Universal Studios Hollywood: 7 Must-Know Tips for First-Timers

I love all things related to movie-making, so a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood was a must while we were in Los Angeles. Of course, I scoured the web for must-know tips ahead of our visit, but then I learned a few of my own while in the park that I wanted to pass along to you. So here you go, my seven best tips for Universal Studios Hollywood first-timers. Enjoy.

1. You Really Don’t Need to Get There Early

Every post I read before going to Universal Studios Hollywood said to get there early, like before the official open time. However, I will tell you that we entered the park at 11 am, left at 8 pm, and still did everything we wanted to do. If I were to do it again, I probably would have gotten there at noon, or even just after lunch, in order to catch The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle.

By 8 pm, we’d seen all the shows and ridden all the rides we wanted to ride. The first light show didn’t start until 9:30 pm and it was going to be tough to rally my kids to wait for at least another 90 minutes. So we got an ice cream on CityWalk and exited the park.

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2. An Upgrade to Universal Express is a Sanity Saver

The above advice about not needing to arrive at the park early does come with one caveat. We upgraded our tickets to Universal Express, which allows one-time express access to every ride and show at Universal Studios Hollywood. That’s a huge time saver considering some rides, like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, can have wait times that exceed an hour.

Unfortunately, this front-of-the-line access doesn’t come cheap. For example, the online price for a Saturday for a regular ticket is $119. A Universal Express ticket for the same day costs $229. So weigh the costs vs. benefits, and not just the financial benefits.

Shorter lines did a lot to save my sanity, especially when alone with three kids in the park. Whining was definitely at a minimum. Also, since we were only in the park for one day, I was glad we were able to see and do all we wanted to do in that limited time span thanks to Universal Express.

3. The Free Mobile App is a Must

Two other bits of advice I read time and again upon deciding to take the kids to Universal Studios Hollywood were to have a plan and get the mobile app. Okay, I had no plan and made out just fine (see above), but I would highly recommend the free app for the ride wait times alone.

The app lists the attractions in order of wait times from shortest to longest, so it’s easy to see at-a-glance where to go next, particularly if you don’t want to wait a long time for a ride. The app also allows you to set a wait time alert to automatically be notified when the wait reaches a number of minutes of your choice (e.g., 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.).

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4. You Don’t Want to Skip the Studio Tour

I’ve been to both Universal Studios Florida and now Universal Studios Hollywood. Both have a lot of fun rides and shows, but the really cool thing about Universal Studios Hollywood is that it’s built on an actual working studio lot. As in, real movies and television shows are filmed here.

While all of the television shows are filmed inside big sound stages, it was cool on its own to ride the tram across the back lot by Stage 22 and know that America’s Got Talent is filmed inside. Other shows filmed there include The Good Place, The Voice, and Superstore. We also had to slow and be quiet past a “hot set” where a movie was being filmed. Such a fun experience.

5. Get a Fun, Signature Food Treat

In order to make a day at Universal Studios Hollywood a real experience, you’ve got to order a special treat that can only be found at the park. You can get hot dogs or chicken nuggets anywhere, but only at Universal can you get The Big Pink, a massive Simpsons-sized pink frosted donut that will feed four and is absolutely delicious.

And, of course, there’s Butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter inside the park. Previously, only the drink was available, but starting in late-June, Butterbeer ice cream was made available to guests. Yumm-o.

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6. Make Time for Kiddie Play Areas

If you’re exploring Universal Studios Hollywood with small children, the play areas are a must, especially if you’ve just waited in a long line for a must-do ride. The Dino Play area in the Lower Lot and Super Silly Fun Land in the Upper Lot are worth a stop for kids with energy to burn. The carnival games are fun too.

There’s a splashy play area with small dumping water buckets and water sprays at Super Silly Fun Land, so if you plan to pay a visit, it’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes for your kids. You’ll need them if you plan to see the WaterWorld action show too.

7. Speaking of Water, See the Shows 

Okay, first of all, nearly every ride at Universal Studios Hollywood finds a way to get you wet, whether as a giant Maggie’s slobber on The Simpsons Ride or by way of a log flume on Jurassic Park: The Ride. However, if you’re looking to get doused with a bucket (or more) of water, look to the WaterWorld action show. Sit in the Soak Zone and you’ll definitely need a clothing change.

The other shows are really cool too and are worth your time, if only for a sit in the shade for 25 minutes. Beyond WaterWorld, the other two shows are Universal’s Animal Actors, a fun show featuring dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, even a guinea pig (all are working actors!) and Special Effects Show, which demonstrates how different effects are done in movies. Really fun too.

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We had an awesome time at Universal Studios Hollywood. Sure, I would have liked to see The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, but now we have a reason to come back the next time we’re on the west coast. What are your best tips for visiting this theme park?

Disclaimer: My kids and I were guests of Universal Studios Hollywood while in Los Angeles. However, I was not paid for this article and all opinions here are my own.