In anticipation of the park reopening (date still unknown), I’ve put together a list of expert Universal Studios Hollywood tips to help you make the most of your day. Minimizing line waiting and forming an efficiency strategy will be key to having fun, especially for first-time visitors in today’s climate.
Some of my Universal Studios tips and tricks will also help you save money so that you can bring home a new wand or splurge on a donut the size of your head.
Be Prepared for Reopening
Guidelines for CityWalk include guest temperature checks and face coverings. Establishments opened with limited capacity and you can expect the theme park to do the same. Learn more.
Best Time to Go to Universal Studios Hollywood
1. Despite the heat, which you’ll be enduring while wearing masks, visiting Universal Studios Hollywood in the summer is very busy. School is out and this is one of the most popular things to do in Los Angeles with kids.
Spring (outside of spring break), winter (outside of winter break), and fall are less busy options. It’s probably a no-brainer that public holidays should be avoided, if possible.
2. Plan your excursion for midweek when there are typically fewer people. If you can be flexible with dates, check out isitpacked.com to help you decide which day will be the least crowded.
3. Are you keen on a little celeb-spotting? Well, this is another benefit of going midweek as you might glimpse your favorite star hard at work (during normal times).
4. Check park opening times and try to arrive at least 30 minutes before. This will give you some time to park your car and be close to the front for the first entry. Also, a line forms at the entrance gates before the park opens for the day. You’ll enjoy a slight head start to favorite rides and attractions if you’re not toward the end of this line.
Saving Money on Tickets
5. You do not need to buy tickets direct through Universal Studios. Direct tickets no longer offer early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They do offer access to the AMEX lounge if you buy upgraded tickets (more on this below) but the money you’ll save elsewhere will likely override this convenience.
6. Buy tickets in advance. This is the most essential money and timesaving tip when it comes to admission. Theme parks across the world are endeavoring to go touch-free and minimize onsite transactions. Having tickets in-hand or scanned on a mobile device is one way to assist.
7. There is no need to pay gate pricing on admission. I have covered how to buy Universal Studios Hollywood discount tickets from authorized sellers in detail. The savings are significant and I have partnered with aRes Travel to offer some of the lowest pricing around.
8. Consider buying the Universal Express Pass which provides shorter wait times for eligible rides, shows, and attractions. You can choose one-time priority access or unlimited priority access via a designated queue to every eligible ride, show, and attraction. It’s the not-so-secret Universal Hollywood secret and can also be purchased in advance at a discount.
I would strongly consider this upgrade during summer, winter break and spring break. Universal Express rides include:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Jurassic World — The Ride
- Kung Fu Panda Adventure
- Revenge of the Mummy — The Ride
- Studio Tour (these lines can otherwise be long)
- The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash
- The Simpsons Ride
- Transformers: The Ride-3D
9. For the ultimate stress-free day, opt for the VIP Experience. It includes valet parking, breakfast, unlimited priority access, and a buffet-style lunch. You will have a 6–8 hour personalized guided tour of the park.
10. If you’re worried about cramming everything into one day and you have the time, then a two-day pass is a good option. This gives you the opportunity to take it slowly, let smaller kids return to the hotel for naps, or for Harry Potter fans to comb through The Wizarding World over and over again.
11. If you are planning to visit other Southern California theme parks or Los Angeles attractions, consider a sightseeing pass like the Go Los Angeles Card. You can also buy two- or three-park tickets combined with Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain which I hope will return for sale when these parks also reopen.
General Tips for Universal Studios Hollywood
12. Download the Universal Studios Hollywood App. This is going to save you time searching for shows, reserving spots, and locating restaurants and attractions.
13. Of course, how you choose to spend your day depends on what attractions, shows, and rides are a priority for you. Here’s one of the most important Universal Studios Hollywood tips. Check out the show schedule when you arrive and plan everything else around that. Rides run consistently during park open hours but shows happen only at set times.
14. The World-Famous Studio Tour closes before the park does so don’t forget to fit that in well before closing times. Doing the tour at midday is a great way to rest your feet while you relax on the tram while touring the backlot, seeing the set of Jaws, and running into King Kong.
15. The park is divided into an Upper Lot and Lower Lot and it’s best to see one first and then the other. Very long escalators connect the two areas. The ride takes about 10 minutes — it feels even longer than that — though luckily the escalators are mostly covered to protect you from the sun.
16. Universal City in Los Angeles is not near the beach and can get quite hot during summer months. However, remember to drink a sufficient amount of water and to pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen during any time of the year. Our SoCal sun nearly always shines and you can get sunburned even on a foggy day in December.
17. If anyone in your group is celebrating a birthday, stop by Guests Relations near the entrance for a special birthday button.
