All of the following information was true as of August of 2016. If you plan to use this as a guide, please verify information. Things always change.
When you go to Universal Hollywood, you have 3 major ticket options to choose from.
- General admission – Normally in the $100 range. Getting tickets through your work, Costco, and other avenues can drop the price by $10-$30.
- Front of line – Prices start at $179, but greatly differ depending on a peak or non peak season. You get priority access to the rides and shows. But only for ONE time for each. Your badge will be scanned. They will know.
- VIP experience – Prices start at $359, but greatly differ depending on a peak or non peak season. This includes unlimited priority to all rides and shows, breakfast, an amazing lunch, personalized extended backlot tour, and valet parking.
The rest of this post will be based on my experience of Universal Studios with a VIP Experience ticket, and a woman who is unhindered by a significant other or small children. My initial plan was to go hard early in the morning, walk to my Airbnb and take a nap, and then continue going hard. This did not happen.
A part of me thought I was crazy, choosing a 7 am time slot for my VIP Experience. It was a Friday in August. You can’t choose much more of a peak time than that. I got up at 5 am raring to go. Half of me was still in bed wailing about how it wasn’t even light outside yet. I was able to catch the free shuttle to go up the hill. At 6:15am there is hardly anyone on the shuttle. It was only running that early because during peak time the park runs it longest hours.
When you purchase your VIP ticket you are able to choose a time slot so that they can space people apart. The people who are scheduled at the same time will be with you on the whole tour. Towards the right of the entrance of the park is the VIP check-in. I would recommend getting there at least half an hour early. You want plenty of time to enjoy breakfast, watch the crowds from the balcony, and just chill before your grand adventure.
The selection for breakfast was pretty extensive. Different types of sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, fruit, pastries, and assorted beverages. Make sure to go outside on the balcony. I was there before they opened the gates, so I had the opportunity to witness the masses entering the park. You could tell who the truly hardcore people were. Some of the people ran in and you could tell they were heading straight for Harry Potter.
Since most of the park is still closed we went straight to the studio backlot tour. The VIP tour is approximately 2 hours long. Reading up on other people’s tours, this can vary immensely. What you see is dependent on where shooting is taking place and what you have time for. I can guarantee that the tour is much more intimate, longer, and you have more access than what the normal studio backlot tour gives you.
During the tour you get a couple of opportunities to get off the trolley and take photos. The clock tower from Back to the Future is always a popular spot to stop and take photos of. Another area that you can get off the trolley is the War of the Worlds set. The unfortunate Tom Cruise War of the Worlds version. The set is much more interesting than the movie itself. There are houses up on a hill that has a view of the lot. Did you know that they sent all of those people on a 1 week cruise when they were shooting? A FREE 1 week cruise!!!
During the tour we also stopped on the set of a show called Superstore. It was just like being in a normal department store. Some of the brands you would be able to recognize, but a lot were made up brands. I guess it depends on who is willing to pay to have their items advertised. Some items the names were a play on other popular brands.
My favorite stop on the tour was the prop warehouse. Universal’s prop collection is the largest in the industry and contains millions of items. During the tour you are able to look around on the first floor. You can see papers on some of the items that are reserved for different productions. No one is allowed to touch someone else’s paper. People have been banned from the warehouse for removing other people’s tags.
There will be a lot more images of the tour in the gallery.
After the studio tour we had a little time to kill before lunch. So we were able to hit a couple of the rides. Our outstanding tour guide would hold all of our bags and purses and would lead us to the special entrance for VIPs. For Jurassic Park ride he gave us ponchos, so that we wouldn’t get wet.
I read a lot of reviews that swore up and down how good the VIP lunch was. I was dismissive and didn’t think much of it till I actually tasted the food. The restaurant location is at the Moulin Rouge. Only the VIP people are allowed to eat here. I swear to you, the food is amazing. It really is. High quality ingredients, cooked well. I would of paid over $50 for my meal. I would pay to eat there again. There is a fridge of beverages that you can help yourself to. The sushi on the buffet was not your average buffet sushi. This stuff was actually good. It was better than some restaurants I’ve been to. Oysters, huge mussels, no sad limp overcooked vegetables, prime rib that melted in your mouth, and gold flakes adorned my dessert. You have the choice to eat inside or outside on this beautiful shaded patio with a view.
After gorging myself on some grub, it was time shake it all up on some rides. We met back up as a group and entered the Harry Potter section of the park. There was a wait of over 2 hours at Forbidden Journey. I waited maybe 10 minutes. It probably took me longer to wind through the place to get to the ride, then wait for the actual ride. The Flight of the Hippogriff ride may not be worth hitting if don’t have head of line privilege. I probably waited the longest for this ride, but not even half as long as the general admission people. The common thing that was said among it’s riders was, “Is that all?” I really liked this ride because it is the only roller coaster I’ve been able to open my eyes during. Worth it for me since it was a 10-15 minute wait, but no way would I have done it if I had to wait in regular line.
One of the few things you have access to only one time as a VIP is the Olivander Wand ceremony. You get to go in with your tour group. I doubt an adult ever gets selected for the wand ceremony. I went for a second time towards the end of the day. I thought the person that got selected would get a free or discounted wand… This is not the case. I actually feel bad for the parents who have a child chosen for the ceremony and then they are forced to buy the overpriced piece of plastic.
