Best Things to Do at Universal Studios Hollywood & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
We recently visited Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles for the second time as a family. We enjoyed our first trip back in 2015 (which is when I originally wrote this review), but wanted to go back to see the few attractions that we missed, as well as to explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that opened last year.
My boys are slightly older now, at 13 and 15, so this update includes what they thought of the attractions during their first visit, plus their thoughts this time around. Also, my husband was at the park with us this time, and he’s a little obsessed with Scooby Doo, so keep reading if you want to learn more about that particular humiliation.
Universal Studios Hollywood RIDES
Unlike Disneyland or Magic Mountain, a lot of the rides at Universal are virtual, not the traditional rollercoaster-type ride, and they’re all movie-themed. They also seem to last a little longer than most theme-park rides, which is great. Here’s the rundown:
THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER (NEW)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Hollywood is, in a word, magical. After walking through the archway into the village of Hogsmeade, with its cobblestone streets and snow-capped roofs, you’re immediately transported to the world of Harry and pals. Everyone working here is dressed in appropriate costumes, and a train conductor greets visitors and poses for photos next to the engine of Hogwart’s Express (which unfortunately isn’t a ride like at the Florida park, but you can also get a photo inside a replica train cabin.)
The main focus of the village is Hogwart’s Castle, incredibly cool to look at from the outside, and also incredibly cool on the inside because that’s where you’ll find the ride “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” After you enjoy the looking at fun things from the movies while you’re waiting in line in the castle, you then join Harry in a Quidditch match on a fast moving simulator. Soar around with your feet off the ground while various images and characters come at you. (Dragon alert!) The boys really love this one. Height requirement: 48”
The other ride in Wizarding World is Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor roller coaster, “Flight of the Hippogriff™.” This is tailored to smaller Muggles, but it’s still really fun and fast moving. Plus you pass by the famous Hagrid’s hut. Kids 39-48” must have adult accompaniment to ride this one. (And there was never a line because it loads and unloads quickly.)
Food and beverage options in Wizarding World are suitable, with English-type food at the restaurants Three Broomsticks™ and Hog’s Head pub, plus the Magic Neep and Butterbeer™ carts that sell the famous sweet non-alcoholic drink from the books as well as pumpkin juice, water and soda. We all enjoyed our dinner at Three Broomsticks, especially the Shepherd’s Pie.
There’s also a stage in the middle of this area where regular performances of The Croaking Frog Choir (Hogwarts™ students accompanied by croaking frogs) and the Triwizard Tournament are held throughout the day.
Of course gift shops in this part of the park are plentiful, with eight of them, including Honeydukes™, Ollivanders™ (where guests can choose a wand), Owl Post™, Zonko’s™ Joke Shop, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Dervish and Banges™, Gladrags Wizardwear and Filch’s Emporium™ of Confiscated Goods.
A bit about the wands: There are two kinds of wands to buy, regular and interactive, and many different styles of each (per the house you’re in, e.g. Slytherin, Gryffindor, etc.) Look for gold medallion plates on the ground throughout WWHP, usually in front of fountains or storefront windows–the storefront windows are AMAZING, so be sure to spend some time just looking into a few for hidden cleverness–and then follow the symbol on the medallion that shows you how to wave your wand (like in an S or M shape, e.g.). That then causes “magic” to happen, like things moving up and down and it’s pretty fun.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is suitable for all ages, however, kids over the age of eight will enjoy it more than little ones. And, based on all of the adults I spied who were wearing cloaks, there’s no upper age limit on the Harry Potter enjoyment.
THE WALKING DEAD
Want to be scared out of your mind? Then this attraction, based on the most popular show in cable television history, AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” is for you! The boys were a little apprehensive about it, so my husband and I experienced the terror alone. It would have been a romantic moment if not for the BRAIN HUNGRY WALKERS jumping out at us from behind every corner. Shiver.
But as a fan of the show, I have to say that Universal knocked it out of the park with this attraction. The sets are all places you’ve seen in the series, like the hospital, prison, etc., and you walk through them in dim light or darkness while decaying walkers (both real performers and animatronic creations) reach for you while making gross noises. The attention to detail (make-up, music, props) is phenomenal, however I was too busy trying to not pee my pants to fully appreciate the artistry. Age requirement is 13+ for good reason.
SPECIAL EFFECTS SHOW
This was the first time we’ve seen multimedia attraction, “Special Effects Show,” and it was really fun. There are two hosts who guide the audience through a fast-paced and funny behind-the-scenes look at various special effects, like Foley work, horror make-up and stunt person action. There’s also a really cool bit involving a stuntman being lit on fire that the kids loved. Well worth your time. No age limit, but the man on fire and a fake blood bit might be scary for younger ones.
JURASSIC PARK – THE RIDE
This is the second time we enjoyed Jurassic Park. Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: Per Universal’s website, on this flume-type ride you, “Come face-to-face with ‘living’ dinosaurs, a 50-foot T-Rex, and a treacherous drop straight down an 84-foot death-defying raft plunge.” Per my kids, on this flume-type ride you, “Almost die, like, ten times, and get soaked, and it is AWESOME.” It was really pretty fun, especially since they boys are very familiar with this movie franchise. Kids 42-48” must be accompanied by an adult.
