On this morning, we were prepared for rain and cold. The temperature that day had read 10C, so we had packed raincoats, our thickest coats and comfortable shoes. Dragging our luggage out the hotel, we were stopped by one of the counter staff, who had thought we had forgotten to return our key when we checked out. I quickly told him that we were only shipping our luggage, and not checking out until tomorrow. Sheepishly he apologized profusely, before gesturing the way to the rain station.
It was drizzling a little as we found our way easily back to Kyoto train station. We arrived at the delivery service just before 9:00am, where I asked Sue to write the address down, since her Chinese writing was probably more legible than mine, not to mention more efficient, considering the amount of times I would need to refer to write it once – not to mention twice. Also, I filled in her immigration form, so she owed me 1 (#justsaying LOL). Taking our luggage into the storage, we were finally free of them for the next 3 days! I was honestly really happy that I didn’t have to worry about squeezing with my luggage for another train ride!
With the luggage out of the way, we headed off to USJ. We had booked our USJ tickets while we were still in Singapore, and thanks to research, were also able to purchase our Express Passes in Singapore! Armed with the QR codes in our phones, we took the train to Universal City. (To find out how to purchase, read my guide separately).
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン
The entrance gate of the Universal Studios Japan is located a five minute walk from Universal City Station on the JR Yumesaki Line (also referred to as JR Sakurajima Line). From Osaka Station, there are several direct trains per hour (15 minutes, 180 yen) and many more connections that require an easy transfer at Nishikujo Station. – japan-guide.com
We arrived at Universal City, relatively easily (considering I didn’t get us lost), to be welcomed by a GIGANTIC poster of Harry Potter. The excitement mounted as it was the 1 thing we wanted to see the most. Our entrance timing was 2pm, so we had about 3 hours to explore the rest of the area! With the Express Pass we weren’t worried about not being able to enter.
Walking through the University City Plaza, we found our way to the entrance relatively easily. Scanning the QR code using our phones, we had completely skipped any form of queue. The sky was slightly gloomy, but no rain yet, so we took the time to look around. There were a lot of parents bringing their kids around, kids who were wrapped up warmly like a dumpling in the 5C weather.
At the corner of several shops, we found some really interesting hats, and spent quite some time just playing with the weird hats they had available (mostly me forcing Sue to wear them hehe)
The first thing we walked past was the Universal Cool Japan attraction. A large dragon stood in the middle of 2 buildings, wings spread out wide. The Attack on Titan shirts were worn by staff and visitors alike, taking photographs with the different exhibits that were available. Since me and Sue both knew nothing about this anime, we just took a few pictures and moved on. One of the statues we were more intrigued by were 2 giants fighting (I can only assume they were meant to be lifesize).
From what we could see, both giants were naked. The male faced away from us, which sparked Sue’s next question – how would they censor the private areas? We turned to the other end to take a closer look. Clearly, this giant had no privates at all.
Moving on, we continued walking until we saw a small stall. They were selling alien shaped buns. I don’t know what it was supposed to represent but I found it cute, so I bought one for the fun of it. It turned out to be a meatbun filled with tomato paste (nothing like the Chinese char shao bun that I was expecting), which warmed us up in the cooling breeze. We turned down the right lane (clearly we had no idea where we were going).
Following the giant rollercoaster circling the theme park, we walked around aimlessly, exploring the different sights and features, until we came to a singing quartet. They were really good so we stood there watching for awhile – stupid Sue was dancing next to me, bobbing her body left and right like some bobblehead, enjoying the music HAHAHA.
We walked on after about 2 songs, and stumbled on a churros van. We bought a chocolate churro to share, while we explored the other areas.
There were a lot more themed areas this time, with a minions area selling minion dangos (I think, we didn’t get to try it).
