Universal Studios Hollywood is both the hottest and coolest place to be this summer. With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic World — The Ride, the new Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! (opening in 2020) attraction and DreamWorks' favorite characters greeting visitors at Universal Plaza, there is a lot of excitement at Universal Studios Hollywood. And you’ll find that you are not the only one excited about these new additions, which means you need to know how to manage summer crowds and heat to have a great day in the park. Here are our tips for a well-planned day.
How to Manage Summer Crowds and Heat at Universal Studios Hollywood
We never get tired of doling out this advice, because it is so important. Arrive early. Try to be at the park when it opens. LA freeway traffic is awful in the morning, so if you have to take the freeway, allow extra time for rush hour traffic. Allow 30 minutes to park and walk to the gate. Universal has increased security with bag checks and metal detectors.
Hit the Lower Lot in the Morning for the Shortest Lines
The morning hours offer the shortest lines of the day, especially in the Lower Lot. There is usually no line to very short lines for the first hour for Jurassic Park, The Mummy and Transformers. You can hop on those rides first thing and get the Lower Lot done for the day if you hit them early. If you go on Jurassic Park last out of those three, your wet clothes can keep you cool for some time as you head up to the Upper Lot. Other fun things to do in the Lower Lot include meeting dinosaurs and Transformers. Sometimes, the Lower Lot does not open as soon as the park opens, and if that's the case, hit Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first before attempting to head down to the Lower Lot.
Maximize Your Time with a Touring Plan
Many guests head straight to the Wizarding World first thing, and we can’t blame them (the Wizarding World gets us toadally excited too!). But if you arrive at opening, we recommend heading to the back of the Wizarding World for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and then hitting Lower Lot immediately after. You can complete all the rides in the Lower Lot pretty quickly and then head back up the escalators to the Upper Lot attractions and return to the Wizarding World later.
If you wait until the afternoon to hit the Lower Lot, you will have the longest wait times of the day, whereas Harry Potter lines can stay consistent or even get shorter. Even if the Lower Lot is open right away and you head straight there and find that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has a 45-minute wait when you come back, you'll have saved time. The time savings you acquired not waiting for the three rides in the Lower Lot compared to the afternoon wait times for those three rides still puts you ahead.
When should you visit the Wizarding World? Any time is good — we often find ourselves coming and going throughout the day since it is so centrally located. We like to come back to it late morning and then again later in the day to do our shopping, exploring and having fun with Wizarding World wands once the ride wait times are long throughout the rest of the park. The Flight of the Hippogriff has short afternoon times. Forbidden Journey does have a Single Riders line, but it does not walk through the castle. You definitely want to walk through the line that takes you through the castle (the regular queue or with Universal Express) at least once if you are a fan of the movies or books!
Diehard Harry Potter fans will want to experience every inch of Hogsmeade (including the restrooms), so if you have some wizard wannabes in your family, budget about three hours of your day in Hogsmeade to really see and do it all. Be sure to hop over to our Superfan's Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood for the must-see details. If ride lines are over an hour, budget more time accordingly. You do not want to waste short morning wait times doing your exploring though. Hop back in the afternoon when the parks has longer lines so you can take time to enjoy the Wizarding World.
While both rides in the Wizarding World accept Universal Express, the Ollivanders wand pairing ceremony does not. Just keep your eye on that wand pairing wait time. It is consistently long right after opening and during that first hour of operation (closer to an hour wait). It seems to take a dip around lunchtime and dips further in the late afternoon/early evening (think more like 10 minutes). The shortest wait of the day is an hour or two before park closing. So don’t feel the pressure to get in line for the wand pairing first thing. It should mellow out. If you are visiting on a busy holiday weekend, you can expect longer lines than other days.
Several tools can help you maximize your time at Universal Studios Hollywood. Frequently check out the wait time signs located throughout the park to get a sense of where the shortest lines are, use Single Rider lines (especially for the second time you ride Forbidden Journey) and use Child Switch to save time if you have a little one. We recommend using the afternoon to hit the Studio Tour and shows when you need a rest. Kids will enjoy having some water play time in Super Silly Fun Land to beat the heat.
Virtual Line Pass
Universal Studios Hollywood has been introducing virtual lines for some experiences. A virtual line can allow you to enjoy other aspects of the park instead of spending hours waiting in a long line for popular shows and attractions. We saw have seen virtual lines in place for Water World in the past. The new Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! ride offers a virtual line. To join a virtual line, be sure to download the Universal Studios Hollywood app before you visit. Once you enter the park, check for any virtual lines and reserve your place. You cannot hop in a virtual line until you have entered the park.
