Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is one of the must-do places when you visit Osaka. And the biggest draw for me is definitely the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the closest thing to living my Hogwarts dream. Read on for my review of USJ, right down to every single ride I’ve tried!
Before your trip
Before visiting the park, check the crowd calendar to see the projected number of guests each day and pick one with the least visitors.
Also, get your tickets online before you visit the park to avoid having to queue to purchase the entrance tickets AND queue up again to enter the park!
I’ve gotten my USJ entrance tickets from Klook and received the tickets (in the form of QR codes) almost instantly. And the best thing? You don’t even need to print the e-tickets out. Just wave the QR codes at the entrance of the theme park, get scanned and you’ll get whizzed in. Real lifesaver when you are preparing all these logistics the day before you take off!
Unlike its Disney counterparts in Tokyo, USJ does not have a fast pass system. So if you’re visiting on a relatively crowded day (~30 and above according to the crowd calendar), you may want to consider getting an Express pass.
The express passes are limited for a selection of the rides (each pass has a different combination). Klook has two choices available and both are Express 4 (which entitles you to 4 pre-selected rides) and possibly the most value-for-money.
We wound up purchasing an Express 4 for a timed entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, express rides for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man, Jaws OR Backdraft and Space Fantasy OR Terminator OR Jurassic Park. This selection is no longer available. Read on to decide which rides excite you so that you can select the express package that suits you the best!
As we bought the express pass, we didn’t feel a need to arrive early. Park-goers, especially the locals, are known to start queuing since early morning! We entered the park at about 10-ish with rations from convenience stores.
If you didn’t get the express pass, you might want to consider queuing up early and make a dash for your most-anticipated ride right away.
Rides and Attractions
The queues for rides in USJ are exceptionally long so unless you’re visiting on a real-empty day or have an express pass, you’ll probably only get your chance on 5 or 6 rides. It’s thus extremely important to plan strategically and prioritise the ones that you’re looking forward to.
I’ll start with the ones that I highly recommend:
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
This refers to the entire Harry Potter themed area of USJ. If the park is crowded, you may have to get a timed entrance ticket from Central Park (within the premise of USJ) to enter at a designated time. The timed entrance ticket is usually also included in express passes. These timed entrance tickets determine the time you can enter the area. You can stay there as long as you like but you will not be able to re-enter the area.
Fortunately, I have never encountered the use of timed entrance tickets and was able to visit the area multiple times on both visits.
Fervent fans will recognise the wreckage of Arthur Weasley’s wrecked flying car as they enter the park. Meandering into the main area, the next distinctive feature will be the Hogwarts Express. At the next turn, be prepared to get transported to Hogsmeade with the Hogwarts castle looming in the background.
Grab yourself a cup of butter beer while you’re there or sit down at Three Broomsticks for a snack. And don’t forget to pop into Honeydukes for chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts’ every flavour jelly beans.
Almost wished they looped Harry Potter soundtracks.
Walking tour of Hogwarts
Sometimes, the castle, which houses the forbidden journey ride (see next point), is opened up for a walking tour.
We managed to try it the first time we were there. The route was slightly different from the queue for the ride and queueing times were significantly shorter. We could really take our times to explore and appreciate the interiors.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This was my favourite ride at USJ! The ride had the thrill and novelty factors and really brought back childhood nolstagia. I felt the chills when the dementors ‘swarmed’ towards me!
The ride is in Japanese but ardent fans should be able to follow even with the language barrier. Even if you can’t, the ride still delivers in the visual department.
Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods
Don’t forget to grab some Harry Potter souvenirs from this shop as you exit from the Forbidden Journey ride.
This indoor mini rollercoaster was a pleasant surprise. Not tied to any recognisable franchise, this ride was tucked at one corner with reasonable queue times and brought us on a high-speed adventure through space.
The interior was mesmerizing – it was pitch black and dotted with millions of lights to mimic the stars and galaxies. Imagine zooming past these on a spaceship.
The Flying Dinosaur
Perhaps the most thrilling ride in the entire park, I was the only one out of the group of three who went on the ride. After everyone was seated, the seats were rotated 90 degrees to face the riders downwards and that was when the fear (and adrenaline) started crippling in.
I took the single rider queue and completed the ride fairly quickly, in about thirty minutes. At the end of the ride, I was slightly light-headed from all that high-speed whirling. 😂
This rollercoaster spans across the theme park and park-goers can witness the riders screaming their heads off!
And here are those that I think were not bad and you can try them when the queue times are reasonable:
Flight of the Hippogriff
Mini rollercoaster right next to Hogwarts castle. Suitable for children.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
A 3D ride which is similar to (but feels like the predecessor of) the transformer ride in USS.
Hollywood Dream: The Ride
This is a typical roller coaster. I remembered it providing adequate excitement but wasn’t too exhilarating. Would have wanted to try the back-facing version – Backdrop, but the queues were always so long.
This would have gone into the disappointing category if it wasn’t for the superbly animated tour guide we had. She made everything more entertaining and more exciting with her dramatic flair.
Jaws started off with a leisure boat ride around Amity island and we were given treats of the reconstructed scenery. Halfway through, the guide brought our attention to the appearance of a dorsal fin and visitors would eventually see the bloodied shark. As the feared predator circled the craft, the boat would rock precariously. A battle between the guide and the shark ensued with the guide firing shots and throwing grenades at the shark, resulting in flames and explosion effects. The shark was eventually defeated and the boat returned to the docking harbour.
Despite the predictability, the ride felt well-designed and it really was great to be able to take a rest from all the walking on the boat.
And the one which was extremely disappointing:
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
This was a huge letdown; the ride was typical and lacked novelty. Didn’t help that we queued for more than 2 hours for this. Minion Mayhem was a reboot of the Amazing Spider-Man and USS’s Transformer rides with no evident improvement, bringing you through the journey of misdemeanor as a minion.
The children seemed to enjoy the ride tremendously. One of the children riding the same pod told her father that she wanted to go on it again; the father has all my sympathies.
Stay on for the night shows (and fireworks)
USJ usually schedules a night show extravaganza daily. The current one on rotation is the UNIVERSAL SPECTACLE NIGHT which I have not seen personally. For the past two occasions that I’ve visited USJ, I was fortunate enough to time it near the end of the year and caught their Christmas special programme.
Gifts of Angels
On both occasions, we were treated to angels suspended in midair above the roof with spectacular fireworks shooting up behind them in the special program – Gifts of Angels. The facade of the buildings were also projected upon to form a magnificent backdrop. Coupled with the impressively-lighted Christmas tree, the programme was truly a sensory feast.
We usually head to the souvenir stores after the night show and leave the park to avoid the closing-hour crowds. Dinner would be a simple affair at the restaurants or food joints (like Mos Burger) on the way back to the train station.
Be sure to also read up on our other Japan posts when preparing for your trip:
Read the full trip online: