Vegas to LA: Entertainment Unlimited (Part 2: Los Angeles)

Written by: NAVEENA ISRANI

Photos by: SATYAN ISRANI

 

In my previous post, I gave you a virtual tour of Sin City, Las Vegas. We now move on to celebrity paradise, Los Angeles. LA, the pulse of Southern California, conjures up countless images, from palm trees and Beverly Hills, to Hollywood and Disneyland. Here, nothing is as it seems. In fact, illusion and misdirection are intrinsic to LA.

LA, the pulse of Southern California



We figured this out on day one itself, when we landed at the airport and hailed a shuttle van to take us to Ramada Hollywood hotel. Our driver turned out to be a Bangladeshi and started chatting with me in Bengali when he found out I’m from Kolkata. But my glee at meeting someone who could speak a familiar language evaporated soon afterwards, when I faced the same inefficiency and incompetence that I’m used to seeing back home.

For one, the van was filthy and messy (quite unlike any of the cabs I’d seen in the US) and the driver refused to turn on the AC even in the sweltering heat. Moreover, after picking up another couple besides us, the driver continued to take several rounds of the sprawling airport terminal in search of more passengers. Finally, he did manage to find two more passengers. But by then, the earlier couple, fed up of the heat and grime, decided to get off and hail another cab.

As a result, our driver spent another 20 minutes circling the terminal, searching for two more passengers to replace the ones who had got off! All in all, it was at least an hour before we left the airport, and another hour till we reached our destination. Phir bhil dil hai Hindustani… I still gave him a good tip, even though I couldn’t help feeling that American cabbies are much better in terms of cleanliness and efficiency.

After this eventful start, we plunged head-long into more action by visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, the world’s largest movie studio and theme park. Featuring a variety of attractions, rides and shows with awesome special effects, this glimpse into the world of cinematic make-believe left us speechless!

The most popular attraction was the Studio Tour, a 45-minute tram ride, which gave us a behind-the-scenes look at movie-making techniques.

Studio Tour at Universal Studios


The tram passed through numerous soundstages, movie sets, props, lights, cameras and all the action associated with film-making. The smouldering plane crash from War of the Worlds, high-octane car chases and raging explosions from The Fast and the Furious, parting of the sea in The 10 Commandments, the mechanical shark used in Jaws, fake dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, a roaring King Kong tearing apart a bridge, falling helicopters, fake skies, crashing trains, floods, fires and earthquakes – we saw it all.

Smouldering plane crash from 'War of the Worlds'

Raging explosions from 'The Fast and the Furious'


Parting of the sea in 'The 10 Commandments'


Roaring King Kong

We followed this up with heart-pounding rides like Jurassic Park and Revenge of the Mummy – a slow ghost train with animatronics, turning into a pitch black roller-coaster, with operators that whooped like demented sea-lions! The shows were stunning too, be it the 3D Terminator-2 show, the 4D ogre-the-top Shrek adventure, or the live stunt show called Waterworld. It was a day well spent, with movie-making magic at its best.

Shrek and Fiona


Live stunt show 'Waterworld'

The next morning, we headed for the legendary Walk of Fame at Hollywood Boulevard, which is a tribute to Hollywood stars through the ages. I couldn’t control my excitement as I jumped from one star to the other, trying to locate my favourite celebrities.

Tom Cruise's star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

“Oooh! Here’s Keanu Reeves… and look, I finally found Tom Cruise!” I squealed in delight, gesturing frantically to my husband, who was in his own world, hunting for George Clooney and Donald Duck. And that was when I bumped right into Johnny Depp!

“Care for a picture with me, madame?” he drawled, tipping his hat at a jaunty angle. I almost fainted with joy… but wait a minute, why was he dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow? Then it struck me – that wasn’t the real Johnny Depp; he was a fake, posing with tourists for $5 a picture! And he wasn’t the only one – there were tons of look-alikes of Hollywood celebrities, and people were queuing up to take pictures with them. The lone ranger here was a ‘fake’ Dumbledore, because apparently, no one wanted a picture with an old, gay professor!

Smiling apologetically at him, we proceeded to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where we saw the hand- and foot-prints of Hollywood stars, immortalised in cement.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

I was overjoyed when I found that my hand-prints matched with those of Harry Potter and my husband literally had to drag me away from there, but not before I had bragged about this fact to several amused passers-by!

Hand-prints of 'Harry Potter'

The other attractions at Hollywood Boulevard were the Kodak Theatre (home of the Oscars), Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum and Guinness World of Records museum.

Kodak Theatre


Celebrities at Hollywood Wax Museum


And of course, how can we forget the world-famous ‘Hollywood’ sign on a hill, which was visible from the topmost floor of a nearby mall.

‘Hollywood’ sign on a hill

After the glitz and glam of Hollywood Entertainment District, we headed for Santa Monica Pier, a seaside carnival with eateries, souvenir shops, bike and surfboard rentals, clay impressionists, a historic carousel and an amusement park. But we couldn’t walk along the pier for too long as the wind was biting cold and the sun’s remaining warmth barely sustained us in our wind-breakers.

Santa Monica Pier

So we bundled back inside our car and headed for a drive down Sunset Boulevard into Beverly Hills, to catch a glimpse of the dwellings of the rich and famous. Huge picturesque mansions and cottages, lush green neatly manicured lawns, wide roads lined by tall palm trees, and a beautiful sunset – it was truly a sight to cherish.

Beverly Hills

The next day, which was our last in LA, we headed for the only remaining attraction and my favourite too – Disneyland! Since we had limited time, we decided to split the day between California Adventure Park and Disneyland Park.

