As a family, we simply love theme parks and Universal Studios Japan (USJ) in Osaka was top on our list for our trip to Japan. Once it was a confirmed stop on our trip, we started researching. There were plenty of reviews online of USJ Osaka – all saying how time consuming the queues were and how visitors only managed to do very few rides throughout their day there. As such, we started looking for a VIP Experience like the one that’s available in Universal Studios Singapore.
Royal Studio Pass at USJ
We learned that Universal Studios provide different experiences depending on their location. USJ does not have a VIP Experience but reading all the reviews we found out it they have something called the Royal Studio Pass.
Royal Studio Pass includes timed entry to seven of their most popular attractions and rides (one time use only), unlimited USJ Express Pass for another eight attractions and seat selection for two live shows. We weighed up our options and went ahead and purchased the Royal Studio Pass (a tip: the pricing for this varies by dates and can make quite a difference).
To purchase a Royal Studio Pass, you have to know your exact date for your visit to USJ and you need to buy the ticket at least two weeks in advance as limited numbers are available on a daily basis.
We could not find booking info online for the Royal Passes, so we finalised and bought our tickets from JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) in Isetan, Lot 10. Once payment was made, we were given QR codes to be used when redeeming our Royal Studio Pass wristbands, entry tickets to USJ and timed entry tickets to the attractions, from the Visitors Information Centre in Namba Station, Osaka.
USJ rides and attractions
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The day of our visit to USJ, our boy was beside himself with excitement. As our first timed entry was at 11am to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP), we explored other areas first to get the lay of the land. USJ turned out to be a lot bigger than Universal Studios Singapore as the attractions were more spread out, which made it very comfortable to meander around.
We headed to the WWoHP earlier than our scheduled time as our boy couldn’t wait any longer and boy, oh boy, does it take your breath away! We’ve been to theme parks aplenty in different countries but the WWoHP is in a class of its own. The attention to detail and the various amusements within it make it a top notch attraction. You really do get the feeling that you’ve been transported into Harry Potter world.
We had timed entry tickets to both the rides, the main attraction being Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is set within Hogwarts Castle. I’m not a fan of rides so both my boys went ahead and came back raving about it. If you’re like me and don’t want to go on the ride, you can still see the inside of Hogwarts – just opt for the castle walk (the entrance to this can easily be missed as the queue for the ride snakes out and around the castle – just ask an attendant). Trust me, you don’t want to miss the chance of being inside Hogwarts Castle! Everything is exactly as you see in the movie series.
The other ride is a fast roller coaster and our boy opted out as he doesn’t like them (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a 3D Ride, so he absolutely loved it). While my husband went on it (three times, I might add, as he used all three of our timed entry tickets), my boy and I went shopping – ha! Quite a number of visitors were dressed in Hogwarts School’s robe and scarf, which come in the four houses of Hogwarts – Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. Our boy was overjoyed when I bought him his own set and immediately put them on.
There are also wands for sale. Each one is different in design, depending on the character. The wands come in two options – magic and non-magic. With the magic ones, they have an inbuilt chip at the tip of it and you can use these to cast spells in eight locations within the park. This is the icing on the cake – using the wands and making magic! When you buy a magic wand, it comes with a map indicating the different locations. It also shows you the strokes or movements you have to make with your wand while saying your spell to make it work. Though if you lose the map, the strokes are embedded in the ground in front of the location so you can still know which strokes to use.
If you ask me, I think this is pure genius and is the best activity there. Finding the locations using the map was like going on a treasure hunt (two were hidden, off the main thoroughfare). Then to be able to see your spell work was an absolute thrill. Bear in mind, they don’t always work on the first couple of tries. There is a ‘professor’ at each location to guide those casting spells and they’re super patient. They’ll make sure your spell has worked before moving on to the next person in line. (Basically, the chip sensor in the wand has to make contact with the hidden sensors when you move your wand for your spell to work). Best part about this activity is that it’s free and you can go as many times as you want at each location – just get back in line! Our boy certainly went multiple times.
Speaking of wands, we stumbled upon an attraction which was not listed on the English version of the Studio Guide. It was a short live show which takes place inside Ollivanders. The queue for this is right next to Ollivanders and goes round the back of the building. We were just glad that we noticed the queue and didn’t miss the show.
When here, you’ve got to try Butterbeer. It’s absolutely yums and comes in hot and cold versions. It’s non-alcoholic and we had multiple cups between us!
Needless to say, the WWoHP is USJ’s most popular attraction. At peak periods, entry to the whole area is controlled and timed, though it wasn’t peak period when we visited so I’m not sure how that works.
Minion Park and other attractions at USJ
The next most popular attraction as far as I can tell, is Minion Park. This area was packed! I, for one, can’t stand the Minions but I gritted my teeth and went with it as our boy likes them and the Minion Mayhem Ride proved to be a winner with him, he even went solo on it!
The rest of the attractions in USJ, whilst some are the same as Universal Studios Singapore, pale in comparison to the WWoHP in our opinions. We found ourselves yearning and returning to WWoHP. Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, it’s hard not to succumb to its charms and we spent the best part of our day at WWoHP.
Where to stay and eat at USJ
For our USJ leg, we stayed at the Park Front Hotel at Universal Studios Japan. The hotel is located a mere five minutes walk from USJ. We got a great room, on a high floor, which overlooked Universal City Walk. We could even see USJ from our room!
Universal City Walk has plenty of food options which was great at it meant that we didn’t have to eat in the hotel. As USJ closes at 7pm, the F&B outlets at Universal City Walk are usually teeming with people and the queues can get quite long. I would suggest leaving the park slightly earlier to head to the eateries just so you can get seated immediately (especially if you have children with you).
With the Royal Studio Pass, we managed to cover USJ in one day, though we had to plan out our route depending on the timed entry tickets. For us, it was totally worth it. We did go back for a second day but this time on a standard entry ticket with no extras. Having had the luxury of the Royal Studio Pass the previous day meant that we were able to take it easy and only went on the rides we really enjoyed.
In my opinion, USJ is suitable for kids from 4 years onwards as they also have the Universal Wonderland with characters like Snoopy, Hello Kitty and Sesame Street. So USJ does have a little something for everyone in the family. The highlight for us was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – we left enchanted and are eagerly planning a trip to one of the other WWoHP sites.