Alannah has to be the biggest fan of Harry Potter so when we decided we were going to Japan I knew Universal Studios was going to be top of the list. Universal Studios Japan was celebrating it’s 15th birthday during 2016, with Harry Potter World opening in July 2014. I can’t explain how excited Alannah was when we arrived so Harry Potter world was first cab off the rank.
We arrived mid morning on a warm October day, there was no queue so we went straight in. I had visions of us swanning around amongst a very small crowd, everyone’s dream right to not have to wait for any rides and have the park to yourself. My hopes were dashed the minute we entered Harry Potter World! Let’s just say there were a few around.
We were staying at the Ritz Carlton Osaka, which is located within walking distance to Osaka Station, the other main station you could be travelling from would be Shin-Osaka which is were the Shinkansen (Bullet Train, click the link to read about our experience with the JR Pass) arrives. Getting to Universal Studios is relatively straight forward from either.
We got on the local train at Osaka Station, swapped at Nishikujo which is really well sign posted and then got off at Universal Studio Station. It was very straight forward and there were a few locals around smiling at us that knew where we were going, I felt they would have told us if we were in the wrong location! The typical Japanese way!
If you are coming in from Kyoto on the Shinkansen, it’s one extra change at Osaka then again at Nishkujo and you get off as above at Universal Studios station. Osaka Station is huge so when you get off just find the Information desk and they will let you know where to go.
It’s really easy to find and if you are struggling don’t be afraid to ask some one as the Japanese are very accommodating and very happy to help.
The costs were pretty much what I would expect to pay for a theme park such as Universal Studios. Below I have provided options and links to pre-purchase online with Klook Travel.
The base line ticket is the Universal Studios Japan 1 Day E-Ticket, this will give you entry into the park however will not give you any express pass options. You can purchase these on arrival however I do not advise you do that as this is a very busy park and they sell out quickly.
There is also an option for Universal Studios Japan 1.5 Day Entry Ticket, this allows entry to the park from 3pm on the first day and the full day the next day. This might be an option if you are choosing not to purchase an express ticket.
There are 4 types of Express Pass that vary in price and are available for pre-booking, the express passes outlined below still require you to purchase a 1 day entry ticket on top of the express pass (except the Royal Express Pass that includes park entry):
The Express Pass 7 covers the all the main rides 7 in total.
The Express Pass 4 covers 4 of the main rides but does not include any of the rides in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Express Pass 3 has 2 options; The Flying Dinosaur and the Minion Ride, that include 3 rides each.
Finally, the Royal Express Pass, you get park entry, unlimited queue jumping and other VIP services.
I totally understand that these prices seem excessive, however express passes are limited and queues for the main rides can be in excess of 2 hours for the most popular rides. This will definitely limit your options should you not purchase an express pass and it is likely you will not get to ride all the rides.
Universal Studios Japan Worlds
As you enter the park you walk straight into the main street of Hollywood, it’s got a high domed glass roof and is lined with numerous souvenir shops. If you miss anything while walking around you will pretty much be able to find it on the way out somewhere in Hollywood. It’s a good idea to not bother buying anything on the way around (other than in Harry Potter World) and buy it here at the end. This will save you carrying everything around all day.
The main rides here are Hollywood Dream – The Ride a roller coaster that goes around the top of Main Street behind all the shops. It’s actually pretty high and would give you a great view of the park. This ride can also be ridden backwards Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop for those that are brave enough, not for the fainthearted (like me)! This is also where the evening zombie parade is held. Be warned though, little kids will find this a bit scary. Alannah was 12 at the time and was hiding in one of the shops, she was utterly terrified and couldn’t come out until it finished. I did think this parade went for a little too long and the chainsaw was a bit OTT (over the top).
There are a number of theatre and stage shows you can see here including Universal Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show, Yo-Kai Taiso Show and the R7B Soul Mix which is very popular and has a lot of well known soul hits that we all know and love. There is also a Wall of Fame just like in Hollywood.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
We walked into Hogsmeade and Alannah’s eyes nearly popped out of her head, she didn’t know which direction to look and she was basically walking in circles just taking it all in. She had some specific experiences that she had wanted to do, first up she was eager to try some Butter Beer. Luckily the Butter Beer wagon was located just inside the entrance just past the Hogwarts Express so we lined up, got our docket and then went round to the window to collect it. There was a bit of a line but nothing to drastic. We had a choice between the liquid drink and the frozen drink which Alannah chose as it was a pretty warm sunny day.
