‘ve put together a list of expert Universal Studios Hollywood tips to help you make the most of your day. Minimizing line waiting and forming an efficient strategy will be key to having fun, especially for first-time visitors in today’s climate.

Some of my Universal Studios tips and tricks will also help you save money so that you can bring home a new wand or splurge on a donut the size of your head.

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Best Time to Go to Universal Studios Hollywood

1. Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood in the summer is very busy, plus LA heat is real. School is out and this is one of the most popular things to do in Los Angeles with kids.

Spring (outside of spring break), winter (outside of winter break), and fall are less busy options. It’s probably a no-brainer that public holidays should be avoided, if possible.

2. Plan your excursion for midweek when there are typically fewer people. If you can be flexible with dates, check out isitpacked.com to help you decide which day will be the least crowded. 

3. Are you keen on a little celeb-spotting? Well, this is another benefit of going midweek as you might glimpse your favorite star hard at work.

4. Check park opening times and try to arrive at least 30 minutes before. This will give you some time to park your car and be close to the front for the first entry. Also, a line forms at the entrance gates before the park opens for the day. You’ll enjoy a slight head start to favorite rides and attractions if you’re not toward the end of this line.

Saving Money on Tickets

5. You do not need to buy tickets directly through Universal Studios. Direct tickets no longer offer early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They offer access to the AMEX lounge if you buy upgraded tickets (more on this below), but the money you’ll save elsewhere will likely override this convenience.

6. Buy tickets in advance. This is the most essential money and timesaving tip when it comes to admission. Theme parks across the world are endeavoring to go touch-free and minimize onsite transactions. One way to assist is having tickets in-hand or scanned on a mobile device.

7. There is no need to pay gate pricing on admission. I have covered how to buy Universal Studios Hollywood discount tickets from authorized sellers in detail. The savings are significant and I have partnered with aRes Travel to offer some of the lowest pricing around.

8. Consider buying the Universal Express Pass, which provides shorter wait times for eligible rides, shows, and attractions. You can choose one-time priority access or unlimited priority access via a designated queue to every eligible ride, show, and attraction. It’s the not-so-secret Universal Hollywood secret and can also be purchased in advance at a discount.

I would strongly consider this upgrade during summer, winter break, and spring break. Universal Express excludes Mario Kart™: Bowser’s Challenge, but it does include reservation-free entry into SUPER NINTENDO WORLD™ when reservations are required to enter the land.

9. For the ultimate stress-free day, opt for the VIP Experience. It includes valet parking, breakfast, unlimited priority access, and a buffet-style lunch. You will also have a 6–8-hour personalized guided tour of the park.

10. If you’re worried about cramming everything into one day and have the time, then a two-day pass is a good option. This allows you to take it slowly, let smaller kids return to the hotel for naps, or for Harry Potter fans to comb through The Wizarding World over and over again.

11. If you plan to visit other Southern California theme parks or Los Angeles attractions, consider a sightseeing pass like the Go Los Angeles Card.

General Tips for Universal Studios Hollywood

Two guests on the Studio Tour look at King Kong.
The King Kong segment of the Studio Tour is awesome.

12. Download the Universal Studios Hollywood App. This will save you time searching for shows, reserving spots, and locating restaurants and attractions. 

13. Of course, how you spend your day depends on what attractions, shows, and rides are your priority. Here’s one of the most important Universal Studios Hollywood tips. Check out the show schedule when you arrive and plan everything else around that. Rides run consistently during park open hours, but shows happen only at set times.

14. The World-Famous Studio Tour closes before the park does, so don’t forget to fit that in well before closing times. Doing the tour at midday is a great way to rest your feet while you relax on the tram while touring the backlot, seeing the set of Jaws, and running into King Kong.

15. The park is divided into an Upper Lot and Lower Lot and it’s best to see one first and then the other. Very long escalators connect the two areas. The ride takes about 10 minutes — it feels even longer than that — though luckily, the escalators are mostly covered to protect you from the sun.

16. Universal City in Los Angeles is not near the beach and can get quite hot during the summer months. However, remember to drink sufficient water and pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen during any time of the year. Our SoCal sun nearly always shines, and you can get sunburned even on a foggy day in December.

17. If anyone in your group is celebrating a birthday, stop by Guests Relations near the entrance for a special birthday button.

Eating & Drinking

18. Eat breakfast before arriving at the park. This way, you can head straight to the rides, shows, and attractions without having to stop somewhere first to soothe a grumbling stomach. That being said they do serve a hearty breakfast at Three Broomsticks inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

19. You cannot bring food into the park, but you can bring water, baby food, medically necessary food, and some snacks in small soft-sided bags. I recommend packing some energy snacks and water bottles to save you time and money. 

