2016 | Undiscovered Paths

Countdown: Approximately 90 Days

As usual, before I even finish on 1 trip agenda, the next one has emerged. Partially I haven’t posted the next few posts in the “Nature Trails in Autumn” trip is because some of it will be replicated here.

[Updated 26/07 with changes in itinerary]

With every trip that I’ve planned thus far, there has always been a theme so I’d know how to go about planning it. With that in mind, this trip’s theme will be Undiscovered Paths. Reason being that this time, for the first time, I’m planning a trip that redefines my schedules – you’ll understand soon enough.

The general itinerary is below – I haven’t really gotten down to the details on timings and schedules! Will update again once I have the details! Hotels are already mostly booked though so I doubt there will be many changes from here on. 🙂 Excited!

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For privacy purposes (again), I will not be listing our travel dates until we return.

  • Day 1 – Head to Airport, depart Singapore | Night on Plane
  • Day 2 – Arrive at Tokyo Narita Airport, Tokyo DisneySEA| Night in Shinjuku
    • Highlights: Sukiyaki Lunch, Tokyo DisneySEA
  • Day 3 – Takaosan | Night on Night Bus (to Toyama)
    • Highlights: Exploring Takaosan, Ukai Toriyama, Takaosan Onsen, Night Bus
  • Day 4 – Tateyama Alpine Route Part 1 | Night in Murodo
    • Highlights: Bijodaira, Midagahara, Murodo
  • Day 5 – Tateyama Alpine Route Part 2 | Night in Matsumoto
    • Highlights: Murodo, Daikanbo, Kurobe Dam, Matsumoto Horse Meat Dinner
  • Day 6 – Oku Hida, Shin Hotaka Ropeway | Night in Hirayu Onsen
    • Highlights: Shin Hotaka Onsen, Hirayu no Mori, Hirayu Ootaki Park, Kaiseki Dinner
  • Day 7 – Kamikochi, Hirayu Onsen | Night in Shizuoka
    • Highlights: Kaiseki Breakfast, Kamikochi, Travel to Shizuoka
  • Day 8 – Shizuoka | Night in Shizuoka
    • Highlights: White Water Rafting
  • Day 9 – Shizuoka| Night in Fukuyama
    • Highlights: Fruits Park
  • Day 10 – Shimanami Kaido | Night in Okunoshima
    • Highlights: Cycling through: Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Oomishima, Okunoshima
  • Day 11 – Shimanami Kaido | Night in Fukuyama
    • Highlights: Cycling through: Okunoshima, Tatarajima, Ooshima, Imabari
  • Day 12 – Miyajima & Hondori | Night in Himeji
    • Highlights: Miyajima Hiking Trails, Shopping Street, Hondori Shopping Street
  • Day 13 – Himeji, Yumura Onsen | Night in Yumura
    • Yumura Onsen Town, Refresh Park Yumura
  • Day 14 – Yumura, Hamasaka, Osaka | Night in Osaka
    • Yumura Onsen Town, Hamasaka Free and Easy, Dotonbori
  • Day 15 – Arashiyama, Osaka | Night in Osaka
    • Kuromon Ichiba Market, Arashiyama, Shinsaibashi
  • Day 16 –  Arashiyama, Osaka, Return to SG | Night on Plane
    • Kobe, Osaka Kaiyukan
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Autumn Japan 2015 – [Day 2] Osaka

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7


Next morning, we woke up early to settle some miscellaneous.

For this trip, we were going to utilize 2 passes – Japan Rail Pass & Osaka Amazing Pass (1 Day). The Japan Rail Pass was to be activated the next day, but we wanted to get all the train bookings out of the way first.


Japan Rail Pass

URL: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361.html
Cost: Y29110 for 7 days

What is it: The Japan Rail Pass is a 7, 14, or 21 day pass that allows you all-access transport via JR lines across Japan. It covers almost all Shinkansen (except Nozomi, Mizuho and other select berths and special carriages), and is valid for both trains and buses.

