Universal Studios Japan

Alexander: We’re bringing it home with a bang! Our last park update was one of the most highly-anticipated parks of the trip, attendance juggernaut Universal Studios Japan!

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With almost 15 million visitors in 2017, Osaka’s signature theme park is the highest-attended non-Disney park in the world and 4th-most-attend park on earth, after Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Park, and Tokyo Disneyland (Tokyo DisneySea rounds out the Top 5, of course).

Let’s go see what all the hype is about!

First stop: Hollywood Dream – Backdrop!

With great attendance comes great responsibility! Universal Studios Japan is notorious for long waits, which can be dealt with a variety of quick pass options. While admission to Universal is comparable to Tokyo Disney, the cost of quick passes can outweigh the ticket price (while this makes Tokyo Disney a better value, USJ gives guests the option to ride a LOT in one day, which we happily took advantage of – it’s a welcome change from Tokyo Disney’s free-but-antiquated FastPass system).

Anyways, back to Hollywood Dream; time to pick a song!

Hollywood Dream is a baby B&M Hyper with some AMAZING capacity! Four-train operation for the ride on our visit included a red backwards-facing train dubbed Backdrop. 

Why Backdrop before the traditional version? One rear-facing train means lower capacity – Backdrop is the only attraction at USJ that isn’t featured on any quick pass option, and the single-rider line is only for forwards riders! We started our day with a backwards Hollywood Dream ride because we knew that line definitely wasn’t going to get any shorter!

Whether you ride forward or backward, Hollywood Dream is a real treat. We got three total rides in – one Backdrop ride and two forward rides!

Besides Backdrop, who can guess what our top priority at USJ is??

No, it’s not Jaws (although we’re delighted it’s still here).

It’s time to FLY!

See that? That’s 540º of awesome right there.

The crowning achievement at Universal Studios Japan is their unapologetically straightforward Flying Dinosaur coaster.

Equally unapologetic is the ride’s queue. The ride’s theme: a recreational device used to simulate the flight of a pterodactyl; the queue’s theme: an un-themed queue.

Dispatches/capacity aren’t terrible for Flying Dinosaur, but the horrific standby queue configuration is enough to make us fork over the cash for multiple quick passes.

Logistical shortcomings aside, Flying Dinosaur is spectacular. It’s not just “good for a flying coaster” – it’s actually just genuinely good. Go figure. 

Pure magic happens on this ride. I’m not the biggest Tatsu fan, but that’s the flyer I’ve ridden the most; imagine having a more-dynamic and thrilling Tatsu that doesn’t try to liquify you at the bottom of the pretzel loop.

USJ may just have the best B&M pair of any park on Earth. Yeah, I said it.

I underestimated both rides; I expected Hollywood Dream to be milder and less impressive, and I expected Flying Dinosaur to be more intense than I’d like. Turns out that Dream is surprisingly thrilling, and Dino is surprisingly comfortable. 

Not to be outdone, the biggest and best Jurassic Park flume ride lies in wait beneath Flying Dinosaur.

Despite being brand new, Flying Dinosaur is beautifully integrated with the rest of the Jurassic Park area – it’s like it was always here!

“Greetings. Do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior, Steven Spielberg?”

Ok, back to this.

Flying Dinosaur commands attention like no other. When the train comes off the lift, everyone stops to watch.

Following an excellent first drop and the 540º roll, Flying Dinosaur flips guests up and over the big Jurassic Park splash.

Here they come!

Wow, you guys look like you just escaped a dinosaur attack or something. 

Ok, back to Dino again.

Do you like this roll shot better? or the other one? (Doesn’t matter; posting both)

Just FYI, there are SO many Flying Dinosaur photos in this update. Like, so many.

I can’t help myself. But can you blame me? Look at this thing.

After the Immelman over the flume, Dino swoops down over the midway and then back up into a pretzel with underground tunnel that pierces the midway!


One of the biggest surprises on Flying Dinosaur is the airtime hill (!) immediately following the pretzel.

Following the airtime hill and an over-water swoop, a helix sandwiched by two rolls rounds out the ride on Flying Dinosaur.

Again, I’m so amazed that a ride this perfectly choreographed had to navigate so many existing structures. 

The hypnotic Flying Dinosaur is enough to make you forget about the rest of USJ for a moment.

Sean agrees.

The Amity area of USJ is now dominated by a Dino backdrop.

Sharks aren’t the biggest threat anymore.

*wolf whistle*

My favorite area of the park is Hollywood Dream‘s helix courtyard, which provides amazing views of both coasters.

*cue a mixed medley of Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson, and indiscernible J-pop*

You know what I love? What I REALLY love? USJ isn’t perfect, but they are *obsessed* with single rider lines. You will almost never see an empty seat on any vehicle of any ride at this park. 

Unlike Tokyo Disney (which only has 3 single rider line attractions resort-wide), USJ has a distinct “single rider culture.” Universal’s young-adult-geared model calls for numerous opportunities for groups to break up and fill empty seats, and while wait estimates for single riders are sometimes as high as those for the regular queue, frequenters know that SRLs are usually much shorter – often half of the posted queue time. 

Time now to check out one of USJ’s most unique areas – Universal Wonderland.

Universal Wonderland is a 3-part kiddie area that features attractions themed to Sesame Street, Hello Kitty, and Snoopy! Our theory is that a big reason why USJ is such an expensive resort is the countless licensing agreements exclusive to this property. 

On ride photos here might be $20, but hey! There’s a Hello Kitty cupcake ride.

Indoor areas play a big role in major Japanese parks. Like King Triton’s Kingdom at DisneySea, the Snoopy area inside of USJ is largely enclosed. The signature Peanuts-themed attraction? A Vekoma Rollerskater-inspired  Senyo-Kogyo kiddie coaster.

USJ has a major indoor coaster (no, not The Mummy) – an immersive Mack spinner (a-la Sierra Sidewinder) that is (usually) called Space Fantasy. For the 2nd year in a row, however, the Fall season brought a VR overlay themed to anime sensation Neon Genesis Evangelion. Putting VR on Space Fantasy involves nixing the spinning and only loading forward-facing seats (*groan*). The VR itself is your typical “PS2 graphics’ faire, so we rode sans-goggles – the ride’s cosmic thematic sequences still work and are worth seeing!

Like I said before, single rider lines tend to even out to about half of the posted wait time – but why risk it when you can just buy a quick pass? Hehe.

B&Ms aside, The Amazing Spiderman  was the biggest hit of the day. I hadn’t been to Universal Orlando in 13 years, and Sean’d never been; needless to say he was blown away, and I’m quite impressed with how well it’s aged. Spiderman was the park’s original Islands of Adventure element (the rest was a mix of Studios Hollywood and Studios Orlando), but now USJ feels like equal parts “Islands” and “Studios” (like Universal Singapore).

Hello, backdroppers! 

USJ has some amazing on-site hotels, and, like Tokyo Disney, they are SUPER expensive – but look at that location!

We rode JAWS with a bunch of Muppets from Sesame Street. There’s a little foreshadowing for you in the background!

Yes, of course we wound up back at Jurassic Park.

Flying Dinosaur isn’t the only specimen on the loose now!

Aww! Issa baby!

Between Wonderland and Amity is this strange stone monument.

Find out what wizarding magic lays behind the monument in part 2 of the report!

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