Insider Hacks for Harry Potter 2020

Universal Studios Tips & Hacks: These parking tips and, where to put your bags, what to wear and how busy it is will help you learn the secret to a GREAT day with the stars!

Universal Studios Tips & tricks 2018

Universal Studios theme park can be daunting when you visit, especially with children.  These Universal Studios Hollywood Tips are specific to THAT park and will give you a touring plan to really enjoy the day!

This includes tips that we went in 2016 and 2018 with kids from ages 7 to 18.

Be sure to also read more about things to do with kids around Hollywood.

Universal Studios Hollywood.

Now, you think “yay, that is fun!”

But if you’re my 12-year-old son you think, “OMG, I WILL GET TO BE HARRY POTTER!!!!!”

It really was my 12-year-old’s dream come true!

Tips to Universal Studios Hollywood

FYI, this is part of my Disneyland Tips series. Although Universal is more about the dinosaur than the mouse, many people combine the two! And, if you’re looking to do the trifecta, I have a post on Knotts Berry Too!

Universal Studios Hollywood Tips – Harry Potter

I have a whole post JUST about that area (this post was getting too long and I thought your phone may explode reading it )– be sure to check it out — Harry Potter World Hollywood

wizarding world Harry Pottter Universal Studios Hollywood

Suffice it to say, you will want a wand, Butterbeer and motion sickness remedies for the Forbidden Journey ride. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, DO NOT miss that post!

Do not buy at the gate — Discount Tickets

I would 100% recommend searching for discount tickets before you go.  You can always save a TON vs the gate prices! Buying at the gate is always one of my biggest mistakes.

I was given some passes for our days at Universal Studios, but I did buy an extra pass online through the Universal website.

However, I then saw that Get Away Today offers awesome discount tickets through them.  They often include a free day (which would be awesome!).  OR, you can get them in combination with a Disney ticket — so be sure to check out your options while on their site.

Universal Studios Hollywood Hacks

However, if you want to buy it with the “express passes” where you get to skip the long lines you can only get that through their website.  AND, you save $10/ticket buy buying it online — so buy Universal express ticket beforehand!

Also, sometimes Universal park has discount, and last time if you bought direct, you got in early! — so double check to decide what works for you.

BTW, Universal Studios Hollywood tickets and Disneyland tickets are usually fairly similar in price — so be sure to grab my trip calculator if you’re wondering how much your Disneyland Budget is going to be.

Where to stay near Universal Studios Hollywood

This is a tough one.  When I talked to my peeps at Get Away Today they said they normally recommend staying at a hotel near Disney and driving.  They are normally cheaper, and more family-friendly.  That puts you at about 1-2 hour commute depending on Los Angeles traffic (my favorite).

Going to Disneyland AND Universal Studios Hollywood? — where to stay

If you ARE going to combine it with a trip to Disneyland resort, I would probably stay in Anaheim and drive up.  Be sure to check out Get Away Today for all your ticket and hotel needs.  They have a price guarantee in the Disneyland area.  I always use them when I book my Disney trips!  They have awesome Universal Deals, especially if you combine with Disney tickets!  And just for Pulling Curls readers, save $10 on your trip with CURLS10 coupon code!

There are shuttles that will take you from the Disney parks area to Universal, so keep that in mind as well.

Where to stay if you are NOT going to Disneyland

I’d recommend somewhere nearby.  There’s always my absolute favorite Magic Castle Hotel (you can read more about it here) — that puts you super close to the park!  However, they’re on the pricey side.  Be sure to check out your options on TripAdvisor.

Tip about Hollywood Hotels: They don’t tend to be super family-friendly, and are pretty expensive in the area (hence, we always stay at the Magic Castle. However, there are a few near Universal including a Holiday Inn and a Sheraton.

Universal Studios Hollywood Parking Tips

Apparently, a lot of people google this — and frankly, I think you have to park on-site.  Or, walk a REALLY long way in.  They just told us what parking structure to go into.  I’d love to know if there is one lot that’s better/closer than the other ones.

The direct word from Universal is this:

We have a couple different lots that people are directed to based on the entrance they take. For example, if they enter off of Universal Studios Blvd, they may be directed to the ET Parking Structure, but if they enter off of Universal Hollywood Drive, they may be directed to Frankenstein or Jurassic.

