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Making the most out of Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan

Leaving the Japanese Alps and Toyama behind, we jumped on a train and went to Osaka. We did a little sightseeing of the city, about which I will elaborate later, but our main goal was Universal Studios Japan.

Universal Studios Japan, or USJ in short, is currently the 4th most attended theme park in the World, with a staggering 14.5 million visitors a year. Some of the attractions are unique to Japan and aren’t available in other Univeral Studios parks, including a new area of Super Nintendo World that opened in 2021.

Tickets

Studio Pass

Studio Pass is a regular ticket that allows you to enter the park and is available for 1 day, 1.5 days or 2 days. The official website is only in Japanese, so you probably need to use authorized resellers instead, like Voyagin (now Rakuten Travel Experiences) or Klook. We used Klook to book regular day tickets and Voyagin for Express passes and didn’t have any issues with either of them.

Tickets can also be purchased at the ticket booths at the entrance to the park; however, the queues are crazy, so why waste time waiting in a ticket line.

It is a good idea to buy the tickets in advance as on busy days they might sell out pretty fast. And who wants to ruin their plan just because the tickets sold out? USJ tickets are non-refundable no matter where you buy them, so plan your travel dates carefully! Also, mark that the ticket price depends on the crowd level, so it might vary depending on when you would like to visit.

We decided to spend in Universal Studios Japan two days, to have enough time to enjoy all the rides and shows. That was a fantastic idea, as my boyfriend caught a nasty cold that made him bury himself in a bed and miss one day of fun. On a side note, Japanese drugs are great; they fixed him in a day 😛

Express Pass

Having experienced Tokyo Disneyland and the unimaginably long queues to each attraction, we opted for Express Pass. Even though it was expensive, it was worth not waiting for hours in line, which are around 3 hours long for the most exciting attractions. Express Pass pricing varies depending on expected crowd levels, so plan well. Remember also to buy Express Pass in advance as there is a limited number of them and they sell fast. 

It is worth noting that there are different Express Passes, and they only allow you to use a specific attraction once. If you want to ride multiple times, you need to queue in a regular line after the Express Pass is used. Some Express Passes also include a timed entry ticket to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to guarantee your entry on the day. Without it, you might be out of luck during the busy season. 

There are different Express Passes, and the websites selling them describe what attractions they are valid for. In short, though, there are three kinds: Express Pass 3,4,7, where the number depicts how many attractions they are valid on.

Is it worth spending money on Express Pass?

I would say yes, especially if you are in a park for a day and would like to try all the attractions. We initially didn’t plan on buying a pass as we had two days there, but Disneyland showed us what queues in Japan mean, and we didn’t want to repeat our miserable experience of waiting for each attraction for 3 hours. Worth noting is that we went in early November, in the middle of the week, where there were no crowds (ekhm, or so they said ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). I cannot imagine how bad it is when the park is crowded 😛

Is it possible to do it without a pass?

Sure, but you need to plan well and prepare that you might not get to use all the attractions, especially if you will be there only for a day. 

Continue reading for tips on how to make the most out of your stay.

Royal Studio Pass

Royal Studio Pass is a special ticket granting admission plus unlimited use of an Express access lane to all attractions. It also allows you to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and VIP entry to WaterWorld and Universal Monsters Live Rock And Roll Show. 

There are only 200 of them per day. However, the price of Royal Pass was so insane; we didn’t even consider getting it. An entry for a day with this pass was double the price of a 2-day ticket.

Early Entry Pass

If you have this pass, you will be able to enter the park 15 minutes before it opens. It also allows you to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter without a Timed-Entry or Express Pass ticket since there is no staff at the entrances yet.

When to visit

It is essential to plan your visit strategically. Avoid visiting the park during the weekend; you will spend most of the time waiting in line, and that’s not fun. Friday, Saturdays, Sundays, and any holidays are insanely crowded. Monday is a popular time for school trips. The best days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Check this crowd calendar to see the forecast of when the park is busy. It is in Japanese, but you can use Google Translate to translate it to English. As a general rule of thumb, avoid orange and darker-colored days.

The best time to visit season-wise is Halloween (October) and Christmas (November and December), as there are some cool seasonal events and the weather is quite ok. Beware, though, of the end of the year as it is the holiday season, and the park is crowded. We were there during Christmas, where one of the highlights was the projection show on Hogwarts. It was a jaw-dropping experience.

Tips 

  • Check opening times for the park on the official website. Even during the week; the schedule may vary.
  • Start early, and get in the line to the park at least an hour before opening time. The park is sometimes opening ahead of time, and if you come too late, you will stand at the very end of a large crowd. You probably will not be the first one, as some of the people come a couple of hours ahead of opening time, but at least you will not be at the dead end.

Crowds

  • Buy your tickets in advance and don’t wait in line to buy them at the entrance. 
  • If you can, get Express Pass.
  • Hit the seasonal attractions first, followed by the popular Express Pass attractions. After that, explore the park and queue for the non-Express pass attractions.
  • Use Single Rider lines to bypass excruciatingly long waits for the most popular attractions. Japanese are pretty reluctant to use them, so you probably will wait only 15 minutes compared to 3 hours or more. There is a little longer line on thrill rides, but it is still shorter than a regular one. And I am pretty sure you can handle being separated from your family and friends for 3 minutes 🙂 
  • If you came with a kid, and for some reason, the kid cannot get on a ride, there is a superb option for you and your partner called Child Switch. That means you can take a ride by yourself while the partner takes care of the kid, and then you switch places without needing to queue again.

Attractions

For Thrill-seekers

The Flying Dinosaur 

An incredible upside-down rollercoaster ride with loops and barrel rolls located in the Jurassic Park area. I’ve tried it multiple times, and I had a blast. It was my favorite attraction! Remember, though, the queue for this one is insane, so use Express Pass and Single Rider line.