Now: Still just as fun for both kids, plus this time we were able to see the Raptor Encounter (which was closed last time) before we got on the ride. The raptor is basically a Universal character like the others in the park, but more intense because it’s a realistic looking Cretaceous-era dinosaur (750 pound, 15 feet in height and 13 feet from tail to snout) that stomps out with its handlers. They do a great job making it seem like you’re in real danger of being eaten by him during the photo op. Big fun for dino loving kids.
No age considerations, but Raptor Encounter might be scary for younger ones.
TRANSFORMERS: THE RIDE-3D
This is the second time we enjoyed Transformers (the Ride). Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: The boys and I haven’t ever seen a Transformers movie, but we still had a lot of fun on this ride that fuses HD 3D media and flight simulation technology. Basically, you put on 3D glasses, and sit in a cart that whips back and forth while things and robots appear to come right at you. I admit that it’s actually kind of thrilling, like when you see big balls of fire, and hot air is blown on you. As far as the robot fight stuff, I have no clue what was going on. Ultron beat Megatron or something? Kids 40-48” must be accompanied by an adult.
Now: Still a hit. Still don’t know what’s going on in the robot wars. But it’s fast and exciting! (May be too jarring and loud for kids who don’t like intense rides.)
DESPICABLE ME MINION MAYHEM
This is the second time we enjoyed Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: Based on the Minions movie, this is the newest and therefore most popular ride at the park. It’s another wear 3D glasses, watch a little movie while the cart moves up and down and side to side type ride. The kids and I thought it was amusing, but not very exciting. (The wait was full of videos, etc. to entertain you, which we liked.) This is probably better for younger kids. It’s also an “Exit Through the Giftshop ride”, so be prepared to walk into a store filled with 40,000 pieces of Minion merch. Kids 40-48” must be accompanied by an adult.
Now: This is no longer the big, new draw, but it’s still super popular and will continue to be as the sequels come out. However, we actually liked this less this time around. Maybe we’re too old? But it’s perfect for younger fans of the movies.
REVENGE OF THE MUMMY: THE RIDE
This is the second time we went on the Revenge of the Mummy ride. Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: I went on the Revenge of the Mummy ride with my oldest son, my youngest (12 years old) begging off after suspecting it was too scary. He was right—it is scary. This is a super fast rollercoaster, in the dark, with mummy-type creatures jumping out at you. Personally, I wouldn’t go on it again, but my son loved it.
Now: This time around I was smart and had my husband Chris go on this ride with my oldest son. Did they like it? So much so that they went on it twice. Great for thrill seekers. Must be 48” to ride.
STUDIO TOUR/ KING KONG 360 3-D/ FAST AND THE FURIOUS SUPERCHARGED
This is the second time we saw on these attractions. Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: The somewhat clunky tram tour I remember from 1990 has now turned into a very slick, 60-minute ride complete with Jimmy Fallon videos and holograms. Per the website, you and 500 of your closet friends “Go behind-the-scenes on the legendary Studio Tour to explore Hollywood’s most famous backlot in the world’s largest working movie studio. Visit 13 city blocks on four acres of historic studio lot in the largest set construction project in studio history, built with creative consultation from Steven Spielberg himself.”
The sets we saw were from older projects like Desperate Housewives, War of the Worlds, and Jaws. I will say that I liked that the Psycho house now includes a real human Norman Bates. The Studio Tour also includes King Kong 360 3-D, which is basically watching a 3-D movie while the tram shakes and sweaty strangers crash into you.
Finally, while the website touts the big Fast & Furious Supercharged ride at Universal, it’s a little misleading because it’s basically just part of the Studio Tour. The tram stops, then you watch 3D Vin Diesel in a scene with a group of very scantily clad hologram ladies while. The kids liked the car holograms, though.
Now: We all agreed that the Studio Tour was so much better this time around. Our tour operator seemed to point out more places of interest, like the house where they filmed “The Munsters,” and we were excited to drive past current productions, like the set of the ABC show “The Good Place” and the soundstage where the NBC show “Superstore” is filmed. The King Kong 360 3D was also more enjoyable, as was the simulated earthquake. (Still can’t sell me on Vin’s charms, though.) Sadly, Bruce the “Jaws” shark was getting a tune-up, so we didn’t get to see him in the water.
THE SIMPSONS RIDE
This is the second time we went on The Simpsons Ride. Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: My oldest son and I are huge fans of The Simpsons, so we were in heaven when we entered Krustyland on The Simpsons Ride. Everything you’d expect to see from Springfield–The Kwik-E-Mart, Moe’s, Disco Stu’s Disco, the Springfield DMV–is there, and it’s all very clever.
The Simpsons Ride is similar to Star Tours at Disneyland where you go into a cart that only moves up and down while you watch a 3-D movie, but it’s on an 80 ft. diameter dome. Really funny animation, with Sideshow Bob as a homicidal maniac. My son Sam loves Sideshow Bob. Kids 40-48” must be accompanied by an adult. Probably better for older kids as it’s jarring and there’s cartoon violence.
