How to Skip the Queue with a Universal Studios Japan Express Pass

How to Skip the Queue with a Universal Studios Japan Express Pass
How to Skip the Queue with a Universal Studios Japan Express Pass

Universal Studios Japan doesn’t have a free line-skipping system such as the Fast Pass at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. Instead, USJ has various Express Passes which need to be purchased in addition to a standard Studio Pass.

An Express Pass is a fantastic queue-jumping tool. With an Express Pass in your hand, you will spend far less time waiting in seemingly endless lines and far more time enjoying the various rides and other attractions that USJ has to offer. We have visited USJ twice now – once without an Express Pass and once with an Express Pass. We managed to do far more in a shorter amount of time and felt much less stressed on our second visit when we used Express Passes. An Express Pass not only significantly shortens wait times in queues but it also includes a timed entry ticket to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Our goal with this article was to make it the most comprehensive guide to USJ Express Passes including:

  • How Express Passes work?
  • How much Express Passes cost?
  • An explanation of the different types of Express Passes.
  • A detailed answer to the most common question about Express Passes – Are they worth it?
  • Other ways to save time at USJ.
  • An overview of the rides and experiences covered by Express Passes.

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Universal Studios Japan Tickets

An Express Pass ticket by itself won’t allow you to enter Universal Studios Japan. If you try to enter USJ with just an Express Pass you won’t be going anywhere. You need to also buy a Studio Pass which is your park admission ticket as well as an Express Pass. You would normally buy both the Studio Pass and Express Pass at the same time.

USJ tickets can be bought when you arrive at Universal Studios Japan. However, unless you love queuing, our pro tip is to buy your tickets online ahead of time. You can buy your tickets through the USJ booking site but it’s much quicker and easier to buy them through an online travel agency. Sometimes, online providers also offer discounts which make entry tickets cheaper.

Universal Studios Globe Sign
Universal Studios Globe Sign

Our two recommended online ticket providers for Universal Studios Japan are Klook and Voyagin. Both are large and reputable online travel agencies with a great range of products. When you buy USJ tickets through an online provider, you will get instant confirmation of your purchase and will then receive an e-ticket within minutes. Then, all you have to do is show your e-ticket when you arrive and stroll straight past people lining up to buy tickets.

Studio Pass (park admission) tickets are based on a three-tier (A, B and C) pricing structure. A, B, and C passes are identical except for seasonal pricing differences:

  • Category A passes are for non-peak times and cost 7 400 yen for adults (12 and over) and 5 100 yen for children (aged 4 to 11).
  • Category B passes are for shoulder periods and cost 8 200 yen for adults and 5 600 yen for children.
  • Category C passes are for peak periods and cost 8 900 yen for adults and 6 100 yen for children.

There are also 2 day passes available if you want to spend longer at Universal Studios Japan.

Check out the official Universal Studios Japan Studio Pass Price Calendar to help you work out when Category A, B and C pricing applies.

NOTE: Studio Passes don’t include Universal Express Passes which need to be purchased separately. They also don’t include Timed Entry Tickets for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which comes as part of most Universal Express passes).

USJ Express Pass Guide

There are three different ways to purchase an Express Pass:

  • Purchase Express Passes ahead of time through online travel agencies like Klook and Voyagin for easy access when you visit USJ.
  • Purchase Express Passes on the day you visit from the ticket booth or ticket windows in the park.
  • Purchase Express Passes on the day you visit from USJs partner hotels.

Of these three options, the only option that really makes sense is to buy the Express Passes in advance. There is only a limited supply of Express Passes for each day and it is almost certain that they will already have been sold prior to the day of your visit. Express Passes will not be available on the day from ticket booths or partner hotels if they have all been sold out beforehand.

Voyagin Year End Sale Promotion

Voyagin are currently running their Year End Sale from 1 November 2019 to 6 January 2020 where you can save up to $US40 per booking using the below coupon codes.  Note that the coupon codes are not valid for Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, Universal Studios Japan or any JR Passes.

Check out out article on the most popular Voyagin tickets and tours for Japan to see how to take advantage of this sale!

