Visiting Universal Studios Theme Park?
How About Some Tips and Strategies, Wisdom and Advice From Locals?
On other pages we talk about how a visit to the Universal Studios Theme Park and Studio Tour might fit into your vacation schedule. We also cover Universal CityWalk and things like where to stay and where to eat--even some discussion about the Warner Brothers Studio Tour that's within spitting distance of USH.
To polish things off, here is a compilation of tips, advice, wisdom, information and other synonyms for tidbits that can give you a feeling of greater control over your destiny.
These ideas won't solve world hunger or get you that submarine you've always wanted, but they'll hopefully come in handy as you plan your Southern California vacation. The information is loosely categorized into talking about: The Big Picture; Save Money and Time; Safety, Comfort and Convenience, and General Park Attack Strategies, Wisdom and Tips.
The Big Picture: Planning Your Universal Studios Theme Park Trip
Universal Studios Theme Park Safety, Comfort and Convenience:
- Confirm the Universal Studios theme park’s operating hours online before your trip. Also, if possible decide in advance on whether you want to buy the All You Can Eat pass, the Front of Line pass, or the VIP Experience.
- There are some height limitations on certain rides, notably Jurassic Park, Revenge of the Mummy and The Simpsons. You'll want to confirm that information on the website and then measure the kids. The park gives a reasonable allowance for the soles of shoes. You might want to guard against your kiddo getting excited about a ride for which they are too short. A related concern is that some rides are quite intense, Terminator 2 3D being one. So they may not have a height issue, but you don’t wan them traumatized from their trip to the Universal Studios Theme Park.
- USH does offer a free kennel service for Fido; check in at the Guest Services window near the entrance. I’d call them in advance and ask if they’ve been filling up, especially if you’re coming on a summer weekend. The call won’t guarantee you a spot but hopefully they will give you some assurance that you won’t bring your furry friend only to have a sell-out.
- Since some locals buy annual passes (and most are not on vacation when you are) they will tend to visit the park more on weekends. If you can plan your Universal Studios theme park visit for a summer weekday, you stand a better chance of moderate crowd levels.
- A big part of the fun for children is when they meet characters and see attractions related to their favorite shows. The more familiar they are with the “people” who live at Universal, the more fun it is. So check out the official web site and make a list of the characters your kids are likely to enjoy. Then look for opportunities in advance of your vacation to watch them; rent a Shrek or Curious George movie or look for shows on Nickelodeon or other channels.
Older kids might enjoy watching the Incredible Hulk or the Terminator movies. Expose them ahead of time to the sophisticated culture you’ll find at Universal Studios theme park. Mom and Dad, consider the Blues Brothers movie or CD; although the story line is humorous, they are very serious (in a good way) about the music. You’ll enjoy the Blues Brothers semi-live show (live singers, recorded music) on the Upper Lot of the Universal Studios theme park.
- If you‘re traveling with small children, don’t forget about Child Switch (we’ll resist the urge to make a lame joke about replacing your child with another). It’s a great feature where parents of kids too small for a ride can take turns holding little Skipper and then switch without going to the end of the line. Look for the Child Switch logo on the Studio Map and ask a cast member for specifics.
- Arrange your late morning so that it is convenient to slip out the gate and have a nice air-conditioned lunch at one of the CityWalk restaurants. This will be especially meaningful on a very hot day; you’ll really need a break. Don’t forget to get your hand stamped.
- Make use of the lockers to store clothes, light jackets, etc.
At various times of the year we could have cloudy weather until well into the day due to the beach influence. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a bad sunburn, so bring the sunblock and use it generously. We usually do not get much rain in the summertime, so a cloudy morning does not necessarily mean you’ll get precipitation (it’s quite different in the winter months though).
Also, the Universal Studios theme park is on the “back” side of the Hollywood Hills, so it could be warmer and sunnier than towns near the beach. Hats, sunglasses and lip protection are also something to think about. A couple of the rides could knock off your glasses so have a place to put them (this is more of a problem on some of the thrill rides at Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain).
- Don’t forget to somehow note where you parked. You could do a lot of searching among three large parking lots if not. The phone camera might be put to good use here.
- The usual theme park wisdom applies to Universal Studios - wear comfortable shoes. Do not try to break in new shoes on this trip. Agree on a place to meet up if your group gets separated. One place is near the front entrance, or at the Blues Brothers stage, or at the Incredible Hulk statue, or the top of the big escalator that leads down to the Lower Lot. Make sure you have each other’s cell phone numbers (but protect cell phones from water at certain rides!)
- There is a shuttle service between the upper and lower lots for folks in wheelchairs or who otherwise can’t take the escalator. You’ll find it just to the right of the escalator entrance at the Upper Lot and to the left of the entrance at the Lower Lot.
- Find ways to take breaks during the day, especially if you have smaller children and/or if it’s a hot day. Here is where a couple hours back at a nearby hotel for nap or swimming would really break up the day.
- The height restrictions are not dumb rules to be broken. People have gotten hurt by not being tall enough to fully engage the safety systems on some of the more dynamic thrill rides (not as many at Universal Studios theme park as at other parks). Parents, don’t encourage your shorter children to walk on tiptoes or do things with their hair. The employees can get in a lot of trouble if they miss a short guest, even if no harm results.
- Make sure small children know to ask any cast member for help if they should get separated from you. Consider putting your name on a small name tag with your cell phone number, or the place you’ve agreed to make your meeting place.
