This post is all about helping you plan a trip Universal Studios Hollywood! I have been an annual pass holder for several years and really enjoy visiting the park. In addition to all of the fun attractions and shows that you can experience year-round Universal does have good seasonal activities too. While I may be too much of a chicken to go a lot of people enjoy Halloween Horror Nights. You can also check out Grinchmas in December and Lunar New Year in February. I hope that this post filled with all of my Universal Studios Hollywood tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your visit.
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I want to focus primarily on things about this theme park that I have not written about before. My post on How to Save Money at Universal Studios Hollywood will give you information on how to save on tickets, front of the line passes, parking, as well as food.
Hotels Near Universal Studios Hollywood
If you are looking for a hotel on the same side of town as the park I have a couple of recommendations for you.
Hilton Universal City
This hotel is your best chance to see into the park from your room. It is rated a 4 out of 5 on Trip Advisor. This is can be an expensive place to stay however, the reviews make me think that it is worth the money. Especially if you’re going to be spending time at the park. It is a 5-minute walk to the park or you can take the trolley.
Sheraton Universal Hotel
The reviews for the Sheraton do not seem to be as good as the ones for the Hilton. However, it is in the same area so if being able to walk to the park is important to you this might be a place to consider staying.
If you want a cute hotel with a lower price tag The Tangerine in Burbank is a good option. It is 2.3 miles from the park while also being close to some great attractions like the Warner Bros Studio Tour. The Tangerine is rated 4.5 out of 5 and an extra perk is complimentary pastries from Porto’s. That is a Cuban bakery that is incredible!
Where to Eat Breakfast
There are a few things to consider about breakfast. If the park opens at 10 am you might want to eat before. My breakfast recommendations outside of the park and city walk are Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank and Aroma in Studio City.
For days when the park opens early or when you want a later breakfast, both the CityWalk and the park have some options. I am not a big breakfast eater so I am happy to stop by Vodoo Donuts and/or Starbucks at the city walk. Jamba Juice, Cinnabon, Sparky’s Mini Donuts, The Crepe Cafe and Subway are options for breakfast as well. Please note that some spots like Cinnabon don’t open until 11 am.
Inside the park, you can stop by Starbucks, Lard Lad Donuts, Cletus’s Chicken Shack, The French Street Bistro, and The Three Broomsticks. At Cletus’s Chicken Shack you can get chicken & waffles. Inside The French Street Bistro, you’ll find coffee and pastries. The Three Broomsticks has big meals which you could easily share. You can order an American Breakfast with eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and a croissant. Or you can order a Traditional English Breakfast. This choice comes with eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, baked beans, mushrooms, and potatoes, with a croissant and black pudding.
At Lard Lad Donuts you’ll find donuts as big as your face. I personally like to get the Simpsons pink donut as a midday snack later in the afternoon and take what I don’t eat home. Don’t wait too long to get a donut as they do tend to sell out. These donuts are ginormous so you could be carrying it around all day.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to check the park hours well in advance of your visit. You will need to manage your time much more carefully on a day with shortened hours. I have been guilty of thinking the park closed at 8 pm or later only to arrive and find out that it was closing at 6 pm or even 4 pm. Make sure that you also check your ticket to look for any possible block out dates. It is the worst to get to the park and realize your ticket is not good for that particular day.
I recommend trying to go on a day when the park is staying open later. The main reason is that the Hogwarts Show can only take place after dark. It is one of the best things to see in the park. Now, it does not take place every single night so you’ll need to check the Universal Studios Hollywood website for up to date information on when the show will take place.
If you want to be at the park right when it opens I recommend trying to park as early as one hour before. That way if there is a line to park you should still have enough time to park and walk to the entrance without missing precious park time. I always try to take a picture of where I parked so that I’m not searching for a car at the end of a long day. If you go to the top floor of the parking structures you can get really great views of Burbank.