  • Save $10 when you spend $150, “2019YEAREND10”
  • Save $25 when you spend $300, “2019YEAREND25”
  • Save $40 when you spend $450, “2019YEAREND40”

How to Book Universal Studios Japan Express Passes through Voyagin

Voyagin has an excellent USJ page where you enter your planned date to visit and it will automatically work out which studio entry pass you require and will also show which Express Passes are available, which makes it really easy to work out your options. Below the travel date in the below image is a link to see Express Pass demand levels – this is a good option to see whether the Express passes are being sold out, and to help you work out whether to purchase quickly or whether you have more time.  Voyagin offers instant confirmation for studio entry passes, and next day tickets for Express Passes where available.

The Voyagin USJ page also includes special seasonal passes and events.  If you look at the image below as an example, after you specify your date to visit and then click on a specific Express Pass, on the right-hand side Voyagin also shows the price and inclusions for each Express Pass, and below that box you can also see an option to purchase both your Studio Entry Pass and your chosen Express Pass, which includes the total cost for both items.

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Studio Pass and skip the queue Express Passes through Voyagin.

Voyagin USJ Studio Entry Pass and Express Pass Purchase Page
Voyagin USJ Studio Entry Pass and Express Pass Purchase Page

How to Book USJ Express Passes through Klook

You can also purchase your Universal Studios Japan Studio Entry Pass, Express Pass and other special event passes thorough Klook with same day or next day tickets for most items.  Klook offers instant confirmation for studio entry passes, and next day tickets for Express Passes where available.

Klook has separate pages for each type of entry and Express Pass, so you can choose the ones you want and add them to your shopping cart before finalising your booking.  If it is your first time making a booking through Klook then use our below coupon code to get a $A5 discount off your first order. 

With Klook you also accumulate loyalty credits with each order you complete, which you can use to receive discounts off other bookings.  Check out our detailed personal review of Klook to see more information about using Klook to book your tickets, transport and tours for your Japan visit.

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Entry Pass, Express Pass 4, and Express Pass 7 skip the queue passes through Klook.  Use coupon code MDE8G to get a $A5 discount off your first order! 

Klook USJ Studio Entry Pass and Express Pass Purchase Page
Klook USJ Studio Entry Pass and Express Pass Purchase Page
How to Skip the Queue with a Universal Studios Japan Express Pass
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How Does an Express Pass Work?

The Express Pass ticket can be printed out and includes details of the attractions included, timed entry ride details, conditions associated with the pass, and QR codes. Not all rides on the express pass have a timed entry window. The time windows for timed window rides are automatically generated. Following are the details for the Express 4 pass used by my wife and younger son from the day we visited:

  • 10:00 Wizarding World of Harry Potter entry time.
  • 10:20 – 10:50 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • 13:40 – 14:10 Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Spider-Man or Jurassic Park (non-timed entry)
  • Jaws or Terminator 2 or Backdraft (non-timed entry).
Welcome to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Welcome to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

You have to visit timed-entry rides within the time windows printed on your Express Pass and each person in your group must be carrying their own Express Pass. Express Passes are also non-transferable so you can’t share them with others in your group. When you arrive at the Express Pass entrance for your chosen ride, you then simply present your pass to the ride attendant who will scan the QR code and you can join the express pass queue which takes a much shorter route to the ride entrance. Close to the ride queuing area the express pass queue will merge with the regular line. As a rough guide, by taking the Express Pass line you can expect at least half the wait time or better compared to the normal line so you will save a heap of time queuing unless you are at the park on a very quiet day.

Express Pass Cost

The pricing of express passes can be quite confusing. Firstly, there is a wide range of different Express Passes depending on which rides they can be used on and they cover anything from 3 to 7 attractions. The price can vary significantly depending on which pass you wish to buy. Secondly, just like the Studio Pass, the price of a Universal Express Pass fluctuates depending on how busy USJ will be the day you are planning to visit. During peak periods you will pay more for an Express Pass compared to off-peak periods.

If you buy a 2-day Studio Pass as well as an Express Pass, the Express Pass is only valid for the day printed on the Express Pass ticket, not both days of the Studio Pass.  

USJ Express Pass Options

There are three main classes of Universal Studio Japan Express Pass: Universal Express Pass 3, Universal Express 4 and Universal Express Pass 7. Most of the express passes include timed entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

TOP TIP: If you buy an express pass, it’s possible to get two timed entries to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so you could visit both in the morning and then at dusk/night. You get one timed entry with most Express Passes. Then, you can also get an additional timed-entry pass when at Universal Studios Japan by showing your Studio Pass at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Numbered Ticket Booth in the San Francisco section of the park.