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General Park Attack Strategies, wisdom and tips
To tell you the truth, we had a little difficulty separating the discussion about vacation objective and strategies from other useful tidbits that are somewhat more general in nature. So I suggest you look over these gems and also our page on
as they are related notions.
- One Universal Studios theme park employee told us that coming first thing in the morning can help avoid some crowds; the theory is that many Los Angeles locals are more night-persons in the summertime and will be just waking up if you get to the park first thing. We’ve also heard that the crowds lighten up after dark, where locals will drift to CityWalk or other night spots in Hollywood. There are no special shows or parades at the Universal Studios theme park as there are at Disneyland, so you might find the last couple of hours in the park to be pretty efficient in terms of waiting in lines.
- There are a couple of places in the park to check into audience tickets to the Jay Leno show and other Universal shows. According to the web site, Universal Studios Hollywood is offering guests exclusive guaranteed seating to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" with Priority Seating Passes distributed free at the theme park's Hollywood Ticket Outlet. Other than at the "Tonight Show" box office, Universal Studios is the only place to access "reserved seats" free of charge.
Check with the Hollywood Ticket Outlet for ticket availability; you’ll find it on the park map. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. All tickets are subject to availability; a maximum of two priority tickets will be available per person, and guests must be 16 years or older to attend. If you’re interested in this, go straight to the ticket outlet when the park opens. See if there are any other options for audience tickets while you’re at it.
- The park has a couple of places where children can cool off on a hot summer day. One is the Coke Soak, with fun fountains and nozzles guaranteed to get them completely soaked. Seems like it must be expensive to have all those fountains spraying Cherry Coke all day long; your kid will be so sticky! (editor's note: they spray water—nice, clean water) The other is the Curious George attraction which combines a play area with a very wet courtyard. Parents can probably figure a way to discretely get a little wet also on a hot day.
- But remember that things cool off quite a bit in L.A. after dark (potentially down into the high 60s at night during the summer). So a change of clothes kept in the car, a locker or backpack might be a good idea. Or, let the kids get wet around mid-day so you have many hours to dry off before it cools down. This would apply also to the Jurassic Park ride, where the 84-foot drop into water is almost certain to make you un-dry. If you don’t bring a change of clothes, think about dressing in fabric that will dry more quickly (don’t wear T-shirts of duck down for example).
- If you plan to take thestudio tour later in the day, make sure you know when it closes, which is well before they close the rest of the Universal Studios theme park. Although there are video screens in the trams, there’s a lot of noise and ambient light that can make it harder to get all the details. As you get ready to board the tram, see if you can position yourself for a good view of the screen. If you love being startled, sitting on or near the outside of your row is good. If you have small children or Grandma who won’t benefit from sudden exposure to a great white shark, put them in the center of the tram.
- The Universal Studios theme park guide map also recommends you catch the first showing of WaterWorld for the best seating; seems the crowds get longer for shows a little later in the day. They also suggest you hit the Lower Lot earlier to avoid longer wait times on those attractions, which we’ve also suggested.
- Ask a Universal cast member about the best times and places to find your favorite characters. The Studio Map also shows places where you may find them loitering about. (By the way, who do you think are the most environmentally friendly of the Universal characters? We say it’s the Incredible Hulk and Shrek.)
- USH offers Free Package Pick-Up, where you can purchase items at stores within the park and they will hold them for you for later pick up. Get your purchased goodies at the Universal Film Co. after 4 pm. That’s a very convenient service, don’t you think? Make sure you’ll be in the park long enough for them to get the packages to the pick-up location. So, think about when you’ll be leaving the Universal Studios theme park and either do your shopping early enough to ensure that the Free Package Pick-Up has time to work its magic (must pick up after 4 pm remember) or forget that service and do your shopping towards the end of your day so you don’t carry the packages around with you.
- If you’re at the park on a cold day you might want to think twice about the Jurassic Park ride; that pool of water at the bottom of the plunge is not just there for looks.
- Like other theme parks, the Universal Studios theme park takes on a different feel at night when you might find the lines shorten a bit. Don’t be too quick to go home early. If that means taking a break at CityWalk—perhaps even a movie if you need to sit and cool down for a couple of hours—so you have some energy for the nighttime environment, take that into consideration. Make sure you check the last show times and when the Studio Tour stops for the day if you’re extending your day into the evening hours.
- If you have kids of mixed ages, you might let the older kids go down to the Lower Lot and take in those attractions while you go with the smaller children to some of the age-appropriate options on the Upper Lot. Then you can meet up at a specified time, after which the older guys can hit some of the scarier attractions upstairs like Terminator 2 3D.
- Don’t let strategizing prevent you from relaxing and enjoying the day. When you first get there, you’ll see all the shows and attractions spread over two plateaus, plus CityWalk, and it might seem that you can’t fit it all in. But unless the lines are really terrible, you should be able to see all, or nearly all, of the Universal Studios theme park attractions that interest you and still leave a little time for CityWalk. But do at least a little planning of your day early on, then have fun and be flexible.
- If you happen to be a smoker, there are four designated smoking areas inside the theme park. One is just inside the entrance before the House of Horrors attraction, one is by the Coke Soak and Terminator 2 attraction, one is to the right of the Simpsons Ride and one is on the Lower Lot. There is at least one other spot outside the Universal Studios theme park entrance near the Universal Globe fountain. I’m not sure if the Blues Brothers ever quit smoking or not.
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