Do you love movies? If so, Universal Studios Hollywood is for you! The magic of movie-making comes to life at the park, which combines the quintessential Hollywood movie experience with frogtastic theme park attractions and shows. Universal Studios Hollywood is one of our Frog Family favorites! Especially Tad's. The Studio Tour includes the most recent, exciting finale of Fast and Furious: Supercharged. Other exciting attractions include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Now there's a new ride to add to your must-do list — The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! Maximize your time and get the most of your visit with our Universal Studios tips!
Things are running a little differently in 2021, as Universal Studios reopens after a year of being closed due to COVID-19. Some of the changes are mandated by the government, but all are designed with your health and safety in mind. Hop over to our Universal Studios reopening post to get up to speed on what you need to know about visiting in terms of new health and safety procedures. For instance, only California residents may purchase tickets and visit during the initial reopening period due to state guidelines for theme parks. Our post on what to expect when the California theme parks reopen is full of hopful information for all of the theme parks and reopening guidelines.
That in mind, we are offering our very top tips for normal operations, with some notes on how to modify your visit during this reopening period. Keep hopping back during this changing situation to discover new Universal Studios Hollywood tips to navigate this new world as it evolves.
Keep in mind that these photos were taken before the closure, so you may not see reflections of current operating procedures in these photos. However, face coverings are mandatory this year though for all visitors ages 2 and up. Here are our hopful tips for wearing masks in theme parks. Ready for action? Let's hop to it!
21 Universal Studios Tips to Maximize Your Time
1. Buy your tickets in advance.
You'll always save time and money when you buy your Universal Studios Hollywood tickets in advance. If you want to skip the lines and get priority seating for shows, consider purchasing a Universal Express ticket, which includes admission as well as one-time express access to each ride, show and attraction.
During the Universal Studios reopening period, the ticket booths are not selling tickets. The park must limit capacity with advance purchase tickets or reservations for previously purchased tickets. Date-based tickets are back on sale as of April 8, 2021. If you have tickets purchased before April 8, 2021, you'll need to make a reservation before visiting. Pass holders no longer need to make reservations.
2. Pick the best times to visit.
While any day you can head to Universal Studios Hollywood is a great day, some days are better than others! You'll find the waits are lowest in the fall, winter and spring. Avoid the days around the holidays and times when children are out of school. Weekdays are often less crowded than weekends. Be sure to hop over to our Los Angeles Crowd Calendar to check out crowd predictions and hop over to our guide to the best times to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. Another thing to consider is park hours. Check the park hours before your visit. When park hours are short (say, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), you'll especially want to arrive early to fit everything in before the park closes.
Of course, in 2021, capacity is limited to allow for plenty of physical distancing space in the park. The Studio Tour and ride capacity will be limited, as well. You'll want to plan ahead when purchasing tickets no matter when you visit to make sure the date you want has availability.
3. Consider the Universal Express Pass during the busiest times.
If you are planning to visit around the holidays, spring break or summer, consider purchasing Universal Express passes. With it, you will get one-time priority access to every ride, show and attraction! Now that's the way to maximize your time at Universal Studios Hollywood! And with the Universal Express Pass, you should have no problem seeing most attractions, even on the super busy days. The park limits the number of Universal Express passes it sells, and the price can fluctuate at the park depending on the season and demand. Buying Universal Studios Hollywood Universal Express passes in advance are a must if you cannot arrive in the morning to purchase them at the gate.
With the box offices closed, you can still upgrade in the park. Or, you may want to plan ahead by purchasing Universal Express in advance. If one-time priority access is not enough, you may be able to upgrade in-park to Unlimited Universal Express. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it could come in handy if you are visiting on a busy day and you want to ride again, and again, and again.
Even with reduced capacity in the park, you will run into lines. If the rides have empty rows to space out parties, it will reduce the number of people who can ride, leading to lines. Universal Express is one toadally awesome way to skip the lines, during the reopening period.
4. Arrive ahead of park opening.
We frogs have a saying ... the early frog gets the flies! When you arrive ahead of park opening, you will be one of the very first people inside the park and will have the opportunity to experience the rides with the very lowest waits of the entire day. This is one of our top Universal Studios tips!
If you are at the park entrance 30 minutes early, you just might get in early (depending on the day). Not all attractions may be open, but it gives you a great head start to your day. If the Lower Lot is open, head there first and knock out those rides early in the day as they generally form the longest lines later.
