My family and I visited Universal Studios Hollywood (California) for the first time in February, 2018. We have not been to Universal Studios Orlando, so cannot compare the two. This post is specifically about what families need to know before visiting Universal Studios Hollywood.
Location and Hours
Universal Studios Hollywood is located in Hollywood, California. The Upper Lot is essentially on top of a small mountain and can get quite cool and windy, so dress appropriately.
Hours vary depending on the day of the week and time of year. For example, on a winter weekday, Studio hours could be 10AM-6PM but on a Saturday in summer, it could be open from 8AM-10PM. In general, Monday to Thursday have the shortest hours and Saturday the longest. You can enter the Park one hour early if you buy your tickets online from Universal Studios Hollywood. To find out the hours for the day of your visit, click here. I highly recommend consulting the calendar, because we only realized last minute that the park was open at 9AM on Saturday instead of 10AM like it was on Friday.
An adult ticket is for people age 10 and up. A Child ticket is for children ages 3-9, and kids under 3 are free. There is only a $6 difference between an adult ticket and a child ticket. The price of the ticket depends on a number of factors: time of year, whether you book online, whether you’re a California resident, if you choose a specific date versus an open-ended ticket, 1-day vs. 2-day, express access to attractions, or the VIP experience. The least expensive adult single day ticket is $109 and the most expensive is $409. Universal Studios Hollywood also offers three different levels of Annual Passes. You can find the prices for tickets and Annual Passes under ‘Buy Tickets & Passes’ on Universal Studios Hollywood website.
Our family purchased 2-day tickets online for specific dates (February 23-24, 2018), paying $129 per ticket. The 2-day pass allowed us to take our time and give the kids down time when they needed it and it wasn’t much more than the 1-day pass. We did not buy Express tickets, which for the most part was okay, but did result in a 75 minute wait for The Simpsons ride. We went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on a Friday, so it wasn’t as busy as when we came back on the Saturday (at one point, the wait time for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was 180 minutes on Saturday).
If you are there on the weekend or if you want to go on most of the rides, I would definitely recommend the Express ticket. An Express ticket can be anywhere from $50-$140 more than a regular ticket, so if you’re primarily interested in one or two areas of the park, you can get by without the Express ticket.
There are varying price levels for parking, depending on how close the garage is to the Entrance, whether you enter before 6PM, and whether you use valet parking. It can range from $10-$50. There are electric vehicle charging stations in three of the garages and in one of the lots. Details can be found on the Universal Parking page here.
The hotel we stayed at (The Garland) had a shuttle to Universal Studios Hollywood, so we used that as well as Uber. The cost of taking Uber to and from the park was about $6 each way because we were staying fairly close to Universal.
Facilities and Services
Entry to Universal Studios Hollywood is at the Upper Lot. You’ll have to pass through metal detectors before entering the theme park. Once you have your ticket scanned and your fingerprint scanned, you’ll see Guest Services, as well as maps of the park, lockers, stroller and wheelchair rentals, and Hollywood Photoland where you pick up and purchase your character and ride photos.
To access the Lower Lot of the park, take the escalators between Stage 56, where the Special Effects show is, and The Simpsons area. You will go down 4 long escalators to get from the Upper Lot to the Lower Lot. There are first aid stations (with nursing facilities), bathroom facilities (including diaper changing stations), ATMs, and food services on both Lots. Universal is non-smoking except in the designated area on the Upper Lot (which unfortunately is right next to Super Silly Fun Land, where a lot of younger children will be).
Universal Studios Hollywood has a child switch service for most rides (though not for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and AMC The Walking Dead Attraction). This means one parent stays with a child who does not want to go on the ride, while the other parent goes with a child who does want to go on the ride, then when the ride is over, parents switch places without waiting in line again. This is a nice family feature for those who need it.
Universal Studios Hollywood permits a certain amount of outside food, primarily snacks, small drinks and baby food. It does not permit coolers or large quantities of food. We really appreciated this as we found it to be a good balance between bringing snacks for while you’re waiting in line and sampling what the park has to offer.
There are 25 dining locations in Universal Studios Hollywood ranging from snack carts to sit down restaurants. Food prices were moderate, in general, with the largest mark-ups on Harry Potter branded candy. We found some healthy options that included fruit and milk for our girls and vegetables for us. The food was above average for theme-parks, a pleasant surprise. We highly recommend trying a hot butter beer at Three Broomsticks. It’s like drinking melted butterscotch! You should know though that the beef and lamb stew at the Three Broomsticks actually doesn’t have any lamb in it, which I found misleading.
