When you visit California with kids, the one thing you’re probably bound to do is visit a theme park. Los Angeles is the home of the several major theme parks, one of which is Universal Studios Hollywood.
For me, the biggest drawcard for visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s a must-do experience for Harry Potter fans young and old as you can walk through the alleys of Hogsmeade and immerse yourself in the imagination of JK Rowling.
Universal Studios Hollywood can easily be visited in one day but it’s good to have a plan of attack to get the most out of your long day. So here are my Universal Studios Hollywood tips, particularly when visiting with kids.
Note on this occasion I did not actually have my 5yo and 7yo kids with me. Probably a good thing as I suspect they would not have enjoyed most of the rides as described below. Even as an adult I found them quite nauseating and at time terrifying!
It’s most suitable for kids 5+ years
While there are two play small play areas for kids under 5 (Dino Zone and Super Silly Fun Land) almost all of the rides are geared towards kids 5+ years.
There are height restrictions on all the rides, starting from 99cm to 120cm for the more high-intensity thrill rides.
If your child is easily scared by darkness, loud noises and sudden movements then I’d say that it’s best to wait until 7+ years. Even the mildest roller coaster ‘Flight of the Hippogriff’ is pretty fast and jerky and I was glad that it was only a short ride.
As with any major tourist attraction, if you can arrange it it’s better to go on off-peak days. Try to avoid weekends, public holidays and school holidays.
I visit on a Thursday in winter and am pleasantly surprised by the small crowds. I even managed to capture photos with absolutely no one in them!
Buy your ticket online in advance and receive Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I scour the internet for the cheapest ticket for Universal Studios Hollywood and end up at the official USH site.
It’s cheaper than buying on site (though not cheaper than other websites) and it’s the only place where pre-buying a ticket will gain you early entry into the park, so 9am instead of 10am. You can also avoid ticket queues when you arrive.
You will need to print out the tickets.
Access via public transport
Los Angeles is known for being a car-centric city and if you’re driving there are big carparks available for visitors. Parking costs extra from $25.
I choose to take the Red metro line which is cheap ($1.75 one way with a compulsory TAP card $1 that you need to load) and not crowded even in peak hour. I also avoid the traffic jams for which LA is famous.
The Universal City metro station is easily accessible to the entry gate via a regular shuttle bus (there’s a massive hill to hike up otherwise).
Get there no later than 9am
I aim to arrive for 8:45am but only get there at 9am. In off-peak season that’s still ok, I breeze through ticket barriers and security in 5 minutes.
Buying your ticket from the official USH ticket site (see above) is worth it for that extra hour of quiet. There are very few lines and you can squeeze in a few rides before the main crowds arrive.
If you don’t have early entry they have been known to let people enter from 9:45am.
Download the app
Before you go download the Universal Studios Hollywood mobile app. You can check wait times for attractions, browse maps, see schedules and check out where there are character meet and greets.
USH offers free wifi though I find it more convenient to carry a pocket wifi instead.
Take advantage of Single Rider lines and Child Switch
On a few of the popular rides there is a ‘single rider’ line which is much shorter than the main queue. Take advantage of it where you can.
If you have young children who can’t ride alone then there is a Child Switch room where the first adult can ride while the second adult stays with the child/ren, and then the second adult can ride without getting in line again while the first adult stays.
There’s no need for a Universal Express ticket
Queueing at theme parks is the WORST.
But if you go at off-peak times then the queues are not very long (max 30 minutes in my case), so on balance I think paying double the ticket price for a Universal Express ticket is not worth the money.
Bring a hat, sunscreen, snacks and a water bottle
My tactic for dealing with kids in a queue is to use the time to go to the toilet, apply sunscreen and eat snacks.
There’s not a lot of shelter while you’re lining up so bring a hat for hot days.
Note you are technically not allowed to bring outside food or drinks into the park but fruit, water and baby food are ok.
Head first to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the big drawcard for USH, so get there early to avoid lines.
The Ollivanders wand experience is really just a bit of promo for the wand shop, so if there’s a long line you can skip it. I know that they can only fit a small number of people inside at a time, so it is my very first stop.
If you have bags you will need to put them in a locker for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which gives you an indication of how wild the ride is. You need to be minimum 122cm (approx 7 years) to ride. DO NOT eat just before you go on this ride!
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a family-friendly roller coaster that spirals and dives around the pumpkin patch, and then swoops past Hagrid’s hut. It’s aimed at younger kids minimum 99cm tall (approx 4 years) but I still find it a bit fast for my stomach.
Next head to the Lower Lot before finishing at the Upper Lot
Universal Studios Hollywood is built over two levels, the Upper Lot and Lower Lot. Most visitors start at the Upper Lot because that’s where the entrance is, so take advantage of the smaller crowds and head to the Lower Lot first.
There are three long escalators to get down to the Lower Lot which take almost 10 minutes, so you want to complete everything you want in the Lower Lot and not return again.