During some peak seasons, Universal may offer early entry (which can be purchased directly through Universal). This is no longer offered daily or even for some holidays. But if early entry is happening, the park may open the gates to all guests after they let in any guests with early entry tickets. That means you may score early access to the Wizarding World before the park officially opens! This may vary based on the time of year and size of the crowd. But it's todally cool when it happens.
5. Allow at least 30 minutes for parking and security.
Give yourself enough time to park, walk to security and get through the metal detectors. Most general parking is sent to the farthest parking structures. Those lots will have you walking through Universal CityWalk (about 10 to 15 minutes) to get to the security screening area. You can upgrade to Preferred parking to park at Frankenstein (and sometimes even closer to the front gate). The Frankenstein structure is very close to the park exit for that quick getaway at the end of the night. You can further upgrade to Front Gate parking, which puts you right next to security. That saves time, but costs more money. If you plan to shop and eat in CityWalk anyway, then regular parking makes the most sense.
6. Eat breakfast before you arrive.
So that you maximize your time experiencing the rides, shows and entertainment, we suggest you eat breakfast before you head to the park! We give two thumbs up to the buffet at Universal Hilton (as low as $201 a night), which includes a variety of cheeses, cold cuts, fresh fruit, muffins, a doughnut bar, dim sum, pork dumplings, eggs, bacon and even Nutella! Wandering through Universal CityWalk, your breakfast options include Starbucks, Johnny Rockets, Subway, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Voodoo Doughnut. If you've skipped breakfast, The Three Broomsticks serves an English breakfast in the Wizarding World.
7. Bring your own water.
While Universal Studios Hollywood isn't as lenient as the Disneyland Resort about bringing in outside food, you can bring water bottles (maximum 2 liters), baby food, small snacks, fruits and vegetables into the park. You can bring items required for medical purposes and special dietary needs. Small, soft-sided, insulated bags are okay, but you will need to leave coolers and food purchased from outside locations (minus the above exceptions) at home. Note that Universal Studios Hollywood does not even allow water or any food brought in for Halloween Horror Nights.
If you are concerned about meeting your dietary needs in the park, you can consult the Dietary Food Guide for hints on how to find gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and peanut-free foods in the park.
8. Check the park website if you want to spot some celebs.
A couple of weeks before your park visit, check the official website to find out which celebs will be filming. Sometimes "Access Hollywood" films just inside security in front of the Globe during the morning hours. "The Voice" is filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood. If you want to attend a taping, you can find tickets here. But it is best to attend on a day you are not visiting the theme park because tapings and their check-ins are time-consuming and have dress codes.
9. Schedule your day according to the shows.
Not all shows will reopen right away. The Animal Actors Stage reopened first. Shows will have to limit capacity to space out the audience. That means the stadiums may fill up sooner than they would in a normal year, so the bottom line is to arrive early if you want to see a show.
In a normal year, we schedule our day around the shows we want to see. Since the rides run continuously, but the shows do not, it's best to schedule your day around the show schedule. Universal Studios Hollywood publishes a show schedule on its website and in its official app. There are also show and wait time boards located around the park. Shows normally begin in the late morning, so if you arrive at or before park opening, this gives you plenty of time to experience The Wizarding World and Lower Lot attractions (which have much shorter wait times early in the day) before the shows start. The shows offer a rest for your tired flippers in the afternoon.
10. Plan your visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
One of our top Universal Studios tips is to break up your visits to The Wizarding World, which is centrally located in the Upper Lot. You can ride the Wizarding World rides — Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff — first thing in the morning. Then, tear yourself away to other rides with short wait times (such as those in the Lower Lot). Circle back to Hogsmeade later in the day for lunch or dinner and shopping when the wait times in the park peak. Both of the rides in the Wizarding World accept Universal Express passes, but Ollivanders Wand pairing demonstration does not (note that Ollivanders is temporarily closed). The line for Ollivanders is longest in the morning after opening. The line drops off significantly in the late afternoon and evening, so it is better to wait.
During the reopening period, we have found that the Wizarding World has the shortest waits in the later afternoon and early evening, so save your visit for these rides at the end of your day.
11. Hit the Lower Lot in the morning.
If you arrive at opening, you also should have no problem hitting the Lower Lot with very few people and minimum waits. We have put together a Universal Studios Hollywood Park Plan so that you can prioritize the rides, shows and attractions. Be sure to ask when the Lower Lot opens. Lately it is when the park opens, but at slower times it could be an hour later. Hit the Lower Lot ASAP for the shortest wait times of the day.