Japan Rail Passes have to be purchased in your home country, and an exchange order will be issued. EXCHANGE ORDER must be brought into Japan and exchanged for the actual pass. This pass is only valid for foreign visitors, and cannot be used by Japanese nationals.

To use a Japan Pass:

  1. For normal trains that don’t require booking, simply walk through the manned gate and show the attendant your JR pass. They will simply wave you through.
  2. For Shinkansen: JR Pass allows you to reserve your seats for no extra cost, so simply head to any JR office and book these tickets when you exchange your JR pass. You can also take non-reserved, but that just means you may not have a seat. You will be issued a greenish ticket per reserved seat. Japanese trains fares are usually calculated BASE FARE (cost from 1 area to another) + RESERVED FARE (cost for limited express / reserved seating). JR Pass covers both costs, but a separate “receipt” will be given to you (it’s green and looks like a ticket) should the conductor check your ticket. You will still have to enter via the manned gate as the receipt does not work through the unmanned ticket gates.

Worth It?: The JR Pass is not cheap, costing at Y29110 for 7 days. This is approximately the same cost as a round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto. To know whether it’s worth it, you’d have to calculate all your major trips around Japan to determine. You can use Hyperdia.com to determine costs from 1 place to another. There are also other types of passes that are available, with different areas of availability.


Osaka Amazing Pass

URL: https://www.osaka-info.jp/osp/en/index.html
Cost: Y2300 for 1 day, Y3000 for 2 days

The Osaka Amazing Pass comes in a 1 or 2 day version. It comes with free entrance to a few areas, as well as free transport on the subway trains (NOT JR) during the valid periods.

Worth It?: The Osaka Amazing Pass is only worth it if you visit a lot of places / the entrance fees to the places you want to go is covered by this pass. For example, Umeda Floating Sky Garden and Tombori Cruise would justify this cost with a few trips to Osaka and Dotonbori. If these are not the places you intend to visit, perhaps go for the 1 day train pass, which can be bought at the subway machines (English language available) for Y800.

The lady at the counter who we were trying to purchase our passes from kept insisting it would not be worth it to purchase such a pass – so please calculate your costs properly first before you decide on purchasing this pass!

In the end, because the Nishimaru Garden was closed that day, the price did not justify the original cost, so we decided to purchase the 1 day train pass instead.


Kuromon Ichiba Market 黒門市場

DIRECTIONS:
Osaka Station to Nipponbashi Station
Walk to Umeda Station, Umeda to Namba Station via Osaka City Subway Midosuji Line, then transfer to Nipponbashi Station via Osaka City Subway Sennichimae Line. This trip should take approximately 15minutes.

Kuromon Ichiba Market is located relatively near the station, with a lot of fresh food and fruits to sample. I love going to markets in Japan because it’s so clean, and I get to eat a lot of fresh food! We spent almost 3 hours there sampling different types of food, including an uni which I got to eat from its shell!

Kuromon Ichiba Market is a good place to start the day – it’s where you’d get the best fresh food, the cheapest as well! Fruits are also really fresh when we went. And we got to try so many different dishes we totally did not regret not eating breakfast first! We ended up buying a few different items to eat while we walked, and also bought some sushi and bento to share.

My sis and mum also spent a lot of time perusing the shops there – there were many different grocery shops selling everything in the world – whereas my Dad and I just aimed for the food. The food was pretty cheap and totally worth the trip there for lunch!


Osaka Castle 大阪城

DIRECTIONS:
Osaka Station to Nipponbashi Station
The recommended approach to Osaka Castle is through Otemon Gate at the park’s southwestern corner. The closest station is Tanimachi 4-chrome Station along the Tanimachi Subway Line and Chuo Subway Line. – japan-guide.com

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm, Closed from December 28th to January 1st
Cost: Y600
Note: It requires climbing 3 flights of stairs. Not advisable for elderly who are not very mobile

Osakajo was a beautiful castle set in the middle of the city. Impressively standing in the middle of a beautiful garden hosting a small festival, we walked closely towards it, amongst school children who were on their field trip.