Don’t leave buying an Express Pass to the last minute as they can sell out particularly during peak periods. They normally become available two or three months ahead of the day you want to attend. Voyagin has a fantastic Express Demand Calendar which includes pricing information for each of the Express Pass types as well as advising whether certain passes are sold out.

NOTE: The included attractions in each Express Pass can change over time for different reasons. Check the Express Pass you are interested in closely before purchasing to make sure it includes the rides you want. Also, check out the USJ attractions page to find out if certain attractions you are wanting to try out are temporarily closed.

Universal Express Pass 3

Universal Express Pass 3 shortens your waiting time for three attractions:

  • The Flying Dinosaur
  • Space Fantasy – The Ride. 
  • Either Jurassic Park: The Ride OR Jaws OR Backdraft.

It doesn’t include Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It also doesn’t include timed entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Express Pass 3 through either Voyagin or Klook

The Flying Dinosaur
The Flying Dinosaur

Universal Express Pass 4

There are four different Universal Express Pass 4 options. Three of these express passes (Express Pass 4 Space Fantasy, Express Pass 4 Minion Ride and Express Pass 4 The Flying Dinosaur) share three common rides:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman OR Hollywood Dream – The Ride
  • Jaws OR Backdraft OR Terminator 2

The only ride that varies for these three Express passes are:

  • Express Pass 4 Space Fantasy – Space Fantasy – The Ride
  • Express Pass 4 Minion Ride – Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Express Pass 4 The Flying Dinosaur – The Flying Dinosaur

Express Pass 4 Sing on Tour

The final Express Pass 4 option (Express Pass 4 Sing on Tour) differs quite a bit from the three other Express Pass 4 options. Firstly, it doesn’t include Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Secondly, it doesn’t include timed entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Express Pass 4 Sing on Tour includes: (1) Sing on Tour + (2) Despicable Me – Minion Mayhem +  (3) The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman OR Jurassic Park – The Ride + (4) Backdraft OR Terminator 2

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Express Pass 4 Options through either Voyagin or Klook

Hollywood Dream - The Ride
Hollywood Dream – The Ride

Universal Express Pass 7

There are four different Universal Express Pass 7 options. Six out of the seven rides are the same for every Universal Express Pass 7. The common rides are:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman OR Jaws
  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride OR Backdraft
  • Jurassic Park – The Ride or Terminator 2

The only ride that varies for the four Express Pass 7 options are detailed below:

  • Universal Express Pass 7 Space Fantasy – Space Fantasy – The Ride
  • Universal Express Pass 7 Backdrop – Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop
  • Universal Express Pass 7 The Flying Dinosaur – The Flying Dinosaur
  • Universal Express Pass 7  Sing on Tour – Sing on Tour

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Express Pass 7 Options through either Voyagin or Klook

Flight of the Hippogriff
Flight of the Hippogriff

Royal Studio Pass

If cost is no issue but you are time-poor, another Express Pass type is the Royal Studio Pass. Unlike the other Express Passes, it includes a Studio Pass. In addition, it includes one-time timed entry to the following rides:

  • Entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Space Fantasy
  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop
  • The Flying Dinosaur
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

You can also enjoy unlimited priority access to the following rides:

  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • Terminator 2
  • JAWS
  • Backdraft
  • Jurassic Park – The Ride

The Royal Studio Pass also provides VIP entry to the WaterWorld show and Universal Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show.

The Royal Pass uses a different way to access Express Pass queues compared to Express Pass 3, 4 and 7. You are given individual tickets for the timed entry rides which must be removed by ride attendants before joining an Express Pass queue.

Royal Studio Pass Timed Entry Tickets
Royal Studio Pass Timed Entry Tickets

For the rides with unlimited priority access, you simply show a Royal Studio Pass wristband to the ride attendants.

Royal Studio Pass Wristband
Royal Studio Pass Wristband

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Royal Pass through Voyagin

Is a Universal Express Pass Worth It?

This will sound like a bit of a cop-out, but whether an Express Pass is worth it is a highly individual decision based on your personal preferences. When travelling everyone has to balance saving money versus saving time. Let’s look a bit more closely at money versus time.

Money

One side of the balance scale is money. Travelling can be very expensive and most people work very hard to go on their dream holidays. Almost everyone will be looking to save money whenever they’re able to. 

