We woke up at 6.45am and seriously layered up, because the forecast predicted a high of 4°C. We caught the metro out to Universal City (which required two transfers and took us about half an hour) and then half-walked, half-jogged (only because that is what everyone else was doing and we didn’t want to get left behind!) down the Universal City walkway to the entrance. We skipped photos with the token Universal ball, promising ourselves we’d stop on the way out, and joined the queue at approximately 8.07am. It was a very cold, borderline painful wait – so we took great comfort out of the fact that we were very near the front of the line. At 9am we saw the folk with VIP wristbands make their early entry, and at about 9.25am the park opened!
Our plan of attack essentially centred around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When the gates opened, we broke into an 80% intensity sprint, running our little lungs out to get to the Harry Potter ticketing desk. Everyone around was doing the exact same – we certainly weren’t out of place! Our delight when we saw a sign saying that timed ticket entries were unnecessary (which also suggested that the park was predicted to be relatively quiet) gave us our second wind, and we continued running all the way to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. We arrived and got straight on, and we were so glad we did because when we got off the wait time was already up to 70 minutes!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was my second favourite ride of the day, so it was a great note to start the day on. A unique ride – access is through Hogwarts and you sit alongside three others. It’s a cross between a coaster and a simulator, and you wear 3D glasses as you ride your broomstick with Harry and pals through and around Hogwarts, fending off dementors. It was funny hearing the characters we know oh-so-well speaking to us in Japanese and not understanding a word (thankfully it didn’t affect the quality of the ride).
From here, we visited the bathrooms (cue: Moaning Myrtle) and then jumped on the Flight of the Hippogriff, a family friendly rollercoaster. To our delight we were at the front, and it actually gave us some pretty incredible views of the park. I got a telling off for pulling my phone out (even though we weren’t even moving) and I was super cautious after that, because so many signs said ‘rule-breakers may be expelled from the park!’. We then meandered around Hogsmeade sipping on butterbeer (so delicious, we got the hot version), looking at wands and capes, and exploring Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s Joke Shop.
Next on our list was the Flying Dinosaur. Although we had since established that the park was probably not going to be that busy, we thought we’d try and knock off a few of the bigger ones in the morning (hopefully getting most of our waiting out of the way). Wait time was 50 minutes but only 20 minutes for singles. We opted for the latter, which massively paid off. Not only did we cruise right through (wait time was five minutes tops), we got to go on the same ride AND sit next to each other. This ride certainly caused the biggest adrenaline rush of the day! I expect it would be a lot of people’s favourite ride, but I am more of a sucker for the endorphin rush, so I actually liked the Hollywood Dream more.
We got our heart rates back under control by then going on the Jurassic Park ride – basically a log flume. Despite signs reading “you will get wet!” Andy was adamant that because he didn’t get wet on the same ride in LA, we wouldn’t get wet here. Wrong! Turns out sitting in the back row with a spare seat next to you is a recipe for a splash or five, and Andy walked away with more than just slightly wet pants. I sat in the middle and didn’t get wet at all! The danger zone was certainly the front row – some of those people took a serious shower.
We moseyed back through the San Francisco area and to Andy’s dismay, into Minion Land. He had been more than happy to give this a miss, and to be honest I too was a little reluctant to buy into this apparent cult of brain-washed Minion fans (people were wearing merchandise everywhere we looked and the whole area smelt distinctly like banana), however my desire to see all the sights won out and so we entered. Somewhat ironically, we wound up in the queue for the Minion ride and it had a longer wait time than almost any other ride we went on that day.
Sadly, the Spiderman ride was a little dated (although the premise of the ride was still very cool and we both enjoyed it), probably accentuated by the fact that we had just come from the Minion ride – but the whole thing felt just a little ‘last decade’. We walked past the 3D Terminator movie, and because it was due to start in only 15 minutes we thought we’d check it out. Neither of us gave any thought to the fact that it would be in Japanese, and we only realised once it was too late to back out!
Next up was the Hollywood Dream – the ride that would become my immediate favourite. There are two options: riding the coaster forwards… or doing it backwards (in which case the ride is known as the Hollywood Backdrop). The wait time for the Backdrop was over double that of just the vanilla option (and the weather remained bitterly cold) so we chose to spend just half an hour in the queue, and ride the forwards facing option. We couldn’t believe our luck when we got front row seats AGAIN, and were even more excited when we had little remotes in front of us from which we got to choose a soundtrack. Naturally I opted for T-Swift (Andy went for a bit of MJ) and listening to Shake It Off blaring through my own personal headset whilst losing my stomach at the drops was literally one of the trip highlights. We were both absolutely buzzing at the end of the ride; it had been a PERFECT balance of adrenaline combined with pure fun and absolutely zero queasiness. Winner!
Although we were buzzing, we were both frozen to the core, so we headed back to Hogsmeade for an afternoon snack at the Three Broomsticks. The pork ribs with corn and roast potatoes were super yum, and delayed our hunger for a while longer. The back balcony of the Three Broomsticks makes for some very cool photos of Hogwarts Castle reflecting off the Black Lake.
We found a final burst of energy, allowing us to queue again for the Harry Potter ride followed by the Hollywood Dream ride to finish. Both queues were so much longer than we had previously encountered (we waited about 45 minutes outside for each, and it even started snowing while we were still in Hogsmeade) and by the time we were done, the cold had almost broken us.
As we left Universal Studios, we grabbed a super speedy shot of the ball before heading back along the Universal City walkway to the train station. Until we spotted the Hardrock Café that is, and ayoooo, dinner plans sorted. Albeit more expensive than a traditional Japanese meal would have been, we seriously enjoyed our iconic meal of burgers, fries and cocktails. What a day! One of my favourite, that’s for sure.