Other than 黒門市場 Kuromon Market and 道頓堀 Dotomburi, we had no idea what else we wanted to do in 大阪 Osaka, and so had only planned for a one night stay in 大阪 Osaka, mainly because it was easier to catch our 11:00 flight at 関西空港 Kansai Airport. That was when Ms V found out that there was Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) in Universal Studio Japan (USJ), that launched in 2014. To go, or not to go?
We had read all about the crazy crowds in the morning awaiting opening, super long queues for rides, food and merchandise, and timed ticket entry to WWHP, with some getting lousy timings despite having the express tickets. Imagine paying ¥7200 for the 1 day pass (including tax), and an additional minimum of ¥5200 Universal Express® Pass 5 (The Pass 3 did not include the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ ride, which was apparently the must-do), and getting a 17:30 timing to enter and do the ride… That would be almost S$150 into the drain, and there was still the must-drink butter beer, and wouldn’t you want to get at least one souvenir home?
We also read about how Hogwarts castle looked different in the day and night, and how we would never want to get out. I was not sure if I would be able to handle a day of queueing though, and I had never been to Disneyland or Universal Studio, unless I count the walk-through during the New Paper Big Walk many years ago. I did enjoy the movies and books, but definitely not as big a fan as Ms V. Hubby did not even read the books, and barely completed the shows. However, if we did not go this round, we were unlikely to have a chance any time soon.
We were also quite apprehensive about buying tickets on the USJ Japanese website; the English website was awfully lacking, and did not allow buying of tickets…
While we were contemplating how best to do it, we kept browsing for new reviews, and we noticed that the queues seemed to have let up a little, and there was this mystery discount ticket for after-15:00 entry to USJ, and someone said that with this discount ticket, he still managed to get a timed ticket for WWHP. That idea got me sold; I could probably survive 5 hours in a theme park, and I get to split the day between hubby and good friend… This is called win-win situation, haha!
And so, we planned to go on our 1 day in 大阪 Osaka, on a Thursday, hopeful that it would not be that crowded since it was a weekday. Unfortunately, I did not manage to finish planning the itinerary for the trip due to lots of OT and being sick prior to the trip 😦 So, on the Sunday, before we were due to return to 京都 Kyoto (and finally 大阪 Osaka) I was trying to figure out the route to USJ, and also getting advice from Ms F, who was going to USJ on Monday with her Express Pass, when I made the following discovery:
- We needed to take the JR line to Universal City, which was quite costly for us, as our hotel in Osaka was near a subway line (i.e. pay twice because we needed to take different lines)
- The weather forecast for Thursday was RAINY 😮
Now, I seriously did not think that we want to be queueing in the rain for anything… and I was still sick… I was also worried about spoiling the Harry Potter experience for Ms V. It was starting to be more appealing to travel from 高松 Takamatsu to 京都 Kyoto, drop our luggage and continue to 大阪 Osaka, on the same day (Monday), and then back to 京都 Kyoto at night. That meant some crazy 6 hours on train (with many changes of trains) that day, and I, Ms no-sense-of-direction, had to somehow bring Ms V transfer 3 trains between 京都 Kyoto and 大阪 Osaka, and bring her back in one piece. However, Monday appeared to be perfectly sunny and totally suitable for a trip to USJ. Plus, we would still have our last day of JR Rail Pass, so travelling was totally free, and in the event that we somehow did not manage to make it to WWHP, we could still have a second chance on Thursday. After some discussion with Ms V, she decided that I was not crazy, and agreed to the idea 😛
When we reached 京都 Kyoto, we had attempted to approach a local travel agency to try to purchase this discounted/half day tickets but it was not successful. We decided not to waste anymore time and quickly went to drop our bags at the hotel, grabbed a quick ramen lunch, and hubby brought us to the correct platform to board the first train. I had to solemnly promised hubby that I would give him live updates about our journey all the way till we reached USJ… hahahaha 😛
Thankfully, I had my M1 data passport activated, and it was working very well. Armed with a power bank and having my phone browser set at the Hyperdia page, I was pretty confident of figuring my way out… So yes, we girls made it safe and sound to Universal City at 14:35. Don’t you just love the trains in Japan and their timeliness?
We made it easily to the ticket counters (no queue, yeah!) and discovered that this discount ticket was known as the Christmas Twilight Pass, and cost ¥5800 per adult, including tax. I think this ticket, like the full day passes, do not run out, so there is no need for advance purchase. We were directed to specific gates to wait for the 15:00 entry. The queue was fairly short, and everyone was queuing in a very orderly manner. Guess not many people bought the discounted tickets, because Ms F had sent me a picture of the crazy crowds earlier this morning! The 10-minute wait reached a climax when the staff started appearing, waving and smiling at everybody, and getting us to say “こんにちわ” (“konnichiwa”, aka “good afternoon”), and we were let through the gates fairly efficiently.
