Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with kids requires careful planning. It was a non-negotiable addition to our itinerary as directed by our oldest daughter Alannah. She had visited Universal Studios Japan with me last year and had been blown away by The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Alannah insisted that Keira and Caelan also have the opportunity to experience the magic and Universal Studios Hollywood would be the prefect place to do that she said! We are big fans of Universal Studios having also visited Universal Studios Singapore only 2 months prior to the Hollywood visit.
When I mentioned to the younger two that it could be an option to visit Universal Studios Hollywood, the look on their faces cemented its inclusion into the itinerary! They immediately started to focus on the important things such as which wand they would purchase from Ollivanders Wand Shop. Priorities right!!
Universal Studios Hollywood is a fully functioning film studio as well as a theme park and its located in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. In 1962 Universal Pictures accountants suggested a new tour of the studios would increase profits. In 1964, the modern tour was established that consisted of a series of dressing room walk-throughs, peeks at actual production and a short time later, staged events. This grew over the years to the full-blown theme park we recognise today. The narrated tram tour still runs through the ‘backlot’ but is overshadowed by the high-tech rides in the theme park.
On this occasion we had a hire vehicle and used Google maps to get to Universal Studios Hollywood. The parking is reasonably priced and there is plenty of it. There are various options for parking including standard, preferred and front gate parking.
Standard parking from opening until 6.00pm is $25USD and after 6pm is $10USD. We paid for preferred parking which means we parked closer to the entrance for $35USD and after 6pm it’s $20USD. Front gate parking is $50USD before 6pm and after 6pm its $30USD. Valet parking was substantially more expensive at $20USD for 2 hours and $40USD for more than 2 hours, its an option if you so choose.
Getting public transport is also an easy enough options. Using your Metrolink ticket, travel to Union Station in LA. This is one of the major stations and connects from all over LA. Transfer to to the Metro Rail red line, head towards North Hollywood and disembark at Universal City. Universal Studios Hollywood then provides a free shuttle bus from Universal City Station to the front entrance of the park. You can use the Metro trip planner to identify your most convenient route. The shuttle bus runs 7 days a week, commences at 7am each morning and runs about every 10-15 mins and continues until approximately 2 hours after the park closes.
Universal Studios Hollywood tickets vary depending on what day you will be visiting. So be prepared to to have your dates ready.
Use the crowd calendar to help you plan which day would be best for your visit. Where possible, avoid weekends and school holidays.
First of all though, I suggest you download the official Universal Studios Hollywood Mobile App. This provides you with interactive maps, ride wait times in real time, show performance times, enables you to plan your day prior to arrival which is handy during the peak days, get alerts when ride wait times reach 5 mins, free access to wifi while in the park and information on all dining and shopping locations. Its definitely worth downloading and we are glad we did. This enables you to careful plan your visit especially if you are visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with kids and want to minimise your wait times.
I have been lucky enough to visit three Universal Studios parks, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore and now Hollywood. It’s fair to say I had a reasonable expectation of what it would be like. Being the very first Universal Studios Park I was excited to see where it all started. The park is over two levels, the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot. There is no denying it, the kids were most excited about the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I think most people head there first when visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with kids of that age.
The entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood is located on the upper lot. This is the larger of the two lots and houses the huge Wizarding World of Harry Potter among other attractions.
There’s a large amount of food outlets to choose from on the upper lot, everything from Krusty Burgers, Suds McDuff’s Hot Dogs, Moe’s Tavern, Plaza Grill, Cletus Chicken Shack, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, Mel’s Diner and Mulligan’s Pub. You certainly won’t go hungry! The main Universal Studio Store is located at the entrance and has most things available that you can find in the other stores.
The kids were so excited about Harry Potter World as they call it. Alannah and I have visited the one in Japan and knew what to expect. Their faces when we arrived were priceless and I loved watching them take in, what has only been in their imagination come to reality. We arrived early so headed straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The queues on this day were really reasonable and they waited no longer than 15mins. I hadn’t told Craig about the ride either and they all come out bursting with excitement and saying that it was the best ride they have ever ridden. Then they jumped back in the line and rode it again. The ride is motion simulated 4D and is the most up to date with special effects that you can experience at the moment. It really is a thrilling ride and many people I have spoken to have said its the best there is anywhere in the world at the moment.
Next up, butter beer! The kids were pretty excited about tasting butter beer. You have 2 choices, either chilled butter beer or frozen butter beer. They all chose frozen which was no surprise as even though it was December in California, the middle of winter, they were experiencing a bit of a heatwave with temps everyday around 28 degrees (85f) or higher. So what does it taste like you ask? A very sweet caramel/ butterscotch frozen slushy. Delicious on first taste but sickly sweet after a while, the kids loved it though.
