ANOTHER THEME PARK? Yes. BUT. This is my first Universal theme park ever. Milestone!
*WARNING: This post contains ride spoilers for USJ, do not read if you want to be surprised on the rides!*
The weather was, again, glorious. I made my way from Kyoto down to Osaka to begin my day of roller coasting adventures. Now this day was slap bang in the middle of Golden Week, so I was expecting big crowds. I have heard that USJ is almost always busy anyway, as it is not big enough to accommodate the amount of people that visit it. I arrived just as it opened and made my way through the fake streets until I came across the first ride I saw – Hollywood Dream, which is one of their big roller coasters. USJ has a lot of single rider queues which is very very handy for myself – a single rider. For Hollywood Dream it said the single rider queue was 20 minutes long, but it was probably only about 15 minutes or so before I was sat on the ride. Lovely jubbly! At first I was a little worried. The way you are strapped into the ride didn’t seem right. It is basically a lap bar that holds you in by your upper thighs. It felt weirdly unsecure that my entire top half from my stomach upwards was left waving about. But I decided it must be okay, as they are letting us go! On the ride you can choose a song to listen to through the head rest as you go around, I decided to go with “Bad” by Michael Jackson, so as soon as the ride began to move the song came blaring out into my ears which was pretty cool. Similar to Rock’n’rollercoaster in Disneyland Paris! As the ride approached the climb up for the first drop I worried again about how unsecured my top half was and how this was going to work. That first drop was exhilerating AF! It honestly took my breath away, because it’s almost like you’re flying where your whole top half is free. The ride was EPIC. So much fun, so many drops and the ride goes through the buildings. I loved it. Highly recommend!
After this I made my way down to the Amityville area where the Jaws ride was. Again, hit up the single rider queue and literally walked straight onto the ride – it was perfect. Although it was in Japanese (again), the Jaws ride was lots of fun, it is one of the rides I have always wanted to go at in Universal. It’s so clever how they have the shark jump out at you in various places, complete with the iconic Jaws theme music!
Next up was another of my must-do rides – The Jurassic Park ride. USJ’s version of this ride is a water ride, so obviously I was prepared with my “rain” jacket (which turns out is not at all waterproof). Again, I made good use of the single rider queue and once more walked straight onto the ride within a couple of minutes. At this point I was thinking – wasn’t it supposed to be busy today? Am I just getting lucky? This is epic! (Hindsight!)
This ride was AH-MAZING. After entering through the iconic Jurassic Park gates, it starts off as your typical, floating about water ride, complete with animatronic dinosaurs. Then things go “wrong” as they always must in Jurassic Park territory. The raptors escape and all hell breaks lose. You go up a HUGE climb and then float round a bit more before a small drop. But then comes the big finale. It is in a dark building type set up, and as you approach the top of the drop this GIGANTIC T-Rex emerges from the shadows, and then you plummet down what is probably the biggest drop I have ever been on in a water ride, ending in a royal soaking. It was so much fun!
At this point I was super hyped up and just wanted to continue going on rides until I felt that hunger pang. So I wandered around some more and came across the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride. Once more – the single rider queue worked it’s magic and I was on the ride within 10 minutes. This ride was pretty different to anything I have been on before. You are in a moving car-like vehicle and are given 3D glasses. The car moves around and spins and vibrates and pings you about all over the place whilst you follow Spiderman about the city whilst he fights off some villains. ANOTHER amazing ride! The 3D glasses and the movement of the vehicle make it so cool, it feels like you are genuinely flying about. They also use 4D effects like water, wind and fire which added to the fun.
Upon exiting this my ride streak continuted as I walked into the Terminator ride, which is actually more of a theatre type show thing than a ride. I did not realise it would be how it was. It began with us all gathered in a room where a Japanese actress said a load of stuff in Japanese. No idea what was happening there, I just kind of gathered that it was a technology company that created robots designed to help humans etc etc. This part literally went on for about 20 minutes or so and my feet were killing me. As everyone around me chuckled at what this lady was dramatically saying in Japanese, I just stood there thinking “how the hell do I get out of here”. But then we entered the theatre area and the proper show began. There were giant animatronic robots all around the edge of the room which moved about. Then you are shown videos of people obviously showing that the robots have gotten out of control, in typical robot style. It was annoying as these videos had obviously been taken from the American Universal Studios and were originally in English, but had now been dubbed over in Japanese. How hard is it to add subtitles guys, come on! So then we are taken via video and live action through a little robot fighting adventure. They have a much smaller and thinner actor guy playing Arnold Schwarzenegger who rides about on the stage on a motorbike. They have convenient shadows over all of the actors faces so as to try and convince you they are the actors in the videos (they aren’t). But yeah, the show was cool enough – although I wouldn’t recommend for non-Japnese speakers!
