Universal Studios JapanDay One
Universal Studios Japan was probably the most anticipated park on the Japan trip after Tokyo Disneyland. I’ve often heard the Japanese version is the best of their parks and essentially a greatest hits collection of their US dark rides. That combined with the two big B&Ms certainly had me excited. To say the visit was anything short of interesting would have been an understatement.
My visit began with an all-too-realistic Earthquake- the Ride. Instead of taking place in a tram, this took place on the 13th floor of my hotel. It was the 6.1 magnitude earthquake Osaka experienced last month. I had never felt an earthquake before, so it was pretty freaky to feel just how much the hotel was swaying.
Yet Universal Studios opened. It opened almost 2 hours late and without Hollywood Dream, Flying Dinosaur, or Jurassic Park River Adventure, but we really couldn’t complain. I’m pretty sure something like this would keep a US park closed. Heck, rain can be enough to close a US park.
In anticipation of large crowds, we had pre-purchased Express Passes. Unlike the US Express Passes, there is no unlimited option. Further, the most popular attractions have assigned half hour windows. We were skeptical the passes would even be necessary after the earthquake, but several rides like Despicable Me, Forbidden Journey, and Space Fantasy were posting hour plus waits for a majority of the day.
With Hollywood Dream and Flying Dinosaur closed, it seemed like Hogsmeade was the destination of choice for most people at rope drop. Since we had Express Passes in hand and a 10:30 reservation for Forbidden Journey, we joined the rush. The first thing that immediately stood out was the entrance to the Wizarding World. While at Islands of Adventure you’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Jurassic Park, you have to travel down this long wooded walkway in Japan and it really helps immerse you in the land.
We started with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and used our Express Pass to skip the posted 90 minute wait. Unlike Orlando’s version, Japan forces a no loose article policy, so everything had to go into a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo prior to boarding. The fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo are definitely a claustrophobic cluster, but seeing that they’re free I’m willing to look past that and focus on the amazing attraction.
For the most part, the ride was identical to the US versions except that Harry and his friends were dubbed over in Japanese. Then I think the dementor scene here was more prolonged and well-executed thanks to 3-4 near-misses during the sequence. Beyond that, you have the robotic arms had the same exciting movement and the ride is an excellent hybrid of screens and physical sets. This truly is one of the best dark rides in the world. 10 out of 10
Flight of the Hippogriff was due on our Express Pass, so we happily bypassed the 45 minute queue. While I sort of felt guilty being assigned the front and depriving a younger guest from the unobstructed view of a hippogriff’s neck, I was thankful for the extra legroom. Unlike Orlando’s version, this one has individual lap bars with shin guards on every row except the front.
Don’t be fooled by the modest 29 mph, but this is a coaster where you have to empty everything from your pockets. Normally I’m leery storing items on a ride platform, but in Japan I felt 100% safe doing so. The ride itself was exactly what you’d expect from the expanded roller skater. It was a smooth and decent family coaster. It’s nothing special, but this one is well landscaped and a hit with kids. 4 out of 10
The superior family coaster at Universal Studios Japan is Snoopy’s Great Race. I openly admit that I drink the Peanuts Kool-Aid, but this really is one of the best themed junior coasters out there. The indoor area looks cool on its own, but then the coaster blasts you through a billboard and has Snoopy follow the train, recording from his director’s chair during the helix finale.
The coaster’s layout is nearly indistinguishable from a Vekoma roller skater, but don’t be fooled, this is actually a Senyo creation. This is a really smooth coaster and it’s guaranteed to leave a smile on your face with its heart. One bit of advice though, I don’t recommend that adults double up in the same row. We made the mistake and it was an incredibly tight fit since the right side has oversized padding for the littlest of riders. 5 out of 10
Having whored out on the two smaller coasters, we decided to regain our dignity and ride the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman. Outside of a dual loading platform to expedite dispatches, the ride was identical to its US counterpart and in no way is that a bad thing. Spiderman uses its IP to perfection. All the villains use their powers to perfection and the effects (both visual and physical) are extremely convincing. 10 out of 10
Since Flying Dinosaur and Hollywood Dream were down for the count, we went to guest services hoping that we could switch our Express Pass to Space Fantasy, which was posting 60-90 minute waits. Unfortunately that was not an option. However much to our amazement, Universal offered a partial refund for the attractions where we didn’t use the Express Pass. That was a completely unexpected and nice gesture on their end.