If you are looking for a cheaper holiday you might be willing to sacrifice time in one of two ways. Firstly, you might be willing to take a longer amount of time to do things than someone who spends more money could do faster. Secondly, you might be OK with letting go of certain experiences in order to save money.

Time

Most of us only have a limited amount of days we can go on holiday. It depends on your approach to travel, but lots of people want to fit as many experiences as possible into a small amount of time. Also, people have to think about whether they will ever visit this place again. If time is vital to you but you are willing to spend more money, you can comfortably compress more experiences into a shorter amount of time.

Express Passes – Money vs Time

Now, let’s apply this balance of time versus money to the decision of whether to buy a USJ Express Pass. Firstly, I will look at two situations when I think buying an Express Pass is almost mandatory. I will then look at whether an Express Pass is worth it in other situations.

Unless an Express Pass is beyond your budget, there are two situations where an express pass should almost be a mandatory purchase:

(a) Extremely busy days

Universal Studios Japan is one of the busiest theme parks in the world. In 2018, it was the 5th most visited theme park in the world with 14.3 million visitors. On days that are very busy, you can easily spend 3-4 hours in a queue for each of the most popular rides. Our first trip to Universal Studios Japan was on 28 September 2015 and we didn’t have Express Passes as they had already sold out when we went to buy them. Using this past congestion calendar, on 28 September 2015, the park had a congestion rating of 80 which is considered to be pretty crowded. This fits in pretty well with our memories of the experience.

We arrived early at the park (before 8:30 am) and went straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without the need for a timed entry pass. We waited for about 30 minutes to board our first ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We then went straight to Flight of the Hippogriff which is a less popular ride and the wait time for this attraction was over 60 minutes. By the time we finished Flight of the Hippogriff, we checked the wait times for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and queueing time had soared close to four hours. Because I have an extreme love for all things Harry Potter, we ended up leaving the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at about 1:30 pm.

Queuing for Forbidden Journey
Queuing for Forbidden Journey

By 1:30 pm, the crowds at USJ were becoming pretty intense particularly for my wife who is becoming much more crowd averse as she gets older. Over the next six hours, we managed to experience two more attractions – Jurassic Park – The Ride and Terminator 2: 3D. We also managed to watch a parade in that time. We left the park at around 8 pm.

In summary, we spent over 11 hours at Universal Studios on a pretty busy day and experienced four attractions plus a parade. The day was still magical because of the time we spent in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter but otherwise, we would have left USJ feeling very disappointed.

On a busy day at Universal Studios Japan, unless your travel budget doesn’t stretch to the cost of an Express Pass, an Express Pass is close to a mandatory buy. You will not regret buying an Express Pass. You will be able to experience so much more with much less stress. On days like this, an Express Pass will turn a potentially very frustrating day into a great day.

There are two main ways to help you work out which days are going to be busy and which days are quieter:

  • Use a crowd forecasting calendar such as this one or this one. Such crowd prediction calendars are most accurate for the current month and become less accurate as you look multiple months ahead. Also, be aware that they are not precise. They are forecasts which means they are the best possible approximations based on available data (like weather forecasts).
  • If you don’t want to spend your time looking at a forecasting calendar or find them difficult to interpret, simply try to avoid peak times such as school holidays, public holidays (such as Golden Week) and weekends. Monday is the worst weekday to visit and Tuesdays to Fridays are generally the best weekdays. When we were planning our trip to USJ this year, we noticed that either side of Golden Week was relatively quiet. Here is a link with details for public and school holidays.

Another factor when planning a visit to USJ is the weather. For example, summer can be hot and humid. There can also be quite a lot of rain during this period. Typhoon season normally runs from May to October.

(b) If you can only spend one day at USJ and you want to fit in as much as possible

Our second visit to Universal Studios Japan was on 24 April 2019. Using the past congestion calendar, the park had a rating of 19 which is a very quiet day.

If we had more time available to us we probably could have managed without an express pass. However, in our case, we wanted to fit in as many rides as possible into a very short amount of time (5 hours 30 min). The reason for our time crunch was that we had to get to Imabari (which is close to 4 hours by train from USJ) at a certain time so we could check into our accommodation.

Thanks to our Express Pass, we experienced 10 attractions in a very short amount of time including almost all the most popular rides at the park. We never felt stressed or pressured, we still managed a pretty leisurely amount of time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we had time to buy some snacks and have lunch as well as spend some time souvenir shopping before leaving Universal Studios Japan.