Hollywood Dream and Hollywood Dream Backdrop

Two rollercoasters, where one goes forward and the other backward. It is gentler than The Flying Dinosaur as it has no loops but still has plenty of dips and turns. A fun feature is choosing from one of five songs as your personal soundtrack. I’ve tried both, but I think the backward version was better. Also, remember there are two separate queues for them.

Flight of the Hippogriff 

A very short rollercoaster that barely made it to the thrill-seeker category 🙂

For Movie Fans

The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 

4D ride involving 3D glasses and some water and fire elements. It was ok, but I am not a massive fan of 3D rides.

Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey

Another one of the 3D rides, this time without the need for glasses. It is a super popular ride with quite long queues; however, I wasn’t a big fan. Maybe the combination of 3D effects, spinning, and sweet Butterbeer wasn’t the greatest combination, and I ended puking afterward 😛

One impressive thing was the queue area; you had to go through the inside of Hogwarts castle, which looked like in the movie!

Minions Mayhem

Motion simulator ride where you “transform” into a minion. I still don’t understand why this ride is so popular 😀

Jurassic World

A super cool gentle boat ride among dinosaurs with a huge and fun drop at the end where you may get wet.

Jaws 

Another boat ride through tranquil water … until the shark starts attacking. It was super fun, and we took it a couple of times.

Shows & Entertainment

WaterWorld

It is an epic show with jaw-dropping battle sequences featuring incredible stunts and explosions. We checked it out totally by accident, and it ended up as one of our most favorite experiences in the park.

Beware, though, not to sit in the front row unless you like being wet.

Terminator 2:3-D

A cool show featuring Terminator movie. It was fun, though everything was in Japanese.

Terminator 2:3-D

Hogwarts Magical Night “Winter Magic”

Don’t miss mesmerizing projections on Hogwarts castle if you are in the park during November or December. It is one of the most popular season events, so expect some crowds. Luckily, the show runs a couple of times, so you can watch it again if you missed it.

Universal’s Spectacle Night Parade

I’ve read it is an event not to be missed; however, when we were there, it was canceled due to the weather on both days, and we didn’t have a chance to see it.

Read more about the parade here.

Local events

We encountered a dinosaur parade when we were strolling through the Jurassic Park area. It was so cool! If I were a kid, I would be terrified of walking dinos, but I guess kids are more resilient nowadays 😛 I loved it so much I took part in it on both days 🙂

Zones

Universal Studios Japan currently has ten sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland, Minion Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Super Nintendo World that opened in 2021.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Visit the World of Harry Potter and walk around Hogsmeade, visiting shops on the way and buying Harry Potter’s merchandise. 

Maybe you would like to try getting a wand? Then pop by Ollivanders shop and get chosen by one. Even if they choose a kid for a show and not a 30-year-old kid like you, the show is still a lot of fun! And when you get a wand, go and explore the area! There are eight magic spots where you can train your wizardry skills and move and levitate things.

Or perhaps you want to try Butterbeer – a non-alcoholic drink we all know from Harry Potter? Close to the entrance of Hogsmead, there is a barrel-shaped kiosk selling it. If the queue is too long, check out whether the line on the other side of the booth is smaller. Sometimes people don’t notice the other queue. There is also a second kiosk at the other end of Hogsmead, close to The Flight of the Hippogriff ride entrance. Lines can sometimes be shorter there. You can also opt to have a meal at The Three Broomsticks and get the beer to accompany your dinner. Many people love it; it tastes like a very sweet soda with a cheesy mousse on top. But let’s say it like this; it was not my cup of beer 😀

Interested in what is in Hogwarts castle? You can either queue up for a ride or take a tour through the castle grounds.

Keep in mind that you may need a timed entry ticket to enter the area on certain days – weekends and holidays. The ticket is free of charge, but you need to rush to the machine to get it on a busy day. Once you get into the park, head to the timed ticket area, scan your park ticket and select the time to enter—more details where to find the machine here

Once you get into the area, you can stay as long as you want, but you cannot reenter once you leave. Additionally, if you use the Express Pass that has entrance to the area included, you’ll be assigned a time on your Express Pass. On less busy days, weekdays, you usually don’t need a timed entry. We could just get in and out as much as we wanted. 

Super Nintendo World 

Super Nintendo World is a totally new area that opened in 2021 and is primarily dedicated to the most legendary franchise in Nintendo’s catalog: Super Mario Bros.

It is located next to the Harry Potter area, and to enter it you need to go through a giant green warp pipe. You might want to pick up a Power-Up Band when you enter the area. It costs 3,200 yen, allowing you to do certain activities in the area, gamifying the experience. You don’t strictly need it, but who doesn’t want to collect virtual coins 🙂

It is insanely popular, similarly to Harry Potter World, so you need Timed Entry Tickets to enter it. You can get them from a park ticket booth or the Express Pass that covers entry to the area. Once all the Area Timed Entry Tickets have been taken, the booth will begin issuing Standby Entry Tickets ( I am not clear on the difference, though). 

There is a third option: booking it through the official app; however, when we tried in 2019 to download it, we failed as our Google store was not localized in Japan.

Read more about the tickets here.

When we visited the park in 2019, the area was still under construction, so I have no idea how fun it is. But based on the rest of the park, it should be pretty cool.

Where to stay

Depending on your needs, you can either stay next to the park in one of the multiple hotels in the area or stay in Osaka city center and take a train in the morning.

We opted for a hotel next to the park as we were too lazy to wake up super early to travel to the park. However, it is also super easy to get to the park by train, but it is packed in the morning and evening when guests come in and then travel back home.

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