June is a low season for any theme park in Japan, as it is tsuyu (梅雨), the season of rain. Indeed, when we went on last Friday, it turned out to be a relatively wet day with intermittent rain and ominous grey skies. But it was also likely due to the rain that lessened the crowds, and we could actually take almost all of the Universal Studios rides without Express Pass. Yes, we actually did it. Though sadly, I couldn’t film anything because of the rain. Most people seem to warn against buying the ridiculously overpriced Express Pass despite commenting that popular rides can take up several hours of wait. But as fate would have it (I thank my lucky stars), the rain likely chased away most potential visitors, making our maximum waiting time for the rides only about 1 hour. So in a sense, the rain saved us.
We reached really early, at about 7 am, because it is recommended on most sites and reviews, if you want to go to Universal Studios Japan without Express Pass, the next best option is to be crazy early. We waited for over an hour, which, ironically, was longer than the waiting time for each and every of the rides we rode. When the gates finally opened, indeed, everyone made a mad dash to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it turned out to be a waste of our energy, it was pretty far from the entrance and it wasn’t open yet when we reached. The staff really could have been more helpful by telling us in the beginning before we entered the park, since they should known that it is the first place most people would head to.
But it was the only slight bummer for the day, the rest of the day was fantastic. It turned out that the theme park wasn’t that busy, and we didn’t need timed entry tickets to enter. Usually, timed entry tickets are required to enter, and you can only enter once with the ticket, because Harry Potter is extremely popular with everyone. After all, JK Rowling became a billionaire from writing the series. But we were so fortunate that there wasn’t a need for timed entry tickets, meaning that we could visit it multiple times. Which of course, I grabbed hold of this rare opportunity.
Soar like a Flying Dinosaur
Since we couldn’t take the famous Harry Potter ride, we headed for another highly popular ride, The Flying Dinosaur. It was a really short wait, only about 10 minutes, even though the wait is rumoured to be usually up to 2 hours. Although there had been news of it stalling as recently as just a month ago, I was determined to try out this ride as I had never been on a ride that makes my body suspended face down before. And I have been on plenty of rides because of a program I filmed in the past, Science Behind The Scream, which I must say was the most enjoyable show I ever did.
But I must confess, when I was up soaring in the air like a giant bird’s prey, I did wonder for a moment how I would feel if the ride suddenly stalled and I was left hanging facing the ground for two hours. Yet, it turned out to be the most adrenaline-filled, the best ride I have ever been on in my entire life. And I had initially thought that Arkham Asylum in Movie World was the best. The rapid speed, the crazy twists and turns, and of course the thrilling factor of our bodies facing the ground which gave me the horrifying feeling that I might plummet face down at any moment, I give it a solid 10/10.
Hogswart, Hogsmeade, and Some Butterbeer Please.
After the adrenaline rush, I was ready for even more. We headed back to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it was then when it started to rain. So yet again, we were really lucky as we managed to take an open-air ride when it hadn’t started raining. And that was how we got through the rest of the day. Indoor rides in rain, and outdoor rides when the rains stop. Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey waiting time was much longer, about 1 hour, but still a bearable wait, especially with so many things to see and be distracted by. Once we entered the Hogwarts castle, the moving and talking pictures really led me to feel like I was in a Hogwarts student in the magical world of Harry Potter. The ride was fun too, dizzying and thrilling, through I had expected the animation to be of higher quality. But perhaps at our current technology level, it would still be better to use special goggles for 3D effects instead of attempting to do it without goggles.
After we ended our ride, we headed to my next aim, butterbeer. There was no way I could leave USJ without trying butterbeer. I have always wanted to try a butterbeer ever since I read the Harry Potter books, and now I finally had the chance. DH was a little apprehensive on trying it, as it is said in many reviews to be very sweet, but in the end, we both liked it. I really liked it, though it was nothing like how I imagined it to be (I thought it would have a butter taste as it’s called butterbeer, you know), and it was non-alcoholic, but it tasted like caramel, and I am partial to caramel.
After trying the butterbeer, we slowly explored the rest of the world, and I found that the gloomy skies was actually a great complement to Hogsmeade, since England is known for its bleak weather. When I was younger, I had so many fantasies of this world, and now my dream has come true. It is a truly marvelous replica of the movies.
