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How to Tackle Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood With Kids and More

by Neal Ronaghan - January 30, 2024, 9:31 am EST
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The Mushroom Kingdom brought to life, if life involved mobs of people at every turn.

I recently made the trip to California to go to Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood. I was prepared for crowds and obsessively researched the best tactics to make sure the trip for me, my wife, and our two kids (age 2 and 5) had the best time. Even with preparation, I wasn’t totally prepared for the magnitude of people crammed into a small area. I figured I’d impart some of my learned wisdom to anyone curious about Super Nintendo World in California, as well as sharing some weird quirks I came across.

Avoid Holidays and Weekends If You Can

I went on Thursday November 9 and Friday November 10. It was the way my trip overall worked out, but if I could turn back time, I’d avoid that Friday like the plague. That was the observed holiday for Veteran’s Day, so it was likely a busier than usual Friday in November to begin with. In comparison, Thursday was downright heavenly, even if it still was a little bit crowded. You might be in a spot like me where your trip might necessitate a holiday or a weekend. If that’s the case and you have limited options, consider splurging on either/or the Universal Express pass that gets you on a shorter line for every ride once (except Mario Kart) or the Super Nintendo World Early Access ticket that lets you get into just the Nintendo area an hour before the official park opening. It’s pricey, but on busy days you might risk not being able to do much of anything. On a Friday in November, the Mario Kart had waits of up to three hours, and overall there were long stretches where no ride at the park had less than a 30-minute wait.

Yoshi’s Island Had More Representation Than Expected

The first area of the lengthy queue for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge has a lot of Yoshi’s Island pastels, complete with Yoshi popping up on a screen while you wait. It was adorable and somewhat unexpected. I was prepared for the Bowser’s Castle elements, packed with a lot of finer details referencing the Koopalings, but Yoshi’s Island getting some love was a surprise.

Get The Super Nintendo World Early Access

Just do it. It might be $20-30 per ticket, but if you’re going to Super Nintendo World in the near future, just do it. Get there early. Be ready to wait on a variety of lines. It will be worth it. My math that led me to have an extremely good morning.

The night before, we bought Power Bands at the Super Nintendo World store in Universal CityWalk (you have to pay for parking but it’s otherwise free to access). That allowed us to easily set up the Power Bands within the Universal Studios mobile app without a time crunch. If your trip does not permit you to swing by the night before, you do have opportunities to buy Power Bands while waiting in the morning or right as you access Super Nintendo World.

The day we were there, the early access began at 9 a.m. We arrived to park around 7:30 a.m. We parked in General Parking, which necessitated walking through CityWalk. If you’re running late or want to minimize walking, use Preferred or Front Gate Parking (both at an added cost). We got through security around 8 a.m. and waited in line at the front gate until a little after 8:30 a.m., where they let us in to then go wait inside of the park at another rope. After that, they led us down the four escalators (!!!) to the Lower Lot of the theme park, where they scanned our Early Access tickets. From there, it was the slow march into Super Nintendo World. It’s worth noting you can’t bring a stroller into Super Nintendo World, but there is the equivalent of a stroller parking lot outside of it.

While walking inside, there is a QR code to scan to get into the booking system for the Toadstool Cafe. It goes live when the park opens and if you want to eat in the cafe, you need to book ASAP. When I was there, it was fully booked shortly after the general park opening. Keep in mind that even after you get a time slot, you still have to wait in line to order. Lines, lines, lines.

Going With Kids? Take Advantage of Child Swap and Single Rider Lines

My 5-year-old could basically go on any ride (except Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Return of the Mummy) but my 2-year-old was just shy of being able to hit the coveted 40” height minimum for 80% of the rides. Universal Studios Hollywood offers Child Swap for every ride, whether your kid is too small or just scared. Most rides function like this: you all wait in the line together and at a certain point before boarding, the non-rider and a companion go to a separate area (either a specific room or the end of the ride) and are given a slip that essentially operates like a Universal Express pass for a rider and a guest. In an ideal world, my 2-year-old would have been tall enough to do everything, but this actually worked out great. My 5-year-old was able to ride Mario Kart and Jurassic World twice that way. With Mario Kart, we went there first thing during the early access period and basically walked on. And then my wife went with him a few hours later (and waited about 30 minutes even with the pass). For Jurassic World, we did it back-to-back, waiting only a few minutes in between.

Single-rider lines were very helpful for my wife and I both quickly riding the Harry Potter ride, but we were thwarted because the single rider line was closed for Return of the Mummy midday on Friday. There was no clear way this was signposted unless you were right in front of the ride, which was frustrating.

Super Nintendo World Technically Has One Ride But The Power Band Challenges Add A Lot

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is the showcase in Super Nintendo World, being the first place people rush into while also being a fascinating augmented reality dark ride experience. In Universal Studios Hollywood, it is the only ride, but there is much more to do, as long as you have one of the $40 Power Bands.

Yes, it’s another added cost, but if you’re going to Super Nintendo World, you’re not getting the full experience unless you have one of these wristbands. There are five primary games in Super Nintendo World where you need a Power Band. Three of them are visible out in the courtyard. There’s the Goomba crank, where you need to rapidly turn a crank to make a Goomba fall down. A Koopa Troopa one where you need to time hitting a POW Block to knock a shell into a block. My favorite of these three is the sleeping Piranha Plant one where you have to play a frantic game of whack-a-mole to not piss off a Piranha Plant. Nestled inside a cave is a Thwomp challenge where you have to frantically flip the colors of blocks in a time limit. Other ways to earn keys include finding a secret area in the park and hitting every block and finding all the 8-bit characters.

Earning three keys with any member of your party will let you challenge Bowser Jr. This is truly the most video game thing in the park where your silhouette is shown on a big screen (with up to 12 people total). You have to duck under Bullet Bills, swat away Bob-Ombs, and comically jump up to get power-ups. It’s a crazy amount of fun, even when your 2-year-old wanders over to you mid-game and you have to hold him as you duck, swat, and jump. My 5-year-old’s favorite thing in Super Nintendo World was the Bowser Jr. fight. It’s a good time.

Secret Upstairs Area Can Be An Oasis

So I mentioned the secret area and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this because that secret area wound up being a beautiful place in the shade that was chill to hang out during the peak of the day. My recommendation is keep an eye out for stairs. The stairs might take you to a magical place with more blocks to hit and nice views.

Aside from giving you a nice high-ground look at the whole park, this secret area also has a viewfinder that lets you look out at the grounds with some neat little AR additions. At first, I thought it was just a cool little touch, but I realized that it actually factored into all the fun Power Band stuff. The viewfinder assumes you have your Power Band on your wrist, so it automatically tracks that you’re engaging with it. In addition, there are different sparkles that randomly (I think) pop up on the screen. Zoom in on those and you can find secret views, such as Rosalina’s Observatory. This all ties into the 100+ stamps you can find by completing a variety of tasks and goals within the Super Nintendo World section of the Universal Studios Hollywood mobile app. It’s wild how much this helps to encourage repeat visitation and further exploration. I hope some amount of this also carries over to Universal Studios Florida and other Super Nintendo World locations, though my early guess is it might not (I don’t believe it does for Japan and Hollywood).

All in all, Super Nintendo World is incredible, though the current size of the area and the layout of Universal Studios Hollywood can make traversing the world a crowded pain. I do not expect to make the cross-country trip to go to Universal Studios again, especially when Super Nintendo World is slated to come to Orlando in 2025 with a bigger footprint and more room for expansion. When the park isn’t overcrowded, the hype is indeed very real. It blows my mind how cool this place is and I look forward to seeing how it develops and expands over the next decade.


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