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The Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood

by Leap on July 8, 2020 Los Angeles

The Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Visiting Universal Studios HollywoodHollywood is the land of palm trees, red carpets, movie stars and movie studios. If you are making your first trip to "Tinseltown," you’ll want to take a day to visit Universal Studios Hollywood.

This working movie studio got the cameras rolling in 1915. The World Famous Studio Tour that would launch the theme park we know and love today opened in 1964.

If you’ve visited Universal Orlando Resort, you are probably wondering what to expect from a visit to its West Coast counterpart. Well, this Universal Orlando fan's guide to Universal Studios Hollywood can help set the scene!

The Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood is quite different from Universal Orlando. First of all, there is only one theme park in Hollywood. It’s built into the Hollywood Hills near Los Angeles. Be sure to look for the Hollywood Sign off in the distance from the 101 freeway on your way to the park. You cannot see the sign from the actual park, but there is a cool photo-op to make it look like you can after you exit the Studio Tour!

Being built on the hills means the theme park has a smaller footprint than Orlando and a few different sections. But once you embark on the Studio Tour tram, you’ll see how big the property really is, as much of Universal Studios is made up of sound stages, movie sets and additional rides in the Backlot you can access only during the tour (or the VIP Tour, but more on that later).

When you first arrive at Universal Studios, you’ll enter the Upper Lot after taking a trip down the red carpet. The Upper Lot is where you will find all the shows, and most must-see lands such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Super Silly Fun Land, Springfield USA and other attractions. From Springfield USA, you’ll have a choice between taking the Starway to the left and the World Famous Studio Tour to the right.

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - People Traveling on Escalators

The Starway is a series of four long escalators that take you down to the Lower Lot. In the Lower Lot, you'll find Jurassic World – The Ride (an updated version of the Orlando Jurassic Park River Adventure water ride), Revenge of the Mummy (Orlando’s version is different, BTW), and Transformers: The Ride 3-D. It's best to visit all these attractions during one visit to the Lower Lot before heading back up, because it takes time to go down and up the Starway. We recommend hitting them all in the morning before the lines get long and peak in the afternoon.

If you will be using a wheelchair at Universal Studios Hollywood, you will not be able to go down the Starway. See a team member at the elevator before the Starway to find out about alternate transportation to the Lower Lot.

The good thing about Universal Studios Hollywood being a smaller theme park is that everything is more convenient. You'll have to do a lot less walking than you do at Orlando. You can easily hop in and out of the centrally located Wizarding World throughout the day for shopping and meals. There are no large bodies of water to travel around. Besides the Starway separating the Lower Lot from the Upper Lot, and the Studio Tour being separated from Springfield USA via escalator/elevator, Universal packs a lot of fun in that smaller space.

The one thing you might miss is seeing the large roller coasters. You'd have to travel north to Six Flags Magic Mountain or south to Knott's Berry Farm for those kinds of thrills.

The Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to the World Famous Studio Tour

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Shark leaping out of water with flames erupting

And, action! The Studio Tour takes visitors on a one-hour tour of the Backlot. That’s the working movie studio part of Universal Studios Hollywood. That famous Backlot Studio Tour is what sets the Hollywood park apart from the Universal Orlando theme parks. This is where so many Universal films were made and continue to be made. Back when the movie studio first started filming silent films, visitors could come walk around the studio and watch filming. The tour eventually evolved into a tram tour and then an entire theme park. Today, this Studio Tour is one of the park’s best attractions and a must-do for first-time visitors.

Before you hop on the Studio Tour, grab a pair of 3-D glasses because you will need them later. Not only will you be touring the metropolitan sets on the Backlot, you'll also come across dinosaurs, travel through the old western sets and pass the Bates Motel and Psycho House. You’ll also encounter some ride experiences. And those call for the 3-D glasses.

Two ride experiences will look familiar to Universal Orlando fans. Both King Kong 360 3-D and Fast & Furious — Supercharged are exciting parts of the Studio Tour. In addition to these 3-D experiences, you just might have an earthquake while you’re on the tour to get the complete California experience.

The Studio Tour can vary slightly from visit to visit. Sometimes you can travel deeper into the metropolitan sets, but if filming is happening, you’ll be re-routed. You never know exactly what you might see. You might catch a hot set or have to be quiet as you pass an area due to filming. Are you going to see stars? Not likely, but that doesn’t stop us from craning our necks just in case. Filming usually takes place on weekdays. Keep your camera ready, because you can definitely expect the unexpected. Where to sit? We prefer the right side of about the second or third ride vehicle. While action takes place on both sides of the tram, the right ride will get you face to face with Jaws and some other great scenes!

Rides and Shows Unique to Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Jurassic World Entrance

Besides the Studio Tour, here are your other must-do rides and experiences that you won't find in Orlando.