Shopping at Studio Style
Shopping at Studio Style

We went on easily more than double the amount of rides and attractions than we could have possibly managed without the Express Pass.

Is an Express Pass still worth it in other situations

Regardless of whether you visit Universal Studios Japan in a low, shoulder or peak time, a USJ Express Pass will be a time-saver. Before making the decision to buy you just have to decide how much value you place on the time you could save and how else you could use that time. I think an Express Pass is worth it in most situations. A different person could reasonably argue that at less busy times (e.g. off-season, midweek on a rainy day) you could manage without an Express Pass.

I’m a bit of a numbers nerd, so I did some number crunching using past congestion calendars for August and September 2019 combined with graphs that showed average wait times for USJ rides over the last three weeks (25 August 2019 to 14 September 2019).

I combined the average wait times for seven of the more popular rides at USJ (Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Flying Dinosaur, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop, Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Hollywood Dream – The Ride, and Jurassic Park) for a pretty busy day, an average crowd day, and a quiet day and this is what I came up with:

  • Pretty busy day (26 August 2019, 66 points) – Combined average wait time for the seven rides was 679 minutes or 11.3 hours.
  • Average day (31 August 2019, 53 points) – Combined average wait time for the seven rides was 440 minutes or 7.3 hours.
  • Quiet day (4 September 2019, 28 points) – Combined average wait time for the seven rides was 381 minutes or 6.35 hours.

The message that this number-crunching gives to me is that even on a quiet day you could easily spend 6 or more hours in queues for just seven of the more popular rides. If you had an express pass on such a quiet day you could easily halve the amount of time spent in a queue, giving you time to experience more rides or just chill out and enjoy everything else that Universal Studios Japan has to offer.

My summary is that Express Passes are totally worthwhile in most cases if you can afford it. However, it’s up to you to make the judgement between the time you will save versus the cost of the tickets.

Are There Other Ways to Save Time at USJ?

While I strongly recommend buying an Express Pass because they save so much time and therefore make your life easier, there are other ways to save time at USJ. Here are a number of other ways to save time.

Buy your tickets ahead of time

If you buy your Studio Pass ahead of time through an online provider such as Klook or Voyagin you don’t have to waste any of your important time standing in line to buy tickets even before you get into the park. You can then use this time saved to dash to the ride you want to try the most before it gets too busy. You could also use this time to get a free timed entry pass to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Arrive at Universal Studios Japan before the official opening time

The gates at USJ are often opened before their official opening time which is what happened on our first visit to Universal Studios Japan. This means that you can get a headstart on other people and make the most of your time. An even better option is to buy a Studio Pass bundled with a VIP wristband through either Voyagin or Klook which will allow you to enter the park 15 minutes before everyone else.  You have to visit the Harukas 300 Observatory in Osaka to collect your VIP wristband.

As with buying your tickets ahead of time, entering before everyone else will allow you to visit at least one or two rides before they get busy and/or give you time to pick up a timed entry to Harry Potter.

However, be aware that if you are planning to arrive early and race to your favourite ride, the most popular rides get busy quite early. For example, on 14 September 2019 (a slightly below-average crowd day, 46 points) here were the wait times at 9 am for three of the more popular rides:

  • The Flying Dinosaur – 85 minute wait time at 9 am.
  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop – 90 minute wait time at 9 am.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – 54 minute wait time at 9 am and a 75 minute wait time at 10 am.

The more detailed wait time graphs from 14 September 2019 for these three rides are below:

Flying DInosaur Wait Time - 14 Sep 2019
Flying Dinosaur Wait Time Graph (14 Sep 2019). Source: https://usjinfo.com/wait/graphs.php?type=three
Hollywood Dream Backdrop Wait Time - 14 Sep 2019
Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop Wait Time Graph (14 Sep 2019). Source: https://usjinfo.com/wait/graphs.php?type=three
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Wait Time - 14 Sep 2019
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Wait Time Graph (14 Sep 2019). Source: https://usjinfo.com/wait/graphs.php?type=three

Use the Single Rider lines at Universal Studios Japan

If you have decided not to buy an Express Pass, think about using the Single Rider line if you don’t mind splitting up your group for some of the rides at USJ. Six of the more popular rides at USJ have Single Rider lines which could save you a lot of time. The rides that have single rider lines are clearly marked on the Universal Studios Japan map.

