When I was young, amusement park is the seasonal peryahan that suddenly sprouts somewhere in our neighborhood. Thrill ride is the soul-ripping Ferris wheel; worse than a roller coaster for its continuous cycle of dropsies. Souvenir is a teddy bear, if you were ever successful popping balloons with a dart, or shooting rings on empty soda bottles. Gamble is throwing coins on a board emblazoned with numbers, hoping it would stay within the square to win. Cheap, temporary, colorful and unglamorous; that’s how the Filipino carnival is. But to me and the people of my generation, it instigated one of our earliest memories of fascination and wonder, easily experienced in youth and rarely felt in adulthood. So rare I could no longer remember the last time I’d been blown away, until I stepped foot at Universal Studios Japan. A place so magical I bade adulthood adieu; at least for one whole day.
Because our trip to USJ is so epic, I decided to write this in 3 parts. Let us begin with the 3 attractions that will surely make your heart stop.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
I liked Harry Potter, but not enough to turn me into a fanatic. Blasphemy! is what a true-blue HP fan would say. And before I get rebuked for this, a little clarification: I’ve seen all Harry Potter films, I loved them all. But there are definitely better HP fans than me. There are Potterheads who have watched and re-watched HP movies, read and re-read the entire book series, knew every line by heart, and maybe, gathered every HP collectibles they could find. I loved Harry Potter, I was just too lazy to pursue an obsession.
Given this status, you’d think I’d be just cool about going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; I wasn’t. If it weren’t for my resting bitch face, my companions would have been scandalized by the Marjorie that was screaming and jumping inside her head for all the excitement she could barely contain upon stepping foot on this part of USJ. I think my excitement was on a rabid level, couldn’t count the times I said “wow,” couldn’t keep up with our guide because I wanted to stop at every corner (I even lost my companions for like 5 minutes), and couldn’t stop myself from documenting everything on my phone.
I don’t think my words would suffice to give justice to the experience, but let me try. The first thing that we saw was the Stone Circle or the Sundial Garden. Like I said, I am not a fanatic, so I failed to remember what these Stonehenge-ish rocks were for.
Past the stone circle is the long path inside the forest where somewhere along the way we saw people taking turns for a photo-op with a blue car. Again, I didn’t remember what this car is, and when I asked, somebody from my group said, “Herbie.” And I was there thinking, “Herbie is in Harry Potter?” It was only when I went home and googled things that I remembered what these installations are. The Stone Circle can be found inside the grounds of Hogwarts, while the car is the Ford Anglia, driven by the Weasley brothers to rescue Harry from the house of the Dursleys.
Through the forests, the iconic theme music of Harry Potter can be heard. That music helped build up the excitement. I tell you, it made me feel like I was one of the would-be wizards being summoned to Hogwarts.
We reached the end of the trail, to the imposing view of the Hogsmeade Gate; this is it, we entered the magical world of Harry Potter. The path is lined by shops, up ahead is the view of the Hogwarts castle, on the right, close to the entrance is the Hogwarts Express. It was a sensory explosion of Rowling’s fictional world that could impress anyone, Harry Potter fans or not.
For the first taste of wizardry, stop by the Hogwarts Express and learn how to open the trunks with a magic wand and a little bit of cistem aperio.
There are so many things to do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; you can eat at The Broomsticks, try the butterbeer drink that everyone was lining up for, take the two-minute Flight of the Hippogriff ride, watch street entertainment that is the reenactment of some Harry Potter scenes by some USJ actors, and shop for sweets, toys, wizard-wear, stamps and stationery, and magical supplies.
But the real highlight of this Wizarding World, and this I suggest you do before anything else because the queue can be crazy long, is to take the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a state-of-the-art 4K technology ride. The ride is inside the Hogwarts Castle where you can see the moving portraits, the Sorting Hat, and Dumbledore’s office. Lucky us, we had the media pass so we didn’t have to fall in long lines in any of the USJ attractions including this.
The ride begins on a train platform. Unbeknownst to my companions, I was paralyzed with fear, but it was more out of anticipation and not knowing exactly what the ride is going to be. We were each given a pair of 3D glasses. Then the train started moving and before we knew it, we were already getting tossed in dramatic aerobatic inside this big dark room. It’s a reenactment of Quidditch, a competitive sport played up in the air with the use of flying broomsticks.
It felt so real, the sudden drops had me gripping on my seat. For the first few seconds it was scary, but once I’ve settled myself into the ride, I began to genuinely enjoy it. Soon, I was screaming in delight like everyone else, whooping and swooshing in the air. I was so happy, I overused the wows and the awesomes. So whatever you do, thou shall never miss this ride when you visit USJ.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is another simulation ride that is popular to the park visitors. It is powered by a series of special effects, such as fogs, strobes, water, wild turns, and rapid falls. We rode a car that represents the Scoop or that vehicle of the Daily Bugle. Again, we wore 3D glasses and this time, we followed Spiderman as he fought the members of the Sinister Syndicate, such as Scream, the Hobgoblin, Electro, Hydro-Man, and Doctor Octopus.
This ride felt more realistic to me than Harry Potter. When the Spidey villains threw us something, I moved to dodge their blows despite knowing it’s just a 3D simulation. Also, when Doctor Octopus came on, he literally sprays us with water.
Jurassic Park The Flying Dinosaur
To the brave, there is the Jurassic Park The Flying Dinosaur, the biggest roller-coaster in the park. I didn’t go (yes, I chickened out!), but some of the bloggers went for it and they loved it. This roller-coaster has 360 turns in the air, sharp rises, and sudden drops. It runs at great speeds that will surely satisfy the adventurer in you.
USJ Fast Facts
Universal Studios Japan or USJ as known by the locals, was established in 2001. It occupies over 108 acres of area in Sakurajima, Konohana Ward in the Osaka Prefecture of Japan. USJ’s monthly visitors is over 600, 000. There are also many attractions it’s impossible to see it all in a day.
Regular ticket goes for USD 71 (PHP 3422.17). But if you want a skip-the-line access, get the Express Pass; rate starts at USD 63 (PHP 3036.57).
USJ’s Halloween special started on September 9 and ends on November 6, 2016. You still have one month to enjoy this Halloween treat. So book a flight now to Osaka via Cebu Pacific, the largest airline in the Philippines. Cebu Pacific flies between Manila and Osaka five times weekly, with lowest year-round fares starting from PHP 6,399. Cebu Pacific also flies from Manila to Tokyo (Narita), Nagoya and Fukuoka, as well as from Cebu to Tokyo (Narita). Book its trademark lowest fares now through CEBsakaflights or (+632)7020888, or follow its Facebook or Twitter pages for the latest seat sales.
Disclaimer: This Osaka fam trip was courtesy of Cebu Pacific. Photos were provided by USJ. Review and opinions are my own.