Now this, folks, is where my luck ran out. The park had definitely gotten a hell of a lot busier. Despite the building crowds, the Harry Potter section was not doing ticketed entry – which is where you get a specific time slot to go and visit that section of the park and is used on very busy days – so that means this must have still been classed as a less-busy day, which I found crazy judging by how long the queues started to get! The Despicable Me Ride line never went below 90 minutes. Hollywood Dream and Backdrop (which is basically just Hollywood Dream but backwards) were both around 120 minutes long, and even the single rider queue was now 90 minutes. Both of the Harry Potter Rides were never below 120 minutes. It was madness, I dread to think what it is like on a “busy” day!
At this point I became a bit peckish so ambled round trying to find something to eat. I settled on a little diner area and had another beloved burger and chips. After lunch was devoured I went to explore the Despicable Me area, which was so cute. They were playing all of the soundtrack songs by Pharell too so you genuinely feel like you’ve jumped right into the film. I am a bit sad that I didn’t get to go on the ride because of the crazy long queues, but what can you do!
Now was the highly anticipated part! Going to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I grabbed a churro from a little cart, which was SO yummy and made my way down the tree-lined pathway. You come across the Weasley’s little blue car crashed into a tree along the way which is cute. Then it opens up into Hogsmead, and it is amazing! Basically like actually being there. There is also a big Hogwarts Express by the entrance too. And unlike the Warner Bros Studio Tour, you can actually go inside all of the shops and everything is in the correct theme! They have an Owl post office that sells stuffed owls and owl merchandise. They have Olivanders where you can actually have a wand-choosing ceremony. The robe shop where you can buy your whole Hogwarts uniform. They have the sweet shop, the joke shop – everything! And they have The Four Broomsticks which is actually a restaurant that serves very feast-like meals and of course – butterbeer!
The queue times for the rides at this point were ridiculous. Both rides were around 200 minutes long. So at this point I was like – no way am I queuing for that amount of time. So I opted to do the Hogwarts Castle walkthrough. As you approach the castle the view is amazing! It is literally life size and looks phenomenal. The black lake in front of it also makes for a wicked reflection!
This was awesome, it takes you through the actual castle, it has a room with all of the portraits hung up that actually move and talk to each other. It has one of the classrooms where holograms of Harry, Ron and Hermoine talk to you (in Japanese, but still). They also have that skeleton hanging from the ceiling, and something happens and then it starts to snow in the room! So cool. They also have the fat lady portrait of Dawn French who also moves and talks (Dawn French in Japanese!) Then of course there’s the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office and loads of cool other details.
Back outside they have little shows going on on a little stage. I didn’t watch any of them but I saw one of them involved four people in uniforms of the four houses. And then another one had people dressed up in uniforms from the two magic schools; Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and Durmstrang Institute which was really cool.
You can actually buy special wands at USJ that have sensors on the ends and you can go around “casting spells” at designated points where if you wave it correctly things will move about or fall down etc. It’s pretty cool!
After I had sufficiently explored Hogsmead I was pretty knackered. I wandered about a bit more to see if any of the rides I hadn’t been on yet had short waits – but they did not. So I decided to use the single rider lines for Jaws and Jurassic Park again – luckily I only had 10/15 minute waits for both. After this I grabbed an ice cream and a beer and sat down to chill for a bit. I noticed some of the Japanese people in that seating area were sort of napping on the tables, so I decided to join them and rested my head on the table for a quick power nap! When I had got a bit of energy back I kind of did another lap of the park just to look around. At this point I was very ready to go home, my feet were dead again and I was pretty exhausted – I had been in the park for about 7 hours already and it was only 15:00! I decided to go back to the Harry Potter section and quickly check on how long the ride queues were now. They were still ridiculously long, but had gone down a little. The Forbidden Journey was now 2 hours. I had no intention of queuing that long at first, but as I wandered over to it I thought – ah screw it, I will probably regret it if I come to USJ and don’t go on the Harry Potter ride. I decided I would write some blog posts on my phone as I walked round the queue – which was an idea I was pretty pleased with! I managed to whack out two whole blog posts, and the queue ended up only being 1.5 hours which was better than 2! It took you through the castle again as well so there were things to look at too. All in all, the queue was completely worth it, which is something I did not think I would say. The ride is so different to anything I’ve ever been on and it is pretty damn amazing! It is kind of hard to explain, but it is a bit like the Spiderman ride in that you are on a moving vehicle thing – although in this case it is a “bench”. You follow Harry and Ron on their broom sticks they have huge screens showing scenes and then it takes you through real scenes like the dragon from Goblet of Fire, the basilisk from Chamber of Secrets, the dementors, the forbidden forest and the spiders, the whomping willow and so much more. It was so so so good! If you ever find yourself at USJ and are a big Potterhead, I would say that no matter the queue, this is a ride you have to do! You can also find videos of the ride on YouTube, which obviously don’t do it justice – but if you want to have a lookie!
With my feet well and truly giving up on me and happy that I braved the long queue for Forbbiden Journey, it was time to head back to my hostel and collapse into bed! Another awesome theme park ticked off the list.