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Planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood is no easy task. You’re gearing up for an awesome vacation to Los Angeles and you realize that theme parks are more complicated than they used to be. Virtual lines, hidden QR codes, early access, and special bands are enough to make your head spin!

In this guide, we share our with you how to do Universal Studios Hollywood in one day including detailed tips, hidden secrets that you’ll want to know, and ultimately, the best way to maximize your time in the park.

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How to save money on your trip

  • Accommodations: Booking.com is our go-to platform especially if you have Genius tier where you can find an additional 10-20% off places to stay.
  • Car Rentals: If you haven’t tried using car rental coupon codes, you’re missing out!
  • Flights: Get creative with your flights and set alerts for when prices dip when using Skyscanner.
  • Activities: Undercover Tourist and Klook are great for Universal Studios Hollywood but for other parts of Los Angeles and California, check Viator as well.

Here’s what we’re covering:

Type of Universal Studios Hollywood Trip

fun super nintendo world group photo in universal studios hollywood tipsfun super nintendo world group photo in universal studios hollywood tips

Before we delve into all of the juicy details, it’s worth noting the context for this Universal Studios Hollywood guide.

You learn quickly that every group has different needs, interests, patience, and stamina and so we’ll provide a very specific perspective but we want to make clear that it’s not the only way to do the park.

My recent trip (Will speaking here!) to Universal Studios Hollywood was part of a guys trip where 3 of us got time away from our wives and fully immersed ourselves in all things fandom as we started from Los Angeles and made our way down to San Diego Comic-Con.

  • Three guys in our late 30’s
  • Visit during high season (July)
  • One day to see Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Interest mainly in seeing Super Nintendo World
  • Plan to maximize time in the park
  • Willing to spend money to have the best experience
  • Prepared to spend the whole day in the park and forego some meals

24 Essential Universal Studios Hollywood Tips

guide to universal studios hollywood red carpet entrance gateguide to universal studios hollywood red carpet entrance gate

We’ve compiled a list of the top Universal Studio Hollywood tips you need to know before you go. The good news is that after reading all of this, you’ll be incredibly prepared.

On the day of, you’ll be much less stressed and more capable of handling whatever random other situations come your way. In our mind these are very much essential knowledge for anyone going to Universal Studios, whether new or returning.

Let’s hop right in! We’ve done our best to keep this as chronological as possible so it makes more sense.

Tip #1: Purchase the Super Nintendo World Early Access Ticket

super nintendo world early access ticket entrance linesuper nintendo world early access ticket entrance line

The “Super Nintendo World Early Access Ticket” allows you to get a head start by going to Super Nintendo World one hour before the theme park opens. There are no other early access methods for Universal Studios Hollywood (unlike Disneyland which has early access for Disney hotel guests).

Not only should you purchase this add-on, you also need to do this early. As the hottest new attraction, these sell out quicker than you think. We recommend right after grabbing your tickets from GetYourGuide, Viator, or direct, buy your early access ticket as well.

If you happen to be a little late and your dates are sold out, keep checking every day. Tickets do come up randomly (most of the time in singles), but if you’re lucky, there may be just enough for your group.

Tip #2: Arrive one hour before the park opens

If you’re planning to get into Universal Studios Hollywood right when the park opens (times vary throughout the year), you’ll want to make sure that you get to the main gates 1 hour before opening if you want to be at the front.

The part that’s missing in most other guides is that it can take up to 30 minutes (20 minutes with a brisk walk) to get through the following steps:

  1. Pay for parking
  2. Park the car
  3. Walk from parking garage into CityWalk
  4. Walk through CityWalk
  5. Go through security check point
  6. Snap quick pictures of the Universal Studios sign
  7. Follow the red carpet and choose the left or right gates to line up in

For instance, in the summer, the park opens at 8AM. This means you should aim to get to the gates by 7AM. In our case, we parked the car at 7:14AM and started lining up at the gate at 7:30AM. At this point, there were easily over 100 people combined in line.

Tip #3: Turn into the right most lane of the parking lot

universal studios hollywood recommended parking laneuniversal studios hollywood recommended parking lane
via Google Maps Streetview
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See how the left lanes are packed but nobody’s using the right lanes

Most of you arriving at Universal Studios Hollywood in the morning will be coming in from the Hollywood Freeway (Hwy 101) which connects to W.C. Fields Drive. There are 5 that that take you into the lot building with the leftmost lane for Valet and the right 4 lanes labelled as “Parking”.

The trick is that you want to take the right most lane. What happens is that since there are 3 lanes that funnel into the lot, it’ll intuitively feel like the better choice but what you don’t see is that the right-most lane opens up 3 more booths.

Most people end up choosing the left 3 lanes and as a result, a longer line up of cars.

While yes, this will only shave off a few minutes, every little bit counts right?