We wanted to go straight to WWHP, but got lost… hahaha! So we approached a staff, and after much sign language, we managed to find the place to get the timed tickets (it’s near Jaws), and again, no queue, and wow, we got the 15:20 entry! So we just continued our path to the entrance… The sign board said that it was admitting people with 15:10 tickets, but the staff let us through anyway (it was actually 15:20 on my watch).
By now, we totally agree with the many online reviews that said that the staff hardly spoke English. We were directed here, there, everywhere, until we found an English-speaking staff who directed us to the correct queue for the HP ride… Gosh! However, each staff was just bursting with enthusiasm and energy, making us feel very excited!
We had initially wanted to join the single rider’s queue, which we read that it was actually the same as the express queue, but we would not be able to take the ride together. However, we also read that the single rider queue meant that we would miss out the “pre-ride experience”, and so, we decided to just join the normal, non-express queue, which was probably our biggest mistake of this trip. The queue for the ride was estimated to be 160 minutes, and we queued almost 2 hours for the ride… I don’t think I had ever queued so long for food. Most of the queue was outside the castle, which meant that there was not that much to see, and we were thankful that we had each other’s company. Once we reached the castle, the queue moved really quickly, and there was not much time to take in the sights, much less for photo-taking.
We had to dump our belongings into a locker, and we were issued 3D glasses and got into a 4-seater for the ride. Ms V totally enjoyed the ride! It felt very real, and you feel like you were literally flying! What an exhilarating ride!
As for me, most parts of the ride was fun and felt very real, especially the amazing quid-ditch experience, but I did not expect the seats to rotate backwards till I felt that I was about to fall off, neither did I think that my body would sway so violently. What made me felt rather terrified was that my legs knocked against something a few times during the ride; totally unexpected and felt unsafe! We later wondered if I had knocked into the legs of the fellow passenger on my left… Anyway, I felt rather giddy after the ride, but got over it rather quickly. Ok, I think I am definitely not suitable to try any roller coasters 😛
We spent some time in the souvenir shop to take pictures with the wand, and then more time finding souvenirs. Self discipline was very, very important, if you did not wish to burn a hole in your pocket. I got myself a tin of biscuits, which turned out to be quite delicious, especially the maple and tea flavours, for ¥1400. One is rather disciplined when one is fearful of an annoyed hubby if one tried to buy some blinking wand, that would prove to be rather not useful and take up space in the house… 😛
By the time we came out, the estimated waiting time for the ride was down to 40 minutes.
We returned to do the castle walk, and discovered that we were doing the exact same route as during our queue within the castle, with plenty of time to take all the pictures we want… And there was no queue at all for the walk! By now, I felt really cheated. The two hours could have been better spent checking out the shops and all! Anyway, we took our own sweet time to take all the photos that we wanted. A pity that all the conversations were in Japanese…
Around 18.30, there was no queue at the Three Broomsticks, so we decided to have our butter beers there. Not wanting to have any regrets, we tried both the hot and cold butter beer (¥700 vs ¥600, and an additional ¥500 if you wanted the souvenir mug). We definitely preferred the cold version. The seaonal hot version was way too sweet, because of the cream that was meant for the froth effect melted into the drink… Since it was not crowded, we chilled for 30 minutes or so, enjoying the various projections off different sides of the walls. We gotta admit that there was a lot of thought and efforts put in to make the entire WWHP really as real and as magical as possible!
We spent the remaining time checking out the various shops, and also went for the Ollivanders’ show, where this lucky little girl was the chosen one. We loved the details they put into the creation of each wand! We noticed that some of the shops carry similar items, but there were always a few items unique to each shop.
Close to 19:40, as we left WWHP and were about to leave USJ, we saw that there was no queue for The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, and went for a quick ride. It was extremely safe and fun (which Ms V said was more similar to Transformers ride in Universal Studio Singapore) and I totally enjoyed the ride 😀
In fact, by this time, there was almost no queue for any of the rides, according to the electronic board. When we came out of the ride, we saw the staff putting up barricades and many people sitting around. After more gesturing with a staff, we discovered that the parade was starting… Ok, I am very new to theme parks 😛
I was extremely glad that we had stayed on. The 20-minute parade was absolutely fabulous and added that oh-so-magical ending to our trip.
After all these magic, we made our way back to our hotel close to 22:00, and ended our night with a not-so-magical dinner bought from the 7-11 nearby 😛 But we had enough magical moments to make this trip really memorable 🙂
If we were to do it again, we would definitely still get the twilight tickets on a weekday, and go for the single rider’s queue instead, or simply do the rides after 19:00. For the HP ride, it did not matter whether you are with your friends or not, because you will feel like you are the only one in the ride. In the end, we only spent half the amount, and still managed to squeeze in lots of fun, minus the crowd and the super crazy queues 🙂 Actually, I feel like going to US to visit WWHP now, where everything is in English…