Now: We still loved this ride and this part of the park. It was the first time my husband experienced Simpsons Land, and he was delighted by the humor. Big hit with everyone.
Universal Studios Hollywood ATTRACTIONS
UNIVERSAL’S ANIMAL ACTORS
This is the second time we saw this attraction. Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: The Universal’s Animal Actors attraction is an overly-scripted live stage show that shows animal “actors” doing tricks with their trainers. It’s always fun to see cats and rats and dogs running around on stage, so we liked it. The most exciting thing was when my oldest son was chosen to go on stage and interact with the Chihuahua from Beverly Hills Chihuahua, then he was fake peed on by a Golden Retriever. Ah, show business!
Now: This is still a charming show, with a slightly updated script from the last time we saw it. It’s a great respite from walking around, too. We stayed after the show for photo ops with the Chihuahuas and the gorgeous/scary owls.
Our first review is under “Then” and our updated review under “Now.”
Then: Once you get over the shock that there’s an attraction built around one of the biggest theatrical flops ever, WaterWorld is really fun. It’s basically a stunt show on water with jumping jet-skiers, firefights, massive explosions, and an in-your-face plane crash. The boys totally loved it, as you would expect from most teenage boys watching things blow up. (And I was happy to see that the urine drinking scenes from the movie weren’t reenacted.)
Now: Closed for maintenance. Boo.
A Few Other Things
There are a ton of theme restaurants, as you’d expect, and they’re all at prices and quality expected at a park. We ate Cletus’ Chicken Shack in Krustyland again because the boys liked it last time. It was $60 for the four of us, so not too bad.
Universal Studios Hollywood has an app available that will tell you updated wait times for rides, and start times for attractions. Very handy.
Last time we paid $35 for up-close parking and still had to walk, but this time we opted for valet parking for the same price and were much closer. Not quite sure how that worked. But I was delighted to park in Frankenstein!
Right outside Universal Studio Hollywood is Universal CityWalk, which is a “nightlife” type area with restaurants and shops. It’s okay, and looks cool at night, but not a must-do unless you have time to spare.
Anything and everything you need to know about the rides in great detail can be found here.
Spoiler alert: You’re not allowed to take a service animal on the Walking Dead attraction. FOR GOOD REASON.
Final Verdict on Universal Studios Hollywood
Unlike Disney, where my husband and I quickly grow weary of the crowds and characters, we all definitely had fun at Universal Studios Hollywood (and we also love the Florida park). There’s just something awesome about seeing 13 and 15-year-old boys–boys who are quickly becoming too cool for school—light up with huge grins when they see Minions waddling down the street.
Which brings us to my husband lighting up with a huge grin when he saw Shaggy and Scooby walking down the street, then doing his Scooby impression for them. Twice. And here I thought “The Walking Dead” was the scariest thing I’d see that day. Nope.
Universal Studios Hollywood has more than one ticket option, so take some time to look over their website before purchasing to see what best fits your needs.
Here are a few of the offers (prices current as of this writing in March 2017):
- A 1-Day ticket is $99 each for ages 10+ and $93 for ages 3-9. You must use this ticket on the day you select or on the day of purchase. (Recommended because the park is doable in one day.)
- A 1-Day ANYTIME ADMISSION™ is $120 for ages 10+ and $114 for ages 3-9, but this option gives you more flexibility as you don’t have to pick your day at the park in advance. It’s valid for any one day until 12/31/17.
- If you want more than one day of fun, there’s the 2-day option. Tickets are $129 for ages 10+ and $123 for ages 3-9. Both of your visits must occur within a seven-day period, however.
- Want to skip the lines? Buy a Front of the Line ticket with a 1-Day admission. Prices range from $179-$254, so check the website for the current rate. This pass gives you priority access to each ride and show one time. Meaning, you can skip to the front of the line, but just once per attraction. (If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, or won’t be back any time soon, this is a great option because it allows you to maximize your time and probably hit every attraction at least once. We had this ticket on our last visit, but only used “front of the line” after the park got busy. There weren’t long lines for the first hour or so after opening.)
- If you really want to do it up, check out Universal’s VIP Experience, with a 1-Day admission starting at $329 per person. This gives you unlimited front-of-line access to all rides and shows, a personalized guided tour including the back lot, breakfast and lunch, and valet parking.
- The best option for tickets, hands down, is the Season Pass. The California Neighbor Pass is $129 for ages 3+ and is valid for 9 months from your selected first visit date. There are also Gold and Platinum Passes available for higher prices, and those include perks like parking passes, tickets to Hollywood Horror Nights, and Front of the Line. They’re also valid for a longer amount of time. (Of course, if you are not a California resident, or frequent visitor, this doesn’t really help you.)
Other ways to buy tickets to Universal Hollywood include the GO CARD that saves you 15-20%, but only if you add on another attraction like Knott’s Berry Farm. There are also tickets for a discount sold at Costco.
My family received some promotional tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood. We tell all our friends about it now because we had a fantastic time.