Updated 12/2/18. Universal Studios Hollywood is a fantastic addition to your Southern California vacation.
This theme park has grown dramatically over recent years and is now a can’t miss destination with the addition of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Universal Studios Hollywood is the perfect complement to your Disneyland visit as it brings to life the film making aspect of Southern California–which has been dubbed the movie making capital of the world!
Guests are given the opportunity to enter the worlds of their favorite films as they experience themed attractions, spectacular live entertainment, and tours showcasing actual movie sets. A stop at Universal Studios Hollywood can make a great addition to your Disneyland or Southern California vacation, and we’ve made a Universal Studios Hollywood 2018 guide on just how to make it happen!
Below in our Universal Studios Hollywood tips and tricks 2018 guide we cover all of the need to know information on visiting this Los Angeles theme parks…
What To Do at Universal Studios Hollywood 2018
Universal Studios Hollywood offers a vast array of experiences that will provide fun for the entire family! People of all ages will discover something to their liking whether they’re a fan of Harry Potter or Psycho, Despicable Me or The Walking Dead. There’s something for everyone at Universal Studios Hollywood!
Here are some of the top things to do at Universal Studios Hollywood:
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter allows guests to step directly into the world of Harry Potter created by JK Rowling. Find the perfect wand at Ollivanders, make your way through the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, take a ride on Flight of the Hippogriff, and then sip a Butterbeer to wind down. The main attraction in the Wizarding World is the massive Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction which features incredible sets and technology that will have you feeling like you are flying on a broom with Harry Potter and his friends. From the most avid fan to the average house elf, there is something here for everyone.
- Ride An Attraction: What would a theme park be without amazing attractions? Universal has a wide variety. Some fan favorites include: Transformers: The Ride-3D, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride, The Simpsons Ride, and Jurassic Park — The Ride. If you are traveling with smaller children, you may wish to view a video of the attraction online before your visit to see if it is suitable for them.
- See A Show: For a studio famous for making movies driven by special effects, the shows and performances at Universal Hollywood Studios have to be big. There are plenty of experiences waiting for you to sink your teeth into, and are covered in more depth in a later section of our 2018 Universal Studios Hollywood guide.
- Tour the Working Backlot: Universal Studios Hollywood first started out as a Tram Tour of the working Universal Studios backlot. Today, this tour is still running strong but has evolved quite a bit. Throughout the tour you will still see working sets and go behind the scenes, but you will also experience new 4D attractions from King Kong and The Fast and the Furious.
- Take A Really Special Tour: In addition to the world famous Studio Tour, Universal Studios Hollywood also offers a VIP Experience that gives guests the opportunity to see areas of the studio not open to the general public. For a surprisingly affordable price for what is included, the tour also enables you to skip the line and see shows from the best seats reserved just for you! You can get discount tickets on this special VIP tour here. I’ll share more info on this in the next section of our Universal Studios Hollywood guide.
Checkout the top 8 best rides at Universal Studios Hollywood and plan your vacation!
Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets
We all want to save money and be more efficient with our time, and one of my biggest Universal Studios tips for saving money and experiencing more is to purchase your tickets in advance.
Purchasing your tickets before you arrive eliminates the time you would’ve spent in line at the ticket booth and gets you into the park quicker. Another benefit to advanced ticket orders is the opportunity to save money. We partner with Universal Studio’s top travel partner to offer discounts on tickets exclusively for our readers.
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Universal Studios Hollywood also offers a unique VIP Experience that is completely worth the cost! Not only with you get to cut lines for all of the fantastic rides throughout Universal Studios Hollywood, but you’ll get exclusive VIP perks only available with this experience.
You’ll be greeted in a private lounge upon arrival with a light breakfast, receive complimentary valet parking, a tour of the studio backlot with your own tour guide both on foot and on a private tram, and enjoy a fantastic lunch prepared by the Universal Studios Hollywood executive chefs. All of this for only $329 per person!