Sue and I knew we weren’t rollercoaster fans, so we had planned to skip most of the coaster rides anyway. At the Jurassic Park section, something GIGANTIC caught our eye. We had seen children munching on a giant turkey leg as we walked past, and I remembered my sis eating one back in 2004 when we stopped by Osaka on our Hokkaido trip. But this time we saw something even more awesome – DINOSAUR RIB. We bought 1 to share, along with a hot drink!
The DINORIB was GIGANTIC. And it was really quite good, though it was not soft at all. It was hard and we had to gnaw at different parts of the bone in order to get the meat off. It was literally a tug of war with the meat holder and the meat biter LOL!
Since Jurassic Park was a roller coaster, we skipped it, and somehow found ourselves meandering into the kiddy area of Sesame Street.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a previous installment – there was even Hello Kitty here which I was 100% sure was not part of the Universal Studios franchise. Nonetheless, we walked through the little shops and I forced Sue to try on stupid hats. The staff at Universal Studio didn’t seem so strict on the no-picture policy. I remember DisneySEA was much stricter when it came to taking pictures of their merchandise.
Suddenly, the mascots came out to play, so Sue and I had some fun watching the mascots, especially Elmo and the skateboard ride. I loved how he went “WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” as the ride went up and down and around – like a Viking ship, but slower to allow kids to ride.
By this time, the sky was starting to turn dark, and I was starting to get worried that it would rain. We turned around and spotted another shop selling a series of other hats. We had more fun fooling around with the silly hats, before somehow, we found ourselves at a HARRY POTTER SHOP.
I did not know that there was another shop outside the original Harry Potter Area! Eagerly, we walked around to get a glimpse of what we could get there (and what we could not). They had capes, wands, some souvenirs like notebooks, t-shirts, pillows and a lot of other stuff. I had wanted to get the cape or scarf while I was there, but the cost was WAYYYYY too high. Checking our time, we realized that we were nearing 2pm, and we had NO IDEA where the Harry Potter Area was, so we rushed off to look for it!
HARRY POTTER AREA
Surprisingly, the Harry Potter area was pretty magically hidden. We had walked past it and had no idea that that was the place! The entrance resembled ruins that looked like part of the Jurassic Park area, and we had walked past it nonchalantly the first time. We arrived just in time for our slot, and cut through the queue pretty quickly.
The winding road (queue) walked through the Forbidden Forest, the theme song blasting beautifully, completing the atmosphere. It would have been PERFECT if there was snow, just like the wintry wonderland that Hogwarts was always portrayed to be. We walked into an opening, only to see the famous car that had crashed into the Forbidden Forest. There were a bunch of visitors taking photographs there, so we did too quickly, and moved on.
The entrance of Hogsmeade was really like entering a different world. Busy shops and bustling streets, and on a cliff that overlooked it all, stood Hogwarts. Hogsmeade was filled with snow-capped shops and sights, complete with the famous highlights of the book, including Sirius Black’s wanted poster, the Hogwarts Express, Honeydukes and Hogs Head! There was even a Butterbeer truck!
Hogwarts stood, a distance away, looming over Hogsmeade. A large queue was forming at the base of the giant castle, and our excitement grew as we approached the queue. The first thing we saw was – the ride waiting time, was 200 minutes. By then, it was nearing 0C, and Sue and I were super glad that we had purchased our express passes beforehand. Queuing 200 minutes in the outdoor cold, was not something we were looking forward to!
We headed in the castle, scanned our QR codes – minor mishap there we had overlapped QR codes! Small misunderstanding aside, they ushered us to a locker room where we were to put our belongings. You were not allowed to take anything in with you. There was a bustle for lockers, before we found 2 that were relatively close to each other that we wouldn’t get lost. Stuffing our phones, bags and cameras into the locker, we joined the queue.
The express queue was much faster than the normal queue! We bypassed the normal queue and in 5 minutes (not waiting, we had to walk for almost 5 minutes before we got to the front), we reached the front of the queue! There was almost no waiting time – or at least, there were enough things to entertain us, walking through the castle, walking past the moving paintings, through the grand hall, and finally to the front of the queue. At this point, NEITHER OF US, knew what to expect. We knew it wasn’t a roller coaster, but we had NO IDEA what we signed ourselves up for.
