THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
Reading reviews online (TripAdvisor, VirtualTourist...), it was scary to hear about horror stories of nightmarish waiting lines especially since WWoHP is a fairly new attraction at USJ. My dread was doubled when I realized that our trip coincided with the week following Obon, a lantern festival held in the summer, and school is out for the summer. This meant even MORE people visiting the park. Learning from our experience in USSingapore, we wanted to get an express pass so we can get into WWoHP and get through the lines quicker. Studio passes* and express passes** can be purchased online however the site is in Japanese (THANK YOU to my friend Kim Pasno for your helpful translation services through the process). I wanted to get the passes early because they sell out pretty fast so I thought two weeks before our scheduled trip would be enough time. I THOUGHT WRONG. Express Pass 5 and 7 (which guarantees entry to WWoHP) were all sold out by the time I checked. My world fell around me.
There are other ways to get into WWoHP at USJ but there are no guarantees. One way is to get a TIMED ENTRY TICKET, which I'll be talk about more in the next bit. Anyway, since we had no express passes, our course of action was to get to the park extra early. I bought our studio passes online so we didn't have to queue just to get the tickets. When you buy your studio pass online, you'll receive an email with a link to your QR code. You just save it to your device and scan the device at the entrance gate to get into the park.
We got to USJ at around 7:00 in the morning (the park opens at 9:00). I anticipated that there would be a lot of visitors but I was blown away by the sheer number of people already in line at SEVEN IN THE MORNING. It was crazy.
When you get to the park, be sure to go to the correct queue. There were attendants there outside who would be glad to direct you where to go. There are lines to BUY tickets, lines for those who already have paper tickets, and for our case, there's also a separate line for those who have QR code tickets (not all gates are equipped with QR scanners, I think?). Once you're in the CORRECT line, there's nothing to do but wait until they start letting people in.
Although the park opens at 9:00 AM, there were so many people that they decided to start letting people in early. They opened the gates at around 8:00 AM. SCORE! What happened next was scary and funny!
As soon as people got through the entrance gates, I saw them all running (and by running, I meant all-out SPRINTING) in the direction of WWoHP. My brother and I agreed to run and get the timed entry tickets to WWoHP as soon as possible. And this is where it gets crazy. As soon as we got through the gate, Rafael went into beastmode and ran to get the tickets like his life depended on it. I tried to run after him but I was heaving after only a few paces (yeah, yeah, laugh all you want! haha). I lost him in the crowd and I was worried about how I was going to find him in a place that huge! Even worse, we were so psyched to get to the tickets that:
- He left is iPad with me so he didn't have a way to contact me
- I left my WiFi in HIS jacket pocket which means I didn't have a way to contact him, too
I went to the ticket machines hoping that he'd be there. Then I realized that even if he got there first, he wouldn't be able to get the tickets because the studio passes were with ME (you have to present your park entrance tickets to get a separate ticket to WWoHP). Since I was already there, I went and got our tickets anyway. But inside I was panicking. I have no idea what I'd tell my parents if I lost my 19-year-old brother in Japan. The only saving grace of this scenario is that before we entered the park, we agreed that, on the off chance that we got separated, we'll wait for each other at a designated place. I was relieved to find him walking around the area we agreed upon and apparently he was looking for me, too.
I found my brother. We got our tickets. All is well.
During peak seasons, USJ limits the number of people that can go into certain attractions at one time. For example, to get into WWoHP, you have to get a TIMED ENTRY TICKET. It's a FREE ticket that you can only get INSIDE the park. You can't buy or get it online or at the main ticket booths at the park entrance. The ticket indicates the designated time in which the holder can get into an atrraction. When you get to the machines, you'll be asked to select the time you'd prefer. For example 8:50-9:50, 9:00-10:00, or 9:10-10:10. The attendant at the attraction entrance will only let you in within that time period. There's NO limit on how long you can STAY inside the attraction.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is every Potterhead's dream come true! After entering the park, you walk through a maze like forest which makes you feel like walking through the Forbidden Forest. The first attraction you'll see is the crashed Flying Ford Anglia in the middle of a bunch of trees, probably after it was saved from Aragog and his family. Further up ahead is a stone and steel arch that welcomes visitors to HOGSMEADE. Be sure to get your picture taken at the Hogwarts Express!
There are so many attractions to see in WWoHP. It's an immersive experience and you'll really feel as if you're part of Harry's magical world!
Here are some of what we enjoyed during our trip to WWoHP:
- Ollivander's - What's a wizard/witch without a wand? When you go to Ollivander's, you'll be treated to an enchanting "wand selection" show. Small groups of 15 or so are let into the room at a time. A member of the audience will then be selected by Ollivander. This audience member will be asked to try out different wands (with sometimes disastrous results haha). When the right wand has chosen its master, the audience member gets to take home the wand! For the rest of the audience, they can get their own wands at the giftshop next door. Visitors aren't limited to replicas of the character wands (i.e., Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Elder Wand, etc). There are "generic" wands (i.e., Hawthorne, Willow, Holly...) available, as well.
- Butterbeer! - if you want to get the whole experience, I would suggest you go into The Three Broomsticks, order a butterbeer, and sit on one of the tables. You'll feel like a Hogwarts student during one of their trips to Hogsmeade. You can also get your butterbeer from several kiosks around WWoHP. Oh, it's non-alcoholic so kids can enjoy this sweet and refreshing drink, too!
- Tour of Hogwarts Castle - we wanted to go on the Forbidden Journey but the queue was 220 minutes long (*gasp!*) so we settled for a tour of Hogwarts castle instead. It was pretty interesting, too! You get to see the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore's office, etc. There was even a hologram of Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they stand on a balcony and talk to you. Too bad I couldn't understand a word they said. Everything was in Japanese!
- Live street performances - Don't miss the Frog Choir acapella performance and a dance number from the guys of Durmstrang Institute and the ladies of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic.
- The shops at Diagon Alley - don't forget to buy souvenirs! Get a scarf in the colors of your favorite house from Gladrags. Send a postcard with a Hogsmeade poststamp by going to The Owlery. Taste Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans or get a box of Chocolate Frogs from Honeydukes. There is so much to do and see!
- If you can manage to get an express pass, please do. It's worth the few extra yen and would save you a LOT of time inside the park.
- Beat the crowds and the queues by coming early.
- Depending on the season you visit, be prepared for abrupt weather changes. We went there in August and it was really hot even though the sky was overcast. By noon, the skies opened and the rain didn't let up for an hour or two.
- Allot at least a day to explore the whole park to get the full experience.
- *STUDIO PASSES grant you entry to the park.
- ** EXPRESS PASSES can be purchased at an ADDITIONAL fee on top of your studio pass.
- The easiest and most economical way to access Universal Studios Japan is by TRAIN. On the Osaka Loop Line, get off at NISHIKUJO Station and transfer to the JR Yumesaki Line. From there, get off at UNIVERSAL CITY Station. USJ is right outside the station but you have to walk quite a bit to get to the park entrance.
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