If you are still worried about missing out on some of the opportunities the park has to offer but don’t want to try the VIP Exprience, you may wish to consider Universal’s version of Disneyland’s FastPass, the Universal Express Pass. Formally referred to as the Front of the Line Pass, the Universal Express Pass gives guests the privilege of skipping lines, and receiving priority seating to seated shows. Unlike Disneyland’s FastPass system and new Disneyland MaxPass paid FastPass system, the Universal Express pass comes at an additional price and automatically lets you cut to the front of each ride once with the pass during your visit.
You can purchase a discounted Universal Express pass through our travel partner here. That price is more than $40 less than the price you would be charged at the gate of Universal Studios Hollywood.
I recommend the Universal Studios Hollywood Universal Express pass to anyone that is visiting on a weekend, during Summer, or during the busy Spring Break season. On a regular weekday visit, this pass is likely not necessary. However, you can purchase a Universal Express pass the day off if the park proves to be more crowded than you expected and is unbearable.
Universal Studios Hollywood Touring Plan
While you can experience the attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood in any order and still have a fantastic time, I would recommend following the below plan in order to experience more during your visit.
Upon arrival I would suggest that you use this Universal Studios Hollywood touring plan to save a lot of time:
- If you plan on seeing the Ollivander’s Wand Shop show, go here first! This is a show where the “wand chooses” the wizard and then gives you an opportunity to purchase a wand. It is cool to see, but the long lines mean that you should really only see the show if you are a big Harry Potter fan.
- Next ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction. This is the major ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Later on you can ride using the Single Rider Queue which allows you to jump much of the line, but for the first time you should walk through the regular line so that you can see all of the details of Hogwarts castle.
- Next ride Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem if you are interested in this 4-D type attraction and enjoyed the Despicable Me films. Skip this ride if the wait time is over 30 minutes.
- If you are a fan of The Simpsons you will likely enjoy the motion simulator The Simpsons Ride. Be aware that if you are prone to motion sickness you will want to skip this one!
- After completing these three attractions, hop on the Starway (the long set of escalators) and head down to the lower lot. Here you’ll find two attractions that are all worth enjoying.
- Ride in the order of Transformers: The Ride 3D and Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride.
- Next, checkout out one of our recommendations from below for the best food at Universal Studios Hollywood.
- After lunch it’s a great time to take in a show! My favorite is Waterworld which is back up in the front of the park.
- Now, what you’ve all been waiting for! The World Famous Universal Studios Hollywood Tram Tour. Perfect for the entire family, the lines usually decrease later into the afternoon. Each tour is unique and you will have a fantastic time experiencing this quintessential element of Universal Studios Hollywood. Also, be sure to use the restroom before boarding as the ride is a long one.
- To end your day (or interspersed throughout), enjoy the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction one more time using the Single Rider line.
There are a handful of other attractions that I didn’t mention here and new attractions that will open in 2018 at Universal Studios Hollywood. This is just a basic framework that will allow you to experience more during your day.
Universal Studios Hollywood 2018 Single Rider Tips
Using the Universal Studios Hollywood Single Rider line will improve your experience and allow you to get on attractions faster. You will be split up from your party, but you’ll get to experience many more rides..
The attractions that offer Single Rider at Universal Studios Hollywood are:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Revenge of the Mummy — The Ride
- Transformers: The Ride 3D
How Much Time to Spend at Universal Studios Hollywood
While we always recommend more than a single day in a Disneyland vacation, Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t require the same time commitment to fit in everything the theme park has to offer.
For a vast majority of visitors, one day in Universal Studios Hollywood should be sufficient if you use your time well. Their official website even confirms this, making a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood a perfect addition to any Disneyland or Southern California vacation.
Some die-hard Harry Potter fans may want to spend more time just to explore all of the fantastic details in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Some “Potterheads” elect to spend an entire day in Hogsmeade, then another whole day visiting the rest of the park. It’s still usually safe to say that even the biggest of Harry Potter fans should be able to fit in both Hogsmeade and the rest of the park in a single day.