*I also recommend taking pictures of your children before your day begins. That way should they get lost you can show security exactly what they are wearing. And take a picture of the back of your ticket where the barcode is. That way should your ticket get lost you can see if Guest Relations can print a new one.
General Parking – $25 before 6 pm. $10 after 6 pm. This choice means you will park the farthest from the gate but I always pick this one so I can spend more money in the park.
Preferred Parking – $40 before 6 pm. $20 after 6 pm. This option will get you a little closer to the entrance but honestly, I do not think it is worth it unless you have someone in your party who would benefit from walking less.
Front Gate Parking – $60 before 6 pm and $30 after 6 pm. Again, only an option that I would recommend if you need to eliminate extra walking.
Valet Parking – $25 first 2 hours and $45 after 2 hours.
Once You Enter The Park
Sometimes after you go through the ticket turnstile someone will ask if they can ask you a few questions. Typically it is questions like your zip code. Now, I have never been given any kind of skip the line pass from doing this but I know friends that have gotten something. I don’t recommend asking for anything but I do suggest answering their questions. You never know who might reward you!
Celebrating a birthday? Be sure to stop by Guest Relations for a special button.
Check Out Wait Times for the Rides & Showtimes
I highly recommend downloading the Universal Studios App so that you can access important information on your phone throughout the day. The park has free wifi to help you stay connected. There are also a few time boards throughout the park with wait & showtimes.
I always encourage measuring heights at home to try and manage expectations of what rides everyone in your group will be able to go on. A lot of the rides use motion simulators so if you’re prone to motion sickness you might want to get some kind of aid to get you through the day.
If someone in your party is not tall enough for a ride ask an employee about the child switch. They will let you know where to wait with the child while everyone else waits in line and goes on the ride. When you’re done someone else will stay with the child while you and one other person get to ride with little to no wait.
39 inches (99cm) or Taller:
- Flight of the Hippogriff
Children 39-48″ (99-122cm) must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older).
40 inches (102cm) or Taller:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Transformers: The Ride-3D
- The Simpsons Ride
- Children 40-48″ (102-122cm) must be accompanied by a Supervising Companion (14 years or older
48 inches (122cm) or Taller:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Revenge of the Mummy — The Ride
Some of the rides will have a sample vehicle near the entrance so that you can see how well you will fit. Unfortunately, some of the vehicles are rather narrow so not everyone will fit. This can also work as a photo op since my of the rides move too quickly for you to be able to grab a photo in your seat.
If you get to the park at the time that it opens I recommend going straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. On a busy day, this will be one of the longest waits in the park. Other rides that I recommend doing early are Jurassic World, The Mummy, Transformers, and the Studio Tour. If you choose to ride the Studio Tour late in the day please keep in mind that due to the length of the experience the queue will close early.
My biggest recommendation would be to go to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first. While the park is less crowded this is the perfect time to take photos without having as many people in the background. After you exit the ride I would then go straight to the lower level of the studio. I would come back to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter later for food & Flight of the Hippogriff.
The lower level consists of The Mummy, Transformers, and Jurassic World. Especially on a day when it will get very hot, you will avoid a crazy wait time if you do Jurassic World as soon as possible. I always bring a poncho for this ride. If the wait time is over thirty minutes you might want to consider using the single rider line. When the wait time is short for your first time I recommend using the single rider line later in the day to ride again. After this, I would recommend that you start paying attention to the wait times and figuring out a schedule for the rest of your day.
Don’t want your stuff to get wet? No problem you can leave your stuff in the lockers at The Mummy. The same type of locker is available for Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey. While these lockers are free there is a time limit associated with them. If you go over the time limit you’ll need a credit card to open the locker.
The Studio Tour is a must-do! Please note that this ride will last for one hour so plan accordingly. The tram will take you through various backlots of the studio which I always enjoy! It tends to be a rare treat to get to go through Hill Valley from Back to The Future due to that area being used a lot for filming.