Space Fantasy was overlaid with Final Fantasy VR for our visit. Since we were in Japan, the overlay was basically crack for them. We saved a large chunk of time queuing for the single rider line and boarded in about 10-15 minutes. With the overlay, Universal absolutely castrated the attraction’s capacity. Usually Space Fantasy has 4 four-person cars. For the overlay, Space Fantasy was reduced to 2 car trains with only the front seats loaded. That’s only a quarter of the ride’s original capacity. The VR headsets are loaded quickly and efficiently at least.
For my first ride, I tried the VR. Admittedly I am not the biggest fan of VR on coasters, but this is as well as I’ve seen it executed. The animation was crisp. I had zero clue what the plot was, but it was basically a chaotic mishmash of ships and dudes fighting with lasers and swords. The coaster had three lifts and each were immediately followed by a larger drop that pulled some solid Gs at the bottom thanks to the compactness. And there was even a sneaky pop of air to boot on a little bunny hill.
We immediately got back in line and ditched the VR. The ride requirements are a bit odd in this regard. Rule 1 states that you cannot ride if the headset doesn’t fit. Yet Rule 2 says you can remove the headset during the coaster if you feel uncomfortable. A good chunk of the ride’s old theming was still present and I was blown away by how trippy the mirror room was. Whoever thought it was a good idea to fill a room with mirrors and strobe lights is a mad genius.
I can only dream what Space Fantasy is like in its natural, unedited state. From Robb’s old POV, it’s clear Space Fantasy used to have more effects. Those effects combined with a spinner really must have been an incredible experience. For now, it’s either the pinnacle of coaster VR or a solid indoor coaster. It’s just a bummer to see a coaster with the potential for so much more neutered for the time being. 7 out of 10
Our next stop was Backdraft. The fact that Universal opened this attraction immediately following a natural disaster may have been called insensitive by some, but we were reveling in the irony. The preshow was lost as a non-Japanese speaker, but the visual splendor of the finale transcends all languages. The final room is basically Michael Bay’s dream. It’s basically wall-to-wall fire effects. And then there’s an extra surprise at the end too that I wouldn’t dare ruin here. 7 out of 10
Japan is the last Universal to still have their Terminator film, so we were sure to see Arnold one last time. The preshow was just as long as I remembered. Unfortunately it was again lost on us as a non-Japanese speaker, but the Cyberdyne presenter’s exuberance was impressive. She was borderline screaming every word and each of her physical movements was highly exaggerated.
The film was just as awesome as I remembered. The only thing that felt off was Arnold. Instead of sounding like his robotic self, the Japanese dub sounded fairly normal. But that was quickly forgotten after I was lost in the action. This 10 minute film was more action packed than some 2.5 hour summer blockbusters. The blend of the 3D film with live actors was seamless. And the explosion at the end was absolutely stunning. The combination of smoke and borderline seizure-inducing light flashes made it impossible to even see the person next to you.
Seeing Terminator again definitely put a smile on my face. But that quickly turned to a frown when I realized this was probably the last time I’d ever see it. Terminator is one of my favorite movie franchises and this attraction certainly does the IP justice. 9 out of 10
Last but not least, we experienced Monster Hunter. The description sounded like a walkthrough haunt, so we were floored after 20 minutes when we were told to “choose our weapon.” Were we going to bludgeon some poor employee in a suit?
Nope. There’s a giant screen showing dragons, warlocks, and whatever else you’d expect to see in a fantasy film. Oh, so we should shoot the creatures on the screen? Nope. Every three seconds we were told to hold a pose and they took our photo. So essentially we walked into a screwed up photo shoot. We couldn’t help but laugh the absurdity of it, but this definitely isn’t something I need to experience again. 3 out of 10
Despite hour waits for major attractions and populated midways, Universal cancelled their evening parade and moved up their closing time by 2 hours. It definitely couldn’t be for a lack of crowds or weather, so I’m guessing it was due to the park being short-staffed considering the earthquake impacted the country’s rail system and roads. I still can’t believe the park even opened mere hours after the quake, so really I couldn’t complain. Day Two
This was TPR's first official day at Universal Studios Japan. I returned the next day hoping to finally ride Hollywood Dream and Flying Dinosaur. Since neither was listed as closed by the main entrance booth, we were optimistic. However, that euphoric feeling quickly shifted to pessimism when we didn’t notice either coaster testing prior to opening.
