A failed return to USJ

When I was planning my trip to Japan there were a couple must-do’s. I wanted to see the lavender in Hokkaido and enjoy the ice cream there. I wanted to stop by USJ for some butterbeer but more importantly to enjoy the limited time only Sailor Moon festivities happening and I wanted to try my hand at Disney Sea again. When sharing holiday plans with friends I learned that plans with two of my friends overlapped. They too were planning to visit Universal Studios Japan for butter beer and Harry Potter, since neither had been before, and to visit one of the Disney’s in Tokyo. We got to talking and decided, why not, let’s go together. So we set about planning our combined part of the trip. They’d only be in Japan for 3 full days, flying in after work the day before and leaving early the day after. I made lists of everything they wanted to do and figured out logistics and the best areas to book hotels and even made an itinerary.

I didn’t see them when they came in, having already gone to bed and ending up with my own room. I saw them at breakfast. Having already been to USJ and knowing Harry Potter was high up on their list we ironed out our plans while we ate, which was mostly the fastest of us would run to Harry Potter as soon as we got there and scan our tickets to get our timed entrance tickets. The fact there was a timed entrance had them a bit stressed. However, as is usually the case with a group, we didn’t leave at our expected time, had errands and multiple misadventures on the way before eventually just grabbing a taxi to USJ. We got in, did a quick questionnaire at the entrance where they gave us a free Hello Kitty towel, grabbed maps and the fastest of us shot off  in the direction of the ticket booth while I ran personal errands, like picking up a Sailor Moon popcorn box a friend had asked me to get her. (More than delighted, meant I got a box full of free popcorn to eat on my way to meet our friends.)

Our plan teetered on this assumption that we wouldn’t get into Harry Potter immediately and that we’d just do whatever we wanted until our time came. Things like watch the Sailor Moon show and ride rides. However from some quick disjointed and semi-confusing messages we met our friend who told us that there wasn’t a timed entrance. So with their anxiety and stress about not being able to get in, we headed straight to Harry Potter. And this was a mistake.

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The point of a timed entrance for Harry Potter, and only Harry Potter when it comes to the USJ park, is to keep the amount of people in that section of the park lowish, but if everyone realizes at the same time that there is no timed entrance on that day it means everyone goes right in and it becomes insanely crowded.

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So we wandered around, hoped from one line to get an icy butterbeer to another to get into the shops to soak up air conditioning, taking pictures and looking around as we we wrote postcards and sent them at the owlery.

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Then we went to lunch at the Three Broomsticks which was at least a nice respite from the sun, if not the most air conditioned part of the park. I got the same thing I did last time only this time I also got dessert, a butterbeer potted cream.

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shepherds pie with a salad and onion and bell pepper dressing

It was perfect and I was quite happy with it.

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butter beer potted cream

After we finished we noticed that there were still several long lines. One for Ollivanders and one for the castle.

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This is my view from the line to get into the castle. If it’s ever this long don’t get in the line.

We automatically got in line for the one for the castle. And this is where our mistakes came to fruition. Amusement park 101 before getting in any long line, if you’re with a group, leave one person in line and someone go find out how long the wait is. If it’s too long of a wait, rescue your friend in line and bail. If the wait isn’t long go back and join them. I blame this on this general idea that if you see a line you should get in it. When it comes to good local foods or something cool happening it’s a great go to.  Especially in Korea. Long line outside of a restaurant, go in and try whatever everyone else is ordering you’ll probably be pretty pleased. But it just doesn’t work in the same way for amusement parks.

Special notices for Harry Potter. If the line for the castle nearly comes all the way down past where the singing frog choir is and near Ollivanders and the Owl Post, abort the mission. That line is too long. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about how this was their first time ever at Universal Studios and if you’re going to visit Harry Potter you should visit the castle. It’s just a lot of fun if you’re a huge fan of Harry Potter which they were. Their whole point of going was Harry Potter. Plus we were a group. I could run off and buy Gilly water (which is just bottled water and costs 350 yen) and pumpkin juice (800 yen). And someone else could go watch the frog’s choir for a quick second before it was time to rejoin the line, and before we actually passed the gates and had to worry about being obnoxious for dipping out of the line.

