Giant robots, skydiving and King Kong. Roger Crow has adventures in 3D in the movie-making capital of the world, Los Angeles.
Whether you’re a movie fan who loves to soak up the sights and sounds of Tinseltown, or a theme park addict who loves incredible rides, there’s something for everyone at Universal Studios Hollywood.
And as the recession bites harder than the shark from Jaws, the good news is that a three-day trip to the City of Angels isn’t as costly as you might expect.
No movie studio stays afloat without taking risks, so investing millions of dollars in a toy-inspired film saga has to tick many boxes in the hope of making its money back.
However, Transformers: The Ride 3D is less of a gamble and more of a sure-fire licence to print money.
Why? Well, generations of fans in the 1980s grew up with the toy cars, trucks and the like which morph into alien robots.
In 2007, producer Steven Spielberg, director Michael Bay and a team of special effects wizards joined forces to make one of the most enjoyable films of that year.
Last year, the third instalment, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
After a sublime 10-hour flight on Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to LA, I was among the first of the lucky few to experience the premiere of Transformers: The Ride 3D.
OK, so 5,000 miles might seem like a long way to go for a theme park ride, but given Universal’s track record with immersive experiences, such as The Simpsons Ride, I knew it would be worth it – and I wasn’t wrong.
After a trip through corridors featuring props and ephemera from the blockbusting movies, you board a sleek transport (inspired by the Autobot Evac) which whisks you off on the journey of a lifetime.
You don’t need to have seen the hit movies to enjoy this incredible adventure as characters such as truck cab/noble leader Optimus Prime and lovable sports car/comic relief Bumblebee go head to head with the evil Decepticons, while trying to save you and fellow riders from imminent doom.
The thrill of being hurled around US streets, crashing through buildings or enduring what feel like vertical drops is literally breathtaking.
Perhaps best of all, for me at least, there’s none of the motion sickness that accompanied previous rides such as Back To The Future.
In fact, Transformers: The Ride 3D, is arguably more visually impressive, better scripted and 50 times more thrilling than all of the previous Transformers movies put together.
The new attraction takes place at an intriguing time for Universal as it’s the 100th anniversary of one of my favourite movie studios.
Though I’d experienced every Universal ride in Florida at least once over the past 10 years, it was a treat to return to LA for the first time since 1995 and see how the park has changed.
One of the most popular experiences is the trolley ride around the enormous park, where you see famous locations such as the Bates Motel from Psycho (which bizarrely backs onto kid-friendly town Whoville from The Grinch), along with Desperate Housewives’ world-famous Wisteria Lane.
One of the standout sights is a crashed 747 airliner from Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds. The word ‘epic’ doesn’t quite sum up the scale of that spectacle.
There are still old favourites there from my last trip, such as the disaster-stricken Earthquake set and a cascading torrent down a hillside routine, but just when I thought I’d seen it all, our tour trolley pulled into a tunnel for Peter Jackson’s King Kong experience.
The sight of cinema’s greatest ape tackling dinosaurs is jaw-dropping and it’s moments such as this that made me realise that while part of Universal may still be old-school, other sections are planted firmly in the 21st century.
A VIP tour took us backstage, where the latest series of Ron Howard’s series Parenthood is being shot.
We also took a look round a warehouse where row after row is filled with chairs, tables and props for assorted projects such as Weeds and Sons Of Anarchy. Many of the items here date back decades and it’s a must-see for any film and TV fan.
Of course you don’t travel to LA just to experience Universal, as the place is filled with some of the most famous streets and sights known to man, woman or child.
During my three-day stay I managed to cram in a trip to Malibu (Bob Morris’s Paradise Cove Beach Cafe is a must for mouth-watering dinners and calorific desserts), and saw just about every major tourist attraction from the stars’ homes in Bel Air to the world-famous Hollywood sign.
Those with a dark side may want to visit some of the shadier locations in LA, such as the spot where Whitney Houston, River Phoenix and Michael Jackson died, but dwelling on such tragedies was not for me.
However, a quick look round Westwood Memorial Park, where the likes of Walter Matthau and Marilyn Monroe were buried, was a hauntingly bittersweet experience.
Other popular sights include 20th Century Fox’s HQ skyscraper (better known to Die Hard fans as the Nakatomi Plaza) and the glorious excesses of Rodeo Drive, where Pretty Woman fans should have a field day taking snaps even if they can’t afford any of the clothes or shoes on display.
I enjoyed a very comfortable stay at the Sheraton Hotel, a few minutes’ walk from Universal Studios and CityWalk, which features a wealth of shops, restaurants (the Brazilian Steakhouse features a great menu) and more offbeat attractions such as the vertical wind tunnel, iFLY.
The latter is about the closest you can come to skydiving without having to endure a plane ride and that stomach-churning leap into the unknown.
A short training session is followed by the donning of overalls and protective gear before you float like an astronaut in zero gravity.
* Roger Crow travelled to California as a guest of Virgin Holidays which offers three nights room-only at the four-star Sheraton Universal Resort from £779, including scheduled flights ex-Heathrow to LA, transfers and unlimited Universal Studios Hollywood pass. Prices based on two adults sharing a standard room, for departures Nov 8-22.
* Virgin Holidays four-night room-only breaks ex-Manchester start at £965, ex-Glasgow from £955.
* Virgin Holidays reservations: 0844 557 3859 and www.virginholidays.co.uk
Or enquire at one of 90 Virgin stores in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.