Tip #4: The shortest line to queue at the gate

shortest line at universal studios hollywood at entrance gateshortest line at universal studios hollywood at entrance gate
On either side, this middle line is a bit hidden and is often the shortest

When lining up to get into the park in the morning, don’t just get in whatever line everyone else is joining. There’s a tendency for people to think that they have to queue on the longest line but the secret is that you should look away from the red carpet for shorter lines.

On both sides, there’s a ticket booth building that obscures your view of a significantly smaller line. Squeeze through and you’ll find that there are very few people here.

It’s a small advantage, but hey, every little bit counts!

Tip #5: Reserve Toadstool Cafe 15 minutes before the park opens

toadstool cafe waitlist with qr codetoadstool cafe waitlist with qr code
QR code to make reservations

Toadstool Cafe is notoriously difficult to book and for those that don’t do the research, you’ll be caught off guard by how bad it is. Yes, you can try to wait for a waitlist to open at the entrance but we highly recommend you make a reservation for either lunch or dinner.

What makes it a ridiculous process is that they want you to scan a QR code at Toadstool Cafe to make a booking but by that point, most slots are starting to sell out, and you’ll have competing priorities (i.e. get in line for Bowser’s Challenge).

For a high chance of success, here’s what you need to do:

  • Have the Toadstool Cafe reservation page ready to go on one of your phone’s browser tabs.
  • Discuss with your group ahead of time what the preferences for times are.
  • Assign one person in your group to be responsible for doing this and either watch the time closely or set an alarm. They will be making the executive decision when it opens.
  • It says reservations open up when the park opens but in our case, we noticed that the times populate 15 minutes prior (i.e. 7:45AM for an 8AM open).
  • Once it pops up, make your selection and fill out the form. You’ll want to do this as fast as possible as spots get snagged within minutes.
  • You’ll receive a text message with confirmation.
  • When it’s your time, show the text message to the staff at the entrance and let them know your name. They will only let you in when it’s 5 minutes before your time slot.

It’s worth noting that reservations at the land’s only restaurant are free. Also, with a reservation, you can bypass the Virtual Line (if it’s up) roughly 30 minutes before your time slot.

We also don’t believe the browser geolocates you so in theory you can do it from your car or in the parking garage if you’re late.

TIP: We go into more detail in our Super Nintendo World Hollywood Guide but expect the service at Toadstool Cafe to be quite slow. Expect a meal to take over 1 hours, and likely close to 2 hours.

TIP 2: Make sure the person registering has a way of receiving text messages, so the one in the group that has a US SIM card or has their international SIM off of airplane mode.

Tip #6: Multiple steps to Lower Lot when the park opens

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The first queue after opening
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Second line after opening to Lower Lot

Similar to Disneyland, things get really confusing when it comes to opening times. The official opening time listed is when all of Universal Studios Hollywood is accessible but there are a couple of additional steps that aren’t listed.

These opening times fluctuate throughout the year with 8AM being the earliest in the middle of summer. This is not to be confused with the Early Access Hours which specifically refers to those that have the Super Nintendo World Early Access Ticket.

In the summer, the park is officially listed to open at 8AM but here’s how it actually goes down:

  1. 7:30AM – The main gates (by the red carpet and past security screening) opens and start letting people onto the grounds. This gives you access to the main street, all the way up to the Universal Plaza tower where there’s a temporary gate and staff holding you from going any further. Everyone that’s let through starts queueing here.
  2. 7:45AM – Similar to the Disneyland rope drop, they release the crowd to access all of the Upper Lot until you get to the first set of escalators that take you down to the Lower Lot. This is right next to The Simpsons Ride.
  3. 8AM – The finally let everyone through and at this point, everyone rushes down to the Lower Lot, and more specifically, Super Nintendo World. This is effectively a second rope drop.

The times above are approximate. In our case, step 2 was 7:44AM and step 3 was 7:56AM.

Tip #7: Buy the Power-Up Band early

super nintendo world mario power up band purchasesuper nintendo world mario power up band purchase

If it’s your only day at Universal Studios Hollywood, you might not be able to pull this off but in retrospect, we really should have bought our Power-Up Band in advance.

Why? If you rush straight to the Bowser’s Challenge queue and you don’t have a band, you won’t get credit for that ride and score. If you’re like us, you’ll feel the regret and want to ride it again, although we were going to regardless.

Where can you buy the Power-Up Band?

  • In the Super Nintendo World Store on CityWalk (it opens at 11AM but you can go the day before)
  • After they let you in the main gates, the stores will be open. Head straight to the Super Nintendo World “Feature Presentation Store” and buy it there. The trade-off is that you won’t be able to queue for the 7:45AM stage unless you can get someone to hold a spot in line. It says it opens at 8AM but it should be accessible when you get through to this part of the park.
  • There’s a Super Nintendo World store Revenge of the Mummy but again, you’ll waste valuable time doing this as opposed to entering Super Nintendo World.
  • Lastly, there’s the store inside Super Nintendo World itself, called “1-UP Factory Store”.