There are 11 rides at Universal Studios Hollywood. I highly recommend downloading the Universal Studios Hollywood Park App to find out wait times for the rides. Six are simulation rides where you sit in a simulator and it moves in place, with screens around, making it feel like you’re actually moving. Some of the rides have 3D features. My eldest went on these rides with us, even though she doesn’t like traditional theme park rides such as roller coasters.
The other five rides include:
- Flight of the Hippogriff, a roller coaster in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is too short. It would be better if the roller coaster went around at least twice. It is a fairly mild ride and does not go upside down.
- Silly Swirly Fun Ride, in Despicable Me’s Super Silly Fun Land. This ride goes around in the air and the child can make the ride vehicle go up and down. It is primarily for younger children.
- Jurassic Park – The Ride, is a raft ride that you will get wet on, and
- World-Famous Studio Tour. This is a tram that takes you on a tour of the different studios and lots at Universal Studios. This ride also has simulated parts to it.
Some of the simulated rides, such as AMC’s Walking Dead and Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride, are more appropriate for older teens and up. King Kong 360 3D and Transformers: The Ride 3D, are more appropriate for older children and children who do not get scared easily.
Universal Studios Hollywood is adding a new themed area and ride this summer centered around the Kung Fu Panda franchise. Kung Fu Panda – The Emperor’s Quest, will be another simulation ride.
Play Areas for Younger Children (10 & under)
There are two play areas at Universal Studios Hollywood. One is in the Upper Lot in the Despicable Me area (Super Silly Fun Land). It has water feature area, which wasn’t on when we were there, though it didn’t stop the girls from having fun. The other is Dino Play in the Jurassic Park area of the Lower Lot. Even though my girls are starting to get a bit old for these areas, they still enjoyed them.
Universal Studios Hollywood has three live shows that are performed 3-5 times daily. We went to all three and recommend each of them. The Universal Animal Actors show will primarily appeal to kids 12 & under, though adults will enjoy it too. My girls (ages 8 & 10) enjoyed this show the most. The Special Effects Show is right beside Universal Animal Actors and demonstrates how special effects are used in movies. Get there at least 15 minutes early as this show tends to fill up. It was my favorite of the three. Finally, WaterWorld is a live action show involving water and pyrotechnics. The actors are working actors on TV shows and movies that you may recognize. Those sitting in the first several rows will get wet.
Maps (in multiple languages) with current show times are available onsite or check ahead online. Showtimes are listed under the calendar here.
Note: WaterWorld will be closed for refurbishment beginning March 5, 2018.
Character Sightings and Other Performances and Attractions
Universal Studios Hollywood has a number of character sightings throughout different areas of the park. While we were there we saw Hello Kitty, a Minion, Shrek and donkey, Po and Tigress, a Transformer, Krusty the Clown, and more!
We also saw singing frogs in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Kung Fu performers in Universal Plaza. The Plaza had been transformed temporarily, while we were there, to celebrate Chinese New Year. There are various other performers, such as a jazz trio, that you’ll find throughout the park.
Ollivander’s Wand Shop, while technically not a ride, is an attraction you still have to stand in line for. The shop owner puts on a show of choosing the right wand for one child. After the ‘performance’ the rest of the children have to choose their own wand from the wand store next to it.
With 12 shopping locations throughout the park, there is no shortage of shopping opportunities at Universal Studios Hollywood! Each themed area has several stores selling themed merchandise and there are a number of stores between the areas.
Some of the most popular stores are the ones in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can buy robes, wands, stuffed animals, Harry Potter themed candy and drinks. An interactive wand sells for $50, which comes with a map showing about 11 areas throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where you can perform spells. My eldest didn’t actually do any of the spells, so we could have bought her a non-interactive wand, and my youngest did about half of them. I found that the wands and candy were a good buy because you can’t get those elsewhere. Beware of the mark-up on the robes though. It’s $115 at Universal and around $25 on Amazon for a child-sized costume robe.
Universal Studios Hollywoods has a good mix of rides and attractions. Even though we only went on six on the 11 rides and had long waits for a couple of them, I felt like there was still enough to do. We went to the play areas, saw all the shows and enjoyed the food and shopping. If possible, I recommend going on a weekday (except during summer), as it’s much less busy. Overall, I recommend Universal Studios Hollywood as a fun family place to visit. Even though there are a couple of play areas for younger children, I primarily recommend Universal Studios Hollywood for those with children ages 8 & up.