Thursday, June 20, 2019

Japan Travelogue Day 9: Universal Studio Japan!

At the rate i'm doing my Japan travelogue, i probably can't make it in time to finish before my Sydney trip in August. Lemme try to catch up as much as i can before everything piles up (even further. Gosh, i have yet to write about my Korea trip too! *face palm*)

Universal Studios Japan has been on my must go list ever since Harry Potter world was introduced. Prior to the trip i even went online to source for HP apparels and accessories so that i can dress up as a Hogwarts student during the visit *insert embarrassed emoji* In the end i got myself a Harry potter tee as well as Gryffindor scarf. Really wanted to get the robe as well but i think it will be too much of a hassle when i go on rides and stuff, lol. So glad i thought of getting the stuff online instead of at USJ because everything is so expensive there (and i'm probably just gonna wear everything once.)
I have read so many so articles and blog posts on how to prep myself prior to the visit to USJ. Like how you need to arrive really early and wait for the gates to open, which route to run to get timed tickets for Harry Potter world (at the same time ignoring everyone else along the way) so in the end i decided that since it's my first time there, I SHALL GET THE EXPRESS PASS. I wouldn't want to miss a thing or any ride so i told myself since i already saved on the JR pass (refer to previous pass) i shall spend on this theme park that i've always wanted to visit. Little did i know that ticketing for USJ works differently from USS.

*Cue drama music*

In Singapore, you just have to pay for your entry ticket + express pass which gives you access to all rides for one time but for USJ, the cost of your express pass is subjected to #1: the number of rides you wish to go for. #2: the season that you will be going (Regular, peak or high peak) and there are a lot of different combinations for your express pass. Let me use mine as an example. I got my tickets from KKday prior to the trip which allows me to skip the queue and enter the park with a QR code.  Admission is SGD94 and i chose the Express 4 pass (regular season thank god) which gives me access to 4 rides (which includes Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) and it cost me a total of SGD222 in total, which means my express pass costed me SGD128 for 4 rides. The queue time for each ride is about 1.5 to 2 hours. Say if i were to get the Express 7 pass, it would have cost me SGD230 (regular season, excluding admission price)