The exterior was beautiful, and even from afar it looked impressive. Inside the castle were relics of Iyesu Tokugawa (I think, I could be wrong). Featuring his life and the war, as well as his family tree. Most of it was in Japanese, which made it hard to appreciate, but there are also English explanations on the various plaques. A museum over 8 stories high, with a beautiful view from the roof.

It was definitely worth the trip, though the climb up and down nearly made me collapse. Initially we were also supposed to visit Nishimaru Garden, but it was closed that day for some maintenance.


Dotonbori 道頓堀

DIRECTIONS:
Osaka Station to Namba Station
The Midosuji Subway line connects Shin-Osaka and Osaka/Umeda Stations directly to Namba Station. It takes approximately 8 minutes and 240 yen from Osaka/Umeda Station and 15 minutes and 280 yen from Shin-Osaka Station.

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: Never Really Closes

Our next stop was Dotonbori. Osaka, hailed as Japan’s kitchen, Dotonbori is one of the main attractions for the stomach. Lined with streets and streets of different food, its really easy to get disoriented.

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We arrived at Dotonbori slightly after 5pm, and decided to give our weary legs some rest. Deciding on a little café in the heart of Dotonbori (facing the canal), we took a break as we had a coffee. My dad decided to order a pancake, not prepared for the monstrosity that arrived.

We then took a walk through Dotonbori, admiring all the little shops that sold everything from Takoyaki to freshly roasted chestnuts. I also finally got to shop at DonQixote, which was basically a shop that sold aloooot of things at a relatively cheap price, especially after you consider the fact that it was also tax free! My mum ended up buying wine, which we had to carry back, while i stocked up on more perfume – only $10!


Kani Doraku かにどらく (Main Shop)

DIRECTIONS:
Namba Station
Walk. It is next to the canal. There is a giant crab on the front. You can’t miss it.

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: 10:00am to 7:00pm
URL: http://douraku.co.jp.e.at.hp.transer.com/kansai/honten/
Reservations can be made online

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There is more than 1 Kani Doraku in Dotonbori, and definitely more than 2 in the whole of Japan. But the most famous one stands next to the canal, with tables overlooking the beautiful canal at night. Reservations are needed, and can be done online in English, and without reservations would take approximately 1 hour. Menus are also provided on their website above.

For us, I had pre-ordered Autumn Special Kaiseki Course, which is only available during August and October. It comes with a mouthwatering list of dishes, including raw crab, cooked crab, roasted crab, crab chawanmushi as well as crab gratin, porridge or rice.

It also came with a matcha icecream dessert, which thankfully had no crab in it. There is also their specialty crab sake, which I have heard good reviews of, but never had the chance to try.

It was an amazing dinner, and definitely worth trying if you are a fan of crabs. ESPECIALLY if you’re in Osaka. Albeit it’s a bit touristy, but I feel that it’s worth it for the food served.

If you reserve online, you can also choose smoke-free rooms, which are only located on 1 floor. If you go without a reservation, you may have to wait, and you probably would not be able to get a room of your choice. Our reservation was at 7:30, and we were told that if we had no reservations, the next slot available was at 8:40pm.

Completely full and tired from shopping, it was decided that we would skip the observatory that night, as we still had to pack our luggage for shipping the next day as well.

We headed back to our hotel after dinner, took a few coupons for luggage shipping, and went to bed.


Luggage Shipping

If you have not read before, luggage shipping is a lifesaver. It not only saves you the hassle of dragging your luggage from 1 hotel to another, but you also save worrying about dragging it through multiple train platforms (not all platforms have lifts in Japan by the way), and train space as well. Costing approximately Y1500 to Y2000 per piece depending on size, it’s a very efficient way to handle your luggage while you continue your journey – and in my experience, my luggage has always arrived before me!

Most hotels would even have this service, all you’d need to know is the next hotel’s name and address (preferably in the official Kanji writing). Check with the staff if you could ship your luggage – probably just mentioning “Kuroneko Yamato”, they’d understand what you want.