To clear up any confusion you might have, you can do Bowser’s Challenge and you can technically do the mini-games (also called Key Challenges) without the Power-Up Band.

However, without the Power-Up band, here’s what you’re missing out on:

  • Keep track of scores for the ride, Key Challenges, and collect coin from ? Blocks.
  • There are 4 total Key Challenges and if you complete 3, you can access the Bowser Jr.’s Lair which is a final boss game. The only way you can access this is with a Power-Up Band.
  • Collecting Digital stamps by completing specific tasks in Super Nintendo World.

Want to know more about Super Nintendo World?

We couldn’t pack every single detail of Super Nintendo World into our Universal Studios Hollywood tips so we created a separate guide just for it. Make sure to read this next!

Tip #8: Download the Universal CA app

While won’t have to obsess over the Universal Studios app as much as Disneyland’s complicated Genie+ system, the app is just as important when it comes to Super Nintendo World’s mini-games, joining the Virtual Line, setting a note for your parking spot, and accessing the map.

The name of the app to look for is “Universal CA” on iOS and Android.

The app is also handy to set a “Wait Time Alert”. If a ride is under a set number of minutes, you’ll get an alert on your phone, which can help you save time.

You’ll also want to use the map to figure out how bad the lines are for each ride. This tab on the app is also useful to figure out where restrooms are. It’s a bit hard to find but tap on “Change Category” to filter for “Restrooms”.

More on this in our dedicated section on Super Nintendo World but you need the app to the Super Nintendo World to add a band to your account, find your score, locate objects, and check your stamp collection.

Tip #9: There’s free wifi in the park

This certainly wasn’t the case the last time I was at Universal but with how important the app is to the park’s experience, it makes sense that wifi is free.

The network SSID to look for is “UNIVERSAL”.

I did a quick speed test in the park and I saw 10.9 Mbps down and 30.5 Mbps up which isn’t too shabby.

Tip #10: The Express Pass is worth it

express pass lane at universal studios hollywood simpsons rideexpress pass lane at universal studios hollywood simpsons ride

If cost is not a factor, it’s easy to say that the Express Pass is 100% worth it.

Here’s why:

  • You’ll get access to the Express Pass line for a majority rides, attractions, and seated show. This includes WaterWorld and the Studio Tram Tour.
  • There are less people that get the Express Pass than you think so the lines for it are insanely short.
  • This means that rides that are showing as over 60 minutes are cut down to 10 minutes just like that.
  • Express Pass also gets you past the Virtual Line for Super Nintendo World. This means that even if a Virtual Line is set up, you can walk straight in (once per day).

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use it here:

  • Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge
  • Key Challenge mini-games
  • Toadstool Cafe

The other caveat you need to factor in is that you can only use it to express access each ride once. That said, realistically you likely won’t be doing rides multiple times, and if you are, it’ll be typically at the end of the day when the wait times are short to begin with.

Tip #11: Bring your own lanyards and card holder for the Express Pass

universal studios hollywood express pass badges with lanyard and card holdersuniversal studios hollywood express pass badges with lanyard and card holders
Lanyards and card holders from home

If you buy an Express Pass, they simply print it out at the main gate and hand it to you. That’s why we recommend that you bring your own lanyard that can fit a business-sized card.

You don’t need to go out of your way to buy one but if you’ve ever been to a conference or event where they provide name tags, you might have a few lying around.

This is handy to have around your neck because you won’t need to fumble for it in your pocket, keeps your Express Pass dry, and is less likely that you’ll lose it.

Tip #12: Use the Single Rider Line

This is one of the most underrated features that’s often buried with many of the other tips. The Single Rider Line is the next best thing after the Express Pass.

The caveat of course is that you likely won’t be able to ride together with your friends but we’re talking about cutting the standard line down to 10-15 minutes.

Don’t be afraid to use it especially if you’re not with young children.

TIP: The Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge single rider line closes at 7PM so don’t expect to use this into the evening.

Need a place to park at the airport?

If you’re driving to the airport, you’ll need a place to park. We’ve partnered with Park Sleep Fly and Airport Parking Reservation to get you $5 off airport parking when you use the code AWESOME7. With Park Sleep Fly, you can get up $7 off packages.

Tip #13: Save the Super Nintendo World mini-games for the evening

fewer crowds at night at super nintendo world hollywoodfewer crowds at night at super nintendo world hollywood

The mini-games, or Key Challenges as they’re called are in different parts of Super Nintendo World. Each has their own line and do not have an Express Pass lane. These are kid-friendly games and you need to complete 3 out of 4 of them to unlock a final showdown with Bowser Jr. to get the Golden Mushroom (a digital stamp).

