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Special Effects Show at Universal Studios Hollywood

Overwhelmed? You’ve come to the right place.

Planning a trip is hard – there’s no doubt about it. What to do, what to see, what to ride, what to avoid…you get the picture. That’s why we’ve created a simple “Start Here” guide that gives a broad overview of the park. What to eat, what to avoid – it all starts from here. So if you’re new to Universal, we suggest you give this article a read. It’ll help you find what you’re looking for.

General Information

First off, how would you describe Universal Studios Hollywood? Well, the typical answer would involve a major movie studio operating alongside a full-fledged theme park.

So while many other parks attempt to house a small backlot in an effort to claim the title of a “movie studio slash theme park,” Universal Studios Hollywood features a thriving backlot that’s actually used in world-class productions. And unlike other parks, Universal is absolutely the real deal, housing the sets and soundstages used in some of the world’s largest and most elaborate productions. If you’ve ever watched a handful of movies, chances are, some of them were filmed on the Universal lot. So while Universal has admittedly emphasized the theme park aspect of its operations, the studio still maintains a sizable influence on the property.

Time sensitive information like daily ticket pricing can be found on Universal’s official website. Think of this website as an additional and more comprehensive source on what Universal has to offer.

Time sensitive information – like daily park hours and current ticket prices – will be best served at Universal’s official website, Prices do fluctuate daily, so it’s best to keep in mind that there isn’t a consistent price if you choose to take advantage of the park’s latest discount. Think of this site as an extension of what you would find on Universal’s own maps and guides, and not as a source for current pricing and current deals. In other words, we won’t tell you how much tickets currently cost, but we will elaborate on the differences between a general park ticket and a Front of Line pass.

That being said, more in-depth guides can always be found in our Guides Section. We suggest you have a look if you want more detailed information on the park, including information Child Switch, taking the Metro, character meet and greets, and other specific planning guides are all available. We’ve highlighted some of the more pertinent information in our “Start Here” guide below, but if you have some extra time, we recommend branching into our Guides Section for more detailed information.

Ticket Information

Universal’s ticket system is separated by three tiers: General Admission, Front of Line and the VIP Experience.

General Admission

General Admission tickets are the park’s best seller, and include one day of admission to Universal Studios Hollywood. We highly recommend purchasing your tickets in advance on Universal’s official website. Not only do they offer the ability for your party to head directly to the turnstiles, but Universal also offers discounts for purchasing your ticket online before the day of your visit. Generally speaking, peak days will receive a smaller discount than non-peak days.

VIP Experience

While the General Admission is the top seller for the park, be sure to check out the VIP Experience if you’re interested in participating in an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the backlot and studio. The VIP Experience includes a personal guide, unlimited Front of Line access, catered meals and an extended version of the Studio Tour. Tickets can sometimes be found at the front gate, though we highly recommend making reservations on Universal’s website or by calling (818)-622-8477.

Front of Line

Finally, the Front of Line pass is best suited for time sensitive guests who need to get the most of their limited day. Generally speaking, if you were to arrive at park opening with a plan, you should be able to hit every single ride, show and attraction Universal has to offer. If you’re only able to spend half a day at the park, the Front of Line pass may be a viable solution by providing you one-time Front of Line access to any ride or attraction. More information on each tier of ticket can be found on our Ticket Guide.

Having said that, regardless of which option you select, we always encourage you to purchase tickets online (and parking!) on Universal’s official website located at This saves you the hassle of waiting in line to access the box office when you arrive at the park’s entrance, and gives you the benefit of proceeding directly to the turnstiles. At a given day, this could save at least 20 – 30 minutes of queuing.

With enough planning, General Admission gives you the cheapest way to experience all of Universal’s rides and attractions.

If you’re purchasing tickets for a group, be sure to bring proper identification to the turnstiles for each of your members. Universal also uses fingerprints to identify tickets, and the tickets themselves are virtually indistinguishable when you’re in a large group. As a result, repeat visitors should mark their tickets to prevent mismatching identities.

Parking and Transportation


Universal Studios Hollywood is located a few miles north of Los Angeles near Hollywood by way of the 101 Freeway. For those traveling on 101 South, you’ll exit at 12A toward Lankershim Boulevard/Universal City. For 101 North travelers, you’ll exit at 11B toward Universal Studios Blvd. From there, you can follow the signs to the parking lots.


Universal offers three tiers of parking: Front Gate Parking, Preferred Parking, and General Parking. Front Gate parking – at its name suggests – offers priority parking directly in front of Universal’s main gate. Preferred Parking, meanwhile, allows you to park close to the park’s entrance, while General Parking allows you to park near CityWalk. Unless you have a desire to park near Universal’s front gate, the walking distance from CityWalk to the park is not far, and General Parking is often the best choice. Like tickets, we highly recommend purchasing a parking voucher in advance online.

Universal offers three tiers of parking. We suggest their cheapest option, General Parking.

