Universal Studios Hollywood brings the magic of the movies—plus the magic of Harry Potter—to life. But you may feel like you need a little magic of your own to navigate the park without collapsing from exhaustion. There’s a lot to see and do, especially when visiting the park with kids. Of all the LA-area theme parks, Universal Studios is the one where the rides and activities are easier to separate into what is appropriate for which age group. This makes a game plan easy when visiting with a gaggle of kids who are all the same age, but trickier for family visits with kids of multiple ages. But we’ve got you covered.
Also, Universal is a big park, as your calf muscles will no doubt remind you the day after your visit. While parks like Knott's or SeaWorld can be approached with a devil-may-care, keep-your-stinkin'-map sort of spontaneity, Universal's Jurassic size is better served by a plan. Consider including these ten tips when you form yours.
Jurassic Park's lines are shortest early in the day. Photo by Ana Paula Hirama/CC BY 2.0
1. Start your day in the lower park.
Heading down to the lower area, where Jurassic Park, Transformers, and The Mummy rides are located, is a hike. It's step aerobics, if you skip any of the escalators. It seems like most people postpone that workout, not to mention that some first-timers don't even realize there is a lower section until later in the day. In my experience, starting your day by making a beeline for the lower area can mean starting with 10-minute wait times for some of the best rides in the park. What beats splashing dinosaurs?
2. Bring Ziploc baggies.
The peace of mind brought by being able to slip your phone into a sealable baggie before indulging in one of the many watery experiences is priceless. Also, Homer's Donut is huge. If kids can't resist getting one, you'll have a ready made doggie bag to keep leftovers fresh for the drive home.
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Shady tour buses can offer a nice break. Photo by Paola Sucato/CC BY 2.0
3. Take the studio tour midday.
The studio tour is an hour of sitting down and letting the entertainment come to you, which can make a nice break in the middle of the day—not to mention those trams provide shade. Taking the ride midday is a good way to recharge everyone's batteries for the rest of the day.
4. You can magically recharge electronics in Hogsmeade.
Speaking of recharging batteries, there are a couple of sneaky little outlets in the gateway to The Wizarding World, and they're even in the shade. You can add a few bars while watching tourists suffer for their art in black polyester robes on the hottest day of the summer.
You know what else is magic here? Pointing (specially purchased) wands at the signs in the windows. They're magically activated to make frogs sing and papers fly. Checking these out will keep kids entertained and nearby while you rest and recharge (literally).
Butterbeer isn't the only juice flowing in Hogsmeade. Photo by author
5. Feeling warm in that Harry Potter robe?
Speaking of heat, the quickest way to cool off at Universal is to sit in the soak zone of the Waterworld show. Sure, you can get splashed on Jurassic Park; you'll get squirted by the Jaws shark. But only the stunt performers at Waterworld throw bucket after bucket of water right at you, with intent to soak. No one in the front 10 rows leaves hot.
6. Still hot?
Little ones who are done with the heat can cool off in Super Silly Fun Land. No waiting in line required: kids can splash and soak to their hearts' content. Hopefully, Mom and Dad brought a change of clothes for them, though, so staying at the park after dark remains comfortable. (Young kids love this attraction so much that many a family has purchased season passes for the express purpose of ducking in here for an hour or two every day during the hottest days of summer.)
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Single rider line: because Hippogriffs were meant to be flown solo. Photo by author
7. Front of Line and single riders rule.
The size of Universal has already been noted; if you can afford a Front of Line pass for this park, boy does it make a difference. If not, the next best thing is the single rider line. You have a decent chance of ending up in a car with one of your party even as a solo rider, and either way, you have a good chance of making it onto all the rides you want if you use these lines. Sometimes a little alone time is good, right?
Also, remember how we mentioned that some rides here are too scary for littles? Send big kids (or grownups) off for a few thrills by themselves to keep the family peace, and they can take advantage of zipping through on the single riders line.
Speaking of scary rides, if the Forbidden Journey ride is too much for anyone in your party, there is an option to just walk through Hogwarts Castle and enjoy the sights and special effects. Ask for the single rider line, and enjoy the tour!
8. The Best Meal in the Park is at the Three Broomsticks.
There is so much right about this wizarding gastropub. For a start, it's spacious and airy, with comfortable seating out of the sun (both indoors and on the covered patio). The ambiance is great, and the food is several notches above any other theme park food I've had. The broiled chicken, sausage and mash, corn on the cob, mac 'n' cheese (which was as much as we could sample in one sitting) were all top notch and filled us up without that awful fried junk food feeling so common to theme park visits. Watching other people's meal choices go by made us vow to return. While it's a popular spot, the system runs smoothly, with plenty of staff making sure that food moves quickly and a table is available when needed. Prices are reasonable, too.
Walking Dead is fun—if you like being chased by zombies. Photo courtesy of Universal
9. The Walking Dead isn't for everyone, but...
The Walking Dead attraction isn't a ride; it's actually more like a Halloween maze, and as such it's a good opportunity to gauge your kids' (and your own) readiness for one of SoCal's many Halloween theme park haunts. Because it's a walk-through attraction, waits are generally not as long as for most rides (and the line seems to get shorter as the day wears on). It is dark inside, and zombies will jump out and try to scare you (though never touch) at every turn. When it's all over, though, everyone is back out in the cheery Southern California sunshine, making it a less intense experience than a haunting on an October night, when the whole park is universally creepy.
This one is not for little kids, but zombie fans over the age of 8 or 9 are likely to run through giggling. If you have kids of varying ages, have one grownup take big kids on this ride, while another brings kids back to Super Silly Fun Land, or for another spin through the new The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash ride.
The dancing lights fountain is pretty irresistible. Photo by the author
10. There is a major temptation on CityWalk, and we're not talking ice cream.
On the way out of the park at the end of the night, don't forget about the light-up, dancing fountain on CityWalk. If your kids have any energy left in them, these lights and sprays may prove irresistible. If you need them to walk on by, plan on a major distraction; if you're OK with one last hurrah, you'll want something dry to wrap them in for the ride home.
This post was originally published June 20, 2017.