Hello everyone, I was happy to have been able to attend Universal Studios Japan last March 9th and 11th during the premiere grand opening day of the park's newest ride: Hollywood Dream The Ride, a coaster adventure.
The crowds decended upon USJ with anticipation. The lines at the front entrance were long and wide. Thousands of guests, many Apers got there early in hopes to be the first ones to ride the new coaster. Due to the large crowds, the park opened it's doors 10 mins early at 8:50am and the stampede was ON! Yet, because I got there just after 8am, I had to endure still another 25 mins before I could reach the turnstyles, catching a glimpse of the first official coaster riders at approximately 9:10am as they came out of the top of the main drop and screamed in delight on the way down, while the crowd below waiting to enter the park erupted into a huge applause and cheers It was one of those AWESOME moments in theme park history.
After what appeared to be an eternity, I finally reached the turnstyle and entered the park, rushing (along with the rest of the guests) to the end of the line for the coaster. This was my first mistake but will explain later...
Running towards NYC area as the dozens of CMs were detouring the crowd... I passed by the Spiderman ride to finally find the end of the line (where a CM holding a sign that read "QUEUE BEGINS HERE!") near the italian restaurant close to the B2TF ride. Yes, folks, the queue's end was near San Francisco's area. Happily took my place in line, and watched in amusement the horrified looks of other guests as they arrived to find the queue's end was way pass NYC. But lo and behold.. at this point the line was moving quite well and expeditiously. An army of CMs kept things under control and moving quite well. Just like at TDR, I was impressed. Watching the coaster vehicles come and go while in line was fun and added anticipation. passing near the info board..the wait time was posted at 240 mins. Finally after about 40 mins, we reached the coaster's main entrance on Hollywood Blvd. Then at that moment I realized they offered a "Single Rider Line", in addition to the ever so popular USJ option= the Express Pass line. The "Single Rider Line" was being advertized at 60 mins wait which to me sounded better than 240-260 mins... so I happily moved over to that line which started inside in the queue area behind the Hollywood facade, where the main queue and ride is basically located at. (For those familiar with USF, the coaster is located in the same spot where T2:3D is found in FL)
My mistake was... If I had known there was a "singles" line, I could have saved about 40 mins of wait time by going there, instead of running to the end of the regular line. Oh well....
About 15 mins after entering the "Singles" line... disaster strikes: the rotating piece of track that switches the track back and forth between the two loading sides of the platform broke down. It brough the coaster to a hault. With frustartion, we watched as the mechanical crew came out and started working on the defective piece of equipment. This was the hardest part for me...as it became clear the delay would be a long haul... after being in line for already close to an hour...I pondered... should I leave or stay in queue?? Since I had to leave the park by 2:30pm, and having been there so many times already, I decided to bite the bullet and endure the wait, or else I would fear not being able to ride on it's official opening day. Anyways... it took the staff 1 hr and 10 minutes before they could reopen the ride, but in order to do so, they had to shut down one side of the boarding platform, which meant cutting the loading capability and ride dispatch time by 50%. Under normal circumstances, they dispatch vehicles every 30 seconds or so, with a total of 4 vehicles on the track at peak times. The 50% shutdown multiplied the wait for those of us in the Single and Stand By line because once they re-started the ride, guests who had purchased the Express Booklet all showed up at once and caused major delays for everybody since they get priority boarding. As soon as the first vehicle loaded with guests passed over the queue area, the crowd below erupted into a thunderous applause and cheer, again!!!
And off we were. At this point in time, I had been in line for close to 1 hour and 50 mins. Slowly... and I mean VERY VERY slowly, our "Singles" line moved up. Very frustrating time because the line would come to a hault for 5 mins, then move up 3 feet, then come to a hault again for lenghty times... very very frustrating, while a gazillion Express guests kept showing up and being passed up front. Anyways... when I finally reached the boarding platform, my official wait time for the ride was approximately 3 hours and 25 mins. Take note, the ride lasts about 90 seconds, including the main lift.