Use a wait time app to plan your day

There are a number of wait time apps for Universal Studios Japan that can help you plan your day and make the most use of your time. This strategy is by no means foolproof as some rides can stay pretty busy throughout the day, and it can also be pretty tricky to get your timing right. However, as you can see from the graphs above, wait times for rides do ebb and flow throughout the day. By keeping an eye on ride wait times, you can sometimes get in the queue for a ride when it is less busy.

Here are some of our suggested wait time apps:

Child Switch

This is not really a time-saving idea but it might save your sanity. Twenty-two rides and attractions at Universal Studios Japan offer Child Switch. Child Switch allows parents or carers to take turns riding an attraction while the other person stays in a special waiting area to look after your child that does not meet the ride requirements or otherwise can’t go on the ride. Then, when the ride has finished, the other person gets to ride the attraction without having to go back to the start of the general queue. Check out the park map to find out which attractions offer Child Switch.

USJ rides and attractions covered by Express Passes

In the rest of the article, I will provide a brief overview of the rides and attractions covered by the various Express Passes.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Regardless of whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not, you really cannot miss Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. While “The Flying Dinosaur” and “Hollywood – The Dream” were also standout rides for me at Universal Studios Japan, the Forbidden Journey was clearly the best all-round ride experience. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a five-time winner (2011-2015) of the Golden Ticket Awards best dark ride and is most definitely one of our all-time favourite theme park rides. 

Looking up at Hogwarts Castle
Entrance to the Forbidden Journey

With Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the fun starts even before you board the ride. It is one of those very rare rides where I am happy spending time in a queue as it gives you time to enjoy the many faithfully recreated areas in Hogwarts Castle. I would be more than comfortable with queuing up to an hour or maybe even a little more because there are so many details both small and large to enjoy. Here are just some of the experiences to appreciate: the beautiful house point hourglasses, being welcomed to Hogwarts by Dumbledore in his office, the Defence against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room, the talking portraits and the Sorting Hat. The realism of the whole experience was sensational.  I particularly loved the ambience of the Gryffindor common room and the moving and speaking portraits especially the portrait of the Fat Lady as portrayed by Dawn French, one of my favourite comedic actresses.

The ride itself is absolutely next level. The mixture of high tech robotic ride vehicles, incredibly detailed sets, sophisticated animatronics, video projections and fantastically smooth motion simulation technology blends seamlessly to create a fantastically immersive ride. The sound effects and 4D effects used throughout the ride further heightened the experience. You no longer have to wear 3D glasses and the ride uses 4K-HD film projecting at 120 frames per second which makes for much sharper and more realistic video imagery.

Over the course of the ride you will soar over Hogwarts Castle, shoot down towards Black Lake, have an extremely up-close and personal encounter with an enormous dragon, get far too close to Aragog and his children, avoid the Whomping Willow, find yourself in the middle of a Quidditch game, and finally be chased by dozens of devilish dementors. 

Flight of the Hippogriff

The second ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the Flight of the Hippogriff is an altogether much tamer experience compared to the Forbidden Journey. It’s a junior coaster which can provide family-friendly fun but it isn’t an adrenaline-pumping experience. The ride provides some nice dives, swoops and twists but the best part is the views over Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. There are also plenty of photo-taking opportunities while waiting in the queue. If it’s part of your Express Pass, give Flight of the Hippogriff. Otherwise, it’s not worth queuing much more than 30 minutes for.

Flight of the Hippogriff
Flight of the Hippogriff with Hogwarts in the background

The Flying Dinosaur

The Flying Dinosaur is a much better ride than I was expecting. “The Flying Dinosaur” is easily in my top 10 rollercoaster experiences of all time and nudges my top 5. The feature that sets this rollercoaster apart is its unusual ride position. Once strapped in, the seats pivot backwards and you are suddenly facing the ground. 

When you climb the 46 metre (151 feet) hill in a face-down position, it seems to really amplify how far above the ground. After climbing to the peak of a hill there is an inevitable fall, and the plunge towards the ground was the highlight of the ride for me. The sensation of flying is uncanny and completely exhilarating. Another nerve-wracking moment comes when you negotiate a pretzel which plunges you through this tiny little space under the pathway. 

The Flying Dinosaur
The Flying Dinosaur

The ride is relatively short at about 50 seconds but it is completely action-packed with five inversions, corkscrews and sweeping turns that are negotiated at high speed. The ride hits a top speed of 100 km/hr (62 miles/hr). The Flying Dinosaur is smooth, fast and almost worth every cent of the park entry cost on its own.