20. Peak meal times are busy, and there are no table-service restaurants where you can make reservations in advance. Time your lunch and dinner plans outside peak hours to avoid waiting ages for a table or a meal. Snacks come in handy for this reason. You can now preorder food for pickup at some locations through the app.

21. Universal Studios Hollywood tips for guests who are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or dairy-free include checking the online dietary food guide before arriving. This knowledge makes it easy to decide which restaurant to go to in case you need to plan your day around it.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

My daughter debates which Magic Want station in Hogsmeade to try.
My daughter likes the interactive Magic Wands stations.

22. Make Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey the first ride of the day. There is less pressure to do this with a Universal Express pass. However, if we arrive before the park opens (so that we’re among the first to enter the park) and head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we’ve been able to breeze through the regular line and save the Universal Express entry for later in the day.

23. Make your second ride of the day Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s a very short, very tame roller coaster that is fun for younger kids. If they can’t ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, make this your first ride.

24. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is probably the busiest area in the entire theme park. My daughter likes to split up her visit by starting and ending the day here. I think this is a good strategy, though I like to eat at the Three Broomsticks, and you can grab a craft beer at the Hogs Head bar.

25. The line for Ollivander’s usually gets shorter in the afternoons. It can be long, just after the park opens, as eager kids with their parents in tow rush over to participate in a wand ceremony and to buy their wands for the day.

26. Speaking of wands, get the interactive wands. They cost a little bit more but can be used at the 15 Magic Wands stations sprinkled throughout Hogsmeade where wand-holders cast spells that trigger a “magical” reaction at each station.

Rides, Attractions, and Shows

(There are a lot of Universal Studios Hollywood rides to enjoy but don’t forget about the shows!)

27. Use the Child Switch option on rides if you’ve got small children in tow. When a child is too short to go on a ride, one adult can wait in the Child Switch area and immediately get to the front of the line when the others return. 

28. Take advantage of the single-rider lines. You’ll likely not ride with your friends, but it’s the quickest way to get on a ride if you don’t have Universal Express.

29. Arrive at least 15 minutes early for shows. Doors close when seating reaches full capacity.

30. Be prepared to put bags in lockers on thrill rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Revenge of the Mummy.

31. Pay attention to minimum height requirements for rides. Knowing what younger kids can and can’t ride in advance can help avoid tears of disappointment on the day.

32. Join the Virtual Line for WaterWorld. Once you enter the park, load the app to reserve a Virtual Line Pass. This eliminates the risk of you missing out on these incredible live stunts.

33. The Simpsons Ride and Transformers: The Ride-3D are 3D rides. If you are sensitive to motion sickness, these may not be for you. I close my eyes and take Dramamine, but you can also buy glasses that turn 3D movies back to 2D.

34. The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash ride can also be reserved through the app with a Virtual Line Pass.

Universal Studios Tips for Maximum Time Saving

35. Bring an external battery because the app will drain your phone battery. There is a FuelRod station near the lockers by the main entrance. If you don’t have one of these tiny external batteries to exchange, you can buy a starter FuelRod kit.

36. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the park.

37. Leave your souvenir shopping until the end of the day. It’s tough to resist a giant chocolate frog or Hogwarts house gear, but it’s easiest to purchase and carry it straight to the car or hotel. Alternatively, you can hold and pick up packages at the Universal Studios Store near the exit.

38. Spend the night at one of the hotels near Universal Studios Hollywood so you don’t have far to travel. We like Hilton Universal City and Sheraton Universal Hotel, which I have reviewed in detail. Both are located within walking distance of the theme park and CityWalk. Or, you can take the complimentary shuttle that runs on a loop between the two hotels, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal CityWalk.

39. Bring your Visa card for a handful of exclusive Visa benefits and rewards throughout the park. One such promotion includes some cardholder promotions at restaurants in Universal CityWalk Hollywood: NBC Sports Grill & Brew, VIVO Italian Kitchen, Antojitos Cocina Mexicana, and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Note: There used to be am American Express lounge but it is closed as they are no longer an official partner.

40. Speaking of, don’t forget about Universal CityWalk. Sure, this entertainment area is a little touristy. Still, it’s open now with some restaurants offering patio dining (some Instagram-worthy snacks are here, like Voodoo Doughnuts and Mini Monster), and you can browse most of the shops.

What are your favorite Universal Studios Hollywood tips and tricks?

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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