Heading to Osaka and looking for something fun to do? If you are tired of sightseeing you can spend a day at the Universal Studios Japan and their Wizarding World of Harry Potter! To make the most of your time there (and queue less), read my 10 best tips for visiting Universal Studios Japan:
1. Buy your ticket in advance
The queues for the entry are long enough, don’t waste your time buying your tickets at the ticket booths on the day! You can book online through agents, which actually isn’t more expensive than purchasing at the Studios. I used Klook to get my ticket – they send you a voucher that you can just scan at the gates to get in. Easy!
2. Don’t come during the weekend or holidays
If you are flexible with your dates, DO NOT come here on a weekend! The Japanese love their Universal Studios (many even have an annual pass) so weekends can get really busy. Try to avoid public and school holidays, too – if you are visiting Japan in the sakura season, be aware of the spring school holidays between March 25 and April 5. Personally, I came on a Monday about a week after the spring holidays and the crowds weren’t too bad.
3. Don’t waste your money on the Express Pass
If you are not coming on a weekend or during holidays, you DO NOT need the Express Pass. Before I visited, I read everywhere how you simply won’t enjoy the park without the Express Pass which grants you shorter waiting times for rides… and you know what? I am SO GLAD I didn’t listen to this advice!
First of all, not every ride has an express line, so you still end up waiting. Secondly, the waiting times are really not that bad. You can find digital boards showing you the current waiting times for every ride but I found they were always exaggerated. I ALWAYS ended up waiting less than shown (one time it was as extreme as only waiting for 10 minutes after being told I would wait an hour!).
If you are not convinced and still want the Express Pass, go ahead. But you should know the cost is close to the price of the ticket itself, making you pay almost double…
4. Arrive one hour before opening
If you think this is too extreme and you are not THAT MUCH of a theme park enthusiast to come so early… just trust me, you won’t regret being an early bird. The park usually opens at 9am (or around that time; on the day I was there the gates opened at 8:45) so you want to get there at 8am. I did this and found myself almost at the front of the queue – by 8:45 the crowds behind me got insanely big (see the picture below). The minute the gates open, everyone literally runs to their favourite attraction.
And just remember, you can only use your one day ticket to enter once – if you leave the park you can’t go back in.
5. Use the single rider lanes!
This right here is the single best piece of advice for visiting the USJ I can give you. Almost all major rides have a separate lane for people to queue individually and complement the number of people needed for each ride. And they are so much faster! And I mean much, much faster. By using these lanes I only waited about half of the time than everyone else, but mostly even less. Sometimes I didn’t have to wait at all and got straight to the front of the queue!
You don’t have to be visiting alone to take advantage of this. You can still queue together with your friends, but you just won’t sit next to each other on the ride – it’s not like you have time to talk while hanging upside down on a rollercoaster anyway!
6. Make Harry Potter a priority
Yes, I am a Potterhead and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a selling point for me – there are only two of those in the world after all (the other one being Orlando, Florida). But I am definitely not the only one who thinks Harry Potter is the best part of USJ – why else would it be so popular?
I recommend heading there first no matter what. On busy days the capacity is limited and you first have to get your (free) ticket to enter the Wizarding World at a certain time. This wasn’t the case when I visited so I went straight for the Forbidden Journey ride and only waited for about 15 minutes – later in the day the waiting times can get up to two hours.
7. Use lunchtime to your advantage
Majority of visitors are having lunch between 12.30 and 2pm which means waiting times are cut in half! You can use lunchtime to go on the more popular rides. Just eat a snack around midday and have your lunch later than everyone else and you are winning!
8. Bring your own food
Speaking of lunch… Technically, you are not supposed to bring your own food into the park but no one checks your bag. Just pack a few onigiris (Japanese rice balls) and some snacks and you’re sorted. You will find many restaurants inside the park but they are a little bit pricey and let’s be honest, the food there mostly looks better than it tastes.
Definitely have your own water bottle, too – there are drinking water taps in many places at USJ.
9. Don’t worry about your bag
You might be thinking “But what will I do with my bag if I want to go on rides?” Don’t worry, the Japanese have this covered. Many rides have lockers where you store your stuff just before getting on (free of charge). For the most extreme rides you won’t even be allowed to have your phone in your pocket – then on some other attractions you can keep your bag on you. Just wait and follow the instructions.
10. Make a plan beforehand
The park is quite big with many different sections. I recommend reading about the attractions beforehand so you know what to expect and can prioritise. That way you won’t miss the best attractions or get stuck deciding where to go next. You can find more information on the official USJ website.
Additionally, I am giving you a breakdown of all the rides I did below. I didn’t bother with any shows since everything was in Japanese.
My Review of the USJ Rides
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey: By far the best thing in the entire park! It was so awesome that I had to do it twice. Flying through Hogwarts while Harry, Ron and Hermione talk to you in Japanese? Yes please! Even waiting for this attraction can be fun because the queue goes through Hogwarts where you can admire talking picture frames, Dumbledore’s office and more.
The Flying Dinosaur: The most extreme ride you can find in the Universal Studios! Be prepared for a lot of upside down, fast speed and screaming – a proper adrenaline rush. If I have ever thought I was about to die, it was riding on this attraction. And if you don’t get sick you can also enjoy nice views of the whole park and Osaka in the background.
Hollywood Dream, The Backdrop: You are riding this roller coaster backwards so you don’t see what’s coming, which is actually super cool! As a bonus you can choose your own music track for the ride.
Hollywood Dream, The Ride: Having done the backdrop first, I have to say this “ordinary” version was somehow more sickening than riding backwards… Not seeing where you are going was so much better if you ask me. You can still choose your music, though!
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: Yes, minions are super cute but this attraction had the looongest queue ever, which I’m not entirely sure was worth it for what you get in the end. You are basically just sitting in a car moving in front of the screen for five minutes. At least there is some fun TV playing while you wait (but not enough to keep you entertained the whole time).
The 4D Spiderman Ride: Probably more exciting if you are a kid. It was OK with lots of effects but not massively exciting.
Jaws: A short boat ride where you are “haunted” by a shark. You have to adore the acting and enthusiasm of the boat captain telling you to watch out for the shark (at least that was my interpretation, of course they are speaking Japanese). But in all honesty, this ride is more laughable than scary. Kids might find it entertaining, though.
Jurassic Park, The Ride: This ride made me feel all nostalgic because Jurassic Park was one of my favourite films when I was younger. The ride is worth it for the finish alone (just be prepared to get a little wet, especially if you sit at the front).
Have you visited USJ? How was your experience?
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