It was always my destiny to visit a video game in real life.
I believed as much when the first incarnation of Super Nintendo World opened at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. This was in the middle of the pandemic, and they were like, we’ll risk it all because IT’S F***ING MARIO.
And I believed it was my destiny when, as I was planning my trip to Japan, I found out they were building one right here in the United States — not only that, but just a quick two-hour flight away.
And I believe it now, having visited for myself and fulfilled the prophecy that was foretold the first time I ever fired up Super Mario Bros. on the NES — that’s right, on the sacred double-game cartridge that came in-box.
The hype is real. The first time you set foot in Super Nintendo World (Hollywood), you truly feel like you’ve stepped into another world. Despite the fact you see it from the escalators as you descend into the lower lot, including where the facade ends, it still feels totally immersive.
As far as your brain is concerned, you have entered the land of Mario and you are actually inside a video game.
Of course, I’m sure that feeling wears off a bit after additional visits, and the reality of fighting through crowds to live out your destiny is there too, but all in all it’s a pretty incredible place.
This is a huge get for Universal Studios Hollywood, which is a lesser park and experience than the Orlando incarnation overall (as is common), and compared to its nearby Disney competitors. My guess is SNW will keep crowds inflated at least through the late fall.
In other words, this part of the park and probably the rest of the park will likely be very busy if you’re visiting Super Nintendo World anytime soon. Here are some of the things I learned, and the stuff I wish I had known, so you can crush your visit like a measly Goomba.
Like I said, Super Nintendo is damn-ass crowded right now. And while it’s pretty open inside, there’s just no escaping crowds — with one potential caveat (more on that later). In fact, most days it becomes so crowded that there’s a virtual queue to even get in. You can sign up on the app while you’re in the park, but they often run out of times (again, more on that later).
As with any good theme park, Universal isn’t missing out on an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of its new land — er, I mean, offering perks for their fans…
You essentially have three options for getting into Super Nintendo World:
- Virtual queue — free
- Early Access — $20 add-on
- Universal Express— $90 or more add-on per ticket
You can also, of course, also get guaranteed entry with a VIP ticket. If you have the extra $$ to spend on that, may I please interest you in sending Classic Nerd some money?
ANYways, the best option here appears to be early access, which gives you entry to SNW starting one hour before the park’s general open time. I, sadly, did not go this route, but I have watched wait times in the app during early entry, and I’ve seen the posts on social media — if you can get up early enough, this is the time to go. You’ll probably only wait 30 minutes or so for Bowser’s Challenge AND have a chance to collect all the things with your powerband, if you bought one. This is probably your one chance to avoid crowds.
I went with the Universal Express ticket, which was a good amount of money but gives you at least one guaranteed entry to Super Nintendo World — even when there’s a virtual queue. In part, I did this because I knew the rest of the park would be super busy, too. We were able to ride literally every ride in the park before the sun was even down, despite the fact other rides were seeing 60- to 120-minute standby times.
Our wait for Bowser’s Challenge was only about 60 minutes, and that was with it breaking down for a bit while we were in line. How’d we pull that off? We got to the park at about 7:40 a.m., about 20 minutes before it officially opened, and got in line near the escalators in the Simpsons area.
There was a decent crowd, but honestly not as many people as I would have thought. We all raced straight to Nintendo World and had no issues. Although, by the time we got out of the ride it was already up to a two-hour wait and the rest of the area was totally packed.
If you don’t have early access, I’d suggest still getting there early and essentially rope-dropping it.
You can also come back as the park nears closing, and it quiets down quite a bit. There was no need for a queue around 8 p.m. or so when I was there.
What is there to do?
What can you actually do once you’re there? SNW isn’t huge, and the Hollywood version has less than in Japan, so you’re a bit limited. But here’s what to expect in terms of activities:
Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge
This is the big-ticket item right here. As of now, it’s the only actual ride in SNW, and it’s a doozy. If you’re visiting Super Nintendo World, this is probably no. 1 on your list. And if it’s not, well, it should be.
Without spoiling anything (plenty of other places to get that should you choose), this is a damn good ride. The experience of the ride itself is right up there with Rise of Resistance — although the queue system needs some work.
Since we were early, we walked through a good amount of the queue. If it hadn’t broken down momentarily, I bet we would have waited no more than 20 minutes. In fact, I felt rushed through a lot of stuff in the queue that seemed super fun to stop and look at for a while.