After that she was still walking around in awe of what she was seeing. She was like a kid in a lolly shop with her eyes rolling with excitement and not being able to focus on one thing. We basically just followed her and I took a million photos of her excitement. We walked to the end of Hogsmeade and rounded the bend to get a full uninterrupted view of Hogwarts Castle, I have to say, it blew us all away! Alannah was jumping up and down saying it’s exactly like the movie and I have to admit I was even gobsmacked. It’s an overwhelming sight and I got some ripper shots!
We decided to go straight down to Hogwarts Castle and see if we could get on the ride that runs inside, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s in 4K3D and is the newest ride in the park but we were surprised to find that the waiting time was 3 hours!! I was quick to say lets give that a miss! Luckily Alannah is not that into rides so was happy to miss out. We were still able to go in and experience the Hogwarts Castle Walk and see the inside of the structure and come out at the gift store at the end. You always come out at a gift store no matter what theme park you are at!!
We did, however, ride the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, this only had a 30 min wait so we jumped on and she was happy with that. I cursed the whole way around because I hate roller coasters and my sister and Alannah were laughing their pants off at me!!! I’m so soft when it comes to roller coasters, lucky my sister handles it a bit better than me so I was able to send her on the ones that were a little more hairy and too much for me so that Alannah wouldn’t miss out!!
Next on her never ending list of things she had to do was to purchase a wand, luckily there was an Ollivander’s wagon that had a variety of wands from all the different characters in the books. There is also an Ollivander’s shop where you can purchase the same wands. She chose the Hermione wand and it cost $50 (AUD), that was half her spending money for her holiday but that did not deter her!! With the wand comes a map of Harry Potter World, and it pin points areas that you can use your magic wand and cast spells, down alleyways, at specific shop windows and stone walls around the village. You can use the wand to start a fire or make it snow or disperse lollies, if the spell is cast properly, the wand will make these things happen! It’s pretty impressive and the kids loved it, which of course is the main thing, right!
There are plenty of places to fleece you of some cash in Harry Potter World, there’s Zonko’s Joke Shop for all things jokes and toys, Owl Post and Owlers for stamps and stationary, Honeydukes for your lollies and anything sweet, Dervish and Banges for Quidditch equipment and Gladrags Wizardwear for all Harry Potter inspired apparel which you will quickly notice the Japanese are right in to dressing up.
Amity Village is really small and is located just outside the entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can’t miss it though as it has a huge replica of Jaws with a big wide mouth full of teeth. You can have your photo taken standing under it like it’s going to eat you! There is also Jaws the boat ride, a leisurely ride around a lagoon nice and relaxing until a giant man eating shark jumps out the water. There is the Amity Boardwalk with carnival games and the Waterworld theatre show located behind it. Waterworld consists of a show on water that has people performing stunts on jet skis, these shows are always impressive with people displaying exceptional skills to thrill the crowd.
There are also more food outlets here including seafood, pizza and ice cream.
The Flying Dinosaur ride is one not to be missed by all roller coaster fans, it’s huge. It has loops and spirals and goes under ground all in reverse, it has it all for coaster lovers. Me on the other hand, I just recorded it to show Craig as it really was pretty impressive. Jurassic Park The Ride is a flume ride with a dinosaur theme that drops from 25 metres. Similar to other parks which is often a log ride where you climb up in the log and then drop down into the water below with a big splash.
There is the Dinosaur Panic street parade that’s pretty impressive where the dinosaurs come to life and move around the park, I’m sure all the dinosaur loving kids find it mesmerising. There’s also a snack stand, restaurant and the Jurassic Park store where I picked up a dinosaur key-ring for Caelan’s school bag.
San Francisco is the smallest of the worlds, we went to the Backdraft stunt show and while we could watch the stunts and be part of the special effects, we were unable to understand anything. All the stage and screen shows are in Japanese and as far as I know there aren’t any screenings in English. We also found DisneySea in Tokyo to be the same. I didn’t have an issue with this as we were in Japan but I can say that Disneyland Hong Kong did shows in both Chinese and English which was wonderful. I think the reason would be that Hong Kong would have more visitors that speak English than Japan has previously experienced.
There are a couple of lolly shops here, we stopped for an ice cream and did some people watching for a bit. Universal Studios Japan is a great place to people watch, the Japanese we noticed all dressed up to visit the park. Popular dress up themes were Where’s Wally, Minions and Harry Potter but there were all sorts of different costumes including Freddy Kruger, Vampires, Witches, Mario Brothers and plenty of Halloween as we were there in October. The funny thing was that whole families dressed up in the same matching outfits. From baby in the pram right through to grandparents wearing Where’s Wally or Minion costumes. It was brilliant, I took so many photos and it kept me entertained all day.