The thing is, the lines for these can get ridiculously long, especially after the first wave of people get out of the Bowser’s Challenge ride and the queue starts growing. You might be able to squeeze in one Key Challenge but this soon grows to a 30 minute line, then 1 full hour. In the summer with an 8AM start, I’d say the lines get pretty thick starting at 10AM.

As first timers, you’ll want to finish everything while you’re in Super Nintendo World as we did, but we returned back in the evening and there was practically nobody in line.

Our recommendation is to come back at night to finish the Key Challenges after which you’ll be able to do the final game – and possibly multiple times.

Tip #14: Avoid traversing between the Upper to Lower Lot

If you’ve never been to Universal Studios Hollywood, it may feel like it’s exaggerated just how far apart the Upper Lot is from the Lower Lot. There are after all, 4 separate escalators you need to take.

When you’re on them, it’ll feel like an eternity as you watch Super Nintendo World get closer and closer. It’s slow but if you time it, the whole journey takes roughly 10 minutes. The problem is when you double that, you’re talking about 20-30 minutes just to get between lots.

For some additional perspective, the morning is usually quicker because people will walk down while on the escalator. For us, it took us 6 minutes to get down to the Lower Lot.

We highly recommend that you eliminate as much traversing as you can (i.e. focus on all of Lower Lot first before doing the Upper Lot).

Tip #15: Eat during off-peak times

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You’ll notice a dramatic change in crowds during lunch and dinner so it’s best to go against the grain. While there’s a dip in line times, jump in. Conversely, eat your meals when it’s the busiest parts of the day.

Lunch – Early lunch is a good idea as the lines start growing significantly from 11:00AM onwards. That way, you can jump back into line when it gets a little better between 12PM and 1PM. A late lunch also works when it gets really hot

Dinner – We recommend that you have an early dinner to line up with early lunch (i.e. 5:30PM). Alternatively, you can have a late dinner (i.e. 8PM) but this is also the best time to do rides because most families start leaving.

The wildcard in all of this is Toadstool Cafe. When you make your booking in the morning, you may find out that your preferred slot is already gone so you might have to pick a time that is not as ideal.

TIP: There’s always the option of skipping meals and eating outside of the park. You can buy smaller meals throughout the or bring your own snacks. When you leave the park at 10PM, you can find a late-night spot to eat dinner. In our case, we were heading to Anaheim for our next day in Disney and found a gem of a Vietnamese pho place called Soup Shop. The pho with rib bones is ridiculously good.

Tip #16: Time your Studio Tour during on-peak times

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One of the must-do attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood is the Studio Tour. It’s similar to the Paramount Studio Tour or Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Los Angeles except it’s part of the theme park experience where you get to see their back lot while also doing a few 3D rides.

The efficiency and frequency of the Studio Tour is quite impressive and so you’ll find that their wait times are never really that long. If you use the Universal Express Pass, you’ll pretty much get on the next bus out.

It’s worth noting that you don’t need to seek out specific tour times for this as they are continuously running.

TIP: Make sure to use the bathroom before you get on because it’s a full 60-minute tour/ride.

Tip #17: Breeze through rides at the end of the day

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One really cool site that you can check out is Thrill Data which has Universal Studios Hollywood wait times tracked and plotted on charts including a ton of historical data.

If we use Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge as an indication, the ride doesn’t dip back under 100 minutes until 6:20PM. Each ride is a little different but there’s a steady drop in wait times after dinner.

The Thrill Data tables stop tracking after 7:55PM but the rides continue running all the way until closing time (10PM in the summer). After 8PM, you’re looking at little to no lines at all.

In our case, to end our night, we were able to enter and exit the Transformers ride in 7 minutes flat. That’s how fast it can be.

Tip #18: It’s okay to take breaks

As much as you’ll want to be super strategic about your day at Universal Studios Hollywood, your body will at some point tell you to slow it down and that is totally ok.

The beating sun and dehydration really take its toll, especially if you’ve been standing out in the sun for the Super Nintendo World mini-games.

The good news is that most rides lines are indoors or under shade but that doesn’t mean it won’t be hot.

Tip #19: Bring a re-useable bottle

water fountain and bottle filling station in super nintendo world hollywoodwater fountain and bottle filling station in super nintendo world hollywood
Water fountains and bottle filling station in Super Nintendo World

To stay hydrated, bring your own water bottle so you can refill it with water throughout the day. The park does a pretty good job of having water stations near the washrooms including the one at Super Nintendo World. The water is totally drinkable and doesn’t taste weird at all.

If you’re a fan of soda, it might be worth buying a souvenir cup. This is a heavy duty plastic cup that comes complete with a handle, straw and lid.

It’s branded Universal Studios Hollywood and there’s only one design active at a time. This cup is equipped with an RFID chip at the bottom which allows to use the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines that are around the park. It costs $18 and gives you unlimited refills every 10 minutes. If you’re returning to the park with one of these, it’s $11 to reactivate.

