It has taken us 5 years of living in Los Angeles, but we finally made it to Universal Studios Hollywood. Wow! I wish we went sooner, but I am also sort of glad we waited. My son is just now 48 inches which meant he could go on every ride at the park. Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is an amazingly immersive education in the entertainment business as well as a theme park full of cool interactive rides. And honestly, both aspects were equally as engaging for all of us, kid included!
Since this was our first trip, I did quite a bit of research in advance so that we could get the most out of our one day visit. As first time visitors, we learned a lot along the way as well. To help you out, here are our Universal Studios Hollywood tips with some things we knew going into our visit as well as some we wished we knew all compiled in one place!
Compared to some of the other theme parks in Southern California, Universal Studios Hollywood is not open for super long hours so it is best to be there bright and early to make the most of your day. On our visit, the park opened at 9 a.m., but we arrived by 8:30 and they were letting people in already. This works out well since you will need to pick up your Express passes and first timers badges.
Parking: There are three main lots. Valet is $50 per day and located just steps from the entrance, premier parking is $35 a day and is quite close to the park with the basic parking coming in at $25. The basic parking is a short 10 minute walk to the park through Universal City Walk which is loaded with restaurants and shops.
Make a Plan
Check out the online map (or the app) at Universal Studios Hollywood’s website to determine what your priorities are for the day. For our family it was to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first and foremost. Second, we really wanted to check out the shows. Given this, we headed straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first and spent all morning exploring before heading off to do some shows.
The park is situated into an Upper Lot and Lower Lot which makes planning out your day essential. We chose to do everything at the Upper Lot before heading down to the Lower Lot. This seems to be what most people do as well which means the wait times for the Lower Lot rides tend to be packed more towards the end of the day. If these rides are a priority, you might venture down to the Lower Lot earlier in the day and head back up to the Upper Lot for the afternoon.
Download the App
The Universal Studios Hollywood App is super helpful in a variety of ways and is worth the free download. The app was quite useful to check wait times for rides, but also in setting alerts to let us know if a ride had a short line. We found this especially useful for the Ollivander wand choosing ceremony. We waited in line at the start of the day but did not get chosen, so we set the alarm to let us know when it was 10 min or less so we could try again.
You can also customize an itinerary within the app which is a great way to make sure you have done everything on your to do list. We did everything, so didn’t end up needing this, but I can see how it would be a useful tool.
Lastly, there is a section in the app where you can enter your parking information so you don’t forget where you parked. You will be surprised how easy it is to forget after a long day of fun.[box]Tip: If you get any type of motion queasiness, considering bringing and taking Dramamine for your visit. Several of the rides leave guests feeling pretty queasy. We heard of several vomit incidents as well![/box]
Buy Universal Express Passes
We loved the Universal Express Passes! The Universal Express pass basically allows you to bypass the regular line one time for each ride and show (except Ollivanders). It was so great to know that we could experience every ride without long wait times even though it was quite busy. There is also an unlimited Universal Express pass which allows guests to go on each ride multiple times without having to wait in the regular line, but unless the park is open for a long day, it may not be worth it for a first visit.
The catch here is that there are a limited amount of Universal Express passes available for each day which ensures that the express lines do not get too long. If you are planning to attend Universal Studios for only one day, we highly recommend that you purchase the express pass in as much advance as you can. Had we not gotten this pass, there is no way we could have done all of the rides and seen all of the shows. If this is your one and only visit, I feel it’s 100% worth it, especially during peak season.
If you do not buy the pass in advance, you can upgrade your ticket upon arrival. However, as there are limited passes sold for each day, there is no guarantee there will be availability at the park during peak season.
Pick Up a Birthday Badge (or 1st Timers Badge)
If it is your birthday, pick up your birthday badge to celebrate. Nothing makes you feel more special on your birthday than being told Happy Birthday at every turn by employees and guests at the park! When you enter the gates, look to your right for the Guest Relations building where birthday and first timers badges are handed out. We did not receive any discounts or freebies with our badges, but they were still fun to have.
Do the Studio Tour
The great thing about Universal Studios Hollywood is that the park is situated on an actual working studio lot. This means that there are TV and film shoots happening during the day when you visit. Even though my husband works in the film industry and my son dips his toes in the acting world as well, this was one of my favorites of the day.
The Studio Tour is essentially a show and a ride. You might get wet, you might experience an earthquake and you might race through the streets of Los Angeles at high speed all while learning more about the secrets of Hollywood and how they make their magic so believable. The tour is an hour long, but it goes by quickly and even kids will be quite entertained for the duration. Go to the restroom and pick up snacks and water before you board.
Make Time for the Shows
While the rides at Universal Studios Hollywood are quite spectacular, the shows are also pretty amazing and should not be missed. We saw every show and they all delivered big. The Animal Actors show was so cute and provided such great insight into how animals are trained for show business. Everyone will enjoy this one with plenty of oohs and ahhs to go around.
The Special Effect Show was also amazing. Have you seen a person light themselves on fire? No, yeah I hadn’t either. This opened up my eyes to so much behind the scenes that happens in the movies.
The gist of it.. make sure to make time for the shows. There are limited showings so check the timings to schedule out your day.
Buy a Magical Wand
If you love Harry Potter and want to spend some time cruising the streets of Hogsmeade with a purpose, consider buying an interactive wand. Throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter there are spots where your little magician can practice some magic.
Look for the metal spots (or the groups of magicians!) located around town or check out the map included with your wand to find all the spots. Your magical wand will work in Universal Studios Hollywood, Orlando and Osaka. Read more about what to do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Stay for the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts
If your visit coincides with the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts show at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, plan to stay to watch it. The show is not available at all times of the year, so if this is a must for your visit, check the calendar or app to see if it will be available. It was unfortunately not operating during our visit which was a total bummer, but gives us another reason to go again! If you check your app, a recommendation of when to see the show will be provided. Typically this is the last show of the day as people crowd around for the first show of the night with less people waiting for the last show. If there are three shows, I think I would go to the second and the last!
Have you been to Universal Studios Hollywood? Did we miss any tips for first timers? Share them with us below.
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