While many people know that Japan has Tokyo Disneyland, fewer know that there is a Universal Studios park in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan (or USJ as its known locally) has been in operation since 2001, with constantly growing attractions. The layout is similar to other Universal Studios parks, but the newest addition of Super Nintendo World is what has everyone talking these days.
Due to Covid19, entrance to the park is limited and only available with advance purchase of tickets. When the state of emergency was lifted on June 1, I decided to check if they had started to sell tickets again. As luck would have it, I was able to secure some for later that month. Now I don't live close to Osaka, so this would be a trip that needed preparation. So after securing a hotel reservation and a dog sitter, we were ready to go.
I took the trip with my girlfriend and her sister, as they had both expressed desire to go to USJ and see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area of the park since they were fans of the books and movies. I was more interested in Super Nintendo World, being a lifelong Nintendo and Mario fan. So we packed up my Ford Mustang (quite the car to drive in Japan) and started the 7 hour drive west to Osaka. We decided to take a car rather than a bullet train because with 3 people paying for tolls and gas, it would be about half the price to drive. When we had arrived in Osaka, another state of emergency had been put into place, so all of the restaurants were closed, leaving us to grab dinner at the convenience store.
In the morning, we decided to leave a bit early to walk to the park and wait for it to open. I was a bit worried when waiting in line that there seemed to be tons of people also waiting. Were they allowing more people into the park than before, or was everyone for the day all coming at the same time? As the park opened, I suggested we rush to Super Nintendo World, as it was the newest attraction (having opened just a few months ago) so it would probably be the most crowded.
Walking into Super Nintendo World, you travel through a warp pipe and into the Mushroom Kingdom just like in the game. It definitely had a magical feeling to it. There are wristbands that you can buy to participate in activities like hitting blocks and collecting coins. We decided to go to Bowsers Castle for the Mario Kart ride first. Even at opening the wait was about 45 minutes. But the sights inside were enough for any Mario Kart fan to be occupied. The ride is an augmented reality ride where you wear a headset and you can "shoot shells" at enemies with your controls at your seat. The ride was fun but honestly a bit slow and more intended for families with young children. After that we headed to Yoshi's Adventure, which was a very slow paced ride where you ride a Yoshi and press a button when you spot an egg. The whole feeling of Super Nintendo Land was very well done, great for the fans of Nintendo, but not very exciting for the thrill seekers.
We headed into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter afterwards, walking into "Hogsmeade" and being greeted by the Hogwarts Express train and conductor. Despite being a hot Japanese summer, the "snow" on the buildings tricks you into thinking its cooler than it actually is. We first rode "The Flight of the Hippogriff", a small roller coaster that was pretty enjoyable and a very short wait time. We would later ride it a few more times during the day. Afterwards, we rode "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey", a 4D hybrid ride. Now, I am not a fan of 4D rides. While the non 4D parts were really cool, the 4D portions in front of a screen just gives me motion sickness. Plus all of the voices are dubbed in Japanese, which sort of pulls you further out of the "story" of the ride. After finishing, I needed to take a break. So we hopped into the Three Broomsticks for lunch.
After lunch, we got a closer look at the whole layout of the park. I am a car guy, so naturally I gravitated towards Mel's Drive-In and all of the cars from American Graffiti. We walked through the New York and Hollywood sections, in awe of how nice everything looked. Because of Covid19, most of the restaurants were not serving alcohol, except for 3 spots. We rode the Hollywood Dream coaster before heading into Jurassic Park. As we walked to more rides, we saw a nice show on the street with realistic looking dinosaurs and their handler.
Jurassic Park has two main rides, a log ride that simulates a boat tour gone wrong, and the Flying Dinosaur. The Flying Dinosaur is probably the most extreme ride in the park, with the worlds longest track and farthest initial drop of any roller coaster. One that took all day of convincing my girlfriend to finally ride it. Once we did, she said that she regretted not riding it earlier, as worrying about it all day sort of had her distracted. The ride is fantastic and I highly recommend it for any coaster fan.
While there were many areas we walked through, the park was only open until 6PM due to Covid19 restrictions so we couldn't ride every ride in a single day. We decided to head out around 5:30 after souvenir shopping and head outside to the Universal City Walk for dinner before everything closed by 8PM. Keeping in the movie theme, we ate at Bubba Gump. We then headed back to our hotel, to rest up for the 7 hour return trip home.