 20s, lol. Now theme parks are so complicated with different pass and ride line options and so much more expensive! Plus parking costs, food costs, lockers, and gah! We kind of went all out with this visit going with the VIP Experience because it’s been over 10 years since we’ve been to a theme park. But it covers everything and a tour guide makes sure you get to everything in the park and more, we didn’t need to spend any money in the park since food, water, and even sunblock was included.
After check in and getting our badges, we were taken to a light breakfast buffet while we waited for our tour to start. Oatmeal, fruit, and juice were the vegan options for breakfast and that was fine with me because they were the healthiest options too.
We started with the studio tour first and the VIP version is very different from the standard version, we were actually taken into sets, like the Superstore set below, and allowed to get off the bus at others and explore, like The Good Place.
And check out older sets, such as the neighborhood for Desperate Housewives, Back to the Future, and The Grinch.
And explore the crash site used in War of the Worlds and various commercials and music videos since.
The VIP tour bus is modified to go through “drive thru” vintage rides and 3D expeiences for the Jaws movie, Fast and the Furious, Earthquake, and King Kong which was kind of neat because I rode them back as a teenager at the Orlando Universal Studios years ago, fun memories. We also got to get out for a walk through tour of a prop warehouse, see how many of the same props were used in different shows and movies. It felt official because we weren’t allowed to snap pictures or touch most of it, lol.
After the tour, our VIP group road all the rides on the lower level, Universal Studios Hollywood is broken into a lower level in the valley area and an upper level on top of a large hill with gorgeous views. But there is a series huge escalators and stairs to get between them which can be time consuming and exhausting if you’re going back and forth frequently. We first did the Jurassic Park water ride, which is exactly as I remember it from the Orlando Universal Studios. Then to the Transformers 3D ride which was an intense motion and 3D ride. Then to our favorite ride – The Mummy. It was more of a traditional indoor coaster that screamed super fast through pitch black and was great!
After our tour guide took us up the escalators to the VIP lunch buffet on the upper level with a beautiful view of the valley.
We had an hour to eat and I could barely fit all of the vegan options on my plate – lots of veggie salads, roasted veggies, tofu sesame eggplant dish, grilled veggies, rice, hummus, and more! I was seriously tempted to go back for another plate, but didn’t think that would be a great idea before more rides!
After lunch, we finally went to Harry Potter land and also got right into every attraction it offered starting with the wand experience, really more of a fun thing for kids, and a cute little roller coaster that lasted about 30 seconds. Then finally was the Happy Potter insane motion and 3D ride that our guide really warned us about and many in our group skipped because it was so intense.
The ride was great, it packed a fast flight and adventure through every part of the Harry Potter universe with hardcore motion and 3D. I’m glad we went on it, but it was a little intense now that I’m 40 I guess! 3D motion rides get to me more than they used to and I tend to prefer traditional coasters.
Our tour guide also made sure we made all the shows, Water World was great and I really like the Special Effects show.
At the end of the day for our group was The Walking Dead experience and I also really loved and probably could have done that a few more times, it was basically a well done walk through haunted house experience that covered the major events from the first few seasons of the show and totally reminded us of Halloween Horror nights. After 5pm we had the rest of the day to ride more rides, shop, or whatever else we wanted. We ended up heading back to the lower lever to ride The Mummy a few more times, then went through the shops but decided not to buy anything.
The VIP Experience was a splurge, but it took all the stress out of visiting the park with valet parking, no waiting in long ride lines, no stress trying to find or wait in line for decent food, no lockers since the tour guide holds your bags during rides, and they make sure you get to experience everything in the park. Both of my sisters recently went to Universal Studios this year too with kids and after hearing what they spent on regular passes, express passes for some rides, food, parking, and lockers – the VIP Experience wasn’t much more and easily justifiable. Especially considering we didn’t have to even look at a park map or keep checking the app to figure out which rides have the shortest waits. But the VIP Experience may not work for younger kids since you’re guided through the park in a certain order and there’s more educational stuff.
Next we walked to Universal City Walk for dinner and decided on Margaritaville because they had a clearly labeled vegan burger and other vegan options on the menu. No, I’m not a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, but have some fun memories from visiting the Orlando location with family so it was a fun throwback too.
The black bean and mushroom burger was more veggie patty than fake meat and it was delicious with a good texture and vegan aioli. It hit the spot with a watermelon margarita after a long day at a theme park.
Then we did a little sightseeing checking out the shops and fun going on at City Walk, lots of luxo shops to spend money. And whew, that was the first part of the trip. I have tons of pictures and loot to go through still from Eat Drink Vegan, that post is coming soon!