Universal Studios Japan Trip Report
I was recently fortunate to visit Universal Studios in Japan and I have to say the park left me both impressed and disappointed at the same time. First can I recommend to anyone who is visiting to arrive very early, as the process to buying park tickets is a very slow and draining experience, especially if you visit during a time when a lot of school kids show up in groups of friends but all want to pay separately. Having visited a lot of Japan tourist spots during my trip I think the park is missing out on an opportunity to not place vending machines at the gates where Guest who are only visiting for a day can purchase park tickets, without having to wait with everyone else who is redeeming vouchers and discount coupons. During my trip the park was in full preparation for the opening of its newest attraction Space Fantasy, so plenty of banners and posters were up promoting the attraction.
Upon arrival you enter the usual entrance except one difference being the glass dome ceiling above, a take on Tokyo Disneylandís World Bazaar only not so much of an echo. The majority of Guest head straight over to Hollywood Dream The Ride, which is a coaster that stands above the entrance to the ride. Unlike Disney, Universal doesnít offer a FastPass option, but does like the US Parks offer you at a price a Universal Express Pass. While itís a bit pricey, I do recommend buying it as it will save you time in lines which can reach 120 minutes on an average day for Hollywood Dream or Spiderman. And that time can be better spent on some of the shows or snacking which people enjoy doing when visiting a Japan theme park.. Some of the snacks are quite interesting too with Snoopy shaped custard buns and strawberry and lemon churroís.
The park has an area themed to Jurassic Park which is very similar to the one found in Florida, but on a smaller scale. The ride on the other is exactly the same, I ended up doing this attraction twice over the two days that I visited and on the second go the T-Rex was broken, so that build up to the finale was ruined. I donít think I have ever been on Journey to the Centre of the Earth at DisneySea and found the Lava Monster not working, so this kind of disappointed me as I was led to believe Universal Japan operated its parks more like the Tokyo Disney Resort and not Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. While Stateside Universal water attractions can get you soaked, this ride give of more of a splash, and you will dry of fairly quickly, although this doesnít stop the Japanese Guest from purchasing ponchoís.
The one thing that is hard to escape when visiting the park is the outside world, a suspension bridge over the Osaka Bay area is in full ugly view at every turn, while the Resort Hotels also tower over the park, yes you can make the argument that many Disney hotels are visible from inside the park, but at least Imaginers do a fantastic job in blending the buildings in with the park so they donít stand out. Another issue I have is that the park has stopped re entry so once you leave you canít re enter later in the day.
The park has recently updated some of its entertainment and one of the new shows takes place in front of Melís Diner and is a Hello Kitty based show. The show is cute and does feature some western performers so some of the script is in English as is the music which features music from Hairspray. Another new show replaces the former Blues Boys and is a Michael Jackson tribute show, and the final sort of street show features Characters from Sesame Street. None of these shows are outstanding but are still worth stopping and watching if you happen to be walking by at the time.
Many of the attractions found at the park are seriously dated like Backdraft and I canít understand why the park felt the need to rip out the ET ride which is still a classic but keep Backdraft and Back to the Future. The priority on what attractions should go first is lost on me, thatís for sure.
Food on offer was like Tokyo Disney a variety of different foods including the usual burgers, pizzaís and Chinese choices, and only one Japanese Restaurant on site. The merchandise also took inspiration from Disney with biscuit tins featuring Elmo, Snoopy and Spiderman, to soft toys and other silly items that the Japanese all love. Interesting to note the park offered no plastic bags and all items purchased were packed in paper packaging with the parkís logo on it. These items are not easy to carry around with you so unless you have a rucksack or are willing to rent out a locker, I recommend buying souvenirs and gifts late in the day.
The park has its own version of the hit Musical Wicked and while I wasnít expecting it to be on the scale of the West End or Broadway versionís, but I was kind of expecting something on par with what Tokyo Disney produces for its stage shows. Instead the show had about nine different performers staging about a 30 minute production, very disappointed as I was expecting so much more. The BeatleJuice show was also the same with a small cast trying to put together a show for hundreds of Guest. At least in defence of the second show it had quite a few props and gadgets to hide its shortcomings, but Wicked certainly not, very disappointed with this show.
Space Fantasy was in early reviews but decided against waiting 170 minutes for the chance to ride and concentrated instead on the rest of the park.
Two very unique areas to the park are the Land of Oz and Snoopy Studios. The Yellow Brick Road really has not survived well over the years with the millions who have stepped foot over it and its looking a bit dirty, although I love the facade to Wicked which is very Small World in design and look. Snoopy Studios is a bit tacky although has quite a nice indoor area, but gift shop is packed full of Snoopy fans who can pick up quite a lot of stuff with the Peanut gang on here. It also has a Restaurant selling and I kid you not Potato Smileís which is a frozen to cook process food line, that can be picked up in most Super Markets, well at least in the UK, not sure on anywhere else.
The rest of the park is made up of attractions that can be found at any other Universal including Water World, which is a fantastic stunt show. Spiderman which has to be one of the best Universal rides and Jaws which is a bit tamer than what I remember it being in Orlando, although the attraction host were very cute in trying to tell the story and comical trying to fire a gun at a rubber shark. Spiderman, Shrek 3D and Terminator 3D also top the list here.
Another interesting show was this Woody Wood Pecker show which featured a live performer behind a glass interacting with animated scenes.
Now we come to the real highlight of the trip to the park, and that is the impressive Magical Starlight Parade, which is on the same scale and size of Tokyo Disneylandís Dreamlights. It features three main sections with Alice in Wonderland, Arabian Nights and Cinderella. Elmo, Snoopy and Hello Kitty are also featured on floats and while its not to the standard of Dreamlights, its still a good effort and wipes the floor with the Main Street Electrical Parade, SpectroMagic and Fantaillusion in current form. One complaint I do have however is park announcements only being made in Japanese and not English also Cast Members seem far more relax with the rules unlike Tokyo Disney Resorts strict policy when it comes to watching parades, you can even sit over the edge of the curve which is a big no at Disney !
Walking though Universal City Walk at park closing you see lots of people walk straight though this place without stopping by in any of the shops or Restaurants, the only place that got packed out was the Universal Store. I visited the Hard Rock Cafť, first time in Japan and was seated instantly and had a good meal, but its interesting to see so very few people stopping by, although this was a Thursday night.
So itís a bit of a mix bag really, I encountered moments where I felt a bit let down by the park, but than around the next corner you would find something that would impress you, but the overall verdict is that Universal Studios Japan while being a good park, is still not an outstanding park and it really needs to stop trying to steal ideas from Disney, because from what I witnessed it really struggles to keep up with the standard. Instead it needs to create and form its own identity and Space Fantasy looks like a good start but its not enough the park needs to address what to do with Backdraft and Back to the Future, and review its entertainment. Its version of Wicked really is a poor show.
But overall merchandise was fun and unique, Magical Starlight was a blast and it was fun to be able to ride Spiderman, Jurassic Park and Jaws again!