How To Do Universal Studios Hollywood In One Day – By An Annual Pass Holder

As annual pass holders, we’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park multiple times over the past decade.

Universal Studios Hollywood is a relatively small theme park and therefore can often easily be completed in a single day without significant compromise on the rides and attractions you experience during your trip to the park.

However, as with all theme parks, it’s important to fully research and plan your trip to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park to ensure that your day is as successful as possible.

Visit In The Off-Season

The best time to visit Universal Studios Hollywood is in the off-season. These are the months of January and February or September and October (excluding any bank holidays).

During this time you’ll benefit from lower crowds, shorter lines and cheaper prices (both for park tickets and hotels).

This generally makes visiting Universal Studios Hollywood in one day a breeze.

However, we understand that this isn’t always possible.

Instead, sometimes the only time you have off work to visit the park is during peak times such as Spring Break or over a bank holiday weekend.

Thankfully it’s still possible to visit Universal Studios Hollywood in one day during these times.

However, we’d advise wherever possible to try and visit the park on a Monday through to a Thursday – since the weekends can be even busier.

If you have to visit Universal Studios Hollywood on a weekend during the peak season then you’ll likely be able to benefit from later opening hours (generally either 8pm or 9pm instead of the 6pm closing times experienced midweek).

You’ll want to take advantage of this, and potentially an Express Pass depending on how much you’re looking at getting from the day.

Buy Your Tickets In Advance

When you arrive at Universal Studios Hollywood, you don’t want to be spending your precious time in line for a park ticket – especially if you’ve gone ahead and arrived at the park early for when it opens (which we highly recommend).

Instead, it’s both quicker and more convenient to purchase your park ticket in advance.

This also guarantees your entry into the park on that selected date – something which may not be possible if you try to purchase a park ticket when arriving at the theme park, especially during peak season!

We recommend purchasing Universal Studios Hollywood tickets from Get Your Guide or Universal Studios if you’re based in the US or Canada. Alternatively, we recommend Attraction Tix if you’re based in the UK.

Stay Nearby

While there are no dedicated on-site hotels at Universal Hollywood, there are a number of nearby accommodation options in the Beverly Hills and Burbank area for you to choose from.

Since the traffic in LA is notoriously bad staying in a nearby hotel could potentially save you over an hour each way – and even mean you may be able to walk from your accommodation to the theme park.

Purchase Express Passes

With a Universal Express Pass, you’re able to skip the standby line for the vast majority of rides which can save you on average 70% compared to the standard wait time (in our experience).

However, an Express Pass isn’t always necessary to see everything Universal Studios Hollywood has to offer in a single day, especially during the off-season.

That being said, the size of the park and number of attractions means that Express Passes for Universal Studios Hollywood are significantly cheaper than those at Universal Studios Orlando and generally cost around $60 per person, plus tax (in addition to your park entry).

Express Passes can be purchased with your park entry (either online in advance or at the gate) or purchased as an add-on once you’re inside the park.

Therefore if you’re unsure as to whether an Express Pass may be right for you, it’s sometimes a good idea to wait to see how busy the park is and what the average wait times for the most popular rides are inside the park once you arrive.

Plan How You’ll Get To The Theme Park

Whether you’re staying in a hotel close to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, or across down it’s important to plan in advance how you’re going to get to the theme park so you can understand how long it may take, and in selected cases how much it will cost.

Doing this in advance rather than on the morning of your trip to the theme park will ensure that you arrive in time for rope drop and can take the most budget-friendly or convenient option depending on your preference.

Get Preferred Parking Or Front Gate Parking

If you are driving to Universal Studios Hollywood, then one way to save time is to upgrade your parking. This means going from general parking to either preferred parking or front gate parking.

Preferred parking is $10 extra (plus tax) when compared to general parking, and this gets your parking spot closer to CityWalk and subsequently the entrance to the Universal Studios theme park.

Meanwhile, front gate parking as you might have guessed allows you to park at the entrance to both CityWalk and Universal Studios Hollywood, however, this is double the price of general parking at $50 plus tax.

Valet parking is also available. However, this doesn’t allow you to park your car closer to the entrance of Universal Studios when compared to Front Gate Parking.

Allow Extra Time For Public Transport

While driving can often seem the most convenient way of getting to Universal Studios Hollywood, it’s not always the quickest or the cheapest.