Universal Studios Hollywood Crowd Calendar 2018
While there are some, not many guests travel to Southern California for the sole reason of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood. Many, like you most likely, are adding it onto the rest of their existing trip. The benefit to this being that if you know the right time to visit Disneyland, it’s safe to say that you also know a great time to visit Universal (you can see our when to visit Disneyland 2018 crowd guide here.)
In short, the park is least crowded Labor Day through the Thanksgiving Holiday when students are in school, specifically:
- Labor Day through Thanksgiving, except avoiding weekends
- Late January through February
- Late April unless Easter falls at that time
Where to Stay at Universal Studios Hollywood
There are a number of options regarding your hotels near Universal Studios Hollywood.
Usually I would suggest that if you are coming to visit the park as part of your Disneyland vacation that you keep your hotel in Anaheim rather than transferring somewhere to stay up by Universal Studios Hollywood. You can see all of my favorite Disneyland hotels on our best hotels near Disneyland guide here.
In my opinion the best hotel near Universal Studios Hollywood is The Garland. This old Hollywood hotel has been beautifully renovated with fantastic rooms, a nice pool, and fabulous restaurant. During our recent stay we ate dinner in the restaurant two nights in a row. The hotel also has a shuttle directly to Universal Studios Hollywood. You can see more information and info on discounts here.
Driving to Universal Studios Hollywood
If you’re staying near Disneyland (mainly in Orange County), you’ll most likely want to rent a car and drive to Universal Studios Hollywood or take an Uber.
You can see information on discount car rental, Uber, and transportation services here.
There is also a specific shuttle from the Anaheim Area up to Universal Studios Hollywood that runs daily. You can see more information on this shuttle and purchase discount tickets here.
Speaking of time, it will take some to get to Universal Studios Hollywood when driving from the Disneyland Resort. Driving from Orange County to Universal Studios Hollywood should take between 45 minutes and 2 hours depending on the time of day and traffic. This is a key tip in our guide to Universal Studios Hollywood–well really any guide to theme parks–be generous with the amount of time you allocate to travel so that you can still arrive before the park opening.
One of my top Universal Studios Hollywood tips is to arrive to the park early! Arriving before the park opens ready to pounce immediately when they open the gates can result in some of the shortest attraction wait times of the entire day!
Shows and Entertainment at Universal Studios Hollywood 2018
One of my favorite parts of any visit to Universal Studios Hollywood are the fantastic stage shows throughout the theme park.
If you are interested in watching the different shows, it is important to view the park’s schedule and plan accordingly. Most entertainment occurs only at certain times, though rides run continuously.
If you are set on seeing a performance, the rest of your day should be planned around that experiences. The Universal Studios Hollywood publishes their entertainment schedule on both their app and website. These shows usually start in the later part of morning, so you should have time to fit in some attractions before even the earliest performances start.
Some of the highlighted shows and experiences at Universal Studios Hollywood are:
- Studio Tour: One of the flagship experiences of Universal Studios Hollywood is the famous Studio Tour! Guests are given the opportunity to see the inner workings of a real Hollywood studio! View authentic sets, incredible effects, and possibly even a celebrity or two from your favorite films in this 60-minute tour narrated by the voice of Jimmy Fallon. From Fast & Furious, to War of the Worlds, and even to King Kong, the Studio Tour has it all.
- Water World: This stunning spectacular of stunts, pyrotechnics, and an incredible plane crash you need to see to believe is certain to leave your jaw dropped. This 20-minute experience features gigantic fireballs reaching upwards of 50 feet, and professional stunt-performing jet skiers. This is classified as a Universal Studios MUST-SEE.
- Harry Potter Ollivanders Wand Shop: Anyone that knows their Hogwarts House can also tell you that the wand chooses the wizard. That is exactly what happens at Ollivanders Wand Shop. View, or participate in, this interactive demonstration. Resin wands can be purchased as souvenirs, as well as interactive wands that can be used in various locations around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to unlock even more magic. This show runs continuously and requires that you wait in line outside of the wand shop.