When we were done with Harry Potter we attended the Animals Actor show. Sit towards the front of the left side facing the stage for the pre-show entertainment. The tall nerdy looking guy in glasses is absolutely hilarious. He involved kids and adults with his antics. It was the best part of the show. There were also some special guest owls that starred in one of the Harry Potter movies.
After the show I had come to the decision it was time to ditch my tour group. I loved my tour guide, but all these people were holding me back. When we met outside of the show area, I asked the tour guide if it was okay for me to go off on my own and if I would have any trouble getting access to any rides or shows without the tour. He told me it wouldn’t be an issue at all and I just had to have my pass scanned. There was one other girl there who was by herself also, visiting from China. We both said our goodbyes, ditched the tour, and waved to each other as we separated into the crowds.
It was time to go balls to the wall and hit the pavement at super speed. I rode Forbidden Journey 3 times in a row. I probably passed a lot of same people in line each of those times. It got to the point that the ride was so predictable it lost all fun, but I did it because I could. I went on all of the rides at least 3 times. Forbidden Journey and Hippogriff I rode a total of 5 times each. All of the rides had a special entrance for people with passes. So I never had to deal with long lines of people.
I really enjoyed the short lived Laika exhibit that they had. Some of their earlier work was on display like Coraline and Box Trolls, but the major focus was on Kubo and the Two Strings. I still have to see that movie, but I loved looking at the models. The attention to detail and being able to get so close was wonderful. I noticed a lot of kids enjoyed it also.
On top of doing the rides over and over, I decide to take the normal studio back lot tour. There is an option to take the tour at night. There is still a special line if you have a pass for front of line privilege, but it wasn’t necessary at night. There were no lines at all and I was able to get on the tram right away. It was kind of fun seeing everything lit up at night. They also have a Marilyn Monroe with her iconic white dress. She only comes out on the back lot tour at night.
Before I knew it, it was close to 10 pm. I had been at Universal Studio since 6:30 am. I did a short walk through City Walk, which was the only time I really had to deal with over crowding. You could barely move inside Hot Topic. I finally caught the shuttle back down the hill and walked back to my Airbnb.
Below I have included some tips for tackling Universal Studios Hollywood. Make sure to also check out the gallery for an overabundance of images.
The following is a list of tips. The starred tips are for the VIPs.
- *Check in at least half an hour before your time slot.
- *There is some great people watching from the VIP lounge balcony. You can watch people entering the park.
- *Don’t worry about carrying around water, there are free water bottles in a cooler on the trolley for you to help yourself to.
- *Ride the rides till you can’t ride no more. You will feel you got your money’s worth and be so sick of them, you won’t need to go to Universal Studios again for a long time.
- *If you are looking to ditch your tour group, the best time is after lunch if you have done your studio tour and the wand ceremony. The wand ceremony is one the few things you only get special access to once and it has to be with your tour guide.
- *After lunch make sure to grab soda/water to go. This will be the last time you have access to free soda and water. Better to stock up at that time, then pay later.
- Don’t stand in line for butter beer. To the right of Three Broomsticks there is an entrance into a bar area. Walk right up to bar and order your butter beer. There wasn’t a single person in line, and after my purchase I sat in the shade and watched the crazy long lines at the butter beer carts. Victory never tasted so sweet.
- Butter beer comes blended and also on the rocks. If you don’t like things overly sweet, get the blended version.
- Plan meals for off peak times. I saw a line at Three Broomsticks that was an hour wait. Around 2 pm there was no line at all.
- Attend the wand ceremony towards the end of the day. 1-2 hours prior to close there is hardly a line. If it is your child’s birthday make sure they know. They will most likely get picked. Getting picked is amazing, but it does NOT get you a free wand. NOT even a discounted wand. Parents just get suckered into being forced to buy a wand because how can they explain to their child that the special wand that chose them costs an arm and a leg.
- It may seem cool to purchase your wand at Olivanders, but there are better options. Olivanders is a crazy, over crowded mad house. There are other stores and even carts you can visit. There was a cart outside of the Harry Potter ride that just carried wands. Even some of the stores that are located outside of Harry Potter land carry the wands. I was told that some of the wands aren’t even carried in Olivanders, you have to seek them out at the other locations.
- Waterworld is the most popular show, unlike the movie. haha. The areas where you might get wet are painted. But there is one area towards the front and towards the left facing the stage you are guaranteed to be soaked. It is like you dove into the deep end of a pool with all of your clothes on. It is why I didn’t take many photos. I had my little purse inside a ziplock bag to protect my important stuff from getting wet. I went prepared. There were a couple of people upset, but they were warned.
- It is a waste of time traveling back and forth from the two sections of Universal. There is an upper portion and a lower portion. It is better to complete one, and then move on to the next.
- I think that the best side to ride on the tram for the back lot tour is the right side when you are facing the driver. They try to have things on both sides, but I think the right side has the most things you will want to take pictures of. Or take the tram twice and ride on a different side each time.