Universal has distinct parking structures that are literally separated amongst each other. As a result, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t remember your original parking spot. That being said, we recommend taking a photo of a parking marker if you’re prone to forget. Even if you aren’t, it wouldn’t hurt a bit – and it’ll come in handy later on.

Metro – Public transportation

For those using public transportation, you can take the Metro Red Line heading towards North Hollywood to Universal Studios by getting off at Universal City. From there, you’ll need to walk across the street towards the hill. Universal also offers daily tram service at the base of the hill to CityWalk.

Park Layout

Universal is organized into two major sections – the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot (also known as Entertainment Center and Studio Center) – that are interconnected through a series of long escalators known as the StarWay.

Despite the distinctions, the Upper and Lower Lot don’t actually revolve around a specific theme, save the fact that they’re separated by a steep hill, thus the labels “Upper” and “Lower.” We can even go as far as to ignore their names and differences completely – as most guests do – but for the sake of organization and convenience, this website is sectioned in accordance with the park – with dining, attractions and shops organized and bunched with their respective “Lot.”

Upper Lot / Entertainment Center

For the most part, the Upper Lot serves as the gateway to Universal Studios Hollywood, showcasing many of the park’s attractions, shops and restaurants. It’s also significantly larger than the Lower Lot, and it’s not unusual to see guests wander through the park oblivious to the fact that there’s another separate section below. As the original name would imply, much of the attractions in the Upper Lot focus more on the realm of shows, such as WaterWorld and Special Effects Show – to name a few.

Lower Lot / Studio Center

The Lower Lot, on the other hand, places more of an emphasis on rides (housing only 3, which include Revenge of the Mummy, Transformers and Jurassic Park) – which is the primary reason many members from our forum recommend hitting this Lot first – especially if you arrive early.

The massive escalator that connects these two lots together is known as the StarWay, which is made up of four large escalators spanning about half a mile long, taking 5-10 minutes to travel through. Though that doesn’t seem like a lot of time, the StarWay is a navigational nightmare. Trust us on that. You want to avoid as many journeys as possible when you’re traversing the StarWay for any given reason, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Also note that rides run continuously throughout the day while shows do not. We’ll have more information further down on how to plan your day based on that schedule.


Universal has two types of attractions: rides and shows. Rides run continuously throughout the day, while most traditional shows have a preset number of performances, with an hour typically in-between. Most shows are around 15 – 30 minutes long, while most rides don’t last longer than 5 minutes. Our rule of thumb has always been to schedule your day around the shows- making sure you arrive at least 20 minutes prior to posted performance times. Rides should naturally fit themselves in, but like we mentioned above, we recommend you plan ahead to prevent unnecessary trips through the StarWay.

» Wait times vary, but you should be able to get through everything within 5-6 hours on an average day with decent park attendance.

» Again, be sure to also note that the Lower Lot can have specific operation hours. While they’ve recently stopped the practice of setting specific hours for the area, we still advise you to check posted schedules during the day of your visit – just in case you want to ride Jurassic Park late into the day.

» It’s also important to point out that the Studio Tour also sometimes closes early every day, so make sure the Studio Tour is early on your list of things to do before you leave the park.

For more information on attractions – including tips, descriptions and guidelines – be sure to visit our detailed attraction profiles.

Shopping & Merchandise

Universal has a healthy number of shops that provide a wide range of memorabilia and souvenirs. T-shirts, mugs and other trinkets can be bought at traditional theme park prices (read: overpriced).

» The only notable mentions on the Upper Lot would be the Universal Studio Store, which contains Universal branded memorabilia (located at the park entrance) and the Kwik-E-Mart (located near the Simpsons Ride) for fans of the Simpsons.

» For the Lower Lot, Jurassic Outfitters (located near Jurassic Park: The Ride) carries Jurassic branded souvenirs and other Lower Lot merchandising.

To get a more comprehensive view on Universal’s shopping options, please visit our individual shop profiles.


Restaurant wise, the park as a whole serves typical theme park fare. French fries, burgers and fried chicken can be found freely throughout the park. In terms of specific recommendations, Krusty Burger and French Street Bistro have always been our favorites – with the former being perfect for those who want to avoid traditional greasy theme park food.

For those who prefer more variety, CityWalk is just a hand stamp away with a variety of American, Asian, Mexican and Italian cuisine and fast food. Prices are also generally lower as well.

To get a more comprehensive view on Universal’s dining options with menus, please visit our dining guide.

Kids Guide

Generally speaking, Universal is fine for children 6 and up. Younger kids – despite Universal’s best efforts – won’t find much to do besides Shrek 4D and a few playgrounds. In fact, Universal offers discounted admission for those under 48″.

If your child is coming in a group, Universal offers a Child Switch program for certain attractions, which allows a member of your party to sit with the child while the rest of the party experiences the attraction. When the attraction is finished, the party will simply switch roles – the person waiting will experience the attraction, while the rest waits with the child.