From what I can tell — Frankenstein is closer. I feel like there is less walking when you get that one. ET makes you walk through the entire CityWalk.

Universal Studios Hollywood Map

Universal Studios Hollywood is located in the heart of Hollywood — but since it’s LA it takes about 30 minutes to get to it from Hollywood.  You can see it right here.  You can also see a map of the whole park here.

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween

In the fall they host Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.  I would say that this is NOT for kids, but you can learn more about it on their site.  If you are going as a family in the fall, you can avoid this by going in the day.  This is a separate ticket.

Universal Studios Hacks

Universal Does not Allow Outside Meals

First off, Universal doesn’t allow outside food—but that mainly means an entire bag from McDonald’s.  They WILL let you take in small snacks, waters, etc.  We have found that the best way to use our time at an amusement park is to eat our meals while in line.  That means I bring a variety of foods to be consumed while in line for the next attraction.

Universal Studios does allow outside “snacks”

Acceptable items are things like crackers, cookies, gogurts, string cheese, Slim Jims, nuts (I really work to add some protein to our day and my kids don’t like nuts – so figure), fruit, or veggies.  You can NOT bring a hard-sided cooler (small, soft-sided coolers are okay) into Universal but we do have a small cooler backpack we would use (although our day wasn’t warm enough to elicit the need for cool snacks, so we just had a backpack).  Want more ideas — be sure to bring my post on what to bring to Disneyland (which is similar to what I bring to any amusement park).

This is basically the same rules as what you can bring into Disneyland, FYI.

They do check your backpack, fanny pack, and bags when you enter as a routine security check (that we have likely all experienced). I actually found them to probe a bit more than Disney, but it may just have been the team member who was looking in our backpack.

Eating at Universal Studios Hollywood

There are a LOT of options, both inside the park and outside of it.

One time we ate at Bubba Gumps at the Universal CityWalk, and the other time we ate at the Three Broomsticks inside Hogsmeade.

We got 3 meals to share with the 5 of us.  Two orders of the cheese toastie (Which was alright, but the egg on top was kind of cold and rubbery) and one order of fish and chips.  My kids ended up fighting over the fish, which surprised no one more than me. Also, plan for any special food items you might want to try.

Portions weren’t huge, but since we mainly use it to supplement what snacks we brought in, it was OK.  Our total was about $55.

**Bonus tip — it’s cheaper to buy Butter Beer outside of the Three Broomsticks than inside.  We paid 30 bucks for 5 Butterbeers at the stand outside, and inside it was $6.99 for one (which would have been over $35….).

Front of the Line Passes for Universal Hollywood

We were given a few front-of-the-line passes for the park (and purchased the rest).  Front-of-the-line passes are like a fast pass for every ride for a shorter wait time.  You can only use the front-of-the-line passes once at each ride.

universal studios hollywood tips and tricks 2018

BTW, these are our front of the line passes from our visit in 2016, you now use your ticket to get scanned into each ride, so bring a lanyard if you want to keep your tickets handy.

They differ from Maxpasses in that you can only ride each ride with it once (Maxpass is unlimited, but you can only hold one at a time).

Still Arrive Early

You should still plan to arrive early at Universal Studios — you’ll still get so much done in the morning when it is not as crowded.

Gates may Open Early

The park officially opened at 9, but the gates opened early — maybe 10 minutes (also, if you buy your tickets on you can enter an hour early).  Woot-woot.  I always appreciate that. 🙂

Bags on Rides

Universal has an awesome system where you can get a “free” locker for a period of time (it may change depending on how busy they are).  You use your fingerprint to get your bag out.  So, don’t worry about small souvenirs (like your wand) — they’re easy to stow on rides that won’t allow it.  The ones I remember were:

  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
  • Mummy (it’s close to Jurassic Park, so you could use it for that too if you have stuff you don’t want to get wet).

BTW, I outline my favorite Disneyland Backpacks, and they would work well for Universal as well!

Ride Swap at Universal Studios Hollywood

**Universal does have an awesome Ride Swap program where parents can take turns riding rides.  So, let’s say you have 3 kids and only one wants to ride it.  They’d ride with dad first, mom takes the other two into a themed (and air-conditioned) room while they ride.  When they come back Mom can ride with that child right away (no waiting in line).  It’s awesome.  I really appreciate the quiet, cool rooms.  That way no one gets lost from each other.