Maybe they were just finishing final inspections? We certainly perked up once we saw Flying Dinosaur testing. But it was nothing more than a tease. The coaster sent out four test trains and then sat dormant for the rest of the day. Hollywood Dream did the exact same thing in the afternoon. Well that made me 0/2 trying to get the park’s marquee coasters.
Seeing the two coasters down definitely was a buzzkill, but I managed to still have a fun day. Robb deserves a lot of thanks here as he spent far more time at customer service than he spent on rides to try and ensure we all enjoyed ourselves. Robb goes into more detail about the frustrations in his report (Robb's Universal Japan Report
). Just something to keep in mind on a future trip.
One attraction that did reopen was Jurassic Park- The Ride. Despite the humid weather, this was essentially a walk-on all day. Prior to boarding, there’s a queue line video demonstrating what not to do on the attraction. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except for the fact that they have an American breaking every rule. I’d say they ported over the US safety video, but the rest of the boat is filled with well-behaved Japanese riders. I’d say I’m offended, but it’s all too true about the difference in behavior between the two countries.
The attraction was almost identical to the US versions except for two improvements. Just prior to entering a building a crate falls mere feet from riders. Then, the t-rex right before the climatic final plunge lunges towards riders, far closer than on the US version, which is quite the thrill. And of course that’s followed by the awesome final plunge which is incredibly tall and steep for a water ride. Jurassic Park really is one of the best water rides in the world. 10 out of 10
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was a mix of emotions for me. On one hand, this is the best Despicable Me attraction. The ride system uses individual simulators like the Simpsons Ride. The motion is far more convincing than the theater versions in the US and it’s extremely nice having an unobstructed view of the screen. On the other hand, the only reason Despicable Me uses this ride system is because it cannibalized Back to the Future.
I regret never being able to experience any of the Back to the Future rides, especially since I’m a big fan of those films. But if you can view this attraction in a vacuum, it is an enjoyable simulator. It’s also impressive what they were able to do with the surrounding area. It’s a bustling epicenter of minions and the colorful land really pops. 7 out of 10
Waterworld is neither an attraction nor movie I had previously seen. Despite this, I really enjoyed the show. I had zero clue what anyone was saying, but it was pretty easy to tell who the good guys and bad guys were. The show is a special effects spectacular with lots of stunts, flips, and explosions. I’d say the show is so good that I’ll consider watching the film, but I heard that film really really sucks. 7 out of 10
Then for laughs we also rode the Flying Snoopy. Essentially take Disney’s Dumbo ride and replace the elephants with adorable Snoopies. Oh and add in individual lap bars that seem more fitting on a coaster. The ride is nothing special for adults, but kids were having the absolute time of their lives. 5 out of 10
We then spent the rest of the day reriding our favorites from the previous day such as Forbidden Journey, Spiderman, and Space Fantasy. Since the light afternoon rain had cleared up, we were looking forward to catching the night parade. But it wouldn’t be as the park cancelled it due to weather. Day Three
Originally we weren’t planning on returning to Universal. However, Flying Dinosaur and Hollywood Dream had reopened. Since Robb had gotten partial refunds for our unused Express Pass attractions, I immediately forked that money over for another day’s admission and rope-dropped Backdrop, the backwards version of Hollywood Dream.
Hollywood Dream basically looks like the bizarro version of Rip Ride Rockit as it’s a catchy, audio-reliant roller coaster occupying a narrow strip of land in the front of its respective park. I was salivating at the prospect of experiencing a backwards B&M in the back of the train, but that was quickly thwarted by assigned seating. There is absolutely no choice seating even if you ask nicely. The end result was being assigned row 4 on both my backwards rides.
Not surprisingly, Hollywood Dream/Backdrop has a very strict loose articles policy. Prior to the station, riders must place all loose articles in a bin that they take with them. The ride attendants did a very thorough job. They weren’t content with just wanding me. They had me turn each pocket inside out. Since I couldn’t do this with my back pockets, I literally had to bend over so they could peer inside.
Then at the station, you place your bin in a fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo and then are wanded again for good measure. Thankfully they have a million attendants so the process is fast.