These are not the same as the souvenir sippers such as the super cute 1-Up or Super Mushroom souvenir drink bottle at Super Nintendo World. This costs $20 and comes with one drink. Subsequent refills are $1.50 and is only active for the day of purchase.

For reference, regular-sized soft drinks are $4.25 and large ones are $5.00

There are lots of ways to stay hydrated!

Tip #20: What you need to know about lockers

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Lockers at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

There are two types of lockers available inside the park – free and paid ones, and are located by rides that have tighter bag restrictions and loose articles. These are rides where it’s not possible to put your backpack at your feet.

Revenge of the Mummy – Right before you enter, you’ll see a large room of lockers. There are both free and paid ones here. All of the free ones have a generous 2 hour limit and are the smaller size only (12¾” Width – 11″ Length – 16½” ).

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – When you enter Hogwarts, you’ll see plenty of lockers to your right. Again, these work the same as at The Mummy.

At both cases, they use your fingerprint as the key to access the locker. Paid lockers have unlimited in/out privileges.

The paid locker sizes and prices are as follows:

  • $8 Lockers: Height – 12¾” Width – 11″ Length – 16½” 
  • $12 Lockers: Height – 16″ Width – 8″ Length – 16″ 
  • $15 Lockers: Height – 21½” Width – 11″ Length – 16″

When in doubt, ask the staff whether your bag is allowed or not.

TIP: With a 2 hour limit, feel free to explore Hogsmeade more freely without your bags after you finish Forbidden Journey.

Tip #21: Use the Virtual Line for The Secret Life of Pets

The ride, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash is one of the newer rides in Universal Studios Hollywood and usually has a long line.

To help with this, they activate the Virtual Line whenever the wait exceeds an hour. This means that you won’t be able to get into the queue for The Secret Life of Pets unless you have a reservation.

Through the Universal CA app or at physical machines next to the entrance, you can make reservations for specific time slots. Periodically, they release slots and the idea is that it makes sure that you’ll only have to wait 30-45 minutes for your window.

This is the only ride that uses this system with the exception of Super Nintendo Land where they use it when they are at capacity inside.

Tip #22: Two rides have mesh pockets

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Revenge of the Mummy mesh pocket

In recent years, a few rides have added mesh pockets in seated rides. This is handy if you have items that you’re worried might fly off during a high-intensity ride, whether in your pocket, your hat, sunglasses, or Power-Up Band.

The two rides that have this are Revenge of the Mummy and Flight of the Hippogriff. This is great for any of your loose items. Just remember to take them out at the end of the ride.

Tip #23: Use a sling or fanny pack if you can

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The nice thing about Universal Studios Hollywood is that they don’t have a strict policy for backpacks and fanny packs when entering the park and there’s no specific size restriction to enter. Your bag will be x-ray screened and inspected at the security check-point but that’s it.

You’ll see all sorts of bag strategies from guests but we still think that if possible, you really want to go as minimal as possible.

Here’s why:

  • It’s annoying to have to take off your backpack at every single ride.
  • Items are quicker and easier to access with a sling/fanny pack.
  • Fanny packs and slings can be worn in a variety of ways to adapt to the ride (waist, cross-body front, and cross-body back).
  • You’ll be spending a lot of time in line and having a smaller bag forces you to be more efficient in what you pack and thus less weight on your shoulders.
  • You can only do the rides if your bags are within regulation, otherwise, you won’t be allowed on.

The best type of bag to have for your day in the park is a sling, fanny pack or any type cross body. Many rides allow you to keep them on your body for the ride as it doesn’t interfere with the safety mechanism. Here are a few that we recommend:

What about backpacks? They certainly work but try to bring a smaller backpack. In most cases, you’ll be able to put the backpack by your feet. The exception is The Forbidden Journey and Revenge of the Mummy which is much more strict. That’s why they have complimentary lockers.

If you have an backpack that’s deemed oversized (different for every ride), you simply won’t be able to ride. If you’re used to amusement parks like Anakeesta in Gatlinburg or Canada’s Wonderland, there are no cubby’s on the other side of the ride where you can leave your things.

TIP: If you can, opt to not wear a hat to Universal Studios Hollywood because you’ll have to take it off for the rides. If you do bring one, make sure it can be easily stashed or clipped onto your bag.

As a heads up, the Universal Studios Hollywood bag policy prohibits suitcases, bags with wheels, hard-sided coolers, and large soft-sided coolers.

Tip #24: Go shopping at the end of the day

You’ll be tempted to buy all sorts of goodies whether you’re in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Super Nintendo World, Minion Land, Springfield, Production Plaza, and others.

The problem comes when you buy items that you can’t fit into your bag and thus requiring you to hold a shopping bag the whole time. In most cases, your ride will be able to accommodate the extra bag by your feet but in the worst case, you’ll have to put it in a locker for an extended period of time, which costs money.