Jurassic World — The Ride — Universal Studios sent the old Jurassic Park water ride into extinction only to introduce this new specimen of water ride in 2019 with new scenes, dinosaurs and splashing — but terrifying — good fun.

Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash — Located next to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, this is the park's newest ride.

DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung-Fu Panda — This theater experience with moving seats also feels a bit like a ride. It replaced the former Shrek 4-D experience.

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Guests control astronaut on special effects stage

Special Effects Stage Show — Have you always wondered how movie-makers create special effects? This exciting show shares a few industry secrets. Psst ... this indoor show is air-conditioned so use it to cool off in the afternoon.

WaterWorld Show — This exciting stunt show explodes with pyrotechnics, action and big splashes. Choose your seat wisely based on whether you want to get soaked or stay dry.

Super Silly Fun Land — Bring swimsuits and water shoes so the tadpoles can make a splash in the wet zone. Once dry, take time to let your little ones ring the interactive doorbells on the nearby Despicable Me Minion Mayhem façade.

The other major show is the Animal Actors show, which is very similar to the Animal Actors on Location show in Orlando. You can still catch Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally in the Wizarding World, as well as the seasonal Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. Even though some other attractions are similar to attractions in Orlando, you'll still want to ride them. Here's a look at the Universal Studios Hollywood top rides.

Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets

You have several choices in Universal Studios Hollywood tickets.

General Admission Tickets

One thing is for sure: You want to purchase in advance to get the cheapest price and skip the ticket line. You have your 1-Day and 2-Day General Admission tickets. Undercover Tourist sells discount tickets and it will be a toadally sweet surprise for you when you discover how much cheaper Hollywood tickets are compared to Orlando tickets! You can take Undercover Tourist tickets straight to the gate. Wait until you know which day you want to visit before purchasing to hop on the best deal. Non-Peak tickets have the most date restrictions, though note that Mid-Peak tickets also have some date restrictions. And if you want to visit at a peak time such as midsummer or winter break, then the Peak ticket is the best choice as it has no blockout days.

Universal Express Tickets

Before you buy tickets, decide whether you want to purchase Universal Express tickets.  These tickets used to be called Universal Studios Hollywood Front of the Line Passes because they literally take you to the front of the line one time for each attraction. They also have perks such as preferred seating in shows. Express ticket sales are limited. No hotels offer this benefit, like certain Universal Orlando hotels do; Express Pass must be purchased separately. Also, while Express is an add-on to your park admission in Orlando, Express is built into certain tickets in Hollywood (and yes, your favorite frogs offer them!). You can purchase the ticket in advance, and sometimes you can upgrade a regular ticket in the park if there’s availability.

Universal Express is great on crowded days because you can skip the long lines and get it all done. It’s also great on quiet days so you can get a lot done in the shorter park hours. Another option is to upgrade in the park to Unlimited Universal Express if you want to go on favorite rides again and again …

Discount Multi-Attraction Cards

Some discount multi-attraction cards also include admission to Universal Studios Hollywood. If you have more time to spend in LA, Orange County and San Diego, you might choose a 3-Day, 5-day or 7-Day Go Card to gain admission at Universal and other theme parks and attractions such as Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, Hollywood Behind-the-Scenes Tour, Whale Watching tours and either the San Diego Zoo or LEGOLAND. Plus, there are many other attractions on the card. If you want to add Universal Express to your Go Card tickets, you can do that at the ticket booth or at the Box Office inside the park.

VIP Tour

And finally, you have the Universal Studios Hollywood: VIP Experience. If you want to feel like a real Hollywood VIP, this seven-hour guided tour is the way to go. The price includes VIP parking, park admission and an expert tour guide to take you around the property and to the front of the theme park lines and meals. This is only way to see some of the behind-the-scenes areas and visit closed sets. You’ll get a private tour of the Backlot and learn so much about the past, present and future of the movie studio. You are guaranteed to do it all. While this is the most expensive ticket option, it comes with so many benefits. Plus, your favorite frogs can save you up to $29 compared to the front gate price. Ribbit!

The Wizarding World in Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Guests pose with conductor of Hogwarts Express

Another difference between Universal Studios Hollywood vs. Universal Orlando is that there is one Wizarding World in Hollywood, and it’s Hogsmeade. You can take pictures with the conductor and engine of the Hogwarts Express, but, sadly, it won't transport you anywhere. There are two rides in Hogsmeade: The Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Do you have an interactive wand? Be sure to stash it in your wizard robe because it will work in Hollywood too! Follow Tad’s tips for casting spells in the Wizarding World because he discusses some bonus spells that do not appear on the map!

