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).
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).
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!
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.
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.
One of the biggest surprises on Flying Dinosaur is the airtime hill (!) immediately following the pretzel.
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.
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.
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!
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).
Find out what wizarding magic lays behind the monument in part 2 of the report!