During a recent trip, we stayed in Downtown LA and took the Universal City Red Line to Universal City/Studio Station. From there we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the park.

This was significantly cheaper than a ride-share service such as Uber or Lyft at just $3.50 each (using an existing TAP card) and given that we were travelling during the peak commute time, quicker too!

However, if you’re taking public transport then you’ll want to allow extra time for buying tickets (if not done in advance), missed buses, late trains and walking between your accommodation and the metro or the metro and the theme park itself.

Research The Rides & Attractions

Once you’ve bought your park tickets and planned the major factors of your trip to Los Angeles, it’s time to start thinking about your time specifically inside the Universal Studios Hollywood park.

You’ll want to begin with a complete list of all the rides and attractions inside the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Then, if you’re travelling with children you’ll want to find out the height requirements for each of these rides and measure your child(ren) to find out which rides they are tall enough to go on.

Once you have a list of eligible rides, it’s then time to combine your ‘personal preferences ‘must-experience’ list. These are the rides and attractions that your day to Universal Studios Hollywood wouldn’t be complete without you experiencing.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to go on all eligible rides and attractions. However, this must-experience list allows you to plan for the worst-case scenario depending on crowds etc. It also allows you to prioritise which rides you should go on first.

You’ll also want to get an understanding of the most popular attractions within the park. It’s highly likely rides on your ‘must-experience’ list are also some of the most popular within the park and subsequently can often experience long lines.

Find the ride or attraction on your must-experience list with the longest wait time, this will then be the ride you go to first at rope drop (since this is when the ride will have the shortest wait time).

We generally find that the most popular rides at Universal Hollywood include;

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • The World-Famous Studio Tour
  • The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Simpsons Ride

Research The Food & Drink Options

Depending on the interests of yourself and those you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with it may be worth researching the different dining options available inside the theme park.

This planning allows you to know where you’d most like to eat before you get hungry, rather than simply turning up at the nearest restaurant inside the park when lunchtime strikes.

For example, most Harry Potter fans will want to eat at the Three Broomsticks inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter while young kids might get more of a kick out of eating at the Minion Cafe.

The Universal Hollywood website provides menus (and prices) for all of the dining options inside the theme park (and CityWalk) so you can ensure that there’s something everyone is going to enjoy in advance – perfect for picky eaters!

Avoid Creating A Timetable

During the planning stage of your trip to Universal Studios Hollywood it can be very easy to create some sort of timetable; i.e. 10am – Revenge of the Mummy Ride, 12pm – Lunch at Krusty Burger.

The problem with this, however, is that it never goes to plan and you’re pretty much always either disappointed or lacking spontaneity – or both!

What if you’re not hungry at 12pm?

What if your child is swept up in the magic of Harry Potter and wants to experience the wand ceremony at Ollivanders?

Instead, we recommend you try to stick loosly to the guidelines covered in this post (see below) to maximise your time while still allowing for the flexibility you need throughout the day based on the circumstances.

Download The Universal Hollywood Mobile Application

While there are a number of boards situated around Universal Hollywood sharing show times and the current wait times for selected rides, it’s significantly easier to have all this information (and more) at your fingertips via the Universal Studios Hollywood mobile application.

The mobile app is available for both iOS and Android, and while it will require internet access Universal Hollywood has complimentary Wi-Fi available throughout the park.

Arrive Early

The best time to arrive at Universal Hollywood is between 15 and 30 minutes before the park opens. This way you’ll be at the entrance of the park ready and waiting as the gates open.

From there you can go straight to the ride with the longest wait time on average that’s also on your ‘must-experience’ list (see plan ahead).

This means that if Universal Studios Hollywood opens at 9am on the day of your visit you’ll want to be at the gates ready and waiting between 8.30am and 8.45am.

From this, you’ll want to work backwards to understand what time you need to both leave your accommodation and what time you’ll need to wake up.

So, if you’re aiming to arrive at the park entrance at 8.30am and plan to park in the general parking lot, then you’ll likely want to be parking your vehicle at between 8am and 8.10am to give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to walk through CityWalk to the park entrance.

If the drive from your accommodation to Universal Studios is 30 minutes then this means you’ll probably want to set off between 7.15am and 7.30am. If you’re planning on grabbing breakfast on the way, then you’ll need to factor this in and leave earlier.