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The reason why you don’t do long lines, is because you’re stuck after a certain point. You’re stuck not moving, standing without any easy way to escape, and usually in the sun, cooking away. I had an umbrella with me, some Japanese cooling sheets, and a portable fan. I also had some gilly water that I’d purchased along with some pumpkin juice and a sailor moon popcorn box filled with quickly turning stale caramel popcorn. I wasn’t in any danger of going hungry or dehydrated. But even with all of that the wait was brutal.

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One of the many gilly water bottles I got that day. This one from lunch.

But no where did we see a sign for how long the wait was, and my feet were already hurting from days of travel and exploring. One hour passed, then another.

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From the gates there’s still usually a several hour long line. So if it’s every beyond this point I say come back later.

I’d brought Sailor Moon sticker nails so I’d be festive for the sailor moon show. We had so much time with no end in sight so I started doing my nails in line.

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I found sailor moon (Luna) sticker nails at LoHB in Korea.

We finally reached the castle and I came up to a conundrum. I had to go to the bathroom. I’d waited in line for no less than 3 hours and finally reached the lockers for the ride. I flagged down a staff member (there’d been none prior to this) and learned what you do. You tell them and they give you a little piece of paper and lead you out of the line/ride with directions to the nearest bathroom and then you come back in through the exit, hand the paper over to whoever is there to ask why you’re skipping the line (or in my case why I didn’t have a little brochure as to how to use the lockers). I tried looking for my friends, realized they must have gone ahead and so just went on the ride by myself then waited for them in the gift shop. Turns out their wifi egg died so they’d gone ahead and ridden then waited outside the gift shop for me. The true kicker that really hurt after the whole ordeal was upon exciting the ride, the ridiculous line I’d waited 3 hours in was gone. Just completely gone. If we’d just come by later it would’ve been so much faster.

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But we were exhausted. Standing in the sun in line for 3 hours had zapped us of any energy we’d had. The Sailor Moon show I wanted to see was over, the last showing having happened a couple hours before and they had no energy to do anything other than get in line at the three broomsticks for some ice cream and water. Fun fact, if you want a butterbeer or beer you can go in the other entrance for the pub but they won’t let you sit. It’s only drinks to go.

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So, we got some ice cream, I got butterbeer, and we drank water, then we left, and did a little bit of shopping on the way out. Mostly for snacks that we were afraid would melt if we’d bought them earlier.

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I bought some souvenirs at the Sailor Moon shop then tried to get some Sailor Moon snacks and then that was it.

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strawberry smoothie soft serve?

I’d reached a second wind but I was alone in that. I thought if we tried to get snacks at the restaurant selling Sailor Moon snacks then they could recover but it was so awfully hot that there were no tables left and no one was moving. Most groups had finished their food and drinks, staff had come and whisked away their trash but they weren’t moving. Lots of heads were down on tables with a look of being overheated and passed out. So we threw in the towel, grabbed a cab and headed back to our hotel to buy a convenience store dinner and go to bed.

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design of sailor moon shop

Lessons learned: Always check how long the line is. Over 2 hours is usually too much to wait. If Harry Potter or something with a timed entrance suddenly doesn’t have a timed entrance, treat it with extreme caution. If it looks crowded go back later. Always check show times. Especially for places like USJ where multiple shows share the same theater or space, this means that a show you want to see could be over before 1pm. Those sorts of timed things should be put at the front of your to-do list, because the rides and food should still be there. Popcorn boxes are super cute and you end up with a hands free popcorn container for the whole day but the popcorn goes stale surprisingly quick.

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Another thing that bummed me out was that I belatedly realized that the hats I kept seeing people wearing that looked like they were from One Piece, actually were in fact from One Piece. And the park was having a summer water gun fight with a pirate One Piece theme. It was also on the other end of the park/ over by the time we left the castle.

What really sucked was, while I’ve been to USJ before I know it can be better, the friends I was with, this was their first time there. And for one, her first time at a big park beyond something like six flags. She even commented that it seemed like a tricky way for them to lure people in for a large chunk of money only to get you to do some shopping and ride one ride. I hope some day she can get a chance to go back and have a better experience. But not in summer, let’s not do that again.

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