Some context, we used the:
- One-Day Studio Pass (bought in advance)
- Universal Express Pass 4 ~The Flying Dinosaur~ (bought in advance)
Experience with USJ:
My friend and I are both in our 20s, and it was just the two of us, so I thought I'd make that clear in the title. Our experience of the park will be different from those who travel in bigger groups, families and/or with children. This was my friend's first time in USJ and Japan in general. As for me, it's my pseudo-first time at USJ exploring the park on our own. Pseudo because the very first time I ever went to USJ was with a tour group and I was roughly 10 or 11 at the time, a lot about the park has changed since then.
OK disclaimers and context over, on to the actual hacks and tips!
1. Download the Universal Studios Japan app (available on Android and iOS) beforehand.
The app includes a map and GPS that shows you where you're located in the park, and tells you how long you need to wait for rides! On top of that, a schedule of all the shows and parades that will happen that day. Super convenient, and saved us from pulling out our Park Map on multiple occasions, though I will suggest that you keep a paper version on hand just to cross-check with the app, and make sure you're going where you want to.
2. Bring some water and light snacks/food to eat.
Water is definitely a must. The park is huge and moving around each section of the park will take its toll, especially if it's a bright sunny day (we got lucky with the weather because it was raining and then turned sunny for the afternoon during our day at the park, so it wasn't so bad). Snacks will also save you having to buy inside the park too often as well.
3. Get there early, and get an express pass for the popular rides.
The reason I stated the opening/closing times is because the day we went to the park was actually the only day the park opened and closed later and earlier than they usually do, respectively. We got to the park from Shinsaibashi wayy earlier than I expected (roughly an hour and a half before park opens, switching trains and crowd-wise was fairly smooth throughout), so we were pretty close to the entrance gates waiting for the park to open.
The express passes do cost more, but helped so much in making our stay in USJ enjoyable!
There are a range of options for the express pass, some give you entry into HP World, some don't, and the ride options they give you also vary, so do compare and see which ones suit your preferences,
For our day at USJ, ours allowed us entry into HP World and an Express for Forbidden Journey. Most people will line up for the Forbidden Journey ride first when they get to Harry Potter World, given that we got the express pass for that (and we were still early for our time for the ride), we went for the Flight of the Hippogriff first. There was practically no one lining up for that! #winning
With the express pass, I didn't have to worry about reserving a time/getting a ticket to enter the Harry Potter World, or wait in (a very long) line for the absolutely popular Forbidden Journey ride. We still had ample time to take a walk inside the Hogwarts Castle (no one was lining up for that either #secondwin), look around the shops, take photos, and even witness a witch getting her brand new wand from Ollivander himself!
I felt like our time in HP World was well spent. It did feel sad leaving though! #Potterheadatheart
The Express Pass continued to save us time for Jaws and SpiderMan (all very popular rides in USJ). My friend and I didn't go on The Flying Dinosaur unfortunately. I am scared of heights (and the ride starts with a big drop from up high) and anything that gives you a 360-degree view in the air, and my friend cannot handle twists and turns on rollercoasters either. She was getting goosebumps just hearing people scream too (the ride is LONG, and goes through the Jurassic Park section quite completely).
The Jurassic Park: The Ride was in maintenance while we were there (it'll be open for rides again come July 7th!), but it is an amazing ride that goes with Flying Dinosaur.
So despite skipping one ride out of our Express Pass, my friend and I still got to explore most sections of the park, take a ride on popular attractions, catch a break, and even go on Minion Mayhem (normal queue)! Definitely worth that extra bit of money we spent for buying the tickets and passes in advance!
4. At least see one show (a second if you can)!
I recommend WaterWorld because you get splashed with water - perfect if you want a cool down in the summer heat, do bring an extra change of clothes if you want to get wet though! And also because that's the one I clearly remember watching when I went to USJ that many years ago. I would recommend Shrek as well, only it is in maintenance and still will for a while until October, 2017.
5. Explore Universal Wonderland! (Probably best in the afternoon)
This section is obviously designed and meant for younger kids, but who says you stop doing and riding certain things just because you're an adult?! It was a very cute area, and I'm glad we decided to take a look inside this area.
Snoopy's Great Race was fun, as was Moppy's Balloon Trip, and Elmo's Go-Go Skateboard. Best part was because it was the afternoon already, the waiting times and queues weren't that long.
All in all, my friend and I had a very enjoyable day at Universal Studios Japan due to the above tips. If you have any other tips or suggestions, feel free to comment and add to the discussion! I know most of these sound like common sense, but hey, it is there if anyone needs 'em! For potential travelers headed for USJ, I hope these tips help you plan your day in USJ too! :D