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Hacks for Universal Studios Hollywood

Guest post by Dori Kaplan

This spring break, our family headed to Universal Studios Hollywood for our first time, and I can comfortably say it will be our last. While we enjoyed ourselves, we found the lines to be too long, and there wasn’t that much to do. The few rides they had were mostly simulators (note: anyone who gets motion sick easily should probably not go. My mom and aunt get nauseous on spinning rides and boats, so they were done with most of the rides pretty quickly. Even the Studio Tour included several 3D simulators that shook us around). Here are some nuggets of wisdom we can pass on after visiting the park.

Harry Potter World – copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

1. Buy your tickets online 

If you buy your tickets online, you will save a little bit of money (we saved $4/ticket from the gate price), and you can get into the park an hour early. Keep in mind that not everything will be open yet, only Harry Potter World opens at the beginning (though an employee told us that it actually opens an hour earlier than we arrived). Many other rides, attractions and shows have staggered openings. The good news was that when the other rides opened, we could be among the first to get on.

2. Get there at opening and go on the most popular rides first 

Since there aren’t many rides, the lines can get incredibly long. While we were there, the line for Harry Potter topped two hours, and we waited a solid 90 minutes for Jurassic Park (contrary to the given ride time which was 65 minutes). One employee told us that the longest the Harry Potter line has ever gotten was five hours. Five hours!!! With our luck, we would get to the front and it would break down. If you want to do that ride at all, go right at opening. We walked right on!

Hogwart’s Castle at Universal Studios Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

3. Get the secret password

Every ride has a secret password that changes daily (except maybe Harry Potter – they may not have a secret password). Say the word to the employee at the beginning of the line, and you go right on! There is no way to get these passwords unless you know someone who works there, or encounter a random act of kindness. One girl I met while going single rider on the mummy ride told me this was her third time going on – she used the secret code “minions.” It worked for us – we went on it later using that code. She also told me for Jurassic Park, the word was safari. Later, we went on Jurassic Park and the lady said safari was not correct. Instead, we waited 90 minutes and went on the ride. In the gift shop, my cousin asked the cashier if she could tell us the word – she told us it was FERRARI! Not safari! Anyway, the codes are amazing. Ask around – the employees most likely won’t tell you, but you never know when someone will help you out. If you can, try spying on the fast pass lane and see if you can overhear the code word. It’s exhilarating to skip the enormous wait and step right on.

The entrance to the Simpsons Ride. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

4. Be nice to everyone 

I really shouldn’t have to tell you this. But for those of you who are skeptical and self-interested, what if I told you that you could maybe get something for yourself out of being kind? My brother told one worker at Jurassic Park, “thank you so much for working here,” and he responded by giving us front of the line passes which we used to skip the 60 minute wait for the Studio Tour. I’m not saying that this will 100% work for anyone else, but all I’m saying is be kind to everyone. You never know when good karma will catch up with you.

We got to skip this Studio Tour line!

5. Go single rider 

If the ride has single rider line, do it! We got on Harry Potter in the afternoon in only 30 minutes, when the line had a 2 + hour wait.

6. Get season tickets

For those of you who live in California, you can sometimes get season tickets at Costco for less than the price of one regular day during peak. Be careful about blackout dates though. Also, when we bought our tickets online, it offered us the option of a season pass for only $13 more.

7. Normal amusement park smarts 

There are so many tips like bringing your own food, wearing a backpack, conserving your phone battery and having games for the lines. I wrote about them for Disneyland, so if you’re interested, click here.

The candy store in Hogsmeade. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

8. Free WiFi 

You heard me. Free WiFi. What else could you ever possibly need? It’s free and there is no password. It isn’t the best connection, but it’s better than nothing. But they will send you marketing emails after.

9. Go on your birthday (or pretend it’s your birthday) 

One employee informed us that some workers will let visitors go to the front of the line if they are wearing a birthday pin. We didn’t try this, even though we were in between two of our birthdays.

You can buy wands outside at a cart in Harry Potter World, or from Olivander’s Wand Shop. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

10. If you’re unsure whether or not to buy a wand, watch other people use them first

Universal sells interactive wands at Harry Potter world. Sounds exciting right? Not really. All you can do is turn on some lights or make a couple small things move at storefronts (ONLY AT HARRY POTTER WORLD). They cost $44 for a boring regular wand and $50 for an interactive wand. Interestingly, there aren’t prices on the boxes. Be careful if you go to Olivander’s wand shop. They have a wand “choose” a kid from the audience, but they do not keep the wand for free. Instead, they pressure the parents into purchasing it.

Kids using the wand to make something move. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

11. If you are going on a ride, you will get squirted 

It isn’t a Universal attraction without a pair of 3D glasses and water. Universal will use any opportunity they can possibly get to squirt you with water. You won’t get drenched, but I can’t think of a ride that the did not spray water on me during (this includes the Studio Tour).

12. How wet will I get on Jurassic Park?

Jurassic Park is a giant water ride, but you won’t get too wet in most of the seats. The wettest spot is the front left. You will get pretty wet in the seat next to that one and in the back left, but you won’t yet nearly as wet in the rest of the boat. As a general rule, just try and stay in the middle if you want to be dry.

The big splash at the end of Jurassic Park. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

13. Free NBC photo booth 

There is a free photo booth outside the Jurassic Parking garage on the way to the City Walk. You can take photos with multiple NBC backgrounds (Jimmy Fallon is the only good one in my opinion) and email it to yourself.

By the way, you can use coupons from Groupon to rent a Hertz car to get to Universal Studios. Yes, they’re paying us to say that, but if you need to rent a car, wouldn’t you look for a coupon first?

14. The escalators
The escalators connecting the upper and lower lots of Universal are really annoying. Every time you think you are done, there is another one. There are four in total, and it takes approximately five minutes to go up or down. The stairs do not save any time. I would suggest staying in one lot and then going to the other to avoid going back as forth. You can see the set of elevators in the Jurassic Park photo above.

You need to stash your stuff in a locker before getting on the big Harry Potter ride.

14. Harry Potter locker room 
If you are unfortunate enough to be waiting for Harry Potter in the middle of the day, don’t enter through the main line outside. Instead, enter through the locker room which has a door leading to the line, where you can casually slip in. The line will be super long at this point, but it’s very cute once you get inside and there is a lot to see.

This post was written by Dori Kaplan and sponsored by Groupon and Hertz.

2 comments to Hacks for Universal Studios Hollywood

  • June Bell

    Great post full of helpful advice. I know a certain Disney fan who love knowing the secret words! Thanks, Dori!

  • Steve Lipman

    Gigantic pass! My cousin buys an annual pass to Disneyland every season. Granted she has 2 young kids but how much Disney do you need in a lifetime? And this from a guy who grew up 15 miles from the Magic Kingdom. And the cousin in question lives in the SF Valley so add a 2 hour commute down the 5 just to get there and spend an hour in the park. And the GONNIFs make her PAY to park!!! /rant

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