On January 12th, 2022 – my family and I had the opportunity to visit the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park and Attractions. It was my first time going to the one in Hollywood, having only been to the one in Orlando. My children have not been to the Hollywood one either, so it was kind of a first-time experience for us all. If you’ve been reading other posts about our recent travel, this vacation included a lot of firsts.
Booking our Adventure
We booked our Universal Studios Hollywood experience through their website more than a month in advance of our trip. Having booked Disneyland Tickets and Reservations, I knew that it would be best to have everything we needed prior to arriving in California, so it was the best choice for my family.
What is the Universal Express Pass?
The Express Pass is a Universal Studios pass that is offered and available for purchase with a paid theme park ticket. At the current time as well as when we purchased our tickets, the 1-Day Universal Express ticket was $189.00 per person. Since my sons are all over the age of 12 – they paid a full fare.
The Universal Express Pass includes the following:
- One-Time express access to each ride, attraction, and seated show (this is not for every attraction, ride and show and you’ll be told this as you check-in)
- 1 Day General Admission to the Park (You select the date at checkout and this is only valid for the selected date)
The standard 1-Day General Admission is about $109 (depending on the time of year) so you do pay almost twice the amount with Express, but since we only had one day at Universal, my husband and I wanted to ensure that we were able to accomplish all the things we had planned. Our goal was to get in as many rides as we could so the boys would have a great experience.
What kinds of attractions can we expect?
Like with other theme parks, Universal Studios Hollywood had all kinds of things for all ages. Since we took on the park during January and on a Wednesday, I think that really helped with the number of people that were visiting. While it was busy – it was still not as busy as we had anticipated and for the most part, we were able to get on the rides more than once with minimal wait times.
Food lines were probably the longest wait and many different food vendors were not open since we started our day at the park quite early.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
One of our highlights most definitely had to be the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’m a huge huge Potterhead and have been looking forward to visiting Hogwarts and exploring all the things the space had to offer. Of course, we tried Butterbeer, but outside of that we didn’t really stop and grab any food.
Three Broomsticks was not open while we were there since we stopped at the Wizarding World first upon arrival at the park. The Magic Neep Cart was also not open till well after we left and came back in the afternoon, so we didn’t stop there either. Hog’s Head offered Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer but they were located within Three Broomsticks and we grabbed Butterbeer from a cart located outside. I would have loved to had tried Three Broomsticks, especially since I’m a huge fan of Turkey Legs and Shepherd’s Pie, but unfortunately – we didn’t wait around for them to open.
We rode on the Happy Potter and the Forbidden Journey – TWICE! It was definitely fun and worth it. Keep in mind that it has much more movement throughout the ride than I expected, but I loved it and the boys did as well. You’ll be given a locker that you set with your fingerprint to hold your things. Make sure you utilize that because little things can easily get lost if not locked up.
We also rode the Flight of the Hippogriff – which the boys enjoyed tremendously. They rode it five times before we left the park and while it’s a smaller scale rollercoaster, I think it was fun enough for even a teen to really enjoy.
We couldn’t go to Universal Studios Hollywood without riding on Jurassic World. The boys enjoyed it and while we did get pretty soaked on the ride, it was a great thrill and definitely fun! Of course – we also had to do the Studio Tour. I did it in Orlando and loved it so I wanted to boys to experience the same kind of fun. They definitely enjoyed it and we had a blast. Of course, we had to take a look at all the awesome Dinosaur things (including Raptors) while in the Lower Lot. Make sure to stop and check out all the different stores, and more in that section, because it can be easy to just leave without a second thought of it.
Visit the Kwik-E-Mart and the gang from the Simpsons or check out Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Another fun thing to do is the DreamWorks Theatre featuring Kung Fu Panda. That particular attraction is fun for the whole family because you’re sitting in a theatre-style setting and experiencing everything in a comfy (but moving) seat.
Did we enjoy ourselves?
Sharing this experience with my family was Amazing! Honestly, we didn’t expect the park to be so easy going on that day – but we are thankful since we weren’t rushing. The park opened at 10 am and closed at 5:30 pm so we truly didn’t have as much time there as we would have liked. After the park closed to walked over to CityWalk and grabbed a few yummies like Voodoo Donut.
We grabbed some giant pretzels while out and about through the park and also had a turkey leg from a vendor. I love Turkey Legs, but as much as I did – honestly, Universal’s does not compare to Disney’s. If you are expecting a turkey leg the size of what you get at Disney – you’ll be disappointed. We noticed it was significantly smaller – but still pretty good.
Is Universal Express Worth It?
If you’ve never been to Universal Studios Hollywood before or only have a short time to spend there – YES, I think it is. While it was not busy on the day we went, I definitely can see how it can be crazy during peak times of the year. Quick note – January is really a nice time to go and cool enough to not feel so overwhelmingly hot. Since we only had about 6 hours or so at the park that day – even if the lines were not too bad, we definitely didn’t want to miss out on a thing. If you have a short time to visit and a family, definitely get Express. Since we traveled all the way from Hawaii, I wanted to make sure we could make use of our time there and I wanted to boys to experience all the attractions.
Does Express Pass include Photos?
Unfortunately – the Express Pass does not include photos. While photos were taken of us on some rides, we were able to purchase a digital package (which cost $69). That cost is for one day only and we only had a total of 5 images. I remember visiting Orlando years ago and it was about $20 per image. So I think you do save with the day pass, but it’s still a hefty cost.
NOTE: The regulations are a bit different between Universal and Disneyland since Universal Studios is a part of LA County. All persons 5+ must be prepared to show proof of full FDA or WHO-approved COVID-19 Vaccination (a full 14 days after final dose was administered) or negative test taken within 24 hours. Regardless of Vaccination status or negative test results, face coverings are required to be worn at all times, both indoors and outdoors when visiting the theme park. The same goes for Universal CityWalk. We removed our mask quickly to take photos and while eating, but always wore a mask throughout the park on our day of visit.
Overall – like with any theme park no matter where you go, there will be a ton of walking, long lines and you’ll get your occasional unhappy person. But, this was a first-time experience for my twins Luke and Isaiah and also for Kevin Ka’eo who had gone to Orlando as a baby and really would not have remembered. Since they are old enough to experience these things, it made it so much more memorable. We definitely had a blast and it’s a place we hope to visit again soon.
A few tips for those planning a visit:
- Make sure you’re dressed comfortably and have comfortable shoes or footwear that you can walk in all day.
- Bring a small water bottle with you because it’s best to stay hydrated. Many vendors were not available or open when we first entered the park, so it’s best to be prepared.
- Download the Universal Studios App so you can track your parking location, view dining options and so much more. You don’t get a map when you enter the park. So the app will be your map for directions to restrooms, dining, etc.
- If you are parking – pay the extra fee for front gate or premium parking. Normal parking is $30. And after a long day of walking, it sucks to walk back to the car with tired kiddos. We paid for Front Gate Parking which was $65. We literally were parked right outside the front gate. When we were ready to leave, we were seconds away from the car. It’s so worth it in my opinion. While we don’t have little travelers, as a mom who traveled with toddlers, I know how much of a challenge it can be after a long day. Pay for the parking, it’s definitely worth it.
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