There's now a new Indominus rex animatronic as part of Jurassic World — The Ride. That means try to hop on the ride as early as you can to experience this new ending! It's so realistic!
12. Try to reduce time on the StarWay.
The series of elevators that connect the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot are very loooonnnnngggggg and can very well take 10 minutes each way (or more during peak times). Avoid multiple trips at all costs by doing everything in the Lower Lot once! We recommend hitting the Lower Lot first (as soon as it opens in the morning) because the lines are shortest there in the morning. They peak in the afternoon.
13. Use the Single Riders line.
Heads up for 2021 visitors: Single Riders lines are not allowed when any of the California theme parks reopen. Ride attendants will be spacing guests out rather than filling empty seats and putting parties together. But here's a look at how to use Single Rider once it returns. (It's our favorite way to skip the lines for free!)
If you don't mind splitting up your party on a ride, the Single Riders line is the fastest way to get on a ride without having a Universal Express Pass. Plus, it's a free way to skip the line! It's one of our top tips to maximize time at Universal Studios Hollywood. There are minimum Universal Studios height requirements for tadpoles to ride without an adult, so make sure they measure up first.
Attractions with the Single Riders line:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride
- Transformers: The Ride 3D
- Jurassic World - The Ride
14. Head to the Studio Tour in the heat of the day (during the pandemic, we recommend riding in the morning as soon as you finish the Lower Lot rides, since physical distancing makes for longer wait times)
The Studio Tour is what makes Universal Studios Hollywood, well, Universal Studios Hollywood. You will go down to the Backlot, where you will visit some of the most famous backdrops in movie-making history! The Bates Motel, Wisteria Lane from "Desperate Housewives" and town square from "Back To The Future," just to name a few. You might even see some filming taking place! King Kong 3D and Fast and Furious make the tour an exciting ride, as well. We recommend it in the late morning, afternoon or early evening when waits for other attractions are high, temperatures begin to rise and your legs could use an hour of rest. Also, keep in mind that the Studio Tour closes before Universal Studios Hollywood closes, so check the last tram departure and wait times so you don't miss out.
As you may have guessed, the Studio Tour will be spacing guests out and that means there will be limited capacity and fewer people able to ride in a typical day during Universal's reopening period. Our advice is to arrive at the Studio Tour earlier rather than waiting until the end of the day so you do not miss out. Expect a physically distant line, as well.
15. Have lunch during off-peak times.
You'll save the most time at Universal Studios Hollywood if you dine outside of peak meal times. Know that there are no table-service restaurants within the park and you won't be able to make reservations in advance. If you are looking for a sit-down restaurant, there are plenty of options at CityWalk next door. Try the tasty Costa Rican food at Jurassic Cafe in the Lower Lot. If you are a Harry Potter fan (OK, even if you aren't), we find the most relaxing and delicious meal in the park to be at The Three Broomsticks. Grab an early lunch or early dinner and eat like a wizard in a replica of an iconic Harry Potter setting. Wizarding alcoholic beverages are available for purchase in the Hog's Head Pub.
One big change to dining will be where you can eat. You cannot help but notice more tables spread out around the park to offer more distanced and outdoor areas to eat. Enjoy the views. These are the only place to remove your face covering. You will even eat snacks there. Bring credit cards, debit cards and gift cards as preferred forms of payment.
16. Don't want to worry about anything? Purchase the VIP Experience.
The VIP experience is more limited in capacity at this time, so you'll get a private theme park tour with a maximum of 10 people per tour and no more than three households.
With the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience ticket, you will enjoy a six- to eight-hour personal, guided tour of the park. This includes valet parking, a light breakfast in the private VIP lounge, exclusive Backlot access, unlimited priority access (think Universal Express) to all of the rides and shows (with a guide to get you the best seats) and a gourmet, all-you-can-eat lunch at the Moulin Rouge dining room. You'll take a trolley down to the Backlot and visit working sound stages, Universal's sound department and prop warehouse and other areas not open to the general public. The order on the itinerary can vary per day, but you will eat about three hours into your tour. There is limited availability, so book in advance. Children must be at least 5 years old.
17. Take advantage of Child Switch.
If any of your children cannot ride, an adult can wait with the child in the attraction’s Child Switch room. When the rest of the party returns, you can switch and take a companion with you. We have more tips for entertaining small children at Universal Studios Hollywood if you are bringing a little tadpole with you.
