Planning a Universal Studios Hollywood trip?
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 15+ years for me and my husband. The park has changed so much.
Universal Studios Hollywood is a lot different than Universal Studios Orlando. We have visited the Orlando park and it is about twice as large. 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.
How Many Days?
One day at Universal Studios Hollywood was plenty for my family on a Tuesday in early June. Universal Studios is not as large as Disneyland and not as crowded. We rode every big ride in the park – some of them twice – and saw every show. It was a busy day, but lots of fun.
You may want to plan two days at Universal Studios if you are visiting on a weekend or holiday when the park will be extra crowded. You can get an estimate of how crowded the park will be on your dates at IsItPacked.com.
Related: Best Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood
Where to Stay
There are currently two hotels located next to Universal Studios Hollywood – Universal Sheraton and Hilton Universal City. Both are 5 minutes' walk (uphill) to the park and both use the same complimentary shuttle. 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. I found the rooms to be a little small, but it was so close to Universal Studios and CityWalk. This hotel has recently been remodeled, and it feels like Hollywood at its best.
Planning to visit Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland on the same trip? It can be done, and if you want to do both from the same hotel, I think it's more important to pick a hotel near Disneyland. Just plan to get up early to make the 1+ hour drive to Universal Studios, and expect heavy traffic.
Related: Our Family-Tested Review of Universal Sheraton
There is a large parking garage at Universal Studios Hollywood. The current day rate for General Parking is $25. You can pay more for premium parking, and valet parking is available.
We have successfully used Uber and Lyft in Southern California. These ride sharing services can be a convenient and less expensive alternative to renting a car.
Public transportation to Universal Studios Hollywood is also available. There is a stop near the park, and then you can take the complimentary shuttle up the hill to the park entrance. Visit metro.net to plan your ride.
We drove our own car to Universal Studios Hollywood and left it parked at the Universal Sheraton during our stay.
Related: Tips for Using Uber and Lyft with Kids
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 the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and rode Forbidden Journey 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.
I would not count on a “soft open” like this every day. But… if it happens on the day you are there, it will definitely be worth arriving at least 30 minutes before the official opening time.
If you want to be sure to get in early, you can book a Preferred Hotel Package through the official Universal Studios Hollywood website. You'll get to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (at least) 30 minutes before the official opening time.
Related: What to Expect at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
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 to Disneyland suggests that you visit the lower park in the morning because most other visitors will start at the top.
Related: 9 Fun Things to Do in Hollywood with Kids
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.
Related: Tips for Taking a Warner Bros. Studio Tour
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.
Related: Tips for Avoiding Crowds at Disneyland
Want the best price?
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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.
Where did you pose for the Hollywood sign picture?
You can find this photo op at the end of the Studio Tour ride. A photographer will probably invite you to pose for a professional photo, but he was happy to take one with my camera too.
The Food at the Three Broomsticks near Harry Potter area is really good and the ambiance is great. If you haven’t tried it, you should next time 🙂
We have eaten at the Three Broomsticks in Orlando. It’s definitely a must for Harry Potter fans! Thanks for the tip! 🙂
Thanks for your post! I’m curious – we are planning a trip in August and trying to decide whether to get the Fast Pass or not. We will be staying at the same hotel you did and will get there first thing in the morning. What are your thoughts on that?
I would check a crowd calendar like isitpacked.com to see an estimate of how crowded the park will be that day. If it’s expected to be really crowded, then you might want to get the Express Pass. If crowds aren’t insane, you’ll probably be fine without if you arrive before the park opens and make the most of those morning hours. It also depends on how much your family loves the rides. If you want to ride big thrill rides all day long and don’t want to worry about lines, then Express Pass is definitely a better bet. If you ride big rides in the morning and save the high capacity studio tour and shows for afternoon, then again, Express Pass is not as essential.
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