If it’s likely to take you an hour to get ready, then this means getting up at between 6am and 6.30am.

Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive

One of the most common mistakes we see people making when visiting the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park is arriving at the park early, and heading for breakfast instead of to a ride or attraction.

The first hour after the park opens is the quietest you’ll likely experience it all day.

It’s the best chance you have of waiting in a 10 minute like for The World Famous Studio Tour or Flight of the Hippogriff instead of 30 or even 45 minutes later in the day.

As such this can be the difference between going on 8 rides within the park or all 12.

Therefore we highly recommend you have breakfast before you arrive at the theme park (be sure to factor this into your time, see arrive early above) and bring snacks with you to keep you going throughout those key morning hours.

Avoid CityWalk – For Now

If you’ve driven to Universal Studios and parked in the general or preferred parking lot then the likelihood is you’ll be walking through the entertainment complex CityWalk to get to the entrance of the theme park.

With an extensive range of food, drink, shops and experiences available here it’s very easy to get distracted. However, we recommend saving CityWalk for after your day at the theme park.

This gives you time to stroll around the stores at your leisure without giving up time inside the park – which let’s face it, is what you came to Universal for in the first time!

Visiting CityWalk in the evening also means that any souvenirs you purchase won’t have to be carried around the park all day and instead can be taken back to your car easily.

Cover The Lower Lot Together

The series of escalators connecting the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot of the Universal Studios Hollywood park can take around 10 minutes each way.

As such to save you from wasting your time here multiple times a day we highly recommend covering the small number of rides and attractions within the Lower Lot of the park at once.

Given that you arrive at the park on the Upper Lot most people look to complete this area of the park before heading to the Lower Lot.

Subsequently, crowds within the Lower Lot (and long lines) occur in the afternoon. As such it’s recommended where possible you cover the Lower Lot during your morning at the park.

Eat Outside Of Peak Times

Much like the rides themselves, the restaurants within Universal Studios Hollywood also get busier at selected times during the day.

For lunch, this is generally between 12pm and 1.30pm and for dinner, this is usually between 6pm and 8pm.

As a result, if you’re able to eat lunch after 1.30pm or dinner before 6pm or after 8pm then you’ll find that the lines within the restaurants are shorter and finding a table to sit at is easier.

This can sometimes also mean that wait times for rides and attractions are shorter since everyone is heading for food.

Use Single Rider Lines

Single-rider lines are the fastest way to get on a ride without having a Universal Express Pass. However, they also mean splitting up your party.

As a result, the single-rider line isn’t for everyone, and depending on how long the standby line is, riding solo may not always be a worthwhile trade-off.

The following rides at Universal Studios Hollywood have a single-rider line;

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride
  • Transformers: The Ride 3D
  • Jurassic World – The Ride

Use Child Switch

If you’re visiting Universal Studios Hollywood with children then make sure you’re aware of the Child Switch service.

Child Switch is designed for rides that adults or older kids want to go that other shorter members of the party can not ride.

This means that an adult can wait with the younger members of the party in the attraction’s Child Switch room while the rest of the party goes on the ride. Once the rest of the party returns you can switch – allowing all eligible guests to go on the ride without waiting in line twice.

Stay Late

If you’re visiting on a Friday or over the weekend then you’ll typically find that Universal Hollywood is open late (8pm and 9pm instead of 6pm).

However, people generally leave the park to head back to their accommodation between 4pm and 6pm.

Subsequently, the average wait times for rides tend to drop between 20% to 30% when compared to the peak times of the day.

If you don’t have an Express Pass then this is the perfect time to go on some of the more popular rides within the park that you might not have already had the chance to experience.

Pack Light

Wherever possible we recommend you only bring a small bag or a fanny pack of belongings with you for your day at the Universal Studios theme park.

While you will still be required to put these inside a locker during selected rides it’s generally significantly easier and less time-consuming to do so.

Bringing just a small bag also allows you to comfortably and easily move through the parks.

Of course, depending on the time of year you’re visiting, what you bring to Universal Studios will likely vary dramatically.

For example, if you’re visiting in the summer then a sunhat, sunblock and a chapstick are essential. However, if you’re visiting in the winter months then a light jacket and an umbrella will likely be a better choice.

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