A better strategy is to keep track of some of the big purchases you want to make and come back at the end of the day. Most of the shopping can be done in the Upper Lot.

For the Nintendo fans, they also have a Super Nintendo World Store so you don’t have to go all the way back down to Lower Lot.

Unfortunately, Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t have a Package Pick-Up or Hotel Delivery service. This is only available in Orlando.

Universal Studios Express Pass

back side of univeresal studios hollywood express passback side of univeresal studios hollywood express pass

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Express Pass is one of the simpler implementation of fast passes in a theme park, especially when you compare it to Disney’s Genie+ and that’s one of the reasons why you’ll love it. The flip side is that it’s not a cheap add-on which is meant to keep the use of the lane quite small but also unaffordable for many.

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about the Express Pass.

Features:

  • You can only use the Express Pass once per ride/attraction/seated show per day.
  • Express Pass gives you reservation-free entry into Super Nintendo World (also only once per day).
  • To enter the Express Pass lane, the staff simply scans the bar code on the back of your card.
  • You can’t use Express Pass for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Kart or any of the Key Challenges.
  • There is also an upgrade for an Unlimited Express Pass which allows unlimited use of the lane but costs considerably more.
  • The Express Pass also gets you one-time priority access to the WaterWorld show and allows you to sit in priority seating. The Studio Tour has an Express Pass line as well.
  • Wand Pairing at Ollivanders does not have Express Pass access.

Why it’s worth it:

  • No matter how long the standard line is for a ride, the Express Pass can cut that down to 10-15 minutes because you’ll be put right into the front of the line.
  • It’s a much simpler system than Disneyland’s Genie+ where constant checking of the app and planning is required.
  • It works

Why you shouldn’t get the Express Pass:

  • It’s quite expensive making it out of budget for many, especially those in large groups.
  • General admission starts at $109 and Universal Express starts at $199. This means that the Express Pass is a $90 add on, a significant increase from Genie+ which is only $25.
  • If you use many of the other tips we’ve shared above including the Single Rider Line, arriving early, staying until park closing, and going to the park during low season, and quieter day of the week, you’ll be able to reduce your

Tips for using the Express Pass:

  • Think strategically if you want to ride multiple times – If there’s a ride that you think you’d like to go on multiple times and the lines are reasonable for your first time, you should consider saving it for later when it might be worse.
  • Don’t be afraid to use it – In contrast to the above, you should just use your Express Pass wherever it’s accepted because it’s sometimes hard to predict how the waiting times will fluctuate throughout the day. Saving as much time as you can is key to have a more enjoyable day and free up time to eat, shop, take photos, and do other non-ride activities.
  • Bring a lanyard – We cover this in our Universal Studios Hollywood tips but the Express Pass is business-card sized and don’t come with a lanyard. You can buy one at the store but you might have a few extra lying around at home.

Universal Studios Hollywood In One Day Itinerary

flight of the hippogriff ride photoflight of the hippogriff ride photo

In many of the guides to Universal Studios Hollywood, it was easy to find great advice but one thing that is difficult to find is an itinerary that shows how day looks like.

Below is a table that is based on actual timestamps of what we experienced in the middle of somewhere. There are of course tweaks in there to correct some of the mistakes we made. Again, we didn’t have the Super Nintendo World Early Access Ticket but would highly recommend it.

I’ll admit, this is definitely a more aggressive itinerary that packs a lot in and deprioritizes eating but it hopefully should give you an idea of the flow of the day.

Time Schedule
6:45AM Leave Courtyard Los Angeles Burbank Airport
7:10AM Arrive at parking lot gate
7:15AM Car parked at E.T. lot
7:20AM Start walk through CityWalk
7:25AM Security check
7:30AM In line at the main gate
7:35AM Through the main gate
7:44AM Rope drop #1 in the Upper Lot
7:45AM Toadstool Cafe reservations open
7:56AM Rope drop #2 for the escalators down to Lower Lot
8:05AM Enter Super Nintendo World
8:06AM Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge (1 hour, 10 minutes)
9:20AM Explore Super Nintendo World – punch blocks and find hidden activities
10:00AM Transformers: The Ride-3D (Express Pass, 20 minutes)
10:30AM Jurassic World: The Ride (Express Pass, 20 minutes)
11:00AM LUNCH: Toadstool Cafe
1:00PM The World-Famous Studio Tour (Express Pass, 60 minutes)
2:10PM Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Express Pass, 20 minutes)
2:35PM Flight of the Hippogriff (Express Pass, 15 minutes)
2:55PM Explore Hogsmeade in the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
3:45PM Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem (Express Pass, 30 minutes)
4:15PM Secret Life of Pets (Express Pass, 30 minutes)
4:45PM WaterWorld (Express Pass, 20 minutes)
5:30PM The Simpsons Ride (Express Pass, 20 minutes)
6:10PM Revenge of the Mummy (Express Pass, 20 minutes)
6:50PM Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge (Single Rider, 40 minutes)
8:00PM Complete all 4 Key Challenges
8:40PM Final Boss Challenge – Bowser Jr.’s Shadow Showdown (20 minutes)
9:00PM DINNER: Quick bite at Studio Cafe/Jurassic Cafe in Lower Lot
9:45PM Pick your choice of ride in the Lower Lot (10 minutes)
10:17PM Out of the main Universal Studios Hollywood gates
10:30PM Back in the car at E.T. lot

