Did you know that in the heart of Los Angeles you can sip on Butterbeer, come face to face with terrifying dinosaurs, and have an epic journey with adorable Minions? No acting experience is required. By Carly Caramanna
Universal Studios Hollywood is a theme park like no other, connected to a working movie and television production lot that’s been around since the early 20th century. The film studio first got into attractions with a tram tour in 1964 but has since evolved and grown into a bonafide theme park with thrilling rides, live entertainment, immersive lands, and thematically pleasing (and delicious) foods.
The theme park may be compact compared to its East Coast sibling, but it makes up for its smaller stature with top-notch attractions. Unlike other parks, it offers a welcomed level of flexibility requiring minimal pre-planning for visitors, appealing to both solo travellers and families alike. The park can be accomplished in one day for those short on time but looking to get a taste of what Tinseltown’s only theme park has to offer.
Here is how you can plan your picture-perfect Universal Studios Hollywood trip
Universal Studios Hollywood ticket types and prices
The ultimate Hollywood experience is surprisingly more affordable than you may have imagined. One-day general admission begins at USD 109, with two-day general admission beginning at USD 149. Using a dynamic ticket pricing system, the cost depends on the date of your visit, with weekends and holidays tiered higher. Front gate purchases will cost significantly more, and advanced online purchases are suggested.
Universal Express offers expedited access to almost every attraction and show with ticket packages beginning at USD 189. Guided VIP experiences begin at USD 349 and offer small group expedited access to rides and complimentary refreshments.
Luckily, when you inevitably fall in love with the park, it won’t require a mortgage payment to visit again. Universal Studios Hollywood has one of the most affordable annual pass programs in the country, with the value of your park ticket able to be used towards the upgrade. Perks include free parking and discounts on food and merchandise, with the pass program starting at USD 159 for California residents and USD 199 for general guests.
Universal Studios Hollywood layout
Comprised of two different levels, the upper lot and the lower lot, Universal Studios Hollywood is one of the easiest parks to navigate for first-time visitors. Guests enter on the upper lot and a series of escalators, known as the Starway, travel a quarter mile down to the lower lot.
The upper lot is the largest, comprised of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Simpsons-inspired Springfield USA, the World-Famous Studio Tour, live shows, and more. The lower lot is home to Revenge of The Mummy — The Ride, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3-D, Jurassic World —The Ride, and several eateries and shops.
Universal Studios Hollywood Rides
Universal Studios Hollywood has a little something for everyone, from thrill junkies to young children, with attractions featuring your favourite characters, movies, and television series.
The park has experienced a period of growth over the last decade, including the milestone addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While the land is smaller than its counterpart in Florida, it brings along its greatest hits, including e-ticket attraction, Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, and the popular wand-choosing experience, Ollivanders.
The newest attraction, Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash! (exclusive to the Hollywood park), opened in 2021 and is a marvel of a dark ride seamlessly mixing industry-leading screen-based technology with animatronics. Located on the upper lot’s Manhattan-inspired streets, the colourful area immerses guests in the loved movie franchise through playful character interactions.
On the lower lot, Jurassic World — The Ride is a water-based attraction that shines as one of the biggest thrills offered with pioneering feats in audio-animatronics since its refurbishment in 2021.
The World-Famous Studio Tour is a unique 60-minute journey that includes behind-the-scenes access to working sets while intermixing themed attraction experiences, all while sitting aboard a tram. With ever-changing production schedules, no two rides on this iconic attraction are ever the same. Through the theme park’s commitment to becoming more environmentally friendly, the trams are being given an upgrade and will soon utilise all-electric vehicles.
Other rides include a family-friendly Minions attraction, a Harry Potter-themed coaster for all ages, and interactive playscapes.
The first Super Nintendo World in the United States is slated to open in 2023, bringing new attractions.
Where to Eat at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood’s dining options are quick-service, but that doesn’t mean you’ll sacrifice taste thanks to multitudes of globally inspired bites served in highly themed locations.