Jurassic Park – The Ride

I have visited quite a lot of theme parks over time and Jurassic Park – The Ride is definitely one of my favourite flume rides. The ride starts off in a pretty leisurely fashion with a river cruise through Jurassic Park, surrounded by tropical trees and encountering various impressive animatronic dinosaurs. 

Jurassic Park - The Ride
Jurassic Park – The Ride

The ride then takes a turn for the worse when you enter a prohibited area complete with flashing emergency lights. You will then encounter raptors fighting over the remains of a dinosaur handler’s shirt. After this shock, you then enter a dark control room which has been destroyed by a very large beast. With warning systems blaring, you will then hear the deep, guttural rumble of something very big. With an enormous T-Rex looming ahead, you will have to take a 26-metre plunge down into the river in order to escape.

Hollywood Dream – The Ride and Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop

“Hollywood Dream – The Ride” is actually a set of two rides. There is a forward-facing version and a backwards-facing version called “Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop”. The two rides are not particularly tall or fast, nor are they particularly steep and there are no inversions, but the experience of Hollywood Dream is much, much more than the sum of its parts.

One of the features that sets both Hollywood Dream rides apart from other rollercoasters is that you get to choose an onboard soundtrack from 5 options which plays while you are racing around the track. The trains have a built-in lighting and audio system with a stereo system built into the head of each seat.

Hollywood Dream - Seats with built-in speakers
Hollywood Dream – Seats with built-in speakers

The lighting program animates LED lights on the sides of the train, and the program changes as the train moves. Different lighting patterns play for different sections of the track. It is a next-level experience to blast around a rollercoaster track with the sounds of ‘Bad’, ‘Shake it Off’ and ‘Happy’ pumping in your ears and disco lights flashing around you. 

There really isn’t that much to the ride in terms of variety, but it’s fast and smooth and the high-speed camelback hills do a great job of lifting your stomach towards your throat. The ride also features fast left and right turn and an upward-spiralling helix. Hollywood Dream is also quite a long ride, with a track length of 1.2 kilometres (0.75 miles) and a total ride time of two and a half minutes. 

The Backdrop version of Hollywood Dream – The Ride is the more exciting of the two rides because you can’t see or anticipate what is coming up next. 

The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman – The Ride 4K3D

Don’t miss The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman when you visit Universal Studios Japan. It is a multi-award winning ride having won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award in the Best Dark Ride category for twelve years in a row from 1999 to 2010.

The plot is a little hard to follow having been dubbed into Japanese, but you can easily get the gist of what is happening. There is an enormous amount of action in this ride as you try to escape the clutches of evil villains such as Doctor Octopus and Hydroman. You will be thrown into sewers and rivers, have weapons such as pumpkin bombs thrown at you, and be hoisted high above the city before plummeting back to the ground, only to be narrowly saved by Spiderman.

Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman

The 4K3D visuals used in this ride are absolutely stunning in terms of their clarity and detail. They are so good that they blur the boundaries between the physical sets used and the 3D projections. The ride also employs a massive range of special effects including water spray, fire and fog, heat, wind and lighting. The ride vehicle used is extremely dynamic and can make extremely precise movements and also can rotate a full 360 degrees. Spiderman – The Ride is further enhanced by a fantastic soundtrack. The awe-inspiring visuals, special effects and the high-tech ride vehicle make you feel like you are part of the action, not just a passive observer. 

Make sure you also watch out for the Stan Lee cameos as by my count he appears at least two times during the ride.

Space Fantasy – The Ride

Space Fantasy is Universal Studio Japan’s indoor rollercoaster. The premise behind the ride is that you are on a spaceship undertaking a mission to save the sun. While saving the sun you fly past various planets and comets while dodging asteroids. The ride climaxes with your spaceship plunging into the sun.

Our second visit to USJ was in April and Space Fantasy had been given a VR overlay as part of Cool Japan 2019. Cool Japan 2019 ran from January 18 to June 23 so the Lupin Car Chase Ride has changed back to Space Fantasy – The Ride. This is the third year in a row that Space Fantasy has been given a VR overlay as part of Cool Japan, so it’s reasonable to expect that this will happen once again for Cool Japan during the first half of 2020.