Overweight at Universal?

Universal Rides often have seat restraints that are hard for overweight people to sit in. Disneyland is very overweight friendly, but I’ve heard from many people who didn’t feel that way about Unviersal.

BUT, I also saw that Universal — if you truly aren’t able to ride many rides, may refund your ticket cost.

Pro Tip: MANY of the rides have a seat outside that you can test to see if you fit — so you don’t have to find out when you sit down on the ride.

FYI, I also don’t find Universal to be NEAR as friendly for our pregnant friends either.

Best time to Visit Universal

Yes, like all parks — Universal is un-crowded early in the year and in Septmeber, but crowds over the holidays and during the summer. Also, keep in mind that pricing changes based on how busy they expect the park to be.

Universal Studios Hollywood Rides

We went right over to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  In a perfect world where you are there at opening, I’d recommend heading straight to the wand store (if you’re wanting to attend a wand choosing), then go to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and then Flight of the Hippogryph – you can read all about that in this post about Harry Potter World Hollywood.

After Harry Potter, we headed down to the lower level.  This area is gotten to by riding a series of escalators.  It takes around 10 minutes to make it all the way to the lowest level.  I would recommend doing EVERYTHING you want to do down here all at once, as you don’t want to ride up and then back down again.  It would just waste a lot of time, although the view is delightful.

Lower Level Rides

Universal Studios Hollywood Parking tips

Jurassic Park World Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

This ride has just been renovated, I have not been on the new ride (although I have seen it on Youtube) — doesn’t seem much different.

This is a water ride where you float along (think Small World).  Much like the movie the dinosaurs are delightful at the beginning and then things start to go wrong, and then you plummet down a waterfall (something like 80 feet)  to the big finish.  It is likely you’ll get a little wet (although not as wet as you think you will). 

You can buy ponchos as you go on the ride, but we decided to man it out.  If your kids absolutely hate rides with drops or hate Splash Mountain then they will probably not like the Jurassic World ride. I don’t love it.  I hate drops and I don’t find the dinosaurs before it to be worth it, but it was fun to do once.  I had 2 kids who did want to go on it again.  Waits were not long for this ride.  Mid-day it was about a 10-minute wait.

Revenge of The Mummy

This ride combines Indiana Jones (what with the Mummy theme) with Space Mountain (as a dark ride roller coaster).  I did not take my 7-year-old on this ride as there are mummies swiping at you and I thought the imaginative nature might be too much for her.  My 12-year-old refused to go, but my 15-year-old went and had a great time.  I actually thought it was the best ride there.  I really enjoyed it.  FYI, stuff flies out at you.

Wait time on this mid-day was also about 10-minutes.  Not bad at all.

SPOILER ALERT:  The roller coaster does go forward and then backward through it all.  I was grateful to know this ahead of time.  FYI, you can always watch rides on YouTube to see what it will be like if you’re wondering if your child is suitable for it.

Transformer Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

Much like many of the rides here, you’re in a “vehicle” and then you shake around as you watch a movie that has you flying off surfaces, falling, etc.  I didn’t love the ride.  I don’t love the Transformers and it was sort of violent for my tastes.  But, we all rode it and everyone was fine with the ride.  The 7-year-old was a little frightened but when I asked her if she’d recommend it to other 7-year-olds she said she’d recommend it “if they like the Transformers” (if you had a Transformer lover, I bet this ride would be a lot of fun).

Wait time on this mid-day was non-existent.  They tried to discourage us from using our front-of-the-line passes.

**A  lot of the Universal Hollywood rides seem very similar in that you wear 3D glasses combined with the movement that is the ride. On our last visit I got SO sick on this ride (it was our last one of the morning) I mostly sat there with my head between my legs using my glasses to fan my face).

universal studios hollywood bags on rides

Other Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood

Walking Dead

I had to make my boys go on this.  It’s a walk-through attraction, but people do jump out at you, etc.  In the end — they said it wasn’t too scary.  But, they were both a mess before they went in. 🙂

Minion Mayhem

Is mainly just a theater. The seats move a little.  Great for any age. There are often Minions to take your picture with.  Wait time for this was posted as 20 minutes mid-day.

