Universal Studios Hollywood tips, tricks, & hacks for families to enjoy the park in one day
Universal Studios can be daunting when you visit, especially with children. These Universal Studios Hollywood Tips are specific to THAT park and will give you a touring plan to really enjoy the day!
When we were in Southern California (read more about things to do with kids around Hollywood) we were able to head to Universal Studios Hollywood. This post is going to give you all the tips and tricks we found on our visit there!
Now, you think “yay, that is fun!”
But if you’re my 12 year old son you think, “OMG, I WILL GET TO BE HARRY POTTER!!!!!”
It really was my 12 year old’s dream come true!
Related: My family vacation ideas post.
Universal Studios Hollywood Tips – Harry Potter
I have a whole post JUST about that area (this post was getting too long and I thought your phone my explode reading it )– be sure to check it out — Harry Potter World Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood Tips and Tricks 2018:
Universal Studios Hollywood Discount Tickets
I would 100% recommend searching for discount tickets before you go. you can always save a TON vs the gate prices!
I was given passes for our day at Universal Studios, but I did buy an extra pass online through the Universal site.
However, I then saw that Get Away Today offers awesome discount tickets through them. They often include a free day (which would be awesome!). OR, you can get them in combination with a Disney ticket — so be sure to check out your options while on their site.
Universal Studios Hollywood Hotels (where to stay)
This is a tough one. When I talked to my peeps at Get Away Today they said they normally recommend staying at a hotel near Disney and driving. They are normally cheaper, and more family friendly. That puts you at about 1-2 hour commute depending on LA traffic (my favorite).
If you’re going to Disneyland:
If you ARE going to combine it with a trip to Disneyland, I would 100% stay in Anaheim and drive up. Be sure to check out Get Away Today for all your ticket and hotel needs. They have a price guarantee in the Disneyland area. I always use them when I book my Disney trips! They have awesome Universal Deals, especially if you combine with Disney tickets! And just for Pulling Curls readers, save $10 on your trip with CURLS10 coupon code!
If you are NOT going to Disneyland
I’d recommend somewhere nearby. There’s always my absolute favorite Magic Castle Hotel (you can read more about it here) — that puts you super close to the park! However, they’re on the pricey side. Be sure to check out your options on TripAdvisor.
Universal Studios Hollywood Parking Tips
Apparently, a lot of people google this — and frankly, I think you have to park on-site. Or, walk a REALLY long way in. They just told us what parking structure to go into. I’d love to know if there is one lot that’s better/closer than the other ones?
Universal Studios Hollywood Map
Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the heart of Hollywood — but since it’s LA it takes about 30 minutes to get to it from Hollywood. You can see it right here. You can also see a map of the whole park here.
Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween
In the fall they host Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. I would say that this is NOT for kids, but you can learn more about it on their site. If you are going as a family in the fall, you can avoid this by going in the day. This is a separate ticket.
Universal Studios Hacks
First off, Universal doesn’t allow outside food—but that mainly means an entire bag from McDonalds. They WILL let you take in snacks, waters, etc. We have found that the best way to use our time at an amusement park is to eat our meals while in line. That means I bring a variety of foods to be consumed while in line for the next attraction.
Things like crackers, cookies, gogurts, string cheese, Slim Jims, nuts (I really work to add some protein to our day and my kids don’t like nuts – so figure), fruit, or veggies. You can NOT bring a hard sided cooler into Universal but we do have a small cooler backpack we would use (although our day wasn’t warm enough to elicit the need for cool snacks, so we just had a backpack).
They do check your backpack when you enter as a routine security check (that we have likely all experienced).
We were given a few front-of-the-line passes for the park (and purchased the rest). Front-of-the-line passes are like a fast pass for every ride. You can only use the front-of-the-line passes once at each ride.
The park officially opened at 9, but the gates opened early — maybe 10 minutes (also, if you buy your tickets on universal.com you can enter an hour early). Woot-woo. I always appreciate that. 🙂
Bags on Rides
Universal has an awesome system where you can get a “free” locker for a period of time (it may change depending on how busy they are). You use your fingerprint to get your bag out. So, don’t worry about small souveniers (like your wand) — they’re easy to stow on rides that won’t allow it. The ones I remember were:
- Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
- Mummy (it’s close to Jurassic Park, so you could use it for that too if you have stuff you don’t want to get wet).
Universal Studios Hollywood Rides
We went right over to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In a perfect world where you are there at opening I’d recommend heading straight to the wand store (if you’re wanting to attend a wand choosing), then go to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and then Flight of the Hippogryph – you can read all about that in this post about Harry Potter World Hollywood.
After Harry Potter we headed down to the lower level. This area is attained by riding a series of escalators. It takes around 10-15 minutes to make it all the way to the lowest level. I would recommend doing EVERYTHING you want to do down here all at once, as you don’t want to ride up and then back down again. It would just waste a lot of time, although the view is delightful.
Lower Level Rides
This is a water ride where you float along (think Small World). Much like the movie the dinosaurs are delightful at the beginning and then things start to go wrong, and then you plummet down a water fall (something like 80 feet) to the big finish. It is likely you’ll get a little wet (although not as wet as you think you will). You can buy ponchos as you go on the ride, but we decided to man it out. If your kids absolutely hate rides with drops or hate Splash Mountain then they will probably not like this ride. I don’t love it. I hate drops and I don’t find the dinosaurs before it to be worth it, but it was fun to do once. I had 2 kids who did want to go on it again. Waits were not long for this ride. Mid-day it was about a 10 minute wait.