Donald Duck at Disneyland

The former had all the action-packed rides, be it tumbling down an elevator shaft that took our breath away, or bobbing along white water rapids that drenched us completely. But the scariest of all was the California Screamin’ roller-coaster, with a dizzying 360-degree turn and a 107-foot drop that left us screaming for more!

As for Disneyland Park, eight themed ‘lands’ filled with timeless attractions make it the happiest place on earth for people of all generations.

It's a Bug's Life at Disneyland


The highlights of the park were the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Finding Nemo submarine voyage – never mind the 90 minutes we spent in queue for the latter! But my favourite part was the Disney Parade, which featured all the Disney characters – from Micky Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, to Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Cinderalla, Snow White, Rapunzel and many more.

Disney Parade

And to top it all, there was a grand fireworks display over Disney castle – a magical finale to our visit to the Magic Kingdom!

The curtains had fallen on our trip to the west coast of USA – the lights had dimmed, the cameras had stopped clicking. But the action will never cease, because it’s embedded in my mind forever. No matter where I am, I only have to shut my eyes to see the lights still glittering on the Vegas Strip or the countless stars weaving their web of magic on Hollywood.

(Note: A modified and shortened version of the above article was published in the ET Travel section of The Economic Times on April 10, 2008. I have reproduced the original version here for the reading pleasure of fellow Ghumakkars.)

 

24 Comments

  • Hi Naveena,

    As usual your description and Satyan’s photos are ultimate . I think cab drivers and auto drivers have same mentality everywhere throughout the world. I saw it in Dubai , Amsterdam and Norway . You told about your experience in USA. And I am fed up with Autorickshaw drivers in Mumbai. Can’t help it. Universal Studios and Disneyland pictures were very beautiful ,wanted some more of Disney Parade………

    And how many days did you spent in all in both then cities ?

    • Naveena Israni says:

      Thanks Vishal ji for your warm words! Since Disney Parade was at night, we didn’t get too many good camera shots as the light was less. We spent 2 nights in Las Vegas and 4 nights in LA.

  • Harish Bhatt says:

    Hello Naveena, Excellent short description of LA. You have summarized such a big and happening city in just a few words but have not left anything… Universal studio, Santa Monica beach, Hollywood Boulevard, the attractions on Hollywood Boulevard, Disney Land…you have covered almost everything… I also loved the evening parade at Disney land…The best part that i liked in Disney land before the fireworks was the flying angel… It was awesome… Did you get a chance to walk along the Venice Beach?

    I have lived in LA for a while and your post refreshed my memories…

    Thanks for sharing…

    Harish

    • Naveena Israni says:

      Thanks for your kind words Harish ji! I am not aware of the Venice Beach… where is that? Maybe I can visit it next time :)

      • Harish Bhatt says:

        When you walk towards the Santa Monica Peer; on the right side is the Santa Monica beach and on the left side (where there are joy rides and all) is the Venice Beach…There are a lots of shops and many other entertainment stuff there…its a fun place…..

        • Naveena Israni says:

          Thanks Harish ji. I think I did see this place, but didn’t have time to visit. Maybe next time…

  • naina says:

    lovely lovely article.. naveena you should be writing your pieces for some of the top travel mags of the world.. u have a real gift! i hope to see your pieces published soon where you truly belong.. all the best..

  • Bill McReynolds says:

    Naveena Ji!

    Great post. Thanks! We live in LA, and I want to re-assure you that your taxi driver illegally circled looking for passengers. In fact, they are required to line up outside the terminals and take passengers in turn. I am sure the meter was running while he circled the airport. As an American with most of my wife’s family in Mumbai, and our daughter who moved there one year back, I apologize!

    • Naveena Israni says:

      Dear Mr McReynolds,

      Thanks for your kind words. But please do not apologise as am sure this was a one-off incident, and it was definitely not your fault. I still loved LA despite this initial hiccup :)

      Warm regards,
      Naveena

  • shivkumar says:

    Keep it up. As usual, great job.

  • Amit Kumar says:

    Hi Naveena, it was a great writeup. Besides your story your profile interests me a lot. I too work for a news channel and earlier worked with HT Media Ltd. in New Delhi. hope to see some great writeup of yours in future.

  • ashok sharma says:

    nice story and good pics.

  • Sulagna says:

    Travelled to LA again virtually.. in fact didn’t notice a few things which your article pointed out :-).. will surely look at those places closely if I get to visit LA next :-)
    Great job again Naveena!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    The dream world aptly described.

    @McReynolds – Sir, I am guessing that this was a shuttle where they take 5-6 passengers. I usually take a shuttle only at SFO when I visit SJ since it is much more inexpensive. You need to wait for the shuttle to fill up but not switching on the AC or taking rounds is not something common. For the regular yellow or other cabs, they do not engage in these things.

    @Vishal – Once you meet Dilli Autowallahs, you would go back home and would have much more respect for Mumbai Autowallahs :-).

    Never been to LA, I know it is a shame especially when it is so close to SJ. Briiliant log Naveena and when you respond, please address me as Nandan, I am still in my teens.

    • Naveena Israni says:

      Dear Nandan,

      Thanks for your kind words and inputs.

      Yes, you’re right. It was a shuttle van (as I’ve mentioned in my post) and not a regular cab. But his action was still uncalled for.

      As regards Indian autowallahs and cabbies, I feel they are a nuisance everywhere, be it Delhi or Mumbai. They’re out to rip you off wherever you go!

      Hope you get a chance to visit LA some time :)

      Warm regards,
      Naveena

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Naveena & Satyan,

    great post, aptly supplemented by pics. The places described herein are almost iconic and enjoyed your description about them.

    Thanks,
    Auro.

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Hi Naveena, sorry for commenting so late. As always, it is a pleasure to read your posts and Satyan’s pics are a delight to behold. Looking forward to more.

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