This article is our ranking of Universal Studios Hollywood Rides from our favorite to least favorite. Please be sure to read our general visitors guide for detailed park information. The focus here is on the actual rides.
It is worth noting that many Universal Studio attractions are “dark” rides that can be terrifying for children. When our kids were younger we took advantage of the child swap feature where one parent waits in a room with the kids while the other parent rides. The parents then switch so they both get to ride.
1. The Studio Tour
The Studio Tour is how Universal Studios started as a themepark and remains our number one thing to do at Universal. This is an hour-long tram ride that consists of multiple attractions. These attractions can vary based on what is being filmed on the lot. Universal Studios remains an active movie set and there is almost always something going on. On our last trip the active filming meant we missed the Earthquake, Jaws, Desperate Housewives and Courthouse Square.
Trams can hold about 200 people and depart every 5 minutes. In other words, the line moves fast. Nevertheless, we recommend doing the tour early in the day as we find wait times stretch past one hour in the afternoon. The ride starts in the upper lot but the bulk of the tour is through the lower lot.
Jimmy Fallon is the narrator and as you descend down the hill you will see posters of famous movies filmed at Universal while clips show on the monitors within each tram. At the bottom of the hill you will see the many sound stages that dot the Studio grounds. Many TV shows film here on a regular basis and you never know what movie might be filming. As you drive by the bungalows look for parking spaces reserved for names you might recognize. Robert Zemeckis, director of films like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, has a very notable parking space.
Sites you may see on the tour include Courthouse Square where countless small town scenes have been filmed. Most notable is the clock tower from Back to the Future. You will also see areas designed to look like New York (or other major US cities), Europe, Mexico, and the Wild West. As you drive through the monitor will show clips from movies filmed in those locations. In the Mexican town you will get to experience a flash flood that was used in the movie Big Fat Liar with Paul Giamatti and Frankie Muniz.
Later in the tour you are likely to drive by Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, Whoville from The Cat in the Hat and the Bates Motel and house from Psycho. Often an actor portraying Norman Bates will be hanging around with a menacing look and knife in hand. There is also a drive through of scenes from Jurassic Park, with water squirting dinosaurs and famous cars and vehicles from movies like Back to the Future and the Flintstones. One of the most impressive sites is an actual 747 they tore up to look like a plane crash for the Steven Spielberg movie War of the Worlds.
The Studio Tour is constantly changing. My first tour was in 1976 and at the time the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man with guest star Farrah Fawcett Majors was filming (at the time she was married to series star Lee Majors). This was incredibly exciting for a kid but even more enticing was the main new attraction, having the shark from Jaws attack the tram (Jaws released in 1975). Jaws is still around but somewhat tame compared to the “dark” attractions on the tour.
The newer dark attractions can be considered “rides” in and of themselves. Basically they all involve the tram driving into a dark sound stage, where it stops and the show begins. The oldest attraction is Earthquake which takes place in a replica of a San Francisco subway station. The simulation shakes the tram and there are explosions, a flood and lots of stuff that has the potential to scare little kids.
The other two experiences are 3-D based and shown on movie screens. Riders get 3-D glasses at the start of the tour and they are told to put them on as the tram enters the sound stage. King Kong 360 3-D involves a potentially terrifying fight between King Kong and dinosaurs that occurs on both sides of the tram. It is quite impressive as the tram shakes and riders get splashed by water, wind and other special effects. King Kong director Peter Jackson helped film this attraction which uses 16 digital projectors and runs at 60 frames per second (versus the usual 24).
The newest attraction, opened in 2015, is Fast and Furious: Supercharged. This attraction has a whole back story about a notorious criminal on the loose in the Universal lot. The FBI directs you inside the soundstage to “hide” from the criminal. In the soundstage there are several scenes that setup the main action, a chase through downtown LA. This is a fast paced simulation of a high-speed chase with action going on both sides of the tram. There is no way you can take it all in and the feeling of speed and movement is very impressive. Like King Kong and many other Universal attractions you will notice new things on repeat visits.
Fast and Furious is at the end of the hour long tour and at this point you are dropped back where you started. For us usually when the tour is over it is about lunch time. Right next to the tour exit is Harry Potter and the Simpson’s Springfield areas which have plenty of eating places. Our favorite is the Three Broomsticks.
2. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
The flagship ride of Universal Studios, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey opened in 2016. We rode this ride at Island of Adventures in Orlando back in 2011 and as far as we can tell they are identical. Being new, this ride is extremely popular and waits can often stretch to two hours or more. The queue line is massive, but the ride can hold a lot of people and by our calculations has slightly more capacity than the Studio Tour. Note if you buy tickets online you can get in an hour early just to ride this. We have never tried this, but found that by the time the park officially opens lines are already an hour plus. By going during the off-season and waiting until the afternoon we find we can usually get the wait time down to 15 minutes.
Another thing to note is that if you don’t have a backpack, purse or other item you can skip fairly far ahead in the line. Single riders also get a big jump in line. Once you are in Hogwarts castle, where the actual ride is located, there are quite a few things to see, especially if you are a Harry Potter fan. Once you get to the Griffin statute we find it is about a 10 minute wait.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is like most of Universal’s attractions, a “dark” ride. A dark ride is basically where you sit in some type of vehicle and are subjected to all kinds of sensory images and effects. These rides mostly take place indoors, hence the term dark. In this case the vehicle is basically a bench/sofa car that seats 4 people. You load from a moving conveyor belt, much like the Haunted House at Disneyland.
The benches are each mounted to a Kuka 6-axis robotic arm that can lift you up, down, and twist you around. There is one of these rides at Legoland in Carlsbad, CA that can be programmed to be from mild to intense. For Harry Potter, the movement is on the mild side but the arm is mounted to a moving track that takes you through a series of scenes from the Harry Potter movies. The ride is over 4 minutes and includes all kinds of visuals from the movies, including attacks by Dragons, spiders, Voldemart and others as well as soaring over Hogwarts and competing in Quidditch tournaments. There probably is a storyline to the ride but we couldn’t follow it.
Overall Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an awesome experience. Whether we would wait much over an hour is a different story. Once again, we stress that you can save a bunch of time by not carrying anything on the ride and thus avoiding having to use the lockers. In our case we saved 20 minutes off the official wait time. We have also used the single rider strategy to basically walk right on.
3. Transformers: The Ride 3D
Our family really has no experience with the Transformers franchise. Nevertheless, this ride is one of the must attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood. The Transformers is a dark motion simulator ride similar to the Spiderman attraction at Islands of Adventure in Orlando. You wear 3-D glasses and the action is presented on screens as your vehicle travels indoors through the building that houses the ride.
The vehicle is a car that seats a total of 12 people in 3 rows. It travels on a track with movement and visuals designed to simulate a high-speed race through the streets of Chicago. There is a back story but we couldn’t follow it. Basically, it involves a bunch of robots fighting to save and/or destroy the city. As a viewer you have the sensation of racing through the streets, crashing through skyscrapers and all kinds of assorted loud and fast mayhem.
4. The Simpsons Ride
The Simpsons is yet another dark motion simulator ride projected on a massive screen. There is no need for 3-D glasses and in this case we could actually understand the story. The ride takes place in the fictional themepark Krustyland, after it has been hijacked by Sideshow Bob who is intent on destroying both the park and the Simpsons. This used to be the Back to the Future Ride.
The Simpsons Ride has 24 different vehicles and screens but not all of them are necessarily in use at any given time. We have been there where only 6 vehicles were in operation, resulting in long wait times. Each vehicle holds 8 people. If you have a choice try and sit in the front four seats for a better experience. We like to ride this early before lines get too long.
During the queue line for the ride you are treated to clips of old Simpsons show. It is a fun show/carnival feel designed to be set inside the Krustyland theme park. Right before you board Sideshow Bob takes control of the park. The Simpsons are sent into save the day and they pick you to go along with them. There is a waiting room for 8 people where they give you instructions and continue the storyline.
Once you board your vehicle, it lifts up to the actual movie screen. The vehicle doesn’t go anywhere but twists and turns to give the simulation of motion, including riding a rollercoaster. This is another 4 minute plus ride and there is a great deal going on. Every time we ride this we see something different. A highlight is getting swallowed by a giant baby Maggie who proceeds to squirt you with water, ie spit.