Worst case scenario, high peak. Admission will set you back at SGD103 and express 7 pass will cost you a whopping SGD285. Total damage: SGD388 (i think you would rather queue, lol) Do plan your trip to USJ properly. I would say the express 4 pass is pretty worth it and helped saved quite a lot of time. I managed to go on all the rides in the park and i'm not sure if i would be able to if i didn't get the express pass... 
Try and go as early as you can. I read online that the opening timings are subjective and not according to what is stated on their website, lol. By being there early, you might actually be the first few to go on the ride. JUST RUN FOR ANY RIDE because all of the rides are popular. I just went for a random ride and it ended up being the Hollywood dream: Backdrop... which is the roller coaster that rides in the reverse direction *facepalm* So much for a first ride early in the morning.
I know going to a theme park is all about queuing, exploring the place and enjoying the rides but i think for USJ, as crazy as it sounds, i think it's good to read up prior on what rides they have, have a list prioritising which ride to go first and plan your time properly because it's that serious. HAHAHHAA
I'm not going to go into the details on each rides but i'll just be sharing on my experience at 2 parts of the park - The minion park as well as Harry Potter world. But trust me, all the rides are worth going. Flying dinosaur was amazing, i queued 2 hours for it but it's worth it. JAWS is an all time favourite, Spiderman was awesome. Just skip the sesame street world or something, especially those kiddy rides. Time waster.
Minion park was such happy (and insanely crowded) place!
Just had to queue up to get one of these expensive ice cream macarons because it's minion design. LOL
Bought both the popcorn bucket available. One halloween theme (left) and the one with the teddy bear (right) I don't even want to recall how expensive these things were. But it's really quite cute lah. LOL
Game stalls to try win huge minion plush! (thankfully we didn't play cos we already spent so much in the park) The popular "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" ride was included in our express 4 pass so we managed to skip the queue for this fun ride! In case you are wondering what were the other 2 rides which was included in our express pass, we had a choice to choose between JAWS or Terminator (chose JAWS) and Spider-Man or Hollywood Dream (chose Spiderman) Probably skipped >5 hours of queuing.
Look at the amount of Japanese dressed up as minions! So cute omg. So apparently i heard that the locals usually get the annual pass so they can visit the park anytime. (I honestly would too if i'm a local) Sometimes not even for the rides but just to spend time together as a family or picnic with friends, which kinda explains the dressing up. "Hogwarts students" were also everywhere and the period i went was also halloween so there were locals dressing up as witches, zombies etc as well. So much effort and very cool!
The route into the Harry Potter world was incredible for a potterhead like me. The rows of trees and the soundtrack playing at the background, not trying to exaggerate but i could literally feel tears swelling up because the feeling is just so... magical. To be able to experience in real life what you have always been reading and watching half your life, it's probably something that only true potter heads can understand. 
Everything is done up in great detail. From the moment you step into the Harry Potter world through the forest, seeing the crashed Ford Anglia along the way and entering Hogsmeade and finally seeing the castle right in front of your eyes. The feeling is indescribable. The only downside is that the main ride is in Japanese so i have no idea what the characters were saying but nevertheless the ride was still awesome! 
I just had to order the chilled butterbeer in a special mug (which i have to pay so much more and bring it to the toilet to wash it) Now it's just resting at one corner in my room collecting dust, lol. The butterbeer tasted like... a sweeter version of root beer? I brought the mug all the way to the front of the castle to get the ultimate shot. Might as well right since i already paid so much for the mug. Must make it worth it! LOL
They also have the infamous Honeydukes, Ollivanders (which i missed, dammit) and even dine at places such as Three Broomsticks and Hog's head! Oh ya, i also did the castle walk and i was screaming inside because everything is happening in real life!!! I can't wait to visit Harry Potter studio in London!!!
Everything inside the merchandise store is so expensive. The scarf itself is like 4,800 Yen (60 bucks! omg) and the robe cost 14,000 yen ($176?!?!) I really salute those who bought their HP wear from the store. My fake gryffindor scarf only cost like $12 from Ezbuy? Anyway i decided that since i'm already there... i might try on the whole set and take some photos. HAHHAHA Ok lah, the quality of the stuff are so much better.
Just before we left USJ, i requested to visit Harry Potter world one last time because i wanted to see how it looks like at night. (I didn't want to leave with regard, lol) so we went back and it was practically empty? Could take so many nice shots like the one above without any humans. They also have the "Expecto Patronum Night Show" at the castle which we missed also, i can't remember why... Oh wells :(

*opens YouTube to watch the show. LOL*

Dinner was at some random ramen stall. This post pretty much sums up my experience at Universal Studio Japan! It was crazy fun and i would definitely come back again if the opportunity arises. Unknowingly, it's been 1.5 years since my visit to Japan and i really miss the place. So many good memories...

I'll be back,                             




Friday, April 19, 2019

Japan Travelogue Day 8: Getting to Osaka (without JR pass), Kaiyukan Aquarium and Tempozan Ferris Wheel!

It's time to move on to the second part of this Japan travelogue. For the next couple of posts, i will be covering on Osaka and Kyoto! But before i go on, let me just share on the planning process for this transit from Tokyo to Osaka. The easiest and the most convenient way to travel from between Tokyo and Osaka (or anywhere else in the region as a matter of fact) would be to get the popular Japan Rail (JR) pass.

There are a lot of different JR passes available and it can get really confusing but it really depends on the regions you want to visit to decide which is the most suitable pass to get. The most popular pass would be the all-in JR pass which cost SGD$358 for 7 days validity, SGD571 for 14 days validity and SGD$731 for 21 days validity. My first thought was - Gosh, the airfare and accommodation is already quite a sum and now i have to pay a few more hundred dollars to travel around? How much is this trip going to cost??