The popular eatery, Three Broomsticks, transports guests to the fantastical world of Harry Potter inside a dining hall straight out of the blockbuster franchise. British delicacies are the menu’s focus, with traditional dishes like fish and chips and a standout English breakfast. No meal is complete without fan-favourite Butterbeer ice cream.
The whimsically themed Super Silly Fun Land houses a Minions-themed cafe with approachable eats, like a homestyle grilled cheese and tomato soup. In Springfield, beloved eateries from The Simpsons come to life, including Krusty Burger and Lard Lad (serving up giant pink doughnuts). On the lower lot, Jurassic Café offers unique bites, like slow-roasted mojo pork, and it is steps away from Isla Nu-Bar, a tiki outpost pouring tropical cocktails.
For those looking to imbibe during their park visit, there’s no shortage of highly themed bars, including Moe’s Tavern, Hog’s Head in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Mulligan’s Irish Pub.
Those seeking a caffeine fix should avoid Starbucks and head straight to the French Street Bistro, a charming hidden gem with coffee drinks, breakfast, and snacks served throughout the day.
Universal CityWalk Hollywood
The property’s dining and entertainment district, CityWalk, is adjacent to the theme park, where you can find the destination’s table-service dining options. NBC Sports Bar & Grill is your go-to spot for sporting events and offers surprisingly excellent pub food, while Antojitos Cocina Mexicano has a wonderful patio and sprawling bar with Mexican eats and handcrafted cocktails. For casual options, the recently opened Chick Chick Chicken dishes out authentic Nashville-style hot chicken while the legendary Pink’s Hot Dogs has an easy-to-access outpost of their iconic eatery.
No park ticket is required to visit CityWalk.
When to visit Universal Studios Hollywood
Given its location in sunny Southern California, visitors can enjoy pleasant weather almost year-round. Weekdays between holiday seasons are the best time to visit for shorter lines at attractions and restaurants.
Visits during the theme park’s two annual events, Halloween Horror Nights and Grinchmas tend to be the most crowded. Halloween Horror Nights, a separately ticketed event, is the country’s leading haunt event where Universal’s soundstages are transformed into frightening walk-through experiences themed to the biggest horror franchises. Grinchmas, included with general theme park admission, sees gleeful holiday-inspired upgrades. Universal Express proves to be invaluable during these times.
How to get there and where to stay near Universal Studios
Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the heart of Los Angeles, approximately 20 minutes from nearby Hollywood Burbank Airport and 40 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport.
Daily parking rates for theme park visitors begin at USD 30 if entering the lot before 5 pm. For those visiting a full-service restaurant at CityWalk, valet parking is available for up to 2.5 hours for USD 10.
Unlike Orlando’s version, they do not have on-site, Universal-operated hotels, but hotel partners. Hilton Universal City & Sheraton Universal Hotel are located within walking distance of the park, with guests receiving perks like complimentary shuttles and discounted ticket packages.
Entertainment at the theme park
It’s of no surprise that entertainment is a cornerstone of the theme park, including some of the most impressive displays of free-roaming characters that interact with guests, like Beetlejuice, Dracula, and Lucille Ball.
The theme park’s live shows also shine, like “Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular.” Inspired by the cult-favourite film, the stunt show is celebrating over 25 years and uses actual pieces from the movie’s sets along with large-scale pyrotechnics and captivating live actors. Other shows include the hilarious Universal’s Animal Actors featuring real-life, Hollywood-trained pets.
Their nighttime offerings may be more scaled back than other parks, but the Harry Potter-themed evening spectacular is worth staying for. “Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle” combines music, lights, and projections all set to the stunning backdrop of the towering school of wizardry.
Universal Studios Hollywood planning tips
Download the official app, where you can quickly access the most up-to-date wait times, showtimes, maps, and more.
Many guests enter and begin their day at the upper lot’s attractions. Instead, work backwards by beginning at the lower lot to possibly relieve wait times.
The World-Famous Studio Tour typically embarks on its last ride of the day over an hour before park closing, so it is best to plan ahead for this experience.
This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood
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