Parking at Universal Studios hollywood

Simpsons ride

This ride is a re-purpose of the Back to the Future of a few years ago.  Your car does rise up, you wear 3D glasses and move around with the movie.  More movement than the Minion ride. Wait time for this was posted as 20 minutes mid-day.

Shrek 4D **NOW CLOSED — is turning into the Kung Fu Panda Ride **

This is also a theater, the seats to move somewhat and sometimes water squirts at you.  I do love the Shrek series and I think this was my favorite of these 3 rides.  Wait time for this is just based on when you get there.  The full audience can see the show which lasts about 15 minutes or so. Kung Fu Panda is similar — just a new theme.

The Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood

I always love this thing.  I appreciate that they’re trying to show us some of the lots, etc.  It’s fun.  This lasts a bit over an hour and there can be a bit of a wait to get on the tram (although Forbidden Journey was usually longer).  We got there mid-day and there was about a 30-minute wait to get on a tram (although people with Front-of-the-Line passes get on really quickly).

While this is just a tram there are a few places you use your 3D glasses.

You still get to see Jaws, the earthquake, and flash flood.  It’s pretty fun and we all enjoyed it.  Something for all of our ages.

universal studios hollywood tips and tricks

FYI food and drink are welcome on the tram.  Feel free to bring some lunch on it!  We bought our ButterBeer before it and brought that on.  It was lovely. 🙂

Universal Tram Tour Can Be Scary!

I wish I would have prepared my 7-year-old a bit more for the King Kong one.  I think this scared her the most of anything.  It really does feel (especially when you’re 7) that King Kong and T-rex are right next to your tram and jumping on it.  Just FYI both of them can be intense.  The other one is a Fast and Furious experience and it was less intense but it was really loud and can be a lot if the kids think it’s real.

Dealing with Motion Sickness at Universal Studios Hollywood

Oh. my. gosh guys — I don’t know if I’m getting old, or what.  I go to Disneyland every year — but Universal just made me sick on our last visit.

It is something with the movement combined with the screens.  Maybe that your body isn’t moving quite in sync with what’s really happening.

Either way.  Wow.  I totally thought I was going to throw-up on the Transformers ride (as a culmination, it wasn’t just that ride that made me sick).

Here are a few tips on what to do:

  1.  Sit out a ride.  I REALLY wanted to go with my family on another ride of Harry Potter, but I finally decided it wasn’t worth feeling miserable.  I enjoyed the nice weather and just sat it out.  Fresh air and enjoying the scenery can give your body some time to relax.
  2.  Do the studio tour mid-day.  As you’re in a fresh air vehicle and doing normal movements (for the most part) it gave me some time to relax.
  3.  When it’s bad — take off the 3-D glasses, it will help somewhat
  4.  When you’re on a ride just shut your eyes and take some deep breaths.  The oxygen will help (as you might have been holding your breath) and shutting your eyes turns off that sensory to the brain and then you just get “shaken” up.
  5. You could try ginger candies or a motion sickness bracelet, next time I will try some motion sickness patches as well (like I used on our cruise).
  6. I have seen some people recommend buying your own 3-D glasses, or buying ones that convert it back to 2D. Either way, just be aware of all of this.

never get car sick as I grew-up traveling in a car, but Universal gets me bad.  Real, real bad.

Universal Studios Hollywood Shows

I would recommend all the shows.  I think they’re well done and they often have some pre-show entertainment that can be fun.  Food is allowed in all the areas.

Animal Trainers

This is a fun little animal show.  My kids loved it, it wasn’t too long.  A good variety of animals.  Great for younger kids.

Special Effects:

Some basic movie effects.  Always cool.  Things like glass overlays and using models including actual models they used in movies are shown.


This is the old Kevin Costner Water World movie.  It’s been the same show since I went in High school, BUT it’s a good show.  Always some exciting moments and does show you some cool effects.  NOTE: If you sit in the splash zone you will get wet.  And I mean REALLY wet.  Way worse than Jurassic Park….

Those who have front-of-the-line passes do get priority seating at all of these shows.  There is a separate line when you have front-of-the-line passes

Universal Studios Hollywood FAQ’s

How much are Universal Studios Tickets?