There are not one but two “pre-shows”, which aren’t really shows at all but just gathering areas so you can collect your goggles and get herded a bit to keep the line from stalling for too long. This resulted in a hurry-up-and-wait situation, where you’d suddenly move 20 places in line, and then stop and wait for 10 or so minutes (at least).
And the queuing areas, while fun, felt very cattle-like. Not like a Haunted Mansion queue that kind of keeps moving, but one that is continually getting hung up. In fairness, much of Universal Hollywood’s ride queues work like this, and it was a very busy day... but the whole system is just not up to par with Disney parks.
Ultimately, what will you get out of Bowser’s Challenge? The feeling that you're inside of the game and actually playing Mario Kart in real life. That’s hard to beat. Despite the less-than-perfect queue system and the breakdown, I was completely transported. It’s an awesome experience.
But it can get up to three hours for standby time right now, AND there's no Universal Express line here. I repeat: this is the only ride without an express line. There is a VIP line, but again, money.
There's also a single-rider line. This is likely a great way to cut down on wait time. The person we rode with said she waited about 35 minutes. Not bad compared to 180. But for our first experience at least, I wanted to do it as a family, and it was totally worth it.
Collect coins, keys, and stamps
The Power-Up band is a shameless ploy to get you to spend even more money at Universal — and you should totally do it.
For $40 you can pick up a character-themed band of your choice, connect it to your Universal app, and start collecting coins and stamps hidden all over Nintendo World. You can also collect up to four keys by completing minigames. If you get at least three keys, you can unlock entry into Bowser’s Castle.
Since there’s not much else to do in this part of the park — which is not to say that standing and gawking for hours isn’t a perfectly reasonable option — the Power-Up band unlocks meaningful exploration and entertainment that truly levels up the overall experience.
When it was busy, the lines for most of the key minigames were long and slow. Again, early access seems to be the way to go here. Or, just settle in for the day and know what you’re getting into. And remember, you have to defeat the minigames — if you don’t, you have to get back in line and retry to be able to collect the keys.
We just bought one Power-Up band for the kid, and that was perfect. We all got to enjoy the experiences (including playing the minigames, which you CAN do without a band, you just won’t get a key), with the youngin’ getting to take the full glory.
A nice bonus is that the Power-Up band also acts as an Amiibo for your Nintendo Switch, unlocking a unique racing costume in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for whichever character’s band you have.
All in all, you can do everything in SNW easily within a day, and probably within a couple of hours with early access.
Tip: You can buy the Power-Up band at the Mario store in CityWalk, which is just outside the park. Buy it the night before you visit if you can — that way you already have it linked and ready to go
Just look around
I’ll be damned, it feels like you’re inside a Mario game.
Just the way the coins seem to float and twinkle. Even if you can see some of the mechanisms, who cares? It’s Mario.
Again, it’s not a big place but there’s a lot to take in. There are also some stairs to the left of the entrance to Bowser’s Challenge that will take you to a bit of a hidden area and lookout deck. There are even some viewers that incorporate augmented reality and allow you to unlock stamps. Again, I choose not to spoil it because I want you to go someday and see it for yourself, but trust that it’s pretty darn cool.
And come back at night. It’s super cool seeing SNW lit up as you descend the massive escalators to the lower lot, and it’s really a different experience seeing things when it’s dark.
Right now, you can get meet and greets with Mario & Luigi or Princess Peach at timed intervals throughout the day. When Mario & Luigi came out, I actually had no idea what was going on — I simply heard a small uproar of cheers and looked back to see them walking towards me.
I sh** you not, people were screaming and shouting with joy.
You line up, and someone will take a photo of you and the characters with your phone. These experiences actually seemed pretty easy to get if you so wanted — and throughout the park, not just in Super Nintendo World.
There is essentially one shop inside SNW: the 1UP Factory.
It’s pretty small and super crowded, as it also acts as the exit for Bowser’s Challenge. There’s some great stuff, but it’s the same merch you can get at the Mario store in the Upper Lot shops or CityWalk.
And that’s all they have for shopping in SNW. Take a quick walk through the store after you ride Bowser’s Challenge, and then go and actually find what you want at the other locations.
Here’s something you’ve heard before at this point: SNW is pretty contained, and thus food options are quite limited.
In essence, you have two