Typically you’d have to fill it in yourself, but sometimes if the staff is free enough they would help you fill in the forms. Leave your luggage with them and pay the allocated amount, and then continue on your journey! Your luggage would arrive within 1 – 2 days – perfect if you’re taking a day trip somewhere (especially if you’re going up the mountains) and don’t want to drag the luggage along.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8+

Autumn Japan 2015 – [Day 1] Flight, Transport, and Arrival

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8+


This itinerary has definitely got to be one of the largest scale that I have planned so far, especially in such a short span of time. In my previous trips, we usually did 3 day stops, 5 days stops, or shifting between 2-3 hotels. This time, due to the path that we were travelling, I intended to shift up to 7 hotels in 10 days! The logistics behind it was horrible, and I honestly doubted at one point of the trip if my effort was even worth it.

However, at the end, I think it ended pretty successfully, so here’s my itinerary to share!


Changi Airport

Airlines: SINGAPORE AIRLINES
Depart: Singapore Changi Airport, 1:55pm, October 15 2015, Thursday
Arrive: Kansai Airport Terminal 1, 9:30pm, October 15 2015, Thursday

As we were travelling in a group of 4, with more luggage than what could fit a standard sized taxi, I suggested we book a private cab that would fit all 4 of us. A round trip would cost approximately $60, which was cheap for us considering we would have needed 2 cabs both ways.

The morning was a hectic rush, with last minute packing, and driving down to the ATM to grab some cash for our helper to handle house expenses while we were away. We got into the cab at 10am, and arrived at the airport slightly before 11.

Clearing immigration was fast and efficient, and since lunch would be provided onboard, we decided against eating at the airport. Instead, we spent the time walking and shopping inside the duty free area, before we boarded the flight and departed right on time (we were the last to board lol).

The food onboard Singapore Airlines was pretty decent, and for the first time onboard a flight, I saw stars out my window. I stared out the window for a good half an hour, and tried to take a picture of it but clearly that wasn’t happening.

Landing in Osaka at about 9:30pm, we collected our luggage and cleared immigration easily, and by 10:15pm we were out of the arrival hall.


Kansai Airport

 Kansai Airport to Herbis Osaka
Transport: Osaka Airport Limousine
Cost: Y1550

Website: http://www.okkbus.co.jp/en/timetable/kix/t_osa.html

The mode of transport we were supposed to take was the limousine bus to our hotel. I had googled beforehand and was given a map to purchase the tickets for the bus. These ticket machines are located OUTSIDE the airport, where the bus stops are. Based on the map, I initially assumed that the vending machine would be indoors.

Minor confusion aside, we also realized that the vending machine does not allow you to book a time slot like I had previously thought. What basically happens is that you would have to buy the tickets and queue, and see if the bus could fit you. The bus did not allow standing space, but they had collapsible seats in the aisle.

We managed to get in the first bus that came, though we were one of the last passengers, and were sat at the aisle. The bus ride was an approximately 1 hour ride, and considering your seat is not as comfortable as the normal seats, it was a pretty okay ride. If you really need the comfort, I’d suggest waiting for the next bus or even taking the train – that’s if you’re not arriving at the time we arrived! Maybe staying in the airport for the night would be a good idea too, there are a few affordable hotels in the area – but I didn’t want to add 1 more hotel into the already long list of hotels we already had.


Dai-Ichi Osaka

URL: www.osakadaiichi.co.jp/index_en.html
Check In & Out: 15th October 2015 to  17th October 2015
Cost: Y34400 for Twin Room
Rating: 39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline

10 minutes away from Herbis Osaka stood Dai-Ichi Osaka. We managed to find the place fairly easily, and checked in close to 11:00pm. Our room was a little weird in shape: our beds were arranged in an L shape, instead of the usual parallel format that twin rooms used to come in.

We took a quick break and left our things in our room, before coming out for dinner again. The concierge was a little concerned when we asked what food was still available at this hour. She was stumped for a little while, before advising us to try a row of izayaka and bars not far away that would have some food available.


