Check out my more comprehensive Ultimate USJ Guide and Tips to planning a magical experience.
Spend less time queuing and more time enjoying yourself
Hogwarts Castle where the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 4D ride is at. Credit: @Rachelwongggg
Universal Studios Japan is one of the must-dos in Osaka especially if you’re a fan of Harry Potter (*raises hand frantically). The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is without a doubt the main highlight while visiting. I mean who wouldn’t want to forgo our muggle (normal human folk) status for a day and immerse ourselves in a world of magical possibilities.
Growing up, I poured over the Harry Potter books and films. I even went to the lengths of rereading all the previous books whenever a new one came out (yes I read Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone 7 times).
Why spend time queueing when you can be enjoying a Butter Beer. Image Credit: @Rachelwongggg
So when I got the chance to visit Osaka with The Travel Intern, I jumped on the chance to visit Hogwarts at Universal Studios Japan. The problem though, is that despite the rides being in Japanese, there are still plenty of foreign tourists visiting the park on top of the locals. In fact it attracts on average 13 million people each year! Apparently waits of up to 300mins for a ride isn’t uncommon.
Having only a single day to visit the park, we researched extensively and finally came up with an ultimate guide to maximising your time at Universal Studios Japan.
Here’s a couple of tricks to ensure you get to experience everything you want in a single day:
1) Purchase your tickets beforehand
Universal Globe. Credit: @Rachelwongggg
While tickets can be purchased at the front counter, the lines can get really long. By long I mean really really long. Many unsuspecting foreign tourists end up queueing even after the park gates have opened. Can you imagine waiting outside while people are already streaming into the park? You can also purchase them online via the official website, but the ticketing site is only in Japanese. So unless you have a Japanese friend who can help you out, it’s literally impossible to navigate the site.
USJ is currently having their 15th Anniversary. Credit: @Rachelwongggg
Not wanting to lose out to the locals, we ended up booking our tickets to Universal Studios Japan via Klook. Activity booking sites like Klook work like online travel agents but without the frills. What I especially found convenient was their mobile app which allowed us to book on the go. The e-ticket was issued immediately and we simply had to scan the QR code at the entrance for entry. No need to collect your tickets beforehand or fear that you will misplace them.
The best part was that the price was literally the same! Actually it’s slightly cheaper. (Correct as of publish date)
– Single day studio pass outside ticketing booth: ¥7400 or SGD94
– Single day studio pass via Klook: SGD92
For first time users, there’s even an additional US$3.50 (or SGD$5) discount when you use my promo code <KLOOKTTI> on your mobile app. Simply click Promotions and enter the code.
*Btw, Klook is running their biggest summer sale and you can get “$35+$35=$70” off with a minimum spending of S$350 using the code <SUMMER70> on all your attractions and activities across Asia! More info here.
Universal Express Passes can be bought too, though these are sold in limited quantities. If you can, book early!
Pro-tip: I highly recommend getting the Express Passes especially if you are going there on a weekend. It’s no fun spending an entire day queueing.
2) Arrive before gates open
A queue forming at the entrance even though we arrived an hour early.
This might seem like a very Singaporean thing, but trust me, there are far more competitively “kiasu” (eager) people than us. Despite getting our tickets earlier we decided to arrive at 8am, a full hour before the park opened. Yet there was already a decent queue in front of us.
When the park opened, people were literally running to their attraction of choice. Locals and tourists alike. We were a little too cool to run, but thankfully because of good planning, got to our first rollercoaster (Hollywood Dream -The Ride Back Drop) with only a 5min wait.
USJ in the evening. Credit: @Rachelwongggg
Do note that the park has different opening hours throughout the year so be sure to check out the official site for the calendar timings.
Note: We had bought some food at a nearby convenience store hoping to eat while waiting for the park to open. However Universal Studios very recently started conducting bag checks and disallowing food to be brought into the park. They weren’t very strict though, so you can probably still stuff an onigiri into your pocket. Just be sure to dispose them properly!
3) Grab a timed ticket first for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Hogwarts Express complete with luggage and steam.
