Where to Stay Near Universal Studios Hollywood
We stayed near Universal Studios Hollywood at The Garland, a newly remodeled hotel that we enjoyed quite a bit. They were running a special room rate in August, and I was able to get a very good deal on the room. I would recommend checking the hotel’s website directly as well as booking.com. I noticed that booking.com sometimes has special reduced rates for a limited time which are a lot lower than the rates on the hotel’s website.
Even though The Garland is right next to the freeway, it’s a very enjoyable hotel and you don’t hear the freeway when on the grounds (our room was close to the freeway, but since we didn’t open our window, we didn’t hear it). There are a lot of greenery and areas to relax, a pool, a fitness center, a foosball table (the kid’s favorite) as well as a nice restaurant, The Front Yard.
A free shuttle runs between the hotel and Universal Studios Hollywood about every hour. It’s a quick 10 minute ride, and taking the shuttle worked well for us. The shuttle also picks up and drops off passengers at the Universal Studios Metro Station.
We would definitely stay at The Garland again.
What Tickets to Get for Universal Studios Hollywood
We had gotten quite a bit of advice from people who are visiting Universal Studios Hollywood often and one was to get Front of the Line tickets. Looking at the price, I decided to forgo that idea. Luckily, the park wasn’t very crowded - especially early in the day - probably because we visited on a Thursday and on a Friday in October.
We ended up buying annual passes at Costco (one day admission is $114 and we paid less than that for an annual pass at Costco; it’s my understanding that each Costco sells their own passes with slightly different blackout dates and slightly different prices).
When you buy a season pass at Costco, you will need to register the day of your first visit at the Universal Studios website. Your first visit can be on any day before the date printed on the ticket (ours was some time in February). Any other visits cannot be on the blackout dates that are printed on the ticket, so make sure you check the blackout dates carefully (mainly weekends, holidays and vacation weeks in December and in summer). Obviously, if you can only visit on weekends and/or summer or holidays, the annual pass with most weekends - and other dates - restricted would not be the best choice.
Universal Studios just came out with a California Neighbor Pass that is valid for 9 months, including selected weekends, and that pass costs $119.
What Rides to Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is a relatively small park (at least compared to Disneyland and California Adventure), and it’s easy to walk to different attractions (with a 9-year-old; for little ones, definitely take a stroller). We therefore moved back and forth between Harry Potter World and the rest of the park throughout the day. The only exception was that we went to all the rides on the lower lot - Jurassic Park, Transformers, and Revenge of the Mummy - at the same time, so we didn’t have to make the trip between the upper and lower lots more than once.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This was my favorite ride by far. It’s a breathtaking 3D experience that truly brings the Harry Potter books and many of its characters to life. The kid was scared of the dementors and said riding the ride once was enough. I now regret that I didn’t go on it a second time by myself, especially to take a closer look at all the items displayed in the waiting area of the ride. We rode it first thing in the morning and didn’t have to wait at all. In fact, we almost ran through the line because we were so excited.
This was an enjoyable 3D experience. While it is intense, I think it was appropriate for the kid. We also enjoyed taking a photo with a Transformer outside of the ride.
Revenge of the Mummy
This ride was by far the scariest. It’s an intense roller coaster in the dark with terrifying sounds and lights. I think this ride is a bit too much for a 9-year-old.
The kid loved this ride. I was most concerned about not getting too wet on this water ride. We rode the ride when it opened at 9:30 a.m., and the attendant told us that they use very little water early in the morning and increase it throughout the day. We didn’t get very wet.
Despicable Me Minion MayhemThis is such a fun 3D experience that can be enjoyed by young kids. It’s the only ride the kid and I rode twice.
What Shows to See at Universal Studios Hollywood
Shrek is a very cute 4D family show, and we enjoyed it a lot.