Shabutei しゃぶ亭西梅田店

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: 11:00am to 5:00am
Address: Japan, 〒530-0001 大阪府大阪市, 北区梅田2-1-15, 西梅田ビル1F
URL: www.shabutei.co.jp
English: English Menus Available, but not much spoken English
Note: Smoking is allowed in the restaurant

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When we got outside, my sister remembered some shops that we had walked past as we came in. We walked back in the same direction and found a steamboat place, that seemed to serve hot food. It was a welcome idea after being in the chilly air without our jackets, so we headed in.

Shabutei had English menus, but the menus are pretty simplistic. It’s basically a shabu shabu set, with a set number of items. The only variable you can choose from was whether to have pork, beef, or both. All 4 of us went for the basic set, with 2 beef and 2 pork.

The meal was delicious, complete with icecream (labelled as yoghurt). Happy and full, we headed back to the hotel to rest for the next day.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8+

Autumn Japan 2015 – [Day 0] Family Trip!

I guess it’s about time I broadcast this! Since I’ve returned from my previous trip, and within the timespan of the 1 week where I was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, we actually agreed to plan a family trip, to JAPAN! AGAIN! Slowly, the plan was drawn out, until a monster of a plan emerged. This has got to be the largest scale plan I’ve ever done.

  1. There were now more people involved, from the 2 I’m used to planning. Imagine the initial shock when you see your hotel costs have doubled!
  2. Had to cater to more peoples needs – my travel companions usually left me to my own devices when planning. Of course, I’d get their advice along the way to see if they were interested in certain things, and the tweaking would slowly be done until a good plan emerged for the both of us. Though usually the guidelines aren’t strict, but at least there was a basic skeleton of it. However, in this case, there were 4 people to cater to. My mum wasn’t interested in temples or history (god only knows why but OK), Dad didn’t want shopping. So the only conclusion at one point was, this trip will be a full on nature trip!

The Itinerary

It was a monster of an itinerary – I kid you not. 3 months to go, and already I’m starting to put together a list of things that have to be done prior to the trip. Packing lists have to be written beforehand so I don’t forget about important things to bring.

Day 1 – Depart from Singapore to Osaka. This would be the first time I would land in Osaka, so there is a level of unfamiliarity to it. We will arrive at KIX at night, so we would head on a bus to our hotel and rest for the night.

Day 2 – Day in Osaka. Intend to use this day to settle our JR passes as well as explore Osaka. Going to some markets, Osaka Castle, of course not to forget Dotonburi and its famous foods! May squeeze in a trip to the Umeda Observatory if time allows. This should be a relatively relaxing day, before we return to the hotel.

Day 3 – We check out of our hotel in Osaka, and head to Kinosaki. Spend the day exploring the rural city of Kinosaki in yukatas, as well as what I imagine must be the most amazing baths, before a Kaiseki dinner and a rest for the night at a ryokan in Kinosaki.

Day 4 – Breakfast in our ryokan at Kinosaki, before we head for any last minute bathing if we desire. Then it’s on to Kyoto for a tea ceremony culture experience, before a relaxing half day touring the sights in Kyoto. At night, we will take a train down to Toyama, where we rest for the night.

Day 5 – Early next morning, we depart to Kurobe Gorge for a day trip. Taking the Kurobe Railway, we will explore Kanetsuri, Unazuki and Keyakidaira areas, before returning to the hotel for a good rest.

Day 6 – Next morning, we check out of our Toyama hotel, and head off to the Tateyama Alpine Route. We will explore Midagahara, Bijodaira and Murodo, before ending our day at the highest hotel in Japan, Hotel Tateyama. After dinner and a quick onsen dip, we will head to the observatory for some stargazing, before resting for the night.

Day 7 – Checking out of Hotel Tateyama, we will head down the rest of the Alpine Route, covering Daikanbo and Kurobe Dam, before heading on the longest leg back to Tokyo, and checking into our Hotel for that day.

Day 8 –  Checking out of the hotel, we will head off for a 2D1N trip to Nikko. Spend the rest of the day exploring Nikko and Chuzenji area, before heading back to Nikko station, where the hotel is.

Day 9 – In the morning, check out and take the bus to Edomura and spend the afternoon there. Head back around 3:55pm to reach Tokyo before dinner. This is a basically NINJA day. Then head back to previous hotel in Tokyo, to rest after the tiring day.

