Our Family Trip to Universal! All of Our Faves

So many of our native Angeleno friends haven’t been to Universal’s theme park since they were little.  They remember it as having very few rides and costing like $25.00.

Times have changed, and one of our most favorite family traditions is spending a day at the theme park, complete with valet parking, Front of the Line passes (newly coined Express Passes), dinner at Saddle Ranch, then driving five minutes home to put our little ones to bed, with visions of Harry Potter World and Minion Mayhem dancing in their heads.

We’ve gone on Black Friday the past two years in a row.  No one has school or work, and the lines are probably 90 minutes long on average.  Or more.  But it doesn’t matter how packed the park is because we splurge for the Express Passes and get front of the line access to every.single.ride and attraction.

3 Reasons to Splurge on Universal’s Express Pass

(They’re basically all the same reason.  It’s just easier and more enjoyable)

General admission – $100+  Express Pass (Front of the Line) $179+

1.  You can do it all in one day, even on the busiest day.  I’d guess the average wait time is 40-90 minutes for general admission, depending on the day, and the Express Pass is 0-20 minutes.  It minimizes the stress of theme parks with little kids.  And big kids.  And pretty much any person ever.

2.  PLUS, the few rides our kids aren’t ready to ride all have ride share rooms.  When we wanted to go on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, we took turns staying with the kids in the rideshare room, which went like this:

– The whole family gets to walk through the castle.  It’s a little dark, and not only are our kids not tall enough for this ride (they’re 47 and 46 inches or so, and it’s 48 inches to ride), but they had no interest because it’s a little spooky.  We let the employee at the front know we were doing ride share.  She lets the adult(s) who are riding on the ride, while the rest of the family sits in the waiting room.  Some rooms have movies playing, like Harry Potter in the castle, and some rooms have toys for the kids.  When the rider(s) finish the ride, they swap, and the other adult who was watching the kids gets to walk right on the ride.  It’s almost too easy.

3.  Even on Black Friday with all of Los Angeles Unified School District off school, we didn’t wait for more than 20 minutes.  Go on any holiday you choose.  Doesn’t matter.  You won’t wait in the lines.

A Few Tips to Make Your Day Easy Peasy:

  • Valet Park.   I mean, why not.  After a long day, you can just walk a short distance from Saddle Ranch after your dinner, hand over your valet ticket and be on your way.
  • Eat dinner outside of the park.  There are so many cute places to eat.  In the park, there are lines for food  — in fact, we waited in line longer for our lunch than for any ride with Express Pass.  So make a reservation on Open Table and treat yourself to a sit-down dinner and a cocktail at the end of a successful theme park day.
  • Get a Wand.  You can get a personal, one-on-one wand assignment experience at Ollivanders, which is SO MUCH FUN.  Then you get to use your wand to magically make objects fly, etc. around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • Eat Lunch in the Park.  I recommend the very first stop on your way in, the Plaza Grill.  Or, if you can get your kids to eat British fare, Three Broomsticks.
  • Little KidsKids really need to be 40 inches tall to get the full experience of the park.  Because our four and seven-year-old are tall enough to enjoy the rides and virtual experiences, we brought our youngest along and made it work, but I wouldn’t recommend this for a child under 40 inches unless he was tagging along with the family.
    • Shepherd still got to have a super fun day, though.  He played on the cool playground outside of the Jurassic Park Ride.  He went on the The Swirly Fun Ride over, and over, and over again.  Played on the Minions playground in Super Silly Fun Land.  Ate his first churro.  Napped.  (Ooh, that’s another thing…there are no elevators.  Well there are, but they’re not easy to use. The easiest way to navigate with a stroller is to take the kids out of it and take the stroller down the giant escallators.  So napping babies and their caregiver are sort of stuck to one level in a multi-level park).  

Top 5 Rides

You need to go into Universal knowing it’s not Disneyland.  Many of the rides are experiences along the lines of Star Tours at Disney.  In some, you are sitting stationary, but many of them are full-on VR immersion and roller coaster combined.  Don’t miss these:

1.  Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  Seriously, there is no other ride like this.

2.  Transformers.  It’s so good.  You’ll jump, though.

3.  Revenge of the Mummy.  Classic, awesome ride.

4.  The Simpsons.  Oldie but goodie.  My kids are all “Who are the Simpsons”.

5.  Jurassic Park.  My personal favorite because I fudging love this movie and everything about it.

Honorable mention:  The World-Famous Studio Tour.  This is a LOOOONG ride and we haven’t done it yet with the kids, but it’s the magic of Hollywood and I love it!

This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that Scarlet’s most favorite ride ever in the history of rides is the Flight of the Hippogriff .  They should really make it go around twice because it’s short and you only get to use your Express Pass once.  But it’s a great 1:06 ride.  

Have y’all done Express Passes at Universal?  It really is amazing.  Disneyland should really take a few tips and then we’d really be Doing Disneyland Like a Diva!