On my visit Jurassic Park is not open so I have two choices, the Transformers Ride and the Revenge of the Mummy. Both are pretty intense roller-coaster style rides for kids 102cm tall (approx 5+ years) and 122cm tall (approx 7+ years) respectively and the Revenge of the Mummy requires you to stow your bags. Note that in Revenge of the Mummy scary things swipe out at you and the roller coaster goes forwards and backwards at high speed.
In the Upper Lot I like the Simpsons ride because they play Simpsons segments while you’re in line. The actual ride is goofy and funny and kids must be minimum 102cm tall (approx 5+ years) to ride it.
The Despicable Me Minion ride is also pretty fun, you sit in an auditorium with other people so it doesn’t feel like you’re trapped inside a tunnel/carriage like some of the other rides.
Go on the Studio Tour when your legs need a break
The best time to go on the Studio Tour is when your legs are tired and/or the sun is getting too hot, as the tram is shaded.
The experience takes about an hour and the fun comes to you while you ride around in a tram with live and recorded commentary.
If you think that you’re safe from special effects and motion sickness on the Studio Tour – sorry! During the tour there are three experiences where the carriages rock and jerk – at King Kong 3D, under a subway flooding and Fast and Furious.
Wear quick-dry clothing or a change of clothes
Consider wearing clothing that dries quickly or bring a change of clothes, especially for kids.
See all the shows
Organise your schedule so you don’t miss out on the three shows. Seeing a show is a chance to sit down and chill out.
The most spectacular show is Waterworld an action feature with jetskis and high speed stunts. It’s outdoors and if you don’t want to get wet don’t sit in the ‘soak zone’ marked at the front of the seating.
The Animal Actors show is cute and it’s a chance to appreciate the work of the animal actors we see on TV and in movies. The show is outdoors.
The special effects show is indoors so particularly good for the middle of a hot day. Seeing how special effects are done makes the experience unique to USH as opposed to say Disneyland.
Your must-eat food (especially at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter)
The consensus online is that the best food is served at the Three Broomsticks inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s a big space but popular so try to eat outside of peak times. I have lunch at 11am and a second lunch (which allows me to basically skip dinner) around 3pm.
It’s mainly English pub food, which may be novelty for Americans but is less exciting for Australians. Nevertheless, I try:
- Bangers and mash – the sausages are made especially for USH and are surprisingly good, fat and juicy;
- Herb roasted chicken – the lady at the counter recommends this as the best dish. The adult serving is a ridiculous half a chicken, so opt for the kids size for a quarter chicken;
- Potted cream – a super sweet butterscotch pudding; and
- Sticky toffee cake – comes with a crusty exterior and is fluffy and warm inside, served with ice cream.
Outside of the Three Broomsticks make sure you try a Butterbeer, which is sort of like a creaming soda with butterscotch froth. Get the frozen version for a delicious drink on a hot day.
Also try the Pumpkin Juice which is a sweet pumpkin-apple-cinnamon drink. Gilly Water is just plain old water, so don’t bother. Water that’s served inside the Three Broomsticks comes in a ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ plastic cup which you can keep as a souvenir.
This scathing review of Springfield’s eating options convinces me to avoid it, though I do wish I had room for a Flaming Moe at Moe’s Tavern.
The most fun food attraction in Springfield is the Lard Lad Donut. It’s a giant = pink iced donut which is made fresh daily. It’s such a popular item that it can sell out at the Lard Lad Donut stand, but at the end of the day I find a few in the main Universal Studio Store souvenir shop.
They also make smaller, normal size donuts, but what’s the point, right? You wanna get the donut that’s the size of your head.
Your must-buy souvenirs
Obviously what souvenirs you buy depends on whether you’re a fan of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, The Simpsons etc – and your budget.
After scouring each souvenir store in the park I decide on:
- Butterbeer in a souvenir mug.
- Pumpkin Juice, mainly for the cute bottle with a pumpkin on top!
- Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans. These are a HUGE hit with my kids, providing hours of entertainment and giggles. Wacky flavours include vomit, dirt, soap and boogers.
Inside Honeydukes you’ll also find Chocolate Frogs which includes a souvenir wizard hologram trading card inside, Acid Pops, Exploding Bonbons, Peppermint Toads, Fudge Flies, Fizzing Whizzbees.
I quite like the postcards and Harry Potter souvenir stamps because USH is the only place in the world where you can send post with a Hogsmeade postmark on it. However, they don’t sell individual postcards, only a stack of 10, and the stamps are for US domestic mail only (or you can use 3 stamps to send international). If you don’t want to buy 10 postcards then BYO your mail!
The largest and most complete collection of souvenirs is at Universal Studio Store.
It’s ok to bring a pram
Universal Studios Hollywood is very pram-friendly. You will be required to park your pram in a designated area before you enter an attraction. You can also hire a pram if you don’t want to bring your own.
However, I don’t see many prams around, mainly because the park is really more suitable for older kids.
Have you been to Universal Studios Hollywood? What are your tips for making the most of the visit?