Overall this ride is great fun for almost everyone, even those that are not Simpsons fans. For younger children this, along with Despicable Me, is one of the milder dark attractions. Our daughter loved this at the age of 7. Our son who has more trouble with dark rides in general (he is fine with intense roller coasters) was 9 before he got into it.
5. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
The Despicable Me attraction is very similar in style to the Simpsons Ride. A key difference is the action is all on one large screen in a room that seats about 100 people at a time. Unlike the Simpsons you use 3-D glasses. Which ride you like best may depend on your fondness for the underlying franchise.
There are two pre-ride rooms that start to set the stage for the story. It really helps if you are a fan of the film, but it is mainly designed as a way to pass time, give instructions and assign people to rows for the actual experience. Once you enter you follow your row to the end and take your seat in a vehicle that seats 4 people.
The basic story is that the audience is being turned into Minions and all the turmoil that involves. There is something about a birthday gift but mainly this is just an excuse for all kinds of fast paced action that give the illusions of flying, dropping and general mayhem. Overall if you like the Simpsons you will probably like Despicable Me and vice versa.
Just note that this ride dumps you into Super Silly Fun Land, a kid’s play ground with water features that can get you soaked. Based on experience we would recommend not doing this until towards the end of the day, unless you don’t mind walking around with a bunch of soaked kids.
6. Jurassic Park – The Ride
This ride is the longest running attraction at Universal, beside the Studio Tour. It is basically a flume boat ride with a big drop at the end. The 84 feet plunge was the highest water ride drop ever when it opened in 1996. Like many of Universal rides it is a significant experience, the ride is about 5 minutes long with the drop as the grand climax.
Much of the ride is like Disney’s Jungle Cruise, except with dinosaurs. The dinosaurs start out peaceful but become more menacing. The climax has you escaping from a T-Rex and plunging down to escape. Of course, there will be a splash and you may get wet. Rumor has it that on hotter days, Universal cranks up the level of the splash.
7. Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride
This ride is basically an indoor roller coaster. As roller coasters go it is fairly tame, the main scare comes from the mummy theme. This ride opened in 2004, replacing the E.T. attraction.
The ride takes place inside what is themed as a very spooky pyramid filled with all kinds of mummies and other creatures. The coaster starts off slow but all of the sudden accelerates to 45 MPH. You shoot forward through darkness, stop than shoot backwards.
It is a lot of fun but we only go on this if the line is short. For kids this is often too scary, but they generally find that out in the mummy themed waiting line. We have had success using the single rider line and this is also a great attraction for child swap.
8. Walking Dead Attraction
This is a walkthrough attraction based on the zombie TV show. Often the lines are short and you can walk right in. It is not recommended for kids under 13 and seems best suited for teenagers and young adults. For fans of the TV show this is probably a must do, but anyone that likes Halloween horror attractions should be into this. Like other haunted attractions it involves actors, gore, lots of noise and animatronics designed to make people scream. It is loud and for us the scariest part was the teenage girls in front of us that were screaming at the top of their lungs.
9. Flight of the Hippogriff
This is a very basic rollercoaster designed for a younger audience. Loading times can be painfully slow and this is a short tame ride. If you have young children they may insist on this, especially since Universal attractions can be pretty scary. We go on it only if the line is under 15 minutes.
There are lots of things to do at Universal beside the main attractions. For more general information check out our overall guide to Universal Studios.
The WaterWorld show is a very exciting spectacle that runs several times each day. It is worth checking out. The movie was a flop but this attraction is so successful it has remained for over 20 years. The brand new Special Effects show is also very entertaining. They pick people from the audience to actually get involved and even perform stunts. The Animal Actors show we admit we haven’t been to in awhile. Simply too many other things to do.
If you are in the LA area for three days or more you should definitely consider a Go City Card pass.
A 3, 5 or 7-day pass gets you into multiple attractions including Universal Studios. This also includes some attractions in the San Diego area such as Legoland and the San Diego Zoo.
Note, if you are only staying for a day or two, Go City Card gives you the option to buy 2 or more attractions and gives you a discount of 20%.