The shops are also full of character, filled with magical props that come to life, and every decoration is thoughtfully placed to fit the theme of each shop.
Universal Cool Japan
After that, we headed to my next must-go destination, Universal Cool Japan 2018. Universal Cool Japan always has seasonal attractions, and it is just so propitious that during this season, there were two attractions that I really wanted to go, first, Final Fantasy XR Ride (which ends very soon on June 24), and Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4D (tentatively stated to end on Sept 30). I used to play Final Fantasy games when I was a kid, and Sailor Moon was my very first anime which I totally fell in love with, I had so many Sailor Moon stickers and cards.
Final Fantasy, Where the Fantasy is never Final
The Final Fantasy XR Ride waiting time was also about 1 hour, but it was worth it. Even DH who had never played the game thought it was thrilling. With the crystal goggles they provide you, you are plunged into the virtual Final Fantasy world, it is that immersive. The final scene was jaw-dropping and breath-stopping. I do wish that there were more Final Fantasy characters that appeared rather than just Final Fantasy VII Cloud and Sephiroth though.
Moon Crystal Power Make Up!
Next, the Sailor Moon 4D show was rather amusing, they actually ended it (SPOILER ALERT) with a in-your-face advertisement of a USJ product, a Sailor Moon Cutie Moon Rod. Granted the rod was really pretty, and if I were a child I would immediately pester my parents for it.
While Final Fantasy products are a little lacklustre in the Cool Japan store, Sailor Moon more than makes up for it. Sailor Moon is big in Japan, with many places in Tokyo selling Sailor Moon cosmetics and Sailor Moon accessories. USJ outdoes all other shops I have been by presenting Sailor Moon fans the chance to act like a Sailor Soldier with exceptional wands.
After I was done with all the attractions I really wanted to try, our energy levels were pretty depleted, so we ate the onigiri and sandwiches his sweet mother made for us, and continued on to other attractions. Strangely enough, speaking of the food we snuck in, there was no security checks at all, though every blog I had read mentioned that there would be. Well, it is a good thing, for park food is always overpriced.
Spiderman Eating Ramen
Stomachs filled, we went to take The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, since it was around the corner, and though I have taken it before, the adrenaline-packed 4D ride was still as thrilling as I remembered.
Bello, Minion Mayhem!
After that, it was straight to Minion Park. I have actually never watched Despicable Me, much less the Minion films, but I do know a bit of these famous yellow monsters. If you have three little nephews like me, it’s a little hard to ignore their shared obsession with the Minion language. Though the wait for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was about 90 minutes (the longest we have waited), it was easily the most entertaining wait with multiple videos introducing the movies and fun questionnaires on the screen. The ride itself was very entertaining and immersive too. And the Minion Park, though compact, was very vibrant and colorful, as boisterous as you would think the world of Minions would be.
Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop
Then we headed to Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop. It was apparently the ride that revived that now very much thriving business of USJ. And oddly enough, more people were lining for the normal Hollywood Dream Ride. The waiting time was about 30 minutes for this attraction.
I had take a ride where I was facing backwards back in my filming, The Tower of Terror II in Dreamworld. But the HollyDream The Ride Backdrop, mainly because it lasts longer, and also maybe because we get to choose our music in the ride, was a lot more enjoyable. I had no idea what I chose though, it was a Final Fantasy IV song, but its pleasant-paced music didn’t quite match with the fast ride.
Fire, Fire Everywhere at The BackDraft
Our final attraction was The Backdraft. Whilst the introduction movie may be backdated, the fire effects were very real, and honestly, terrifying. I have always been rather afraid of fire, and there was fire everywhere in the room. I had stood at the center platform, and was shocked when the platform suddenly dropped. So if you are up for a sudden heart attack, do go ahead and choose to stand on the middle platform.
So we ended our lucky day in Universal Studios without Express Pass playing 6 rides and watching 2 shows. Considering the fact that we didn’t purchase Express Pass, I think it was pretty damn worthwhile. We skipped the night parade, so I can’t say if it’s good, but I have never been that into parade shows. The only thing I wish I could have seen was the fireworks at Hogwarts, but just at the moment we left, the rain turned into a heavy downpour so we might not have seen it even if we stayed.