- Special Effects Show: An inside, and hands-on, look at special effects from your favorite Hollywood Blockbusters. This show can be described as a live-action version of the bonus features you might find on your favorite DVD. Through hair-raising on-stage combat and thrilling pyrotechnics, this 25-minute presentation is surely one you won’t want to miss.
Where to Eat at Universal Studios Hollywood
In recent years Universal Studios Hollywood has expanded their food offerings to go beyond the more traditional theme park food fare.
Some of my favorite Universal Studios Hollywood food offerings are:
Inside the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter you will find a wide variety of food and drink that any Potter fan would die for. Dive into the incredible Honeydukes Sweet Shop for a wide variety of Harry Potter inspired sweets including the every-flavor jelly beans with weird flavors ranging from boogers to blueberry. You will also find the Three Broomsticks with a wide variety of old English dishes like Bangers and Mash. This is also my favorite place to sit down for a break inside of the Wizarding World. I couldn’t talk about food in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without mentioning the incredible Butter Beer! This drink made famous by the book series has a incredible caramel frothy taste that you can try in a frozen, regular, or warm variety. If you do decide to purchase this drink, go inside the Three Broomsticks to the Hog’s Head bar where there is a much shorter line for the drink than there is at the stand in the middle of the land.
Moving on, the Simpson’s Springfield area has a wide variety of the foods from the popular animated TV show. This area has a wide variety of foods in the eateries each taken from the television show. These locations include Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlour, Luigi’s Pizza, and Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck. For any fan of the show, this is a can’t miss area!
If you are looking for some simpler options I would recommend either the Starbucks that is located right as you are entering the theme park or the commissary type Studio Cafe restaurant in the lower lot which has lots of good sandwich options and some very good desserts. There is also a Ben and Jerry’s location for anyone who wants an easy ice cream choice at Universal Studios (you can see all of my favorite Disneyland ice creams here).
There are also tons of great dining options at the Universal CityWalk which is located right outside of the front gate of the theme park. My must see in Universal CityWalk is the Food Channel-famous Voodoo Donuts which opened its first location in Portland, Oregon. I highly recommend checking out this shop to see their crazy decor even if you are not in the mood for one of their tantalizing sweets.
Universal Studios Hollywood Seasonal Events
In recent years Universal Studios Hollywood has been expanding their offerings around the various holidays throughout the year. I am sure that we will only see further special events at Universal Studios Hollywood during 2018.
The trademark event of the year is the Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights. These events run from the middle of September through the first week of November. This is an event geared towards adults looking for terrifying mazes and performances inspired by the most frightening of films and television shows. This is a separately ticketed event and is probably the only event of the year you’ll need to plan your itinerary around if you choose to visit.
Universal Studios recently launched Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which will run from the end of November through the beginning of January. Hogsmeade is transformed when the holidays come to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! The streets become even more festive with decorations and Hogwarts lights up with a nighttime spectacular as music sounds and projections dance across the surface of the castle. If you love the nighttime shows at any of the Disney parks, you’ll sure enjoy this!
The park also hosts the more irreverent Grinchmas on select dates in December based on the movie inspired by the classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss. Help decorate the Whoville Christmas Tree before the unique 60-foot giant is lit up before your very eyes. Then join the Grinch himself for a photo and meet and greet. There is also a very cute show with some of the Whos from Whoville featuring holiday dancers.
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Check out our other top guides to planning your Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood trips! You’ll find tips and tricks on how to save money and experience more.
- Disneyland MaxPass Tips and Tricks Guide
- Save Money on Disneyland Tickets 2018
- Universal Studios Hollywood Discount Cheap Tickets
- Best Hotels Near Disneyland
- Save Money on Discount Disney World Tickets
- How to Get to Disneyland Airports
- How to Guide to Disneyland Stroller Rentals
Thank you for joining us to learn more about how to incorporate Universal Studios Hollywood into your Disneyland vacation.