Was it worth waiting that long? NO. Is the ride worth riding? YES. The ride itself is not intense perse, when compared to Universal IOA's Hulk and Dueling Dragons. There are no inversions or loops here. But there are lots of camel hump hills and tight turns and that makes for a lot of airtime and some cool g-forces here and there. The main drop is quite small but packs a punch..as it feel as if you are in a very steep 85 degree incline halfway thru it..and because there are no shoulder harnesses, you can feel your body dropping forward as you hit the bottom of the hill... getting a bit of a backlash moment there. You can even see this body motion when you watch the riders from down below during the main drop. The seats on the vehicles are high enough that my feet did not touch the floor, giving me an added fun sensation of a floorless coaster. The seats' headrests are tall and each seat has it's own set of music speakers, blasting mp3 digital quality music, which in a first for any coaster, you get to choose from a music menu. Think of this as riding a fast jukebox, with strobe lights to go with it. The only safety restrain is the "T" handle and bar that comes down in between your legs, and pins you against the seat. This is when it gets fun... look down at the cushion pinning you on your seat, and there is a console with 5 buttons, a scroll button, and a 'select' button. You first scroll down to the prefered song you'd like to hear during the ride, press on that button, and then hit 'select' to secure your choice. Once you hit 'select', the choice is locked and can't be changed.
Currently the choice of songs available for play are:
#1 Bon Jovi "Homebound Train" (did not try this one)
#2 Eminen "Lose Yourself" (worst choice, too slow a song for this ride)
#3 The Beattles "Get Back" (so so choice...)
#4 Dreams Come true "Osaka Lover" (BEST CHOICE, fierce dance track!!)
#5 Kobukuro "The wind named you" (so so choice...)
Majority DOES NOT RULE here. Each rider will get to hear the song of their choice, played especially for you thru your headrest's speakers. Surprisingly enough, you can't hear the song being played next to you chosen by the riders next to you! VERY COOL!
Ok... a musical chime sounds at the platform and WE ARE OFF!!! We depart the station and turn left over the queue, passing overheard as other guests are still standing in line below. A soft spoken japanese lady voice on the headrest speakers welcomes us on the coaster and explains some safety stuff, then the song you chose for the ride begins to play. The music does not necesarily matches the action here as is the case with Space Mountains in HK, CA and Paris. Still, it's lots of fun to hear a song you like! The computerized LED strobe lights on the coaster come to life and appear to dance to the music you are hearing. This of course is best experienced at night by both riders and spectators thru the park. The ascent to the top is not high speed like Hulk's coaster, but a traditional slow ascent, with strobes going off around you. Look to the right as you go up and you get a great view of USJ, or look to the left and enjoy Citywalk. You hit the top and.... AAAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!! From this point on, the riders are treated to some twists and turns, airtime moments, and some enjoyable views of surrounding areas, as the coaster appears to hit about 55mph or so at times. The ride seems to last about 75 seconds tops. As we return to the loading platform, the music fades and the japanese female voice comes on again and thanks you for riding and wishes you an enjoyable day at USJ.
Now some tips... leave personal belongings behind...bags, cameras, hats and the like, in the ride's locker area. However, these are not free as it costs 100 yen to use them lockers. Do this before stepping in line if you can. The CMs didn't seem to be enforcing this issue too well... some were very militant about belongings being brought onto the ride, while others didn't seem to care much and were letting guests slide into the queue with hats and bags. That needs to be improved. Guests who have loose shoes (like sandals) are given rubber bands to put around their shoes to secure them to their feet, in order to void falling debris from the coaster that might hurt guests down below. That is the first time I see this done on a coaster anywhere.
NOTE: there are no lines for riders who want to ride the front or back seats. You will be assigned where to seat, and that appeared to be final. But then again, I didn't ask the CM for any specific seats. However, by sheer luck, I was assigned the front row corner seat the 2nd time I did the 'singles' line. That was a treat!
