It’s hard to believe it was more than a month ago since we left Brisbane to head on our first family overseas holiday to LA. I thought I’d share our family travels in a series of posts so you can come with me as I reminisce. Our experiences may also help you if you’re planning your own trip to America. This post will focus on sharing Universal Studios Hollywood Family Tips for a one day visit at Christmas. You can get multi-day passes, but we only had one day allocated in our itinerary, so we did as much as we could fit in.
The last time I was in Universal Studios Hollywood was 20 years ago. I was 14 and it was the first time mum and dad took us overseas. In many ways it was a similar trip that we took our girls this past Christmas. There were familiar sights from all those years ago, but new rides and attractions made it feel new again.
You’d hope a lot had changed in 20 years and I think the park is even better. But maybe that’s because I knew many of the movies and shows this time round that were filmed at the studios. And also, I was seeing the park through my daughters’ eyes.
Upon entering the park, we had no plan of attack, but we still got to see and experience what we wanted. There were a few things that made this easier for us, which I’m about to share if you plan to head to Universal Studios Hollywood during Christmas.
1. Get to the park close to entry time
If you have one day planned for Universal Studios, get to the park close to the entry time or half an hour after. The park opens at 8:30am. Our planned trip was on a Saturday, 2 weeks before Christmas which made it the busiest day to go to the park. But you have to plan your itinerary around when you go and Saturday was the best day for us to attend. Most people sleep in on a Saturday and Sunday morning, so the park was quiet first thing and meant small queues to popular rides and attractions. The park didn’t get busy till mid-morning.
2. Get Fast Passes
My mum was awesome in organizing this. I actually preferred this Fast Pass system as opposed to the one at Disneyland. You can upgrade your normal entry pass to a fast pass (extra fee required), which is worn around your neck and scanned at each ride if you want to skip the queue. This certainly saved us a bit of time! We had to go into the park at the Box Office kiosk to get these.
Once you have your Fast Pass, it gives you priority access to each ride ONCE. And once it’s used for that ride, if you want to go on the ride again, you need to line up with everyone else in the normal queue. If you have one day in Universal Studios, you will most likely only want to go on each ride once to fit in as much as you can in the day.
Be wise when you use your fast pass. We were told if the lines were 20mins or less, don’t use the fast pass, but redeem it during peak hours – some rides can accrue a 2 hour wait. We only went on rides once. Except Esther, who went twice on the Harry Potter Flight Ride.
3. Toys and souvenirs are ridiculously expensive! Play a game instead and win a prize.
Buying a souvenir from the park is a common thing to do. I still have my Dolly puppy toy (from the Beethoven II movie) which I bought 2 decades ago when I first went to Universal Studios. Jacob and I didn’t want anything from the park. Everything was quite expensive and when you convert the American dollars to Australian, the souvenirs were easy to leave behind.
However, when you have kids who are experiencing their first theme park, they will want to buy something to remember their time.
If your kid is adamant about getting a soft toy as a souvenir, head to the Super Silly Fun Land based on the theme park from the Despicable Me movie.
The unicorn and minions are prizes in the mini fun park. At first, we decided not to waste money on a game. But I saw one game that said every child is a winner and it cost $6 per child. The girls played their game and each won a Unicorn from the movie. When soft toys started from US$19 and up, this was a great compromise. It was $18 well spent and the toys couldn’t even be purchased from the stores. The girls now have their unicorns displayed in their rooms.
4. Get Pizza for lunch if you haven’t packed any
We budgeted to buy our meals in the parks. Due to a carb-filled breakfast and jet-lag, we weren’t hungry for lunch till 2pm. This proved to be an ideal time to purchase lunch as it was crowded and again the queues were long at 12-1pm. Mum and I opted to buy a family pizza which was 7 slices – enough for each member of the family to get their own slice. The pizza was massive and cost $50US. This saved us having to buy meals for each individual person.
5. Studio Tour is a MUST DO
I remember doing the studio tour on my last visit to Universal Studios Hollywood and loved it. The tour was based on movies that had been shown at the time like Dantes Peak, Back to the Future and The Truman Show, to name a few.
I didn’t know what to expect this time on the tour but it certainly didn’t disappoint. The girls loved this part of their visit at Universal Studios Hollywood the most. Stand outs for me on this tour were seeing sets from The Good Place and 3D experiences of the recent Jurassic Park and King Kong movies.
6. Attendants will take photos on your phone, for free
We got a few family pictures taken in the park with characters like Transformers, Max the Dog from The Grinch movie, Dora the Explorer and The Simpsons. Professional photos can be downloaded with a photo pass. We could pass our phone to an attendant to take the pictures on our phone, no fee required.
7. Dealing with minimum heights on rides
Phoebe (age 4 and 40 inches tall = just over 1 meter tall) was able to go on most of the rides.
The only ones she couldn’t go on with us were on the Harry Potter rides (we didn’t attempt to try The Mummy ride but she was too little for this too). These rides had the longest waits. Mum and dad took Phoebe while Jacob and I took the older girls on the Harry Potter rides. The four of us could go on the Flight of the Hippogriff which is a roller coaster. The girls loved it. I screamed my head off.
Unfortunately, Maggie was too short to go on the second ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Ride. We were in a bit of a pickle with this as mum and dad had Phoebe somewhere in the park and we wanted to experience the ride. The attendant told us they had a child waiting room where one parent could sit with the child who couldn’t ride. I went on with Esther first, and then she wanted to go again so Jacob went on while I waited with Maggie. This ride is super popular. With the fast pass, it still took us 45mins to get on this ride though.
8. Shows can give respite to weary legs
There are all sorts of shows available at Universal Studios. We went to the Special Effects Show and the Secret Life of Pets Show.
The Special Effects Show is great for an older audience. While there are warnings ‘don’t try this at home kids’, there was one special effect where a lady had her arm chopped off and fake blood went everywhere. It was a bit too gruesome for the girls to see, personally.
The Secret Life of Pets was a much better family show where animals did tricks and the trainers showed how difficult it can be working with animals for film.
9. Stay for the lighting of the Who-Ville Tree
As we were visiting at Christmas, we waited for the lighting of the Who-Ville Christmas Tree which was magical and fun. The photo below is only half of the tree lit up as I was holding a child up to see. Universal Studios was decorated with lights and snow with a Grinch theme. It’s a fab way to get into the magic of Christmas.
10. Have Dinner at Universal City Walk Hollywood
This is a separate street outside of Universal Studios which is free to enter. A bit like Downtown Disney if you’ve been to Disneyland.
We headed here on our first night after getting into LA to get dinner. We also went down this street after our visit to the theme park.
The first night we had Bubber Gumps and the second night we went to Johnny Rockets where Jacob had this Bacon and Maple Syrup Milkshake.
Universal Studios Hollywood is a fantastic theme park to visit if you head to LA. We’ve got fond memories of our visit.
One of the key areas most visitors head to Universal Studios Hollywood at Christmas is to see the Wizarding World from Harry Potter with it’s night fall of snow and floating candles and singing. The whole area comes alive. We walked through here as it was starting to begin in the early evening. The crowds were epic and the kids aren’t into Harry Potter as much as The Grinch – it might be an age thing. So we opted to watch the lighting of the Who-Ville tree instead.
We didn’t pressure ourselves to see everything because we expected crowds and were happy to just be on holidays. Walking down the themed areas of the park was wonderful, especially when decorated for Christmas.
Have you ever been to Universal Studios Hollywood? Got any Universal Studios Hollywood family tips to share from your trip?