Understanding the Parking

inside universal studios et parking garageinside universal studios et parking garage

We’ve covered a big parking tip earlier but it might be worth understanding the different tiers of parking, especially if you’re wondering whether it’s worth it or not.

There are 4 parking areas at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Parking Tier Price Time to Front Gate
General Parking Before 5PM – $30
After 5PM – $10
E.T. – 20 minutes
Curious George – 15 minutes
Preferred Parking Before 5PM – $50
After 5PM – $20
Frankenstein – 5 minutes
Front Gate Parking $70 1 minute
Valet Parking $25 for the first 2 hours
$50 after 2 hours
Jurassic Park – 10 minutes
Valet Parking with Restaurant Validation $10 for up to 2.5 hours
$15 for 2.5 – 3.5 hours
$50 for 3.5+ hours
General Parking with Movie Validation $5

General Parking is the cheapest and furthest, although not by much when compared to Valet. Their lots are named E.T. and Curious George. The thing is, you won’t get to choose which garage to go to as the employees will guide you to whichever one that is opened and want filled for that time of the day. E.T. is 20 minutes walk from the park entrance and Curious George is 15 minutes.

Preferred Parking brings you over to a multi-level parking garage that’s near the front gates and is named Frankenstein. This is 5 minutes walk from the park entrance. This also happens to be where Uber and Lyft pick ups are located.

Front Gate Parking is not in any of the garages and is located in a small open-air lot that is literally right next to the security check gates.

Valet Parking is at the Jurassic Park garage and is 10 minutes walk from the park entrance.

Our opinion is that it’s not worth it to upgrade parking, especially if you’re able to do that walk. If you look at it, you’d be paying $20 to save 10-15 minutes of walking. Front Gate Parking is insanely close but $40 which might be better saved for the Power-Up Band.

That said, everyone has different needs and there may be a good reason to reduce the walk to the park so this is definitely your own choice.

Electric vehicle charging

If you have an electric car, there are several charging stations.

  • ET Garage – 16 ports at Level B1
  • Curious George Garage – 2 points at Level 1
  • Jurassic Parking Garage – 8 ports at Level 1 and B1M
  • Frankenstein Garage – 4 ports at Level 2 and Level 7
  • Woody Woodpecker Lot – 1 port near Front Gate Parking

Charging isn’t free though and is charged at a rate of $0.40/kWh.

Accessible parking

If you have an accessible parking permit, make sure it’s visible and you’ll be allowed to park in the general parking lot on Level 3 which is on the same level as CityWalk, eliminating the need for taking escalators.

Best Places to Stay Near Universal Studios Hollywood

To round out our guide to Universal Studios Hollywood, you’ll also want to book accommodations for your trip.

Here are 4 recommendations for where to stay near Universal Studios Hollywood. Straddling Burbank and Los Angeles, we suggest staying either in Burbank or close to the park to make sure you don’t have a long commute or getting stuck in Highway 101 traffic.

WALKING DISTANCE

hilton los angeles universal city view from windowhilton los angeles universal city view from window

Hilton Los Angeles / Universal City

This is the premiere hotel to stay at if you care about being as close as possible to the park. You’re only 8 minutes walk and has the benefit of being a Hilton for those that Hilton Honors members.

Another comparable is the Sheraton Universal City which is right next door although the Hilton is closer.

FREE SHUTTLE

the garland hotel in where to stay near universal studios hollywoodthe garland hotel in where to stay near universal studios hollywood

The Garland

This hotel is a Universal Studios hotel partner and while not walking distance, is one of the best ones that offers a free shuttle to the park right from hotel. As a 3-star hotel, it features free wifi, fitness centre, and swimming pool. Guests agree that this property has a real vibe that you’ll love.

BURBANK

courtyard marriott los angeles burbank airport hotel entrancecourtyard marriott los angeles burbank airport hotel entrance

Courtyard Los Angeles Burbank Airport

This is great for those that have a car and want to be in a convenient neighbourhood that has a Target and Walmart. The drive is only 18 minutes to Universal Studios and has the advantage of being in the Marriott chain, allowing you to use points if you have those saved up.

GREAT FOR FAMILIES

tilt hotel universal hollywood bedroom suite interiortilt hotel universal hollywood bedroom suite interior

Tilt Hotel Universal / Hollywood

This is 2-star hotel that is a 15 minute walk to Universal Studios Hollywood and also offers a shuttle from across the street at Universal City Metro Station. They offer a Family Suite which can accommodate up to 10 guests, making it great for families and large groups.