Usually the only coasters I experience in reverse are boomerangs or bumpy old wooden coasters. So I was really excited at the prospect of experiencing an endless array of smooth camelbacks backwards. Again I only rode in the middle of the train, but I did get a nice falling sensation on each drop and decent air on each hill. It was a really an odd experience riding a pseudo-hyper in reverse. 8 out of 10
I immediately tried the forward side. Luck was not on my side as I was again assigned row 4 for my first two rides (because I’m a nerd, the odds of that happening are 1/6666). Then on my fifth ride I was given row 2 and that was noticeably better. The second hill had decent airtime and then every hill after the first turnaround had fantastic floater air. 8 out of 10
Those who were lucky enough to have ridden Hollywood Dream in the back said the airtime was quite a bit better back there. That’s about what I expected as that’s usually the money seat on B&M hypers. It’s just a shame I wasn’t able to ride anywhere near the back, but it’s still a very reridable coaster and gives a solid ride in the seats I tried.
But the king of the park is Flying Dinosaur. The coaster’s placement is perfect. It was a real treat to see a big B&M roaring overhead in the Jurassic Park area as opposed to the dinky little Pteranodon Flyers. Like Hollywood Dream, Flying Dinosaur has a strict loose articles policy, offers no choice seating, and has a single rider line. But unlike Hollywood Dream, I was lucky enough to get rides in both the very front and back of the train.
The action begins with an outstanding first drop. Usually flyers (and most inverting B&Ms for that matter) have a curved first drop devoid of airtime. Flying Dinosaur instead has a straight and steep drop. The whip off the lift hill is incredible and backseat riders are treated to some incredibly funky and powerful airtime. That’s followed by a graceful zero-G roll and then two of the most intense elements in the world.
Instead of stopping at the barrel roll, Flying Dinosaur turns riders on its back. This fly-to-lie has the tenacity of an RMC barrel roll drop. That’s followed by an intense raven turn that pulls Gs akin to a pretzel loop. And speaking of pretzel loops, that is immediately what follows. This one is huge and even includes a tunnel at the base when riders feel the weight of the world crushing against their chest. Just one of those inversions would have been memorable, but experiencing those back-to-back shows that B&M still knows how to make a forceful coaster.
Flying Dinosaur could have mailed it in right there and still been an amazing attraction, but it still boasts an awesome second half. The pretzel loop exit gives some surprise airtime in the back. Then there’s an airtime hill for everyone. That’s followed by a majestic zero-G roll. Time stands still with how drawn out it is. That’s then followed by an intense helix, another bit of airtime in the back, and a tenacious barrel roll. The latter was a stark contrast to the graceful zero-G rolls earlier in the coaster.
The front was spectacular for the views, but Flying Dinosaur was definitely better in the back. It pulls some serious Gs in any row, but they’re cranked into overdrive in the back row. Plus you can experience some of the funkiest airtime in the world on that first drop.
Previously I would deliberate between whether or not Tatsu or Manta was the best flyer. Flying Dinosaur ended that debate and I don’t know if any other flyer will top it for quite some time. The combination of ridiculously forceful elements combined with the fantastic setting is something few coasters can match. I can only dream something like this makes its way to Orlando to compensate for the loss of Dragons. 10 out of 10
Getting on the two B&Ms was a win in itself, but I was also able to experience Universal’s Night Spectacular. I’ll always be more of a coaster/ride guy than a parade guy, but this parade was impressive. The floats in themselves were eye-catching and impressive. But then they were incorporated by energetic dancers and well synchronized projection mapping effects dressing the buildings along the parade route.
The parade represented four of Universal’s strongest IPs (Minions, Transformers, Jurassic Park, and Potter) and designed unique elements for each. The Jurassic Park sequence was the most impressive as they unleashed a cage of raptors to run wild with the dancers and audience. Then the Potter sequence had the characters casting spells and warding off dementors. Not only was it well-executed, but it was long too. I’m pretty sure the parade was in the 35-40 minute ballpark. That’s compared the 15 minute length of most Disney parade. Sorry Disney, but you’ve been bested here. 10 out of 10
So my visits to Universal were far from conventional. Basically it was two days exclusively of dark rides and then one day of just coasters. Next time I’m hopeful an earthquake won’t throw a monkey wrench into plans. I do think this is the best of the Universal parks and that makes it one of the best parks in the world. My favorite parks tend to blend thrills and theming, and that’s basically Universal in a nutshell. CityWalk
Beyond the parks, Universal Japan also had the obligatory CityWalk just outside the front gate. It wasn’t as expansive as Florida’s and consisted almost entirely of restaurants, but the restaurant selection was quite impressive. Over the 5 nights we were at the resort, I sampled the following:
It did feel odd not having an entertainment complex like a movie theater or mini golf course right there, but then again Japan has an amazing rail system and there’s a station smack dab in CityWalk.