To cope with crowds flocking to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter during peak periods, a timed ticketing system was introduced. You basically need to get your hands on a free ticket that gives you a designated time to enter that section of the park. Without which you may not be able to enter and down your favourite butter beer.
Close up of Hogwarts Castle. Hogsmeade. Looks like the real thing in the movies. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Fancy jelly beans!
There are two main ways to get your hands on one:
(A) Ticketing Site on the day of admission
What this means is that you need to rush to the ticketing site inside Universal Studios Japan at Central Park to obtain your timed ticket. Perhaps this was what everyone was running for. Once there, you simply designate the time you want to enter. Do note that the ticket is one-time use only, meaning you cannot re-enter using the same ticket. The good news though is that once you are inside, you can stay there for as long as you want.
For those who opt to do this, you run the risk of not getting the slot you want as there are limited tickets for every timing. I’ll suggest either getting an early morning or late afternoon slot so you have time to enjoy the rest of the park at one go.
Warning: If you’re a Harry Potter fan, expect to spend a longer time than expected inside
(B) Advanced time entry ticket with the Universal Express Pass
If you prefer not to leave things to chance, purchasing an Express Pass also gets you a timed ticket to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in advance. From what I know, only the “Universal Express Pass 4 – Flying Dinosaur” doesn’t include a timed ticket. You can check out the various types of express passes here.
Once you get your timed tickets, do keep track of time! You won’t be able to enter with the same ticket once you miss the time slot.
4) Queue at Single Rider Lanes
Get some minion buns and mochi to pass time while queueing. Super adorable!
For some reason, the Japanese don’t really like queueing at Single Rider Lanes even though it can be 50% faster. I mean when you’re on the ride, you can’t exactly talk to your friends too!
So unless you really need to be beside your friends because they are freaking out, hop onto the Single Rider Lanes instead. You still get to queue together and the only difference is that you’ll be sitting beside a stranger. By the end of the ride, you might not even be strangers anymore as you scream your lungs out together.
5) Rank the rides by importance and strategise
The park isn’t that big but on super crowded days, it might be tough to conquer all the rides. To minimise disappointment, I suggest coming up with a list of rides by importance and head to those higher up the list first. It’s easy to get distracted and explore the park by zones, but giving in to your intuition may not be the smartest thing to do. There’s plenty of time left to explore the shops and fringe activities if you plan your time well.
If you like thrills like we do, aim for the rollercoasters first because those will perpetually have a long queue.
Here’s a quick take on some of our favourite rides:
The Flying Dinosaur
Hands down the best rollercoaster in the entire park. If you only have time for one extreme ride, this is it. Imagine being grabbed by an out of control Pteranodon flying through the sky. Lots of sudden acceleration and drops.
Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop
The cool thing about this rollercoaster is that you experience everything backwards. Which means it’s super unpredictable and you won’t be able to anticipate drops and sharp turns. You can even select your own music track for the ride!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
4D rides don’t get better than this. While it’s weird seeing Harry Potter talk to you in Japanese, the idea of zooming through Hogwarts on a enchanted cabinet can’t be missed. It was surprisingly thrilling for a 4D ride too.
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman:
Experience fire and water as you follow Spiderman while he takes on villains in New York City. A really enjoyable ride with lots of well timed effects!
It might sound like a lot of work, but remember that if you arrive early, you’ll probably have an hour ahead before the park opens. Use this time to plan and maximise your time inside the park!
If you can’t wait till then, you can download the studio map here as well.
A visit to Universal Studios Japan can be a lot of fun, but if you really want to maximise your enjoyment, some preparation is needed. After all you don’t want to spend so much money only to spend most of your time queuing inside the park.
Hope found this post useful! Maybe it’s time to book your tickets to Universal Studios Japan now.
If you’re heading to Osaka, you might want to check out Osaka Budget Guide: Travel for under $70 a day including accommodation too.
Check out my more comprehensive Ultimate USJ Guide and Tips to planning a magical experience.
Got another tip to share? Drop them in the comments section below!