Special Effects Show
The kid loved the Special Effects Show and insisted we see it a second time. I was reluctant at first as I was so uncomfortable the first time we saw it. The seats are very close together and when you are surrounded by adults, there is no room. I also have long legs and just couldn’t get comfortable. The second time we saw the show we sat in the last row on the left, and I was able to lean against the back wall, and there was no one sitting directly in front of us. It was a completely different experience.
WaterWorld is such an impressive and fun show. But be prepared to get quite wet if you sit near the middle or in the front. There are signs that indicate which rows of seats are wet zones.
Where to Eat at Universal Studios Hollywood
The Three Broomsticks
We really enjoyed eating at the Three Broomsticks and ended up eating there on both days. The food is enjoyable, and the atmosphere is magical. On both days we only ate a piece of fruit for breakfast in our hotel room and were therefore ready to eat lunch very early, before the crowds. On Thursday, we ate lunch around 10:40, didn’t have to wait in line at all, and were able to snag one of the beautiful round tables inside. On Friday we ate lunch around 11 a.m. and had to wait for about 10 - 15 minutes. All tables inside were already taken, but we found a nice table in the shade outside. When we walked by the Three Broomsticks later, there was a long line outside, so planning to eat early (or maybe later, after traditional lunch times) is a good idea.
Other Attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood
Photo on Hogwarts Express
We splurged and got a photo on the Hogwarts Express taken. I had read online that the attendant usually lets one person in your party take a photo, but we didn’t ask (and the person working that day seemed quite determined to get us seated right away and it didn’t really seem possible to take a photo ourselves…). Plus, it's nice to have a photo of all three of us on the train, so it all worked out.
Attending a Wand Picking Session at Ollivanders
We all agree that this was the only activity we did that was a bit disappointing. Having said that, it was still an amazing experience - the small wand room is beautiful, the performers are completely in character, from the moment you enter the room, and the brief performance is quite magical. However, we waited in line for almost an hour, and it was extremely hot. I also think the kid thought he might be picked to be part of the show, and he was quite disappointed when he wasn’t. If the line isn’t too long (or if it isn’t 90 degrees out!), I think it’s a worthwhile activity. You can also buy a wand, if you so wish, on the cart that is outside of Hogwarts Castle, which will be MUCH faster.
Buying an Interactive Wand and Performing Magic Tricks Around Hogsmeade
A wand isn’t cheap but a lot of fun. The interactive wand (as well as the trip!) was the kid’s birthday present. We had read beforehand that an interactive wand costs $50, and we had discussed this at home. Using the interactive wand to perform various magic tricks around Hogsmeade is definitely a fun experience, and you’ll see many adults and kids doing this and having a blast. The kid spent quite a bit of time on both days performing the magic tricks again and again and found delight in doing so every time.
We all enjoyed the Studio Tour, but the kid LOVED it. In fact, he insisted on going on it both days. I have to say it was fun to see the differences in the two guides as they really put their own spins on the tour. And the King Kong 360 and the Fast & the Furious experiences during the tour are pretty amazing. TIP: Try to sit on the right side of the tram; you’ll have a much better view of the shark and other attractions.
The Walking Dead
Andy went on the Walking Dead attraction by himself and said it was really scary, but he enjoyed it tremendously.
Final Tips for Visiting Universal Studios
Tickets bought at the Universal Studios website usually come with early admission. On the days we visited, early admission was from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. We had to register the tickets we bought at Costco at the Universal Studios website, and we had early admission as well (this was not clear based on the conversation we had with others; it’s worth it to double check this!). Definitely take advantage of the first hour and ride the rides that get busy. We rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, took photos of areas that get very crowded, and made our way to the lower lot right at 9 a.m. (when that area of the park opened). We therefore were able to ride all three rides on the lower lot without any wait time.
Finally, you are allowed to bring water into the park, which will save you a lot of money and ensure you stay hydrated on hot days. Small snacks also don’t seem to be a problem; we were able to bring fruit and various bars.
Questions: Have you ever been to Universal Studios? If so, Hollywood or Florida? How was your experience? Do you have any tips?
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