Universal Express Tickets
If you can afford a Universal Express ticket, your day will be stress-free and you can access each ride once without having to wait or worry about a touring plan. But the passes are not inexpensive. You can buy a regular admission ticket upgrade at the box office in the park. It is a gamble to wait to purchase until your visit though. Universal Studios Hollywood only sells 10 percent of park capacity as Universal Express, so buy in the morning before it sells out.
The price to upgrade in the park varies based on the day and crowd level. The price may go up with demand! You can get a hoppin' deal on all Universal Express tickets and regular tickets though your favorite froggy friends at Undercover Tourist. It's hard to know in advance how much it will cost to upgrade in the park. We've seen the upgrade price hit $130 on a busy summer day. If it is important to you to have Express access, then it is safest to buy in advance. If you really want to ride again and again, you can upgrade to Unlimited Universal Express inside the park.
How to Stay Cool
Universal Studios is the hottest place to be this summer — literally hot — so don’t let the sparkling snow on the rooftops in Hogsmeade fool you! The Southern California sun is strong. Start out your day by lathering on the sunscreen, wear light colored clothes, hats and sunglasses, and bring a swimsuit for the kids for the water play areas. If you are really sensitive to the sun, you can bring an umbrella for additional shade.
You can plan your attractions based on the heat of the day (the day will be at its hottest about 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.). When you are hot and feeling low on energy, a seated show sounds very welcoming. The Special Effects show is indoors — hello AC! Water World offers a way to cool off by getting wet if you sit in the soak zones. You may find that the front, left side of the center bleacher section (when facing the water) is the wettest. The Studio Tour offers a shaded and misted line. The tour itself guarantees one hour of sitting in a shaded tram. You will get drops of water on you from time to time — but just enough to refresh you.
Jurassic World — The Ride ride offers a guaranteed soaking. But that line will get long quickly on a hot day. Opt for the Single Riders line if you can't get on it in the morning.
There are Cool Zone stations around the park that have giant fans blowing cool mist on guests. They are surprisingly refreshing. Some ride and show lines offer misters.
You can always cool off with a frozen treat such as a frozen Butterbeer or an ice cream-covered sticky toffee pudding in Hogsmeade, a Squishee in Springfield USA or a Freeze Ray Smoothie in Super Silly Fun Land. You will find plenty of ice cream and shakes (and many other fun Universal treats) in the park to help beat the heat.
Mommy Frog and I love the new tropical adult drinks at Isla Nu-Bar. You can find the bar in front of Jurassic World — The Ride. When we use our souvenir cups that come with the drinks, it takes us right back to our summer vacation.
Plan Your Meals
Whether or not you are a Harry Potter fan, you will enjoy the pub food in the Wizarding World. It is really tasty. We suggest an early or late lunch at the Three Broomsticks. The food and drink in the Wizarding World is surprisingly good and comes in generous portions. They say the Great Feast feeds four, but six people (especially if some are tadpoles) could easily share it. The best time to get in without a wait is early when they are transitioning from breakfast to lunch.
If you plan to eat dinner in the park, be sure to check out the restaurant closing times. Some restaurants close early. We recently had our hearts set on some pizza at Luigi's and some nachos at Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck. But we found out a little too late that they closed early (two hours before park closing). The restaurants do post their hours in advance, so do your research earlier in the day. At the end of a long, hot day, you do not want any surprises.
The security equipment in front of the park makes for a long walk from the exit to the CityWalk restaurants. A long walk on tired feet and with a hungry belly does not sound good at the end of the day. But if you park in regular parking, you’ll likely be walking through CityWalk anyway. Just plan ahead for dinner so you don’t miss out. You don't want to be making decisions about eating in or out of the park with low patience and hungry kids.
Managing Summer Crowds
Most summers, the crowds start to pick up about the second weekend in June and drop off towards the end of August. In 2020, we cannot predict exactly how crowded the park will be when summer gets fully underway. Many schools may be closed until fall. The theme park operating hours have been affected by COVID-19 with closures in the spring. We do not yet know how these changes will affect summer crowds for this unusual year.
Have more tips for managing crowds or the heat at Universal Studios Hollywood? Share them in the comments below, along with any questions you may have!