They strapped us into a round chair each, with the typical roller-coaster gear. I got a little afraid not – did I read it wrongly? Was it really a roller coaster? As the ride moved in, we were completely, UTTERLY, unprepared for the awesomeness that happened next.
In the ride, we flew alongside Harry, Hermione and Ron, running from dragons, bludgers and even dementors. Flying across the lake, through a Quidditch match, the effects were AMAZING. The dragon breathed fire on us, the cold creepy feeling as the temperature dropped when the Dementors came. What made it even more amazing was the that ride flipped us in all different angles, screaming and laughing all the way, before finally bringing us back with a blast at the castle.
It was really AMAZING. I have never enjoyed myself on any other ride, and at that time I knew that the money we paid, just for this 1 ride, would have been worthwhile.
After we came out of the ride, hair blown in all odd directions, we took a quick look at the merchandise, before heading out. I wanted to try a butterbeer, so we bought a hot 1 to share.
Butterbeer was something different than I thought it would be. We tried a hot one since the temperature was dropping. Sitting on the steps of Hogsmeade, we drank the warm drink happily. It was definitely honey based, but Sue insisted that there was some form of spices inside that gave it its kick – we suspected it was cinnamon.
Drinks down, bellies happy, we decided to take a castle walk tour. This was a 15 minutes wait across the same areas that we had bypassed while bypassing the queue. We saw Dumbledore’s office, and a lot more details of the castle that we missed because we had skipped the queue. This was a good choice for express pass holders – to skip the queue and still get to feel the atmosphere of the castle.
After we left the castle walk, we took some time to explore the other shops at the Harry Potter area.We went into Hogs Head, which was serving actual alcohol. Decided that it was too dark / rowdy (it really gave a rowdy feel), and somehow found ourselves exploring the Astronomy shop, where all the knick knacks and wonders were sold. Connected to that, was Ollivanders, where we could buy any wand we wanted. I had heard that there was some sort of show going on here, but it wasn’t at that point in time, and due to the SEA of people in the shop, we decided to move on – afterall, I could get my wand at the shop outside!
I literally bought everything to try (except the pumpkin juice). The pumpkin pasties were really quite nice, especially since they were warm and we were beyond frozen in the 0C weather by then.
We decided instead to head into HONEYDUKES. Honeydukes was my favourite! There was a short queue and the crowd was massive, but we managed to get some goodies!
I bought almost everything I could recognize! (I may as well review them now since I ate most of them already LOL)
Droobles – a deep blueberry taste, and larger than a blueberry in size. Super chewy to the point that my mouth went numb, but it did indeed live up to the “best bubblegum” tagline. The gum was thick and it took some effort to blow the gum, but the bubble could go on for quite a long time! I splattered it on my glasses once HAHAHA.
Peppermint frogs – different from chocolate frogs, these come in a dark chocolate peppermint taste. I love peppermint so this was a win all the way!
Exploding bon bons – remember the candy that almost danced in your mouth? Those that sizzle and somewhat crackle? Exploding bonbons have that in its core, only it’s a more violent crackle that you can hear even with your mouth closed! SUPER FUN!
Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans – Super realistic, as expected. Have it at a party with friends for more fun!
Armed with our goodies, we bought a bag each and squeezed our way out! Taking one last walk around the area, we decided it was time to leave, as the place was gradually getting more crowded.
We decided to take another ride, and since JAWS was the closest one around, we quickly got into the queue. The express pass bypassed the 15minute original queue and we soon found ourselves in the boat. I made Sue sit on the outside, as I was afraid we would get wet (her jacket is more waterproof).
Jaws was a really fun ride – but in a different way. A very animated Japanese man acted as a tour guide, driving the boat, telling us how this was the place that they had shot Jaws many years ago.