Day 10 – Last day in Tokyo. Visit Tsukiji Fish Market in the morning, followed by maybe shopping and last minute souvenirs.

Day 11 – Last half day in Tokyo. Grab a last meal before we depart for home 🙂


Within this trip, there is a lot of logistics to be done. Hopefully everything goes according to plan, and this trip would be a blast! Also, I heard that Nikko will be full-on autumn, and I’m sincerely hoping the crowd won’t be as crazy as sakura season!

Spring Japan 2015 – [Day 7] Universal Studios and Harry Potter!!

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

DIRECTIONS:
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

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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.

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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)


UNIVERSAL COOL

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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.

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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).

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

 


JURASSIC PARK

 

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!

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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.


SESAME STREET

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.


JAWS

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.


WATERWORLD

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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.


MORE GOODIES

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:

Purchase USJ Express Pass ONLY Online

Hello! This page gives you a quick guide on how to purchase USJ Express Pass online, without the Studio Passes. If you wish to purchase Studio Pass and Express Passes online at the same time, please see my other guide here.


STEP 1:

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First, you click the 3rd item on the box as shown in the image above. Select the dropdown menu with the calendar on it to pick your date.


STEP 2: 

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A calendar should open like above. On the top is the year and month that you’re currently viewing (in the guide’s case, 2015 of April), along with [next month] button on the right.

Below it you will see the different dates you’re looking at. Boxes that are white with blue boxes mean that the date is still available for booking, whereas grey out boxes mean that you cannot book it online anymore (usually meaning that you have to purchase in Japan, not that it’s sold out).

A purple star represents days where the Starlight Parade is performing. However, do take note that usually the Starlight Parade performs almost nightly – but the schedule doesn’t come out until a later period. So it isn’t strange to not see a star if you’re booking 3 months in advance, only to have it appear at a later time. Also, rain and bad weather may affect the parade’s schedule, so don’t bother too much about it! The timings in the various boxes show the opening and closing time of USJ on the day that you are booking.

After you have decided what day you wish to purchase your Express Pass for, click on the blue button to continue.

Once that is selected, you will be brought back to the previous page. Click on the yellow button to continue.


STEP 3:

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You will see something like the above image. Once again, my translations in red. Again, I must stress to double check the Katakana in the screen shot against the website, as they will add passes time to time, and I’ve only captured the basics. Click on the grey box if you wish to know more (though it’s in Japanese). Once you’ve decided, click on the yellow box with the cart next to the appropriate choice.


STEP 4:

You’re given the choice of Direct In or Home Delivery. (the option in the middle, Park Exchange, is not valid for Express Passes, and will not show up in your page).

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  • [ダイレクトイン] Direct In – QR codes will be issued immediately after purchase. You can print out a copy, or save it on your phone. Please print as well, in case your phone doesn’t work on the day, you still have a spare copy. Remember not to fold it along the QR lines, as that may affect the reading as well.
  • [宅配] Home Delivery – deliver it to your home. Please note that this is not available for hotels. Shipping costs are also not included at this point (Y450)

As advised previously, I recommend Direct In, as it is super convenient. However, select whichever method you prefer and continue scrolling down.


STEP 5:

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Now, you select the number of express passes you want. There is no difference between adults or kids here, so just the number you wish to purchase and continue scrolling down.


STEP 6:

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Now, this is the tricky part. FIRST, DISCLAIMER. This is only eligible for those who have selected passes that are valid for the Harry Potter area. If you have selected other passes, you probably will not see this section. Skip if so. For those who have selected Express Passes that allow you to book your slots for Harry Potter area, this part is for you.

On the drop down menu, select the time that you wish to ENTER the AREA. This is not the time you will take the ride. The ride timing will usually be approximately 15minutes after your entrance time. It’s okay to be a little earlier, in my experience.

To see the timings, click here. (this is the same link as the one in the box below the dropdown menu)

First column (in dark blue) explains the entrance timing.