JAWS

Jaws is a ride attraction that is now only available at Universal Studios Japan after closing at Universal Studios Florida in 2012. If you want an old-school ride experience that isn’t available anywhere else definitely give Jaws a go. The idea behind the ride is that after Jaws was destroyed, Captain Jake Grundy opened a boat tour to visit various shark attack sites. The ride starts in a leisurely fashion with a scenic cruise on Amity Harbour before a distress call comes in and you will see another boat slowly submerging under the water. For the rest of the ride, you are trying to shelter from, evade or blow up a massive shark. Along the way, there are many near misses and an impressive fire/explosion. Eventually, the shark manages to electrocute itself so everyone escapes with their lives.

Jaws - The Ride
Jaws – The Ride

The animatronics and special effects are pretty dated and the acting is a little corny but full of enthusiasm. However, none of this detracts from the experience. Riding Jaws is a nostalgic and fun experience, a bit like rewatching Friends on Netflix. I hope that Jaws survives as Universal Studios Japan continues to create and update rides.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is a terrific ride for people of all ages with plenty of fast-paced action and slapstick humour that’s been dialled up to 11.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

The pre-show experience is almost as much fun as the actual ride. The premise of the preshow is all about convincing you to undergo the Minion transformation process and explaining how the process works. The pre-show stars Gru, his three daughters and heaps of Minions and has plenty of comedy. You’ll also be shot by a fart gun … which smells like bananas. The ride begins with everyone being turned into Minions. The ride is incredibly action-packed and includes falling down chutes, dodging lasers, jumping over a cactus, just missing getting smashed by a giant boxing glove, and narrowly avoiding being cut in half by a massive buzz saw. 

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem isn’t a highly physical ride simulator like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, nor does it have the same sort of jump scares. It has, however, an overload of action and is crammed with comedy and cuteness. It’s a ride experience that absolutely everyone in your family should be able to enjoy.

Backdraft

Backdraft is a fire special effect show which can now only be watched at Universal Studios Japan. In the first section of the show Ron Howard, the director of the movie Backdraft, talks to the audience about the making of Backdraft. Unfortunately, this video is dubbed into Japanese without English subtitles. In the next stage of the show, you learn how the pyrotechnic effects were made and got to experience fires and explosions first hand. 

Backdraft
Backdraft

Terminator 2: 3D

Terminator 2 is another old-school Universal Studios experience that can now only be enjoyed in Japan. Terminator 2 debuted at Universal Studios Japan in 2001 and is still going strong 18 years later. While aspects of the experience now feel a little dated it’s still action-packed, immersive and a whole lot of fun. The videos and presentations are in Japanese but you can still pretty easily get the idea of what’s happening.

The show is set after Terminator 2 finishes. The core of the storyline is John and Sarah Connor, played by live actors, rush on to the stage, pursued by a T-1000 Terminator (the liquid metal Terminator from Terminator 2). A T-800 Terminator (AKA Arnie) then bursts out of the screen to take John back to the future, closely followed by the T-1000 terminator. After overcoming the T-1000, John and Arnie breach a Skynet facility where they take on an upgraded version of the T-100 Terminator in the form of a massive liquid-metal spider. Arnie sends John back to the present before the show ends with the destruction of Skynet.

For an 18-year-old show, the 3D effects are still fantastic. The show’s action is presented on three massive wrap-around screens and the 3D footage is incredibly immersive such as when the liquid metal spider oozes straight towards you. Another fantastic feature is how the live-action sequences merge seamlessly with the 3D video. One memorable example of this is when the T-800 terminator on his motorcycle comes flying towards the audience and then bursts out of the screen on to the stage. 

If you have never had the chance to watch this show before and have even a passing interest in the Terminator movies, make sure you check out Terminator 2: 3D while it is still around.

Sing

Sing on Tour is a 20-minute show which follows on from Sing the Movie. The storyline of the stage show begins at the Japanese premiere of Sing on Tour and is led by the lovable show director, Buster Moon the koala. The stars of Sing perform hit songs from the movie and audience members get to sing and dance along with their favourite characters. The show includes leading-edge animatronics, lighting and a huge LED screen.

Don’t Forget to Book Universal Studios Japan Studio Entry and Express Passes through Voyagin or Klook

Don’t forget to book your Universal Studios Japan Studio Entry and Express passes through Voyagin or Klook.   Use coupon code MDE8G to get a $A5 discount off your first order through Klook! 

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Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group – it is a great resource to enable you to be inspired and to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

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