Eating & Drinking
18. Eat breakfast before arriving at the park. This way, you can head straight to the rides, shows, and attractions without having to stop somewhere first to soothe a grumbling stomach.
19. You cannot bring food into the park, but you can bring water, baby food, medically-necessary food, and some snacks in small soft-sided bags. I recommend packing some energy snacks and water bottles to save you time and money.
20. Peak meal times are busy, and there are no table-service restaurants where you can make reservations in advance. To avoid waiting ages for a table or a meal, time your lunch and dinner plans outside of peak hours. Snacks come in handy for this reason.
21. Universal Studios Hollywood tips for guests who are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or dairy-free include checking the online dietary food guide before arriving. This knowledge makes it easy to decide which restaurant to go to in case you need to plan your day around it.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips
22. Make Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey the first ride of the day. There is less pressure to do this if you have a Universal Express pass. However, if we arrive before the park opens (so that we’re among the first to enter the park) and head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we’ve been able to breeze through the regular line and save the Universal Express entry for later in the day.
23. Make your second ride of the day Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s a very short, very tame roller coaster that is fun for younger kids. If they can’t ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, make this your first ride.
24. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is probably the busiest area in the entire theme park. My daughter likes to split up her visit by starting and ending the day here. I think this is a good strategy though I do like to eat at the Three Broomsticks, and you can grab a craft beer at the Hogs Head bar.
25. The line for Ollivander’s usually gets shorter in the afternoons. It can be long just after the park opens as eager kids with their parents in tow rush over to participate in a wand ceremony and to buy their wands for the day.
26. Speaking of wands, get the interactive wands. They cost a little bit more but can be used at the 15 Magic Wands stations sprinkled throughout Hogsmeade where wand-holders cast spells that trigger a “magical” reaction at each station.
Rides, Attractions, and Shows
(I’m not sure about you, but I know a lot of local kids who are ready to get back to the fun Universal Studios Hollywood rides.)
27. If you’ve got small children in tow, make use of the Child Switch option on rides. When a child is too short to go on a ride, one adult can wait in the Child Switch area and immediately get to the front of the line when the others return.
28. Take advantage of the single rider lines. You’ll likely not ride with your friends, but it’s the quickest way to get on a ride if you don’t have Universal Express.
29. Arrive at least 15 minutes early for shows. Doors close when seating reaches full capacity.
30. Be prepared to put bags in lockers on thrill rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Revenge of the Mummy.
31. Pay attention to minimum height requirements for rides. It helps to know what younger kids can and can’t ride in advance to avoid tears of disappointment on the day.
32. Join the Virtual Line for WaterWorld. Once you enter the park, load the app to reserve a Virtual Line Pass. This eliminates the risk of you missing out on these incredible live stunts.
33. The Simpsons Ride and Transformers: The Ride-3D are 3D rides. If you are sensitive to motion sickness, these may not be for you. I close my eyes and take Dramamine but you can also buy glasses that turn 3D movies back to 2D.
34. The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash ride can also be reserved through the app with a Virtual Line Pass.
Universal Studios Tips for Maximum Time Saving
35. Bring an external battery because the app will drain your phone battery. There is a FuelRod station near the lockers by the main entrance. If you don’t have one of these tiny external batteries to exchange, you can buy a starter FuelRod kit.
36. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the park.
37. Leave your souvenir shopping until the end of the day. It’s tough to resist a giant chocolate frog or Hogwarts house gear, but easiest to purchase and carry it straight to the car or hotel. Alternatively, you can hold and pick up packages at the Universal Studios Store near the exit.
38. Spend the night at one of the hotels near Universal Studios Hollywood so that you don’t have far to travel. We like Hilton Universal City and Sheraton Universal Hotel which I have reviewed in detail. Both are located within walking distance of the theme park and CityWalk. Or, you can take the complimentary shuttle that runs on a loop between the two hotels, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal CityWalk.
39. Bring your American Express card. As an official partner of the park, cardholders receive 10% off merchandise purchases of $75 or more, 10% off food and beverage purchases of $10 or more, and 10% off photo packages over $25. This is one of my favorite money-saving Universal Studios Hollywood tips because you can save with any type of AMEX card.
If you used the card to buy Universal Express or the VIP Experience directly through Universal Studios Hollywood, you’ll also have access to the American Express lounge inside the theme park. We used it during a recent visit and it’s a nice place to quickly grab a (nonalcoholic) drink and enjoy some air conditioning.
40. Don’t forget about Universal CityWalk. Sure, this entertainment area is a little touristy but it’s open now with some restaurants offering patio dining (some Instagram-worthy snacks are here like Voodoo Doughnuts and Mini Monster) and you can browse most of the shops.
What are your favorite Universal Studios Hollywood tips and tricks?