For example, 8:50 ~ 9:50 means you can enter anytime from 8:50am to 9:50am. There will be a signboard telling you what time admissions they are currently taking. But to re-enter, you will need to re-queue. Your express pass will not cover it. The 2nd column

The 2nd column (i.e. 8:50 ~) tells you that you can spend time inside anytime FROM that period of time, as long as you don’t exit. Meaning to say that once you enter, you’re free until you choose to exit.

The 3rd column (i.e. 9:00~9:15) is the time that you must join the queue to ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Once again, there is a signboard next to it telling you what time is available for entrance. Do not join the normal queue – the express pass queue is different. Ask if you are not sure.

Once you have chosen your time, click on the cart box at the bottom to continue.

Once that is done, you have added both Studio Pass and Express Pass to cart. On the top right, you can click the cart to confirm your purchases.

Go to the Payment Guide to continue.


Sidenote: Please note that if you use auto-translate for your browsers, this page will have an error. You will not be able to select the time. Make sure that you’ve turned off auto translate – refresh the page if you have to by choosing a different number of sheets for the express pass and then changing it back.


Purchase USJ Studio and Express Pass Online Guide!

Here is a step by step guide for all those out there wanting to purchase USJ Studio Pass and Express Pass Online. If you only wish to Purchase Express Pass online, please see my other guide here.

STEP 1:

For Studio Passes, click the first box – this should be automatically highlighted when you enter the page. It would have the words “スタジオパス” on it. This means “Studio Pass”.

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Your window should look like this. Below, there is what seems like a calendar icon on a button. Clicking on that will open a new window.


STEP 2: 

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A calendar should open like above. On the top is the year and month that you’re currently viewing (in the guide’s case, 2015 of April), along with [next month] button on the right.

Below it you will see the different dates you’re looking at. Boxes that are white with blue boxes mean that the date is still available for booking, whereas grey out boxes mean that you cannot book it online anymore (usually meaning that you have to purchase in Japan, not that it’s sold out).

A purple star represents days where the Starlight Parade is performing. However, do take note that usually the Starlight Parade performs almost nightly – but the schedule doesn’t come out until a later period. So it isn’t strange to not see a star if you’re booking 3 months in advance, only to have it appear at a later time. Also, rain and bad weather may affect the parade’s schedule, so don’t bother too much about it! The timings in the various boxes show the opening and closing time of USJ on the day that you are booking.

After you have decided what day you wish, click on the blue button to continue. Once that is selected, you will be brought back to the previous page. Click on the yellow button to continue.


STEP 3:

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On the next page, it will give you a summary of the day you have chosen, along with the types of passes valid during that period of time. Here is an example – please note that there are more types than what is shown above.

I have translated a few, please click to view larger versions. My translations are in red. Please double check this against your selection by checking the Katakana.

Once you have decided, (in the case of this guide, I will select a 1 day studio pass), click on the yellow button with the cart on the right side.


STEP 4:

Now, you will have to choose the METHOD of delivery. The page will show you your previous selection, as well as the date you have chosen. Scroll down till you see this:

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[5 December 2015] UPDATE: As of today, I am told that due to resellers and 3rd party auction sites, DIRECT IN (as below) is no longer an option available for STUDIO PASSES – DIRECT IN for EXPRESS PASSES seem to still be available. As such, the only options available now would be to do a park exchange.

For those who are apprehensive about the Park Exchange manner, it is strongly suggested that you simply purchase the Express Pass separately – as you can buy the Studio Passes while you are in Japan directly from USJ. Do note that I did read somewhere that on busy days they do stop selling passes momentarily, so you want to get there early – the last thing you want to happen is not being able to use your express pass because you don’t have a studio pass!

As in the image above, you will be given 3 choices. Basically:

  • [ダイレクトイン]Direct In – QR codes will be issued immediately after purchase. You can print out a copy, or save it on your phone. Please print as well, in case your phone doesn’t work on the day, you still have a spare copy. Remember not to fold it along the QR lines, as that may affect the reading as well. (THIS IS CURRENTLY NO LONGER VALID – as I’m not sure if this is a temporary or permanent solution, I have chosen not to remove this content yet)
  • [パーク…] Park Exchange – exchange your pass at the park. You will require your credit card (the one used to make this purchase) as well as telling the counter staff “WEB purchase”. Note – you will probably have to be there earlier as you would need to queue to exchange now. Hopefully they re-implement the Direct In method soon…
  • [宅配] Home Delivery – deliver it to your home. Please note that this is not available for hotels. Shipping costs are also not included at this point (Y450)

STEP 5:

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Now, you choose the number of studio passes you require.