When to Visit Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - The Simpsons Ride Entrance at Springfield USA

The best time to visit Universal Studios Hollywood is on a weekday not during school breaks or holidays. There really is not a bad time to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. But the most crowded times are usually mid-June to mid-August, and the week between Christmas and New Year's. Those are the times that park hours are extended, and you might get to experience some seasonal nighttime entertainment such as the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle or holiday events. But you’ll see long wait times and have to navigate crowds. Luckily, there are tools to skip the lines and make busy times more manageable!

In terms of weather, the hottest months of the year in Southern California are July through September, and hot days can also run into October. But it’s a dry heat as Los Angeles generally is less humid than Orlando. The rest of the time the weather is fairly mild. You might encounter rain November through March. But Southern California is known for its sunshine. Even warm days can turn cool at night, so a sweatshirt is usually a good idea if you plan to stay for the evening.

Another aspect that may influence when to visit Universal is holiday events. You can celebrate Lunar New Year during park hours usually late January to early February. Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood terrorizes the parks select nights mid-September though Halloween or early November (separate ticket required). Christmas at Universal Studios Hollywood kicks off the festive season late to mid-November with Christmas in Hogsmeade and Grinchmas. You can meet the Grinch and Max, but you will not find any character dining at Christmas or other times in Hollywood.

How to Skip the Lines at Universal Studios Hollywood

You are definitely going to want to maximize time at Universal Studios Hollywood. This park is, for the most part, a one-day park. You can split it into two days to really take your time, but you can do it all in one day if you arrive early, stay late and follow a park plan. We like to hit the Lower Lot in the morning and save leisurely shopping and wand playing in the Wizarding World for the afternoons when the lines peak. We also save wand pairing at Ollivanders until the afternoon or evening for the shortest waits.

The other tool for skipping the lines is to hop on the Universal Express ticket. We highly recommend it both at peak and non-peak times. At peak times, it helpful to skip the lines. At less-busy times it comes in handy because park operating hours are shorter and skipping even a 20-minute wait here and 30 minutes there really adds up in time savings. Plus, the shows and Studio Tour take time, so you need to shave off the waits whenever possible. A Universal Express ticket holder has access to preferred seating at shows too!

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Little girl posing with MinionThere are also free tools for skipping the lines! Look for virtual lines that you can join through the Universal Studios Hollywood app. Another free tool that the taller members of our family like to use is the Single Riders line. All of the rides in the Lower Lot and Wizarding World offer Single Rider lines. These lines are not always available, though.

We also use Child Switch to take turns watching our toddler, Lily, for rides she is not tall enough to ride yet. Child Switch allows us to make a quick switch after the first party rides so our party does not have to wait in the line twice. If you have smaller tadpoles, be sure to acquaint yourself with the Universal Studios Hollywood height requirements along with tips for entertaining small children at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Meeting Universal Studios Hollywood Characters

Universal Orlando Fan Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Boy with Dreamworks character

Minions, Hello Kitty, DreamWorks characters, The Simpsons, Blue the Velociraptor, Transformers, classic Hollywood characters and so many more beloved and terrifying "stars" await you! Hop over to Lily’s Fun Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood Character Spotting to find out where to find your favorites.

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood CityWalk

Cut! Let's cut over to our Guide to CityWalk for a full list of restaurants, shops and more at this three-block walking district. The Universal CityWalk in Hollywood has similar restaurants to CityWalk in Orlando, with a few California favorites too. Most parking structures lead guests to travel through CityWalk to get to the park and back. You’ll find some sports team souvenir shops, candy shops and even a chance to do some indoor sky diving at iFLY. You do not have to travel to the original Pink's Hot Dogs in Hollywood, because you can grab a dog while you are at CityWalk.

Where to Stay at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Orlando Fan's Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood - Universal globe with Hilton in background

Take 1 or 2, nights that is, to stay nearby. Sadly, Universal Studios Hollywood does not have that same beautiful resort property of hotels that Universal Orlando has. But it does have two nice hotels within walking distance of the park entrance and CityWalk. The Hilton Los Angeles Universal City (as low as $189 a night) and the Sheraton Universal Hotel (as low as $347 a night). These hotels also offer a free shuttle service if you do not wish to walk. For other options, consider where to stay in Los Angeles with kids. Just allow extra time to drive and park because LA traffic is always bad and you definitely want to arrive at park opening for the shortest wait times of the day.

Well, that's a wrap! Hopfully, you now have a better idea of what to expect from this Universal Orlando fan's guide to Universal Studios Hollywood. There sure are a lot of differences between Universal Studios Hollywood vs Universal Orlando! Do you have any further questions about Universal Studios Hollywood? Please ask them in the comments section below.

Related: Toadally Magical Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

Related: Yummiest Places to Eat at Universal Studios Hollywood

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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