Also... if the wait does not appear too long for the stand by regular line, then opt for that one. When I returned two days later, I did both "singles" and "regular stand by line", and the singles line took much longer to do (38 mins versus 24 mins in the regular line) There doesn't seem to be an urgency about moving the singles line fast... so that may not be the best option. Assess before you decide. It was difficult for me because the wait times posted on the displays at the ride's entrance were way off at times, as either a longer wait time for stand by or shorter wait time for singles, when in fact it was longer, which was the case with the single rider line both times I used it.
I apologize I didn't look much at the Safety Warnings...but expect the usual...height restrictions... medical conditions, drunk or under the influence...will not be allowed to ride jada jada. Sadly, there were NO english subtitles on the cutesy safety video in the queue.
The queue itself is mostly outdoors and below portions of the track; all of it behind the Hollywood street facades. They did a very good job of painting the backside of the facades to match the color of the sky and the coaster track, still... I think the guests should not be able to see this much of the "backstage" areas as it kills the illusion.. Oh well. They did try to make the queue pleasant by having low lever water fountains with rocky bottoms and some trees and retro looking lamps and such, but it remains as basic as any queue can be. Sadly, many backstage areas behind Hollywood Blvd can also be fully appreciated during the ride... They should have called this coaster the "TDR Line Express". Hehehe!!!
Finally... at night, this coaster really becomes a show. The strobe lighting on the vehicles put on a great show... at times making the coaster look like a shooting star or a comet with shimmering tail thru the night time skies over Hollywood Blvd. This is a very well done special effect that I would welcome in any coaster that is such an integral part of the themed surroundings... Which bring me to the negative aspects of it. The lovely facades at USJ's Hollywood Blvd have been compromised with the placement of this coaster in such highly themed areas. While the coaster's support beams do nothing to beautify the park, I found it sacrilegious they basically plopped this coaster in front of such nicely detailed facades as the Pantages Theater and the Park Grille restaurant. It simply destroys the look of these areas and it's a real shame. The damage is not that apparent when you walk into the park from the main entrance but the other end of Hollywood Blvd, by the lagoon, got the royal shaft in this whole re-do. to whoever came up with this track routing. Thank God someone had the bright idea to add a huge billboard over the buildings at a point where the coaster comes into an unsightly breaking zone, before dropping into high speed again. So we are spared further thematic damage in that area above Hollywood Street. But it's too little too late. At the end of the ride, the coaster goes thru a tunnel next to the Pantages facade, which is a transition moment from Hollywood, back into the queue area behind the facade. There are strobe lights in this tunnel, which at first I thought were a "photo for sale" moment after getting off the ride... but alas! No in-ride photos for sale anywhere as we walked out of the ride.... Maybe a set up for future photo sales???
All in all, taking all aspects of the ride and placement... I will give it a B- rating. Fun coaster and a must do ride if you visit USJ... but not worth waiting more than 45 mins to ride. I have included a photo album here so you can see the ride in action...and experience the ride's every turn and drop from one photo to the next. This is the closest to a video I can come up with with a still-photo camera. Hope you enjoy the "ride"!!!
ONE MORE THING!!! (as if this wasn't long enough already, sorry )
The opening of the Hollywood Dream The Ride marks the end of USJ's 5th anniversary celebration and the beginning of USJ's DREAM YEAR! Banners advertizing the "DREAM YEAR" are everywhere, replacing the 5th anniversary ones. And they are very attractive banners I may add! However... does this sound eerily familiar to you all??? DREAM YEAR, versus "Million Dreams" at Disney???? Granted... USJ is not bribing guests with promises of gifts and overnight stays in Mickey Suites and the likes... but everything at Universal is taking a "Dream theme" this year.. Many of the atmosphere shows thru the park will feature the dream theme, and several new shows are going to be opening soon with relation to "DREAMS"... Interesting, and quite coincidental... don't you think.? Not to mention the lovely "DREAM YEAR" merchandise and "omiyage" now on sale at the park's many shops! Oh well...
ENJOY THE PHOTOS!!!!