The Flight of the Hippogriff is another family friendly roller coaster that is fun for all ages and goes past Hagrid’s Hut. So if your child isn’t able to ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, this will be a good alternative. My three went on there together and had a couple of rides before moving on. I love that this is an open air coaster and you can take in the views of the Hogwart’s Castle while riding.
The kids did their shopping and bought wands from Ollivanders, makers of fine wands since 382 BC! You also have the opportunity to have a wand choose your aspiring wizard! Unfortunately one of my kids weren’t chosen for this experience but if you’re the chosen person, a wandkeeper will assist you while the wand chooses it’s suitable owner. We then went through to the shop where the kids picked out their wands, Keira chose Ginny Weasley and Caelan chose Sirius Black’s wand. We then went out and tested the magic in the wand! Yes they actually did some real magic.
When you purchase your wand, in the box you’ll find a map of Hogsmeade. This map outlines were you are able to test your wand’s magical powers. At these spots there are assistants to help your aspiring wizard and they will be instructed on what to do to cast the spells with their wands.
The points on the map are identified by numbered markers on the ground in front of the shop windows. The aspiring wizard stands at the markers, says the corresponding spell and waves the wand as directed. If all these steps are followed correctly, the spell will be cast. Spells consisted of things moving, spinning and lighting up much to the aspiring wizard’s excitement.
There are 11 spots where the magic can be cast and you will need to allow at least an hour to do them all. We were visiting on a low crowd day (use the crowd calendar link above to selected day or help you plan which days will be best to avoid) so fortunately we got to have a few goes on each spell.
From dusk until closing, every 30 mins the Wizardry World of Harry Potter puts an amazing light and show over the Hogwarts Castle. To say it was impressive is an understatement and it actually blew me away.
The digital light and sound show is done to Christmas carols and standing there watching it just reminded me again why I wanted to spend a Christmas in the USA. They definitely go all out to make Christmas special. Here’s a bit of video so you can see for yourself.
Next up the kids headed straight to Krustyland to go on the Simpsons Ride which takes you on an epic adventure around Springfield. This ride was another 4D simulated screen ride ………… There are some carnival games here that the kids had a go of too.
Craig and I grew up with The Simpsons so we had a giggle at the Duff Beer and we had to have a Homer sized donut at Lard Lad Donuts. They even have a Kwik-E-Mart which has Simpsons themed souvenirs, toys and clothing.
The Lard Lad cart was outside the Kwik-E-Mart as well as the character meet and greet. I have to admit we split the donut 5 ways and while it was super yummy I don’t think I needed any more!
We had a family photo with Bart and Maggie (hahaha I just noticed Bart’s hand over Caelan’s face!). Then we had a pizza from Luigi’s, Springfield’s famous pizza shop which we ate in the Duff Brewery beer garden. I have never seen a pizza so big and even 5 of us couldn’t finish it.
This is what sets Universal Studios Hollywood apart from the others, all the others are theme parks only but Universal Studios Hollywood is also a functioning film studio. We had been told that this was a must see so we headed down there early in the day.
We were lucky enough not to have to wait for the purpose built tram to take us on the tour. We jumped straight in and left within about 10mins. The tour is hosted by Jimmy Fallon on tv screens in each tram and he gives you some insight into some of the Hollywood moviemaking secrets. The tram goes around some familiar sets including the Bates Motel and Mansion from Psycho and a plane crash scene that has been used in various movies but War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise was one that came to mind. Amity Island from Jaws & Jaws himself paid us a visit, Whoville from The Grinch that Stole Christmas and they told us how they create snow in California when needed.
Not only did we get to see these sets but we experienced a flash flood, an earthquake and two 3D simulated events including King Kong Skull Island and the Fast & Furious: Supercharged. These were pretty realistic but the earthquake and flood made you think for minute, is this real! I had to close my eyes a couple of times as I suffer from motion sickness. The tram then takes you and drops you back at the theme park, the tour takes approximately 60 minutes to complete.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is a 3D motion simulator ride which includes Gru, his daughters and the Minions. You enter the ride through Gru’s home and the 3D ride might just require you to become a Minion! This is also the spot where you can meet and greet the Minions.
The Super Silly Funland is also located in the Despicable Me themed area, it contains a children’s splash playground where they can play and cool down on the warmer days. An aerial carousel, Silly Swirly ride is a hit and is a family friendly option for little ones to enjoy some rides.
This was definitely not one for my kids, they are a bit jumpy at the best of times so Craig did this one by himself. it’s based on the TV series of the same name and it best explained as an interactive walk through experience. While Craig said he didn’t find it that scary because he was at the back of the group, he did say the kids would have found it very scary.
