Universal Studios Hollywood is both the hottest and coolest place to be this summer. With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Walking Dead Attraction and Dreamworks favorites meeting visitors at Universal Plaza, there is a lot of excitement at Universal. 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 can 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. They have 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 for the first hour of 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 see in the Lower Lot include meeting a velociraptor and Transformers.
Maximize Your Time with a Touring Plan
Many guests head straight to the Wizarding World first thing, and we can’t blame their excitement. But if you arrive at opening, we suggest bypassing the Wizarding World and hitting the Lower Lot first. 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 visit the Wizarding World. 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 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is 45 minutes longer when you come back, 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 hit it mid-morning and then again later in the day. Later in the day can offer some much shorter lines. The Flight of the Hippogriff has short afternoon times, but Forbidden Journey is shorter in the morning then it surges and drops back off an hour before the park closes. Forbidden Journey does have a single rider line, but it does not walk through the castle; and you definitely want to walk through the line that takes you through the castle (regular line or Front of Line) at least once if you are a true fan. Diehard Harry Potter fans 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. If ride lines are over an hour, budget more time accordingly. If the park is very crowded they may offer return times for the Wizarding World to keep it from getting too crowded. They offered return times in its first week, but we have not seen them be needed since.
While both rides in the Wizarding World accept Front of Line passes, the Ollivander’s wand pairing ceremony does not. Just keep your eye on that Wand Pairing wait time. It is consistently long right after opening and in that first hour of park opening (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. We have found that the actual line length seems to be a bit shorter than posted. Same with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The wait posted for the Forbidden Journey was once 50 minutes, but it really was more like 18 minutes! That may not always be the case, so keep checking back. We can only pull from our own experiences, and we feel like we have been pretty lucky in managing and avoiding crowds so far. If you are visiting on a busy holiday weekend you may have to re-evaluate your plan.
Several tools can help you maximize your time. Frequently check out the wait time signs located throughout the park to get a sense of where the shortest line is, 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, and kids will enjoy having some water play time to beat the heat.
We do not know what to expect with the Walking Dead line when it opens in the Upper Lot. It is one of the most popular mazes during Horror Nights, and like the Horror Nights version, it is probably only appropriate for guests 13 and up. We will keep you posted on that one when it opens.
Front of Line Passes
If you can afford a Front of Line pass, 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. If you are not sure if they are worth it you can buy a regular admission ticket upgrade at the box office in the park. It is a gamble to wait though. Universal Studios Hollywood only sells 10 percent of park capacity as Front of Line, so buy in the morning before it sells out. The price varies based on the day and crowd level, and the price can even vary throughout the day. If the park is more crowded than expected, the price goes up! An upgrade on an uncrowded offseason day could be as low as about $64 but can quickly hit $119 on a crowded day with long wait times. You can read more about the Front of Line pass here. It is a great lesson in supply and demand! If it is important to you to have Front of Line, then it is safest to buy in advance.
How to Stay Cool
Universal Studios is the hottest place to be this summer—literally hot—don’t let the sparkling snow in Hogsmeade fool you! The Southern California sun is strong. Start out your day by lathering on the sunscreen, wear light colored clothes, wear 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 hottest is about 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.). When you are hot and feeling low 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—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, and 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. The tour has one new change this summer—there’s a live-action scene that was only available last summer on the nighttime tour.
The Jurassic Park ride offers a guaranteed soaking, and you can stand on the bridge for more splashing if that is how you like to stay cool—kids and teens might enjoy channeling their inner frogs.
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 Squshee in Springfield USA; or a Freeze Ray Smoothie (or chocolate dipped banana) in Super Silly Fun Land. You will find plenty of ice cream and shakes (and many other treats) in the park.
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 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 only to find 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.
Be aware that the new security equipment in front of the park makes it feel like a significantly longer 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 be walking there anyway. Just plan ahead for dinner so you don’t miss out and have to make decisions about eating in or out of the park with low patience and hungry kids.
While we cannot predict exactly how crowded the park will be when summer gets fully underway—summer crowds were predicted to hit about June 11—we have been pleasantly surprised at how well the park has been handling crowds so far. Even though more people are visiting the park, the other rides in the park seem to have shorter lines than they did a year ago. The opening of the Wizarding World Hollywood added a lot of area to Universal Studios Hollywood, so it distributes the people over a larger area. People can spend several hours in the Wizarding World shopping, eating, drinking, doing wand pairing or waiting for rides. That seems to keep them from doing some of the other attractions.
Have more tips for managing crowds or the heat at Universal Studios Hollywood? Share in comments below along with any questions you may have!