By Charly SHELTON
Red lanterns, Chinese food and plum blossom trees. It must be Chinese New Year.
Monday was the official start of the Year of the Red Fire Monkey in the ancient Chinese lunisolar calendar and Universal Studios Hollywood celebrates it in a big way. The Universal Plaza in the center of the upper level of the theme park is home to an outstanding Lunar New Year celebration. Guests enter the Plaza under a giant archway of red lanterns. The Plaza is filled with hanging posters of each sign on the Chinese zodiac. In the center of the Plaza, a four-limbed archway is covered in plum blossoms and trees. Guests can come in and write their wishes and hopes for a prosperous New Year on little red cards and hang them on the tree, a traditional practice of Chinese New Year. Since it is the year of the monkey, beautiful watercolor pictures of monkeys adorn the walls.
Curious George, in a bright red and gold Chinese vest, stands in front of a bamboo archway beneath Dougong brackets and Chinese roof tiles, ready to welcome guests and pose for photos. On the opposite side of the Plaza, the Decepticon leader Megatron greets guests in fluent Mandarin, an import from Universal Studios Singapore. At different times throughout the day, Curious George and Megatron cycle in and out to give guests a slightly different experience for those who stop by at various times of the day.
And to top it off, what would Chinese New Year be without good Chinese food? Universal has it covered with a food truck parked directly in the Plaza. Featuring classic Asian favorites like pork dim sum dumplings and chicken eggrolls, as well as some Americanized Asian inspired offerings of hot dogs topped with kimchi or pineapple salsa or (my personal favorite) The Chinese Fusion Dog Combo – hot dog with eel sauce, garlic cucumbers, green onions and sesame seeds. Pair that up with an L.A. favorite of sriracha-flavored potato chips and you’ve got yourself a meal.
As awesome as that sounds, I went a little more traditional with the pork dim sum dumpling when I was invited to the park. Served with a side of sweet chili sauce, it did its job and though it stopped my tummy from rumbling it was nothing to write home about. And at $7 for an order of five dumplings, I would rather have visited one of the other restaurants at the park. Universal really does amazing things with their food programs in the different lands, but these dumplings were not a hit for me.
That being said, the event overall is really cool. It’s mostly decoration and an ambience one feels in Universal Plaza, but it’s a better showing than what the other theme parks in the L.A. area do for Chinese New Year.
With The Wizarding World of Harry Potter set to open on April 7, now is the time to visit the park before the crowds get out of control. The Lunar New Year celebration runs through Feb. 14 at the park, with special Shenzhen performances from The Five Continents Arts Troupe direct from Shenzhen, China, taking place one day only on Saturday, Feb. 13. So go grab a Krusty Burger, save the world from evil Decepticons on Transformers the Ride and celebrate Chinese heritage at the Lunar New Year celebration while there is still room to walk through the park.