The main attraction here is the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman in 4K3D. I had to google 4K3D to find out exactly what it meant and the answer is a motion based 3D dark ride combining roving motion seating with 3D projection with elaborate physical sets and with practical and tactile effects! Sounds like a space ship to me! This type of ride is currently only available at Universal Studios Orlando and here in Japan. SO if you’re into rides I’m pretty sure this would be at the top of your list of experiences.
Also in this area is the Festival in the Park which has carnival games and the Sesame Street Funky Park stage show. Again expect the shows to be only in Japanese. Now if you’ve managed to get around all of this so far and are feeling a bit parched, there is an Irish Pub here, Finnegan’s Bar and Grill, to stop for a quick beer or two. If you’re looking for more traditional fare, SAIDO Japanese restaurant is here as well or even the Park Side Grill, a steak house. If none of that tickles your fancy there are also a couple of pizza shops if you’re looking for something that you can eat on the run.
There are a number of themed stores here, in particular Spiderman and Sesame Street if you’re after a souvenir.
This one is specifically for families with young kids, we ended up here by accident when Alannah was running away from the Zombie Parade! It is a large space dedicated to little kids and I am sure any child would love all the rides just made for their size. The focus here is Sesame Street, Snoopy and Hello Kitty with a variety of rides including Elmo’s Go-Go Skateboard, Moppy’s Balloon Trip, Sesame’s Big Drive and Big Bird’s Big Top Circus. These vary from drive around rides, around the world balloon rides and skateboard slide to get them all excited.
The Snoopy Studios are undercover which was perfect as it had just started to drizzle with rain. There’s a Flying Snoopy roller coaster ride so the little ones don’t feel left out of all the roller coaster action. Alannah went on this one twice, she’s very brave! One for all the little princesses is the Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue which Keira would have loved a few years back.
The food outlets here are Cookie Monster Kitchen and Hello Kitty’s Corner Cafe which I am sure your little ones would love.
Just so you can get an understanding of the lay out of the park but if you want to zoom in for a good look and visit planning click here.
I always like to provide you with things that we have learnt that could help make you trip smoother, the biggest thing I found with this visit was get there early, we didn’t arrive until around 11am which meant we didn’t have to line up to get in but had we wanted to ride the big key rides we would have been waiting hours. If rides aren’t your thing when arriving a bit later could suit you better.
Universal Express Pass
They can only be purchased online or at the park on arrival at specific locations and a limited number are sold each day. Once they are sold out no others will be sold for that day, if you are planning to purchase one I suggest you get there early. They also might be a good idea for those planning to visit on the weekend.
See above in the costs section for all the options for Express Passes.
Single Rider Option
This is a great option for those that are happy to ride by themselves. The single rider 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!
Child Switch Option
This enables people travelling with kids that don’t meet ride requirements to ride separately and switch the kids from parent to parent so that the second parent doesn’t have to go to the end of the line when the other parent gets off the ride. It does not however mean you skip the queue to begin with, you will still have to line up as usual and when you arrive at the ride, one parent will ride while one stays back with the kids, then when that parent gets off the next parent gets a go.
We loved Universal Studios Japan and even though I’m not a rides person I still found myself entertained for the whole day. I love that the Japanese dress up and thoroughly enjoyed just watching them. The highlight for me was definitely seeing Alannah so excited at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it was every HP lover’s paradise. I love that they have made it interactive and we could have easily spent half a day in there.
I think if you had teenagers they would love this park and definitely get the most out of it, while there is something for kids of every age, I do think this one is more suited for older kids and the big kids (husbands).
I definitely wouldn’t visit on a weekend as the crowd would be huge and if you had kids that wanted to get on every ride you would have to consider a 2 day pass or purchasing the Universal Express Pass so that you were able to get around to all the rides.
On the way back to Universal Studios Station you will pass the Hard Rock Cafe Osaka and there are a number of stores there including GAP. So if you still have it in you after a long day at the theme park you might like to have a look around the shops.
If you are heading to Tokyo, check out my post on top things to do in Tokyo with kids.
Have you been to Universal Studios Osaka? What did you think? Leave your comments or any questions in the comments section below, I would love to hear what you thought.
Sal & Co.