9 Things We Learned At Universal Studios Hollywood's Reopening

Universal Studios Hollywood is open now and Disneyland will be soon. Here's what to expect when you visit.

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After being closed for over a year, California's Universal Studios Hollywood has reopened and while some things remain the same, there are also a number of differences. From new safety protocols to additions to the park, there's plenty to talk about when plotting a visit. What's more, with Disneyland's grand reopening coming on April 30, Universal should be a pretty good indicator of what to expect should you be planning to visit there.

To see for ourselves what the new Universal Studios is like, GameSpot visited the park during its annual pass holder preview event. While there, it was easy to see not only what has changed in terms of the experience, but what has been added to the park over the last year.

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Take a look below at the eight biggest things we learned from our time at Universal Studios Hollywood so you'll be able to plan your first visit to the park.

1. The reduced capacities make a difference

Under current guidance from the state of California, both Universal Studios Hollywood and the parks at Disneyland Resort (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure) can open at 25% capacity. And it shows when walking the parks. During the day at Universal, it rarely felt crowded and even in places with heavier traffic, it was easy to quickly divert yourself to areas with fewer people.

What's more, dining was incredibly easy due to an abundance of designated dining areas set up throughout the park, both indoors and outdoors. All of the tables were properly spaced and made it much more comfortable to remove your required masks to eat and drink.

2. But the lines can still be incredibly long

While capacity may be a fraction of what it once was, that doesn't mean you're not waiting in lines for rides. While some of Universal's attractions had wait times as little as 5-20 minutes, the marquee rides had a much longer wait.

Most notably, the park's studio tour (Universal Studios is also a working film and TV studio) had a posted wait time of nearly an hour throughout the day. Meanwhile, the freshly renovated Jurassic World Attraction ballooned to a three-hour wait, even with so few people in the park.

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That no doubt helped contribute to how little foot traffic there was in other parts of the park, but most go to these places for the rides. So, if you're going to Universal or even Disneyland once it opens, make sure you work out a rough schedule for your day. Figure out what rides are most important to you and try to line up for them the moment you enter the park. And while we're at it, make sure to adhere to the social distancing marks on the ground throughout the park when queueing up.

3. Virtual lines should be the park's future

One major upgrade is the virtual line system employed on the new Secret Life of Pets ride, which we'll discuss below. The virtual line works more or less like Disneyland's FastPass system, allowing you to reserve a time to go on the ride. It should, in theory, cut down on wait time and also help avoid long lines that snake throughout the park.

The virtual line system wasn't up on Pets for the entire day. However, when it was being used the line was manageable and the park's employees were able to keep the line moving at a decent clip.

Honesty, this is a system Universal would have been wise to implement elsewhere in the park during the year-long closure. A virtual line system could have greatly cut down on the three-hour wait for Jurassic World and made the Studio Tour line easier to fathom.

4. Super Nintendo World Hollywood is official, finally

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We all knew it was happening, but Universal never properly announced it. However, new signage in the park confirms that Super Nintendo World is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood. What's more, it's a big addition. Looking down on the land from above shows just how large a footprint it's making in the park. What remains to be seen is what will be included in the new land. While the Mario Kart ride is practically a guarantee, it's unclear if the Yoshi ride that opened at Universal Studios Japan will also be featured.

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5. The new Secret Life of Pets ride is worth the wait

Universal was preparing to launch The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash just as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the parks to close. Now, with the park reopening, visitors can finally ride the Pets attraction--and they should.

Unlike many of Universal's screen-based attractions, Off the Leash is an all-ages attraction that resembles a classic Disney-style dark ride. It's filled with animatronics of the characters from the movie that you see as you ride through a number of sets in a ride vehicle. Yes, there are still screens featured throughout the ride, but they're used to accentuate what's going on, rather than just plopping guests in front of a massive movie screen and playing 3D movies in front of them. (Sorry, The Simpsons Ride.)

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The only drawback of this particular attraction is the ride vehicle itself. Rather than a bench, which would allow a parent to take two small children on the ride, the vehicle is divided into two seats. That could cause some issues, depending on the ratio of adult-to-child in any given party. What's more, they aren't exactly roomy seats, so some adults might find them uncomfortable.

6. The Jurassic World ride is finally complete

Though it opened to the public in 2019, the updated Jurassic World ride was incomplete. What was missing, and is now included in the ride, is a climactic scene in which the Indominus Rex from the first Jurassic World movie comes face-to-face with the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Jurassic Park films and ride. It takes Jurassic World from a simple reskinning of the original Jurassic World ride to a much more exciting attraction, though as noted above you might have to wait quite a while to actually ride it.

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7. Not everything is open

While the majority of the park is open for guests, some attractions remain closed. For instance, the shows Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular and Special Effects Stage were closed during the preview, as were The Simpsons Ride and Kung Fu Panda Adventure. In a park of Universal's relatively modest size, having four major attractions closed cuts out a big chunk of things to do. Thus far, there's no word on when those rides and shows will reopen. However, the Universal's Animal Actors show is still running, in case you really need a theme park show fix.

8. Halloween Horror Nights is probably happening

While not officially announced, there was construction happening around the park where Halloween Horror Nights houses are traditionally built, Including the Waterworld queue and the Parisian courtyard in the Upper Lot of the park. Universal Studios Orlando has already announced it will be doing its annual celebration of all things scary, so it would make sense for it to also return to the Hollywood park.

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As for what to expect, that remains unknown. However, an eagle-eyed fan spotted a familiar sign in the haunt being built in the Waterworld queue that hints at a potential Halloween 3: Season of the Witch attraction, which would be pretty amazing.

9. The experience feels largely safe

Overall, the biggest takeaway from visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is how safe it feels, even when compared to the company's parks in Orlando last summer. This is for a number of reasons, from the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine to a smaller number of people being allowed into the park due to it being much smaller than its Florida counterpart.

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However, much like visiting Universal Studios Orlando nearly a year ago, your safety is your responsibility. If you don't feel comfortable visiting a theme park, you absolutely shouldn't. They're not going anywhere. If you do, though, it's up to you to make sure you keep the proper distance and adhere to the guidelines once in the park. Yes, employees will likely correct you should you improperly remove your mask or gather too closely with crowds of people, but your safety is your responsibility, as is the safety of those you come into contact with.

Universal Studios Hollywood is open now. Disneyland will open on April 30. To visit the parks, you will have to obtain reservations, in addition to purchasing tickets (or using your annual pass, if you have one to Universal).

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