That there was no real giant sharks and so on. Halfway during this tour-guide speech, the radio sounded for help, signaling that someone ahead was in trouble. We turned the bend only to see the previous boat capsizing in a sea of fire. Suddenly, a shark appears at the side of the boat, and the tour guide barely manages to get away. We drive through different scenes of the movie, finally reaching the end where the silly tour guide shoots a bail of oil instead, engulfing us in fire. Jaws appears one last time, biting huge cable wires. A well-aimed shot at the shark, and he was burnt to a crisp. We returned to the base of the camp, only for the tour guide to tell us that what we had experienced was a secret, and should be kept a secret. It was a really well-enacted on the staff’s part – he made the ride hilarious and more exciting than it was when I first rode it years ago (when I didn’t understand a thing). I had to translate bits of it for Sue, so that she knew what was going on.
After that ride, we realized Waterworld was playing! It was a highlight of my previous trip, and this one didn’t disappoint either! The effects and the actors were really nimble despite being in the cold and constantly plunging into the water from different varying heights. Sue vaguely mentioned the water was probably warm, and that the actors and actresses were wearing nude colored skin suits underneath to keep themselves warm. What was the strangest was that, as per Waterworld standards, most, if not all, of the actors were American (including the one in Singapore, because one of them was my best friend’s ex-boyfriend.) So to hear them speak in Japanese – sounded very much like dubbed Japanese anime, was kind of strange. There was also a spray area where some sat, knowing that they would get wet. Sue asked why would anyone sit there, but I guess that was part of the fun.
Leaving Waterworld, we grabbed our last minute goodies at the Harry Potter shop outside, near the entrance. We bought 3 boxes of cookies (2 for friends) and 2 pillows. I bought a wand for myself, while Sue bought herself a T-shirt. I had also gotten a notebook along with some other goodies that I don’t recall. Armed with more paperbags (I had 2, Sue had 1), we prepared to return back to the hotel.
On the way out, we walked past the shopping area, so we went in to take a look. There were a lot of different varieties of food, but we smartly decided that we no longer had hands to carry anything else!
It was a 1 hour ride back to the hotel, and we had purchased some conbini fruits and vegetables and other nice looking stuff from the conbini at Universal Studio. Armed with dinner and goodies from Harry Potter, we trudged back to the hotel. It was only when we neared the hotel, did I realize something: WE HAD SHIPPED OUR LUGGAGE OFF! All we had left was the 2 backpacks on our bags (which were already packed FULL with clothes for the next days), and a small knapsack to share! And we still had wires, toiletries and who knows what other stuff to carry in that! HOW WERE WE GOING TO CARRY IT ALL! I asked Sue, and for a moment, we stared at each other, perplexed that we had both forgotten this very vital detail. Laughing it off, we dumped everything back in the hotel and proceeded to repack and re-stuff our luggage.
After almost 2 hours of repacking, refolding, and coordinating, we finally got everything stuffed in the luggage, except for the 2 pillows! We figured that we could find a bag while on our way tomorrow, so we left the 2 pillows aside and stuffed everything else into our luggages. I fell asleep shortly after, vaguely wondering how we were going to survive the next 3 days with so much things and no bag – considering that we were probably going to buy even more things!
To read more about my Spring Japan 2015 Trip:
- Day 0 – Planning and Booking Stages
- Day 1 and 2 – Flight, Travelling and Kanazawa
- Day 3 – Kanazawa and First Onsen Experience
- Day 4 – Yamanaka Onsen, Daishoji, Kanazawa
- Day 5 – Nara Deer Park, Kasuga Taisha, Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Day 6 – Kimono, Keage Incline, Philosopher’s Walk, Maruyama Park, Kiyomizudera
- Day 7 – Universal Studios & Harry Potter!!
- Day 8 – Hakone, Yunessun and Kaiseki Dinner
- Day 9 – Hakone Round Course
- Day 10, 11 and 12 – Shibuya, Harajuku, Asakusa, Ueno