Me being me, i decided to research intensively and read articles after articles online, using the JR calculators available online and found out that the expensive JR pass would be worth it IF ONLY you are traveling to and fro Tokyo - Osaka because the 2 way trip cost would have amounted to almost the cost of the 7 day JR pass. Most people would fly in and out of Tokyo via Narita or Haneda airport so getting the JR pass will make sense. BUT if you book a multi-city trip like me meaning - flying into Narita and out from Osaka, you then only need to buy a one way train ticket!

*Did a quick search on Singapore Airlines and it cost SGD$808 to fly in and out of Tokyo and SGD$821 to fly into Tokyo and depart from Osaka. That's only 13 bucks difference.
The next thing now is, how much are you willing to pay for your one way ticket? The fastest would be via the Nozomi train - 2.5 hours at ¥14,450 (SGD$175) or the slower Platt Kodama - 4 hours at ¥10,500 (SGD$127) I chose the latter because for an additional 1.5 hours on the train, i saved SGD$48. If you make the effort to take an early train, the 1.5 hours shouldn't matter much and that $48 that you saved can be used to offset some other things like your meals or attraction tickets. (Not forgetting that you are also just paying $127 instead of the $358 JR pass by getting the multi city air ticket!) So proud of myself. *flicks hair*
It's important to read up on Platt Kodama train as well because there are certain conditions to fulfil and you have to make a trip down to 1 of the 4 JR offices to purchase the train tickets at least one day before use. Oh! Your train ticket also come with a drink voucher which you can exchange at the train station. Cheap thrill, lol. For more info on Platt Kodama, here's the official website - https://www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama/english/

*I'm not sponsored by JR or any entities for the information above.
The lovely AirBnB that we stayed for the entire week in Osaka.
The owners were very friendly and we communicated via line to send us directions and weather information even before we arrived in Japan. Not only that, they waited patiently for us at the apartment and made sure we were comfortable before they left. There were snacks on the table and even a folder full of information on Osaka, attractions and even eateries around the area! On the last day, they offered to hold our luggages at their own place as our flight was at night. So thankful to James and Tammy! :)
First lunch at a restaurant beside our AirBnB - my favourite Katsu with egg! 
Because we took the early Platt Kodama train at 7.30am, we arrived in Osaka at around 1pm which leave us ample time to explore Osaka on our first day! First stop was to visit the famous Kaiyukan Aquarium!
I'm a HUGE fan of zoo and aquarium and i was particularly excited to visit Kaiyukan because they host a couple of WHALE SHARKS. Whales are like spirit animals and it's in my list to see them in real life (preferably in the wild but this will do for now. lol) I was so so so mesmerised by these gigantic creatures. 
But i have to be honest and say that i was a little underwhelmed by their size. I mean i always expected whales to be huge (Well, technically these are sharks but still.) These whale sharks are huge but i expected them to be even bigger. Like the size of a bus or something, lol. Not complaining since i spend at least a good 30 mins alone staring at these majestic creatures swimming round and round in the aquarium.
One day i will visit Cebu and swim with them. Also, i can't wait to go out to the sea to whale watch when i'm in Sydney this coming august! I hope i see something amazing!!! *cross fingers* Please please please.
Bought the admission ticket bundle which comes with a ride on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, one of the world's largest Ferris wheels. The skies was already dark by the time we exited the aquarium. (The skies tend to turn dark really early in Japan) The sight of the Ferris Wheel lightings is just wow. So pretty!
The entire ride is about 15 mins. Enough to take photos and enjoy the amazing view of Osaka.
Would you prefer the day view or the night view from attractions that allow you to see from a height?
We decided to head over to the famous Dōtonbori, the main tourist attraction to get our dinner. Not gonna cover much on this place (yet) because i'm quite sure it will be covered in one of the new few posts. In fact, we didn't walk much because we decided to head back to your AirBnB for an early night because the next day is... highly anticipated UNIVERSAL STUDIO JAPAN!

Right on track,