They run around $100 — and it depends on what time/day you choose to go as they have variable pricing.  Ways to save include Get Away Today, AAA or Costco — so be sure to shop around.  Whatever you do, don’t buy at the park — SO much more expensive than buying ahead of time!

When is Universal Studios Hollywood Horror Nights:

In 2019 it runs Thur-Sunday from mid September through Nov 3rd.

Are Universal Orland and Universal Hollywood the same?

No, not at all. The park in Orlando is MUCH bigger.  They do have some similar rides, but I think Orland is likely far superior.

How Crowded is Universal Studios Hollywood?

I would say it’s pretty crowded, and clearly it depends on when you go.  During the summer ride wait times hover around an hour (longer in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter).

When does Universal Studios Hollywood decorate for Christmas?

Universal decorates Hogwarts and Hogsmeade November 17-Jan 6th
They also have “who-tacular”activities around “Grinchmas” Dec 1, 2, 8, 9 and 14-30 (dates for 2018)

What is the scariest ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

Hmm…. it really depends.  Harry Potter Forbidden Journey can be scary, as can The Mummy. BTW, I have a whole post on the scary rides at Disneyland as well!

What can you bring to Universal Studios Hollywood

You can only bring in some snacks, they don’t allow “outside food” but that really means “outside meals”.
You can bring bags, and Universal has lockers (free for short periods of time) for your items when you ride the larger rides.

Can you bring a reusable water bottle to Universal Studios?

Yes!  Just as long as they’re not glass.

Can you wear fanny packs or purses on rides at Universal?

If they’re super small, yes — but packs of any size have to be put in lockers for the larger rides (Mummy, Harry Potter Forbidden Journey).

Smaller rides, you can take it with you!

What rides to do first at Universal Studios Hollywood

I’d go to Harry Potter Land first — and then head on the Studio Tour as it gets longer lines in the afternoon.
Of course, get to the park early!  That will be key to standing in line less!

Is Harry Potter World included in Universal Ticket?

Yes!  in Universal Hollywood — Harry Potter World is within that park and totally included!

Can Universal Studios Hollywood be done in one day?

I would say YES!  While there are a lot of activities, we have always done it in one day and felt like we had plenty of time.

Does Universal Studios Hollywood have Fast Passes?

It’s called the “Front of the Line Pass” and allows you to jump the line one time per each attraction.  It does cost extra, so check the website for more info.

Universal Studios Hollywood Secrets:

Front-of-the-line passes are not necessary. 

They are pretty costly.  Almost double the price of regular ticket (although I was surprised by all the people who had them).  I guess if money isn’t an issue and you’d really prefer to have a bit less stress of kids waiting in line you could get it.  BUT the lines aren’t all that long.  Harry Potter before closing is very available.  If you don’t get there early, head to Harry Potter last.  Enjoy it!

It is a full day of fun

We were there at opening and left at closing.  We had a wonderful time and really enjoyed our day.  I remember before Harry Potter it wasn’t quite a full day of fun.  Now it truly is.

I see a lot of places offering 2 days at Universal Studios, and frankly — it’s too much. One day is perfect, even if you love Harry Pottery a billion times a billion. One day.

And yes, your feet are still going to hate you (Universal is more spread-out than Disneyland, FYI).

Do not take Kids under 5

It’s got a lot of good family fun, but I wouldn’t go with kids under 5. A lot of it could be REALLY overwhelming for kids under 6.  Princess P was just about to the age that she was ready for it (but since a lot of the rides can be really intense, I did still have some ride guilt).  Save your money and go once your whole family can enjoy it.  Which is what we had chosen to do.

Universal studio city

Take Advantage of City Walk to Eat At

The beauty of Universal is that the City Walk is just outside of the park with tons of restaurants.  Not even the Three Broomsticks was much of a draw to my kids, so we ate at Bubba Gumps Shrimp Co. on the City Walk.

And when you do.  I bet you’ll love it!

If you liked this post — check out all my other travel posts — including my Harry Potter World Hollywood one, and be sure to sign up for My #1 tip for family travel:

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This post was originally written in 2016, but has been updated.

Universal Studios Hollywood tips
Universal Studios hollywood tips and tricks 2018

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