During Universal's reopening period, Child Switch is offered, but you'll wait outside the attraction.
18. Make the best of ride breakdowns.
Sometimes a ride experiences technical difficulties. If you happen to be on the ride when this happens and team members need to have you exit (or delay you on the ride before it starts operating again), they will generally try to keep you hoppy with some consolation prizes. These may include a treat. We have gotten packets of Jelly Belly jellybeans. They may also tell you a secret code to come back and ride again (once the attraction reopens) without having to wait. Remember this word or snap a picture of it, just in case you forget it.
And the best prize of all is a single-use Universal Express Pass (it is good for any ride except Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). But be smart: They only give one pass per party (each pass admits up to five people). When team members ask how many people are in your party, you might divide into smaller groups — especially if you are planning to split up or head to different rides. So one family of five could technically be five parties of one. You might decide to share rides together after all by jumping in on a family member’s pass or decide to split up because you enjoy different rides. Anyway, if things go wrong, we frogs always try to make the best of it. And the benefits from breaking down can mean less time standing in line.
19. Take a break midday.
In a perfect world, you could arrive before park opening and stay until the very end. That way, you could take advantage of the shortest lines and most comfortable temperatures at the end of the day. But that is easier said than done. All of the walking, heat (especially in summer) and missed nap times take their toll. If your hotel is nearby, consider leaving midday to escape the crowds and heat. Be sure to hold onto your ticket and get a hand stamp when you exit. Relax in a hotel pool or darkened hotel room to recharge for the evening. This is only recommended for days with longer park hours. Otherwise, you might miss out on experiencing everything.
If you don’t want to leave the park, the Special Effects Show (temporarily unavailable) and Kung Fu Panda are air-conditioned, making them a great choice for cooling off and escaping the sun. Use this time to meet characters. The tadpoles will enjoy splashing in the Wet Zone area at Super Silly Fun Land, which has over 80 water play features. Parents can sit in the shade and cool off in the mist while watching the kids.
Another cool suggestion is heading out to Universal CityWalk. This themed mall offers familiar and unique shopping, dining and entertainment. Tad loves Things From Another World — a crazy comic book and sci-fi shop. Lily is into the whole "crazy socks" thing, so The Los Angeles Sock Market is her haven. For dinner, we're fans of Karl Strauss Brewing and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. #finstotheleft We usually visit CityWalk after we've left the park for the night because CityWalk is open later than the theme park.
Something to consider during or after your day of movie theme park thrills is catching a movie at the Universal Cinema AMC Theater. A dark, air-conditioned theater can be a welcome oasis for tired bodies and a fun way to close down a day. Bring your Universal Studios Parking ticket to the theater Box Office for a parking rebate.
20. Save your souvenir shopping until the end.
Many of the items you can find throughout the park are also available at the gift shops on the way to the park exit (including Wizarding World souvenirs and candies). You can avoid lugging bags with you through the park and shop in a less-crowded store with perhaps shorter lines just before leaving. Plus, your chocolate frogs won’t melt in the sweltering heat if you buy them just before you leave. So unless you are looking for an interactive wand, themed mask or accessory that you can enjoy in the park, save your shopping until just before exit time.
Keep an eye out for lines to get into shops due to reduced indoor capacity. Try to hop in when the line is low.
21. Download the Universal Studios Hollywood app.
The Universal Studios Hollywood app is your best guide in the park for quickly finding upcoming shows, reserving a showtime, checking wait times and locating restaurants or shops. It also guides you through Universal CityWalk. The park offers free Wi-Fi. You can always ask a team member if you can't find a showtime, such as the Wizarding World performances (temporarily unavailable) since not every show is listed.
You may also use the Universal Studios Hollywood app to get a Virtual Line Pass, when offered. Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash offers a Virtual Line. That allows you to enjoy the rest of the park instead of standing in a long line! You have to be physically in the park to get a pass. We recommend joining the virtual line once it opens mid orning. You can also join the Virtual Line near the ride at kiosks that look like subway ticket machines (toadally awesome feature, BTW). You can join the Virtual Line and from the ticket machine as it is not linked to your park ticket.
Have a Universal Studios Hollywood tip we didn't mention or a question? Share it in comments below! Don't froget, we offer a Universal Studios Hollywood Park Plan to maximize your time!