This ride combines Indiana Jones (what with the Mummy theme) with Space Mountain (as a dark roller coaster). I did not take my 7 year old on this ride as there are mummies swiping at you and I thought the imaginative nature might be too much for her. My 12 year old refused to go, but my 15 year old went and had a great time. I actually thought it was the best ride there. I really enjoyed it. FYI, stuff flies out at you.
Wait time on this mid-day was also about 10 minutes. Not bad at all.
SPOILER ALERT: The roller coaster does go forward and then backward through it all. I was grateful to know this ahead of time. FYI, you can always watch rides on YouTube to see what it will be like if you’re wondering if your child is suitable for it.
Much like many of the rides here you’re in a “vehicle” and then you shake around as you watch a movie that has you flying off surfaces, falling, etc. I didn’t love the ride. I don’t love the Transformers and it was sort of violent for my tastes. But, we all rode it and everyone was fine with the ride. The 7 year old was a little frightened but when I asked her if she’d recommend it to other 7 year olds she said she’d recommend it “if they like the Transformers” (if you had a Transformer lover, I bet this ride would be very fun).
Wait time on this mid-day was non-existent. They tried to discourage us from using our front-of-the-line passes.
**A lot of of the Universal Hollywood rides seem very similar in that you wear 3D glasses combined with movement that is the ride.
**Universal does have an awesome Ride Swap program where parents can take turns riding rides. So, let’s say you have 3 kids and only one wants to ride it. They’d ride with dad first, mom takes the other two into a themed (and air conditioned) room while they ride. When they come back Mom can ride with that child right away (no waiting in line). It’s awesome. I really appreciate the quiet, cool rooms. That way no one gets lost from each other.
Is mainly just a theater. The seats to move a little. Great for any age. There are often Minions to take your picture with. Wait time for this was posted as 20 minutes mid-day.
This ride is a re-purpose of the Back to the Future of a few years ago. Your car does rise up, you wear 3D glasses and move around with the movie. More movement than the Minion ride. Wait time for this was posted as 20 minutes mid-day.
This is also a theater, the seats to move somewhat and sometimes water squirts at you. I do love the Shrek series and I think this was my favorite of these 3 rides. Wait time for this is just based on when you get there. The full audience can see the show which lasts about 15 minutes or so.
The Studio Tour
I always love this thing. I appreciate that they’re trying to show us some of the lots, etc. It’s fun. This last a bit over an hour and there can be a bit of a wait to get on the tram (although Forbidden Journey was usually longer). We got there mid-day and there was about a 20 minute wait to get on a tram (although people with Front-of-the-Line passes get on right away).
While this is just a tram there are a few places you use your 3D glasses.
I wish I would have prepared my 7 year old a bit more for the King Kong one. I think this scared her the most of anything. It really does feel (especially when you’re 7) that King Kong and T-rex are right next to your tram and jumping on it. Just FYI both of them can be intense. The other on is a Fast and Furious experience and it was less intense but It was really loud and can be a lot if the kids think it’s real.
You still get to see Jaws, the earthquake and flash flood. It’s pretty fun and we all enjoyed it. Something for all of our ages.
FYI food and drink are welcome on the tram. Feel free to bring some lunch on it!
I would recommend all the shows. I think they’re well done and they often have some pre-show entertainment that can be fun. Food is allowed in all the areas.
Animal Trainers: This is a fun little animal show. My kids loved it, it wasn’t too long. A good variety of animals. Great for younger kids.
Special Effects: Some basic movie effects. Always cool. Things like glass overlays and using models including actual models they used in movies are shown.
WaterWorld: This is the old Kevin Costner Water World movie. It’s been the same show since I went in High school, BUT it’s a good show. Always some exciting moments and does show you some cool effects. NOTE: If you sit in the splash zone you will get wet. And I mean REALLY wet. Way worse than Jurassic Park….
Those who have front-of-the-line passes do get priority seating at all of these shows. There is a separate line when you have front of the line passes
- I do not believe the front-of-the-line passes are necessary. They are pretty costly. Almost double the price of regular ticket (although I was surprised by all the people who had them). I guess if money isn’t an issue and you’d really prefer to have a bit less stress of kids waiting in line you could get it. BUT the lines aren’t all that long. Harry Potter before closing is very available. If you don’t get there early, head to Harry Potter last. Enjoy it!
- We had a full day of fun. We were there at opening and left at closing. We had a wonderful time and really enjoyed our day. I remember before Harry Potter it wasn’t quite a full day of fun. Now it truly is.
- It’s got a lot of good family fun, but I wouldn’t go with kids under 5. A lot of it could be REALLY overwhelming for kids under 6. Princess P was just about to the age that she was ready for it (but since a lot of the rides can be really intense, I did still have some ride guilt). Save your money and go once your whole family can enjoy it. Which is what we had chosen to do.
- The beauty of Universal is that the City Walk is just outside of the park with tons of restaurants. Not even the Three Broomsticks was much of a draw to my kids, so we ate at Bubba Gumps Shrimp Co. on the city Walk.
And when you do. I bet you’ll love it!
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This post was originally written in 2016, but has been updated.
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