  • 大人[12歳以上]refers to adults 12 and above
  • 子ども[4〜11歳]refers to children between 4 to 11
  • シニア[65歳以上] refers to elderly 65 and above.

Please note that for children, the Japanese school year starts on the 1st of April. If your child is admitted into Junior High in that year (meaning he turns 12 that year), he will be considered an adult if he is entering the park on April 1st or later. Between January 1st to March 31st, he will still be considered a child and is eligible for child pass.

Select the number of sheets (number of studio passes) you want per category, and click the yellow box at the bottom to add to cart.

[Stop here if you only wish to purchase Studio Pass, and proceed to the Payment Guide. Continue if you wish to purchase Express Pass with Studio Pass].


STEP 6:
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If you wish to purchase an Express Pass, continue on. You will see something like the above image. Once again, my translations in red. Again, I must stress to double check the Katakana in the screen shot against the website, as they will add passes time to time, and I’ve only captured the basics. Click on the grey box if you wish to know more (though it’s in Japanese). Once you’ve decided, click on the yellow box with the cart next to the appropriate choice.


STEP 7:

Similarly, you’re given the choice of Direct In or Home Delivery. I’ll copy and paste the information in case some of you guys joined halfway and didn’t read the top.

  • [ダイレクトイン] Direct In – QR codes will be issued immediately after purchase. You can print out a copy, or save it on your phone. Please print as well, in case your phone doesn’t work on the day, you still have a spare copy. Remember not to fold it along the QR lines, as that may affect the reading as well.
  • [宅配] Home Delivery – deliver it to your home. Please note that this is not available for hotels. Shipping costs are also not included at this point (Y450)

As advised previously, I recommend Direct In, as it is super convenient. However, select whichever method you prefer and continue scrolling down.


STEP 8:
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Now, you select the number of express passes you want. There is no difference between adults or kids here, so just the number you wish to purchase and continue scrolling down.


STEP 9:

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Now, this is the tricky part. FIRST, DISCLAIMER. This is only eligible for those who have selected passes that are valid for the Harry Potter area. If you have selected other passes, you probably will not see this section. Skip if so. For those who have selected Express Passes that allow you to book your slots for Harry Potter area, this part is for you.

On the drop down menu, select the time that you wish to ENTER the AREA. This is not the time you will take the ride. The ride timing will usually be approximately 15minutes after your entrance time. It’s okay to be a little earlier, in my experience.

To see the timings, click here. (this is the same link as the one in the box below the dropdown menu)

First column (in dark blue) explains the entrance timing.

For example, 8:50 ~ 9:50 means you can enter anytime from 8:50am to 9:50am. There will be a signboard telling you what time admissions they are currently taking. But to re-enter, you will need to re-queue. Your express pass will not cover it. The 2nd column

The 2nd column (i.e. 8:50 ~) tells you that you can spend time inside anytime FROM that period of time, as long as you don’t exit. Meaning to say that once you enter, you’re free until you choose to exit.

The 3rd column (i.e. 9:00~9:15) is the time that you must join the queue to ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Once again, there is a signboard next to it telling you what time is available for entrance. Do not join the normal queue – the express pass queue is different. Ask if you are not sure.

Once you have chosen your time, click on the cart box at the bottom to continue.

Once that is done, you have added both Studio Pass and Express Pass to cart. On the top right, you can click the cart to confirm your purchases.

Go to the Payment Guide to continue.


Sidenote: Please note that if you use auto-translate for your browsers, this page will have an error. You will not be able to select the time. Make sure that you’ve turned off auto translate – refresh the page if you have to by choosing a different number of sheets for the express pass and then changing it back.]