Courtesy of Universal Studios

There are certain holidays every year that makes my inner child scream with excitement. While Halloween and Christmas are obviously in my top five favorite holidays to celebrate, there is one that makes the list that might leave some scratching their heads. That holiday is the Chinese LUNAR NEW YEAR. What makes this year particularly special is that it is the Year of the Rat, which signifies the return to the start of the 12-year cycle of animals that signify the Chinese calendar. Since it is the official start of the new calendar cycle, there was no better way to celebrate than to go to Universal Studios Hollywood to attend their LUNAR NEW YEAR event. And, as it was last year, it was truly a sight to behold.

For returning attendees of the LUNAR NEW YEAR event, the location is still centered around the Central Plaza on the top level of the park. The beautiful cherry blossom trees are generally the first thing attendees will see as they enter the Plaza; their beautiful light pink petals beckoning hopeful souls to come over and write down their wishes. The wishes could be as simple or as elaborate as you wanted, but it all needed to fit onto a small, rectangular piece of red paper. I know that when I wrote my wish out, I specifically focused on making sure to focus on de-stressing in the New Year and to extend that wish to those I care about. Writing that all out on the red paper was definitely a fun, relaxing way to put that out in the universe for sure.

While last year there was a tall stage where people could see various shows like Beijing Opera or the characters from Kung Fu Panda demonstrating to attendees how to do proper kungfu poses, this year the stage didn’t seem as much of a focal point. And, while we were attending the LUNAR NEW YEAR event, it mostly was left empty with the exception of routine photo ops with Po, the Dragon Warrior, and his handler. While we might not have lucked out with the shows that we thought were going to happen that day, but Universal does have select days where certain performances will occur including a Lion Dragon dance, Kung Fu demonstrations, and more. Make sure to check in with park employees to see what is available performance-wise on which day because it does change.

When we weren’t taking pictures of Po at the stage, there was a little downtime for arts and crafts. While Universal Studios did not bring back the Chinese Calligraphy for this year’s event, we did get a chance to learn how to draw a new Kung Fu Panda character. Whereas last year attendees got to learn how to draw Mr. Ping, this year we got to learn how to draw Po. The attendant, Sara, who walked us through the steps was delightful and very encouraging, making it a point to check up on everyone’s drawings to see how people could improve and the like. Her energy was infectious and I greatly appreciated it, especially after a long day of walking at the park. I did really miss the Chinese Calligraphy this year and did think having another craft of some kind would help out with the awkward lull that did happen while I was there between the stage, the photo ops, and talking to Mr. Ping.

One of the highlights from last year’s festival is back – Mr. Ping. For attendees who did not attend last year’s event, you can get a chance to visit Po’s, the Dragon Warrior, adopted father Mr. Ping. Mr. Ping owns a noodle shop where Po discovered his love for all things delicious. Getting the chance to talk to Mr. Ping is easily one of the best ways to lift your spirits. He’s friendly. He really loves noodles and, ultimately, all he wants is for people to be happy and to enjoy all the delicious foods he tries to create for his patrons. If you’re interested in theme park animatronics too, visiting Mr. Ping is essential because the animatronic work is top-notch in my opinion.

Last year I recalled having an issue with the food options available in the Central Plaza in what was also supposed to be Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop. This year, however, the process of getting our food was a lot smoother and the food options were a lot more satisfactory on the palette. While the food is still pricy, the serving sizes were just right and the flavors were pretty decent considering. Shannon had the special ingredient noodle soup, which has a subtly spicy broth that sneaks up on you. She also ordered dumplings to try as well. I ordered the Noodle Shop’s version of ramen, which was pretty decent for a theme park. If you’re looking for authenticity though, I would not recommend ordering that. 

If you wanted to take a break from the Central Plaza, there were options in the park where attendees could take in further homages to the LUNAR NEW YEAR.  A Mandarin-speaking Megatron could be found at set times just outside of the Plaza. As always, it is a super hoot to hear Megatron in all of his badass villainous glory speak Mandarin in a menacing fashion. Every time we would walk by, he was upfront and there was no way I couldn’t snort-laugh while hearing him threaten patrons in Mandarin Chinese.  Across the way from the Plaza, there was a special LUNAR NEW YEAR set up where you could get pictures with some Minions all decked out in their special LUNAR NEW YEAR wardrobe. While we didn’t get a chance to meet them, we know that they were running around at specific times. And, it wouldn’t be a proper LUNAR NEW YEAR celebration without Hello Kitty. Stationed outside of the Hello Kitty Store if weather permits, there is a meet and greet where Hello Kitty comes out in her best new LUNAR NEW YEAR attire. And a surprise shopping tidbit for those who love Hello Kitty and pins, Universal Studios is selling a special 2020 Hello Kitty pin in honor of the Chinese New Year for about $14. Yes, I did buy it. I know what I’m about.

Overall, I did enjoy the LUNAR NEW YEAR event at Universal. While they definitely scaled back with the shows and the activities this year, I don’t think it detracted from the overall event. There were enough photo ops and crafts to allow families and people to kill time for a couple of hours. The one thing that was noticeable was that the periods of time between activities definitely felt a bit too long at times. I’m not sure if it was just how the schedule lined up that day or what have you, but it definitely made me wonder more often than not when the next activity would take place. I’d be curious to see what is planned for next year. Whether Universal will continue to make the event a mostly Kung Fu Panda oriented celebration or if they would be aiming to provide more cultural immersion as they did in 2019.

Universal Studios Hollywood ushers in the “Year of the Rat,” the first of the Chinese zodiac animals, as the theme park celebrates with the LUNAR NEW YEAR event from Thursday, January 23 through Sunday, February 9. Lunar New Year is included in the price of admission to the theme park. For more information on the LUNAR NEW YEAR event and other holiday events happening at Universal Studios Hollywood, click HERE.

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Sarah Musnicky
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