Not only do you get to see a lot of sets, but there are also fun surprises like Jaws popping out of the water and more! The King Kong experience, as well as the fast and the furious addition, make this feel like just as much of a ride as an informative tour. It can be enjoyed by all ages. Please know you will most likely get wet on this ride.
I think souvenir water bottles can be a great purchase as it is something you’ll likely continue using after your purchase. The ones like the minion bottle include a drink at the time of purchase. Refills are 0.99¢ plus tax. If you ask for water you can have it filled for free. You can also purchase the official refill cup which will cost $16.99 plus tax. Refills are free all day with that cup.
The Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Ride is really cute. This particular ride does have the option of a few ride vehicles that do not move. I typically try to get a seat in those so that I don’t feel sick after.
There is a great water play area in the Minion land. I definitely recommend bringing bathing suits or water clothes to enjoy this spot.
The Simpsons Ride is a virtual rollercoaster that takes you into the world of the popular show.
Flight of The Hippogriff is the second ride in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is the only outdoor rollercoaster in the park. It is not a long ride at all but it is enjoyable. Plus, you’ll get to walk by Hagrid’s hut in the queue.
Kung Fu Panda Theatre is where Shrek 4D used to be. Join Master Po and his friends for a thrilling adventure that includes 360 surround sound and awesome visual effects.
The Walking Dead walk-through attraction is similar to the mazes they have for Halloween Horror Nights. I hate this type of stuff so I’ve only made it through the attraction once and that took a lot of effort on my part. For most people, this attraction is barely scary so it is much more fun for them.
WaterWorld is a favorite among visitors and a must-do on your visit. If you bring a poncho with you I recommend wearing it during the show. It is a stunt and special effects water show that is a lot of fun to watch. The show is roughly 20 minutes long.
Ollivanders Wand Show is a fun experience but this is one that I only recommend if the line is short. It is the most fun if you happen to get selected to be the person who gets to test out the wands. Only one person is selected per show so it could be a big disappointment if you wait an hour and are not selected. The earlier in the morning that you do this the more likely it is that you’ll have a short wait.
Hogwarts Frog Choir is an acapella group that performs wizard songs. I have never taken the time to watch them but it is fun to hear them as I am exploring the area.
Triwizard Spirit Rally is a cute and short show that has students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.
The Hogwarts Nighttime Castle Show is one of the main highlights of the entire park. While it is a short show that only lasts around five to eight minutes it is jam-packed with entertainment. Different types of projections are shown on the Hogwarts castle and really pull you into the Harry Potter universe. There are now three different versions of the show. The original, Christmas, and the dark arts. Unfortunately, it is not offered every day so I encourage you to try and go on a day when this will be available.
Animal Actors is one of my favorite shows because I love getting to see the talented animals. This is the most family-friendly show and they always need volunteers. If you really want your child to be chosen I would recommend sitting close to the stage so that they have a better chance of being picked. When the show is over
Special Effects is a show that takes you behind the scenes and teaches you some of Hollywood’s oldest secrets. This is a show that I recommend because it is very interesting but also because it is indoors so you can get a break from the sun. The show runs for around 25 minutes.
Where to Eat at the Park
Let’s start off by talking about my recommendations for where to eat in the park.
I like to have lunch in the park but for dinner, I typically eat at the CityWalk or somewhere else in LA. If you’re tired of overpriced park food In N Out burger is not too far away.
The Bumblebee Taco Truck is the best spot for nachos. The nachos are pictured above and they are delicious! I love that the portion is big enough that it feeds both my Mom and I. The taco truck has limited hours so this is better to do for lunch as they are often closed by dinner time.
The Three Broomsticks is my go-to spot in the parks for a great meal. I love the roast chicken with potatoes and corn on the cobb but you also can’t go wrong with fish & chips. The food is incredibly tasty.
