Are you considering a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood? It’s so fun.
We recently visited Universal Studios Hollywood with our two children (ages 12 and 10) and we had such a great day. It was the first time my kids had visited Universal Studios Hollywood and it had been a decade or more for me and my husband. The park has changed so much since then.
We were excited about the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well as other top attractions based on favorite movies and television shows like Despicable Me, The Simpsons, Jurassic Park, Shrek and more. The technology behind Universal’s top thrill rides is somewhat different than the coasters at most parks. Expect movie magic on almost every ride.
Universal Studios Hollywood is an especially good park for families with older kids. There are rides and play areas for littles, and the Studio Tour is for everyone. However, Universal doesn’t have as many rides as some other parks, and top attractions like The Forbidden Journey will be off-limits for many preschoolers. Universal Studios is a little more irreverent and edgy than other top Southern California parks like Disneyland and LEGOLAND California.
Universal Studios Hollywood is a lot different than Universal Studios Orlando. We visited the Orlando park a few years ago and it is about twice as large. You’ll probably only need one day for Universal Studios Hollywood. The big advantage at Universal Studios Hollywood is that it is built around the real Universal Studios and the Studio Tour is an actual tour of the movie studio.
Here are my top tips for making the most of your day at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Arriving early is the BEST way to avoid long waits for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and other top rides at Universal Studios Hollywood. My husband insisted that we arrive at the gates 45 minutes before the park opened to the general public. I thought it was overkill, but then they started letting everyone in 25 minutes before the published opening time.
We scurried to Harry Potter and rode it twice with no wait at all. A couple of hours later, the wait was over an hour. By that time, we had ridden every major ride in the park – some of them twice.
Staying near the park made it easy for us to arrive early without waking up before dawn and braving Los Angeles traffic. We booked the Universal Sheraton through Get Away Today Vacations. This hotel is a short walk from Universal Studios Hollywood and has a free shuttle to the park every 15 minutes. I found the rooms to be small, but the pool was was old Hollywood glam and the location was hard to beat.
We visited on a Tuesday in early June and the lines were not as long as we expected. If you visit on a weekend, holiday or other peak time, I recommend that you get familiar with the park’s top attractions and make a plan.
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland is our go-to resource for Disneyland AND Universal Studios Hollywood plans. This book taught us everything we know about avoiding long lines and we borrow the most recent edition from our library before every Disney/Universal trip. Borrow the book from your local library or buy it now on Amazon.com.
My husband and I agree that the Studio Tour is still the best ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. This tram ride is an hour long and it is a tour of the real Universal Studios. You’ll see sound stages and outdoor sets from familiar television shows and movies. You’ll also see special effects demonstrations. Some parts of the tour have been the same for decades, while other parts are new.
Universal Studios includes a couple of 3D movie experiences on 360-degree screens on the tour and they are lots of fun. The Fast and the Furious – Supercharged was the finale of our tour.
The Studio Tour is high capacity, so you can save it for afternoon when lines for everything else are long and you’re ready for a rest.
Up and down
Universal Studios Hollywood is built on a hill. The entrance and most of of the attractions are at the top of the hill, but some of the best rides – Jurassic Park, The Mummy and Transformers – are at the bottom.
The good news is, you don’t have to hike up and down to enjoy both parts of the park. There is a long escalator and elevator that will get you from one to the other. The Unofficial Guide suggests that you visit the lower park in the morning because most other visitors will start at the top.
If you can avoid packing a day pack or purse for Universal Studios Hollywood, you might be glad. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and a couple of other major rides require you to stash your belongings in a locker before you ride. It’s a hassle.
If you do keep your belongings in your pocket or lanyard, make sure they are secure. Harry Potter will turn you upside down and every other direction. I nearly lost my phone on this ride in Florida when it slipped out of my hip pocket. In California, my daughter found loose change in her seat left by a previous rider.
That said, Universal Studios Hollywood does allow you to bring sandwiches and snacks in a day pack or stroller. The convenience and savings on food might be worth the hassle at the lockers if you don’t have a non-rider who can keep them for you.
The shows at Universal Studios Hollywood have always been some of the best attractions at the park. At the time of our visit, there were three shows: the Special Effects Show, Universal’s Animal Actors and WaterWorld. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, and they are fun. The Special Effects Show was my favorite.
I have mixed feelings about WaterWorld, which is the most popular show at Universal Studios Hollywood. This stunt show features exciting fight scenes, falls and explosions, but it’s based on a movie that nobody liked. The soak zone lives up to its name, and it’s a good way to cool off on a hot afternoon. The show’s only woman is the star, which is good. However, she is still far outnumbered and costumed in fishnet stockings and a short skirt to fight bad guys.
The shows are mostly scheduled in the afternoon and we did them back to back after the Studio Tour. Arrive about 15 minutes before a show starts – earlier on crowded days – to get a good seat. Each of the shows is 20-25 minutes long.
Our day at Universal Studios Hollywood was one of the highlights of a family trip to Hollywood. My family loves movies, so we also took the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Chinese Theatre, Griffith Park and more. Got questions about this trip? I’ll post our full itinerary soon, or ask me a question in the comments.
How else can I help?
Want the best price on a Universal Studios hotel and tickets? If you’re thinking about booking a Southern California vacation, check out the Universal Studios and Disneyland packages at getawaytoday.com. Get Away Today sells discounted Universal and Disneyland tickets and you can save even more when you buy them together.
Save $10 on any Southern California vacation package at Get Away Today when you use our exclusive coupon code: Tips10Trips.
Read more about our partnership with Get Away Today here.