If you prefer to navigate hotel options by map, we an interactive one below that allows you to zoom in and out, and check out prices.

How Much Does A Day In Universal Studios Hollywood Cost?

I’ve put together a table of all of the costs for Universal Studios Hollywood to give you an idea of how much it might be for you and your group.

The amounts below are totals in USD and for a single person.

Expense Amount
Universal Tickets $299
Universal Parking $30
1-UP Factory (Power-Up Band) $43.80
Toadstool Cafe $44.86
Butterbeer $9.31
Flight of the Hippogriff Photo $24.08
Revenge of the Mummy Photo $30
TOTAL $481.05

It’s certainly not a cheap day out but at the same time, it’s not as expensive as it can be considering all of the temptations of souvenirs and food.

If you’re looking to really save money, save money on the photos, and only eat lunch inside the park like we did.

Final Thoughts on Universal Studios Hollywood

jurassic world universal studios hollywood tips splashjurassic world universal studios hollywood tips splash

So those are all of our tips for Universal Studios Hollywood and how you can do it all in one day! They seem like a lot but we’ve consolidated as much together so you don’t have to go hunting for information across multiple pages.

They’re definitely a bit biased towards how you can visit it as a group of millennial adults but hopefully this provides you a blueprint for planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to go to Universal Studios Hollywood?

The quietest month of the year to go to Universal Studios Hollywood is January where average wait times are 21 minutes. Second to that are September and February at 24 and 25 minutes respectively. You’ll breeze through the rides especially if you go that second week of January.

When is the best day of the week to go to Universal Studios Hollywood?

The crowds are the lowest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, making the best day of the week to go to the park.

Is the Universal Studios Hollywood Express Pass worth it?

Yes, it is if the goal is to do as many rides as possible and you don’t like waiting in line. That said, it’s an expensive add-on so you’ll have to see if it fits within your group’s budget.

Is the Super Nintendo World Early Access Ticket worth it?

When going during the high season of Universal Studios Hollywood, you definitely want to buy the early access ticket so you can do Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge without a significant queue, freeing your time at the park.

Is one day at Universal Studios Hollywood enough?

Yes, we’d say 1 day is totally enough to cover everything at Universal Studios Hollywood. It certainly helps to have the Express Pass to maximize your time here but you’ll be able to do most of the rides. If you want to take a slower pace and see absolutely everything, you can do it all in 2 days.

Can you bring reuseable water bottles to Universal Studios Hollywood?

Yes they are allowed, and we’d highly encourage it as well to eliminate plastic waste and to help save money. There are bottle filling stations by the washrooms and staying hydrated during your day at the park will be essential.

What you should read next

Travel Resources For Your Next Trip

If you’re in the process of planning your trip and putting together your itinerary, these are genuinely the best resources that the Going Awesome Places team stands by 100%.

Flights: Of all the booking search engines, Skyscanner is the most helpful and easy to use thanks to their Everywhere feature.

Car Rental: If you’re looking to save money, these car rental coupon codes will be a true game-changer. Otherwise, DiscoverCars and RentalCars are great places to start.

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Airport Parking: You’ll need a spot to leave your car at the airport so why not book a spot at a discount. Use code AWESOME7 to get at least $5 off at Airport Parking Reservations or Park Sleep Fly packages.

Data: We’ve been a huge fan of wifi hotspot devices like PokeFi because their rates are so good and you can use it globally but recently, we’ve really loved using eSIMs. The best one is Airalo. Save money by getting region-specific eSIMs and use referral code WILLIA9500 to get $3 USD credit on your first purchase. Ubigi is another one that we’ve had success with where they uniquely offer 5G coverage. Use code AWESOME10 to save 10% on your first order.

Hotels: Our go-to is Booking.com because they have the best inventory of properties including hotels and B&Bs plus they have their Genius tier discounts. The exception is Asia where Agoda always has the best prices. TripAdvisor is also useful for reviews and bookings.

Vacation Rentals: Your first instinct will be to check Airbnb but we always recommend checking VRBO as well if you’re looking for a vacation rental.

Travel Insurance: Learn how to buy the best travel insurance for you. This isn’t something you want to travel without.

  • Insured Nomads – Popular insurance provider for frequent travelers and comes with great coverage and special perks.
  • RATESDOTCA – Search engine Canadians looking for the cheapest insurance including multi-trip annual policies.
  • SafetyWing – A perfect fit for long-term nomads.
  • Medjet – Global air medical transportation.
  • InsureMyTrip – Best for seniors, families, and those with pre-existing conditions.

If you need more help planning your trip, make sure to check out our Travel Toolbox where we highlight all of the gear, resources, and tools we use when traveling.



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