Krusty Burger is a good place for burgers and fries. Plus, they have the freestyle coke machines so you can be in control of your beverage.
For a healthier meal, I like going to the Palace Deli and Market. My favorites are sushi, salad, and fresh fruit.
Butterbeer is a must-try in the Wizarding World of Harry Poter. You can get it cold or hot. I prefer it cold but it is good hot as well. It is a very sweet drink that tastes like melted butterscotch. Pumpkin juice is another fan favorite from this part of the park though I did not like it at all. If you do like the juice and don’t care about getting the cute bottle you can get a cup of it from the Hogshead. This is a better deal than the bottled juice from the carts. Chocolate frogs are fun snacks to bring home with you.
I believe that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has the best snacks in the park. You can read more about them here.
Meet the Characters
I love character interactions from the park. You never know who you might run into or what they might say to you. Donkey has the best interactions but I love it when I’m taking a photo and someone like Frankenstein comes up to photobomb me. Some characters like The Simpsons or The Minions will always be in their own land when they are meeting fans. Other characters like Marilyn & Lucy can be found roaming near Starbucks or occasionally even down on the lower level by the studio tour. Not all of the characters will be out every day but here is a list of the ones that I have seen in the park before.
Shrek & Princess Fionna
Donkey & Puss in Boots
Scooby-Doo & Gang
Poppy & Branch from Trolls
Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Megatron
The Minions, Gru, and Girls
I suggest leaving most of your shopping for later in the day/early evening so that you are not carrying extra things with you all day. However, if you want to get something that you’ll use throughout the day I recommend making shopping a priority before you have lunch. If you don’t know what Harry Potter house you are I recommend taking a quiz before your visit so you’ll know which house to represent. My favorite purchase has been my interactive wand. Going around and casting spells is a lot of fun! Some of the park merchandise can be found in the CityWalk but not all of it so it is best to buy it in the park to make sure you get it.
If you do purchase something that you don’t want to carry around with you be sure to ask the employees about the package pickup. You can leave your merchandise and pick it up at a designated spot later in the day.
This is on my Los Angeles bucket list! The main reason that I really want to have this experience is to get a more in-depth experience in the Universal backlots. Not only do you get to see more of the backlots but your guide can help you skip the line for rides and get VIP seating at the shows. Your tour also includes complimentary parking and two meals.
New Year’s Eve is a fun celebration at the park. The rides stay open until 1 am and starting at 9 pm music, dancing and more begins! Fireworks will begin at midnight.
The Lunar New Year Celebration takes place in February. Some of the characters like Hello Kitty and The Minions will dress up in special costumes. The Kung Fu Panda characters do meet and greet as well. Themed food is available as well and they even do cultural performances.
Halloween Horror Nights are something that I have never done because being scared is not my cup of tea. So many of my friends love it though so I know that it is a really well-done event. I have been told that getting a front of the line pass is more than worth it for this experience as the average wait for a maze can be two hours.
I love going to the parks every December for Grinchmas. This is a holiday celebration that celebrates How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Meeting The Grinch is a blast because he is so sassy and fun. I also enjoy getting to meet Max, The Grinch’s dog. There are special shows, food and more!
Universal Studios CityWalk Hollywood is something that anyone can enjoy even if you are not going to the park. I have some tips for you about how to get some great deals. There are special events held here like tv show tapings or free concerts. Anyone can participate in these events. Extra tapes just outside the entrance of the park. If you are visiting around your birthday be sure to join the Jamba Juice rewards program for a free drink.
Interested in eating at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co? My family loves eating here for good food & fun. We joined the Landry’s Select Club. Join before your visit in order to have a $25 credit to use towards your meal. The club does cost $25 to join but you immediately get that back. Plus, on your birthday you’ll get an additional $25. This continues every year but you only have to pay the membership fee once.
Thank you so much for reading! I promise to keep updating this post as I continue to learn more Universal Studios Hollywood Tips and Tricks.