First Ride: Universal Studios Hollywood’s 60th Anniversary Studio Tour – What makes this limited time update so special?

In our ongoing first ride series, we update you on the latest rides and attractions at theme parks around the world. Today we take you to Universal Studios Hollywood, and their updated, limited time only, 60th Anniversary Studio Tour experience.

The iconic Hollywood film studio has been offering backstage experiences since 1915. But it would be almost 50 years before it became the tram tour that would go on to pave the way for the Theme Park we know and love today. It officially opened as the Studio Tour on their “Glamor Trams”, on 15th July 1964. And now the park is paying homage to the origins of that tour – as well as highlighting how it has evolved over the years – by giving guests a “Glamor” tour of their own, just in time for its 60th Anniversary.

Last week, at the closing party of the annual IPW travel industry conference, I had the chance to experience the new additions of the updated tour for myself, which are running from now until August 11th. And best of all – it’s included with every price of admission to the park.

So what’s new? First, you ride retro Glamor Trams inspired by the original 1964 design – except now they’re electric! I believe they were originally pink and white, while they’re decidedly red and white here. But they still feel right out of the 60s.

New messages from directors like Steven Spielberg and Jordan Peele have been recorded for the 60th anniversary, which are shown amongst the videos that accompany the live narration from your tour guide. Peter Jackson even steps in to tell you about the King Kong experience that used to take place at the park, before it was lost in a fire. And Jimmy Fallon remains your pre-recorded host, but again with new segments.

You’ll also spot 60th anniversary messages on the side of the road during the tour, from the likes of Ted and the Minions.

Doc Brown from the iconic Back to the Future series returns to Hill Valley for the tour, standing in front of a DeLorean and the building that once held the iconic clock tower from the movies, as he interacts with the tour guide towards the start of the tour. Elsewhere on the tour, look out for some Hill Valley props given more of a centre stage.

The iconic Earthquake! experience in the subway station, which has been part of the tour since 1989, has gotten a complete revamp, and it looks better than ever. In short, the San Francisco BART station is now set in 2024, instead of 1989, so they’ve updated the subway to reflect this, with additional effects to amplify the effectiveness of the simulation.

They also take the time to acknowledge the history of the Jaws inclusion in the ride, which still runs today, and show you photos from some of the inclusions that are no more – like the parting of the red sea. Though a lot was absent from the trip down memory lane – I suppose there’s just never time for everything (and as I mentioned, this was a reduced version of the tour so it’s possible you’ll see things I didn’t).

But perhaps the biggest addition of them all, is that you actually get to leave the trams for a series of photo ops. This is something that was once only reserved for the most VIP of guests – and in many ways, it heralds back to the experiences guests had sans tram vehicles when set visits first started in 1915.

You jump off the tram shortly after riding through the War of the Worlds set, in the opposite direction that you used to, and you come across a scale replica of the Hollywood sign as you stop in front of the Bates Motel build, with the Psycho house lurking in the background. We were there at night so you didn’t get the best view of the house – but do look out for interactions with Norman Bates – another long time tradition of the tour – this time up close and personal.

After you leave the hotel area, which also has some props and another Glamor Tram, you can take photos standing inside King Kong’s hand (not dissimilar from the photo opp within the Empire State Building), inside Jaw’s mouth (which used to a long running tradition at the park, pictured below), and pose with some of the Fast and the Furious Vehicles.

After you are finished with the photo opportunities, you can head back onto the next tour bus – though you will likely have a new driver, which explains how they keep things running while letting you explore the area at your own pace. Which is a clever way to do it – and also means you’ll get the time you want in the area.

Once you leave, you’ll get to do the newest addition to the existing tour – riding through Jupiter’s Claim from Nope, which was added in 2022. And look out for the King Kong and Fast and the Furious 360 degree immersive 3D experiences, too, ensuring you get the best of old and new.

Final Verdict

Universal Studios Hollywood have created a loving homage to both the 60 year history of the tram tour, and the almost 110 year history of the studios, in this limited time offering.

Firstly, it was great to see them rely earlier technologies and experiences in the way of Earthquake! and Doc Brown, rather than throw in another 3D projection experience. But it’s the chance to jump off the tram that really elevates the experience.

I’m sure that it gets very busy on a normal day, but the clever staggering of your tram vehicles means you’ll get to spend your time with the sets and photo opps as long as you need to get those photos to take home.

Just keep in mind the whole experience could take around 90 minutes, which is a pretty big chunk of the day!

What could have been better? Well, I would have like to have seen a few more photo opps than what they provided, and maybe an additional set – I felt like after the wow factor of getting to walk around the Bates Motel, that the standalone Kong hand, Furious cars and Jaws weren’t quite as exciting. I would have also liked to have seen more video from past attractions included in the video presentation – though as we had a reduced version of the experience last week, it’s possible that it was just cut for time.

But in spite of some very minor criticisms from a fan who is always looking for the best experience possible, I can safely say this is the most enjoyable version of the Studio Tour I can remember, since first riding the trams in the 90s as a kid. It’s great to see them find new ways to make the park’s OG attraction exciting again, and I hope they continue to lean on its history moving forward. It’s what movie fans like me are craving when we come to the park!


The 60th Anniversary Studio Tour is included with every park ticket, and is running until August 11th.

For more details, head to their official website.

The author visited as a guest of Universal Studios Hollywood and IPW. Photos by the author. 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.