To get to the lower lot, you need to take a series of escalators that decend a relatively steep decline. These escalators are referred to as the Starway and will provide you with a great view over the San Fernando Valley and all the way to Warner Brothers Hollywood Studios. The Lower Lot is the smaller of the two lots.
There are a number of food outlets on this level as well including the Jurassic Cafe, Panda Express, Studio Cafe, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s. Each attraction has a store attached for purchasing souvenirs, themed clothing and toys.
Jurassic Park Ride is the first thing you’ll notice when you get the bottom of the escalators. The entry and exit to the ride is a huge Jurassic Park store with clothes and souvenirs. It has all things Jurassic Park and looks like it is straight off the Jurassic Park set. The ride is a water adventure taking you past dinosaur exhibits and concludes with a giant flume like drop from the waterfall.
Expect to get a little wet and possibly soaked while on this ride, there is a great spot for taking photos overlooking the waterfall but enter at own risk, you could very well get wet there too.
An indoor roller coaster that gets up to speeds of 45 miles per hour. A popular ride that often has long queues. This was the longest wait time we had on this visit and it was about 30mins without an express pass. Alannah and Keira rode this at Unversal Studios Singapore where Caelan lined up but chickened out at the last minute. This time he was determined to go on and he did, they all loved it.
There was a long queue here and as we’d done it in Singapore two months earlier, the kids were happy to give it a miss. This is the ride I thought would be suitable for me but I nearly threw up over the side of the car in Singapore. It’s a 3D HD flight simulated ride with the best special effects that really make you feel like you’re riding in an actual Transformer. The kids said it was an awesome ride though and if the queue wasn’t so long they would have loved to do it again.
This map will give you a chance to start planning you visit.
My tips is always to arrive early and go straight to the most popular rides for a go before it gets crowded and the wait times get out of control. I would head straight to either Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Revenge of the Mummy, Transformer 3D and The Simpsons Ride. All the other rides will have reasonable wait times and you can do them later in the day.
The Universal Express works a little differently at the Hollywood Park, Universal Express applies to all people over the age of 3+. Prices vary depending on what day you are visiting and are between $179USD – $269USD. This would be reflective of the expected crowd for each given day.
The Universal Express provides the holder with one-time express access to each ride, attraction and seated show. General admission to the park valid only on the selected day.
This is also a great option for those that are happy to ride by themselves. This queue uses single riders to plug all the gaps from people that are riding in groups of 3 or 5. People are able to jump the queue and sit next to people they don’t know and this substantially drops the wait time for rides. You can still line up in pairs, it just means that you will be seated separately on the ride but hopefully on the same ride!
This option is great for those with small kids and still want to ride. The first person has a ride while the other waits with the child(ren) at the entry, then they switch so that the second person doesn’t have to go to the end of the line. It does not mean however you skip the queue to begin with, you will still have to line up as usual and when you arrive at the ride.
We loved Universal Studios Hollywood, the kids especially loved the Studio Tour which sets this park apart from the rest. Considering we visited on the 14th of December we were very lucky to have such a small crowd and we managed to not have to wait too long at any of the attractions. We have visited a number of theme parks at Halloween and it was lovely to experience this one at Christmas. It had a wonderful festive warmth to it and I loved the Christmas light and sound show on Hogwarts Castle.
The Universal Studios chain appear to be setting the standard very high for the newest and most realistic rides. We have visited many theme parks over the last few years and Universal Studios is definitely leading the way and their rides are the next level up. Now that my kids are a little older they are really enjoying this type of ride.
Now I just have to tick Universal Studios Orlando off the list and it will be interesting the compare the two USA sites. Singapore and Japan are very different although Japan and Hollywood have a number of similarities. That will have to wait for another trip though. I think this is a great park for kids that are a little older and are able to go on the rides, if you are visiting here with little ones, you are unlikely to get value for your money I’m my opinion.
Are your kids roller coaster fanatics, check out my Knott’s Berry Farm review and remember its only 15 mins from Disneyland and is often overlooked. we tested the new Disney MaxPass at Disneyland California and I love that this package includes unlimited digital photos.
So next up on our 7 week journey across the USA is the Grand Canyon, I was very much looking forward to this and hoped the kids would too. We found that was not the case, apparently a whooping big hole in the ground did not really float their boat!
Have you visited any Universal Studio parks? Which was your favourite and why? Let me know in the comments below.
Sal, Craig & our3kids.
Disclaimer: We had a mutually beneficial arrangement with Universal Studios Hollywood although as usual our opinion is our own.