We park at Universal Studios Hollywood at around 4 PM. It’s a weekday, but not ideal timing. I’m hoping for something as small as a change in entry procedures, the slightest bit of wear and tear. The immediate prognosis is grim. We refresh the Universal Studios app to peek at the virtual line for entry into Super Nintendo World: all the time slots are full. It’s the perfect storm of unprecedented demand (Universal’s words, not mine) and constrained space.
It’s worth noting these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Many, many executives at Universal decided on the structure and space of the park, knowing that to some degree, those choices would impact the underpaid, overworked employees and harried parkgoers. I’m on the lowest possible difficulty setting (childless millennial, season pass, no other commitments that day), and to be frank, it’s still a giant hassle.
Attempt One: Be Our Guest (Services)
First, we figure out our ride passes at Guest Services. Our attendant, Cooper assesses the situation from his swivel monitor. “Yeah, Nintendo World is really and truly booked. We’re even selling out on weekends. Everything’s going great!” He grimaces. “Getting here as soon as the park opens, is probably your best chance of getting in. Although… you could check the kiosks down by the Transformers ride. Some times show up there that aren’t in the app yet.”
A small divider attempts to control the unrestrained fire hose of people swarming back and forth, dividing up foot traffic with a “keep right” sign. (It halfway works! Progress!) We’re in the line for the accessibility studio when an employee named Juan overhears our plans. “Keep refreshing the app throughout the day,” he says. “It doesn’t always work, but you never know!” I dutifully swap back and forth from the app’s homepage as the bus cuts through the studio lot.
Attempts Two and Three: The Corner Kiosk and On Foot
The accessibility shuttle lets us out next to the Jurassic World ride as we weave through families peering at the nearby dinosaur meet-and-greet. The crowd thickens near the Mario themed popcorn stand and the entry line into Super Nintendo World. “Should we look at those Transformers kiosks instead?” I ask. My group nods.
We duck past Starscream playfully heckling children, and hook around the corner to the kiosks, which share real estate with stroller storage. Unfortunately, each of them has an identical screen: Super Nintendo World time slots are full.
Just as we’re losing hope, we meet yet another employee willing to lend us a helping hand: Gaby. “My advice?” Gaby says by the strollers. “Come back at 7 PM. It should clear up by then.” We say thanks and start running Universal plan B: Jurassic World ride, Mummy ride, improvise.
Sure enough, we walk right in after our ride on the Mummy. It’s 6:30 PM, but Mario Mania is still alive and well. We can actually go through the large warp pipe entrance to the gift shop, where I finally get the coveted Bowser Oil sign. Then two of us take a breather on a mushroom bench while our friend waits to do some bracelet challenges—matching items, punching blocks, things of that nature.
I notice a shift from parents to grandparents. A weary granddad waits with an empty stroller. Someday his family will return from the 120-minute wait for the Mario Kart ride. Nearby, a little girl informs an older relative in a Mario hat that no, Bowser’s castle is over THERE. I struggle to keep a neutral facial expression.
Success, But for Who?
Super Nintendo World as brand experiment is an unmitigated success. Families are not “visiting Universal” as much as they are “there to see Mario” (a direct quote from the accessibility shuttle line).
The bracelet challenges are connecting well with the intended target demographics: kids and theme park adults. Yes, cute bear couple with the Princess Peach drawstring bag. I see you. I appreciate you. Thank you for your service. To my relief, there’s a steep drop in Mario and Luigi couple’s costumes. A shirt with Daisy’s face and “MOMMY” in all-caps Super Mario World font made me do a double-take, though.
Time to strategize the return trip. I volunteer for the escalators to make more room on the accessibility shuttle for my group. Will, looking exhausted in a Toadstool Café uniform, boards behind me.
“I’m hanging in there,” he says after I ask how he’s holding up. “This wasn’t even our busiest day.” I wish him the best as we disembark. Soon, we’re driving home, where I can rest in the knowledge that I don’t have to do this again for a while.
As tired as I am, there are countless others—employees, teens, families with small children—that get the brunt of Universal Studios’ haphazard approach to logistics. Every Universal Studios worker I encountered was genuinely apologetic and helpful, despite being at the heart of a theme park sized scheduling nightmare.
After almost a month of this, I guess you have to anticipate the giant Question Block in the room. It’s the usual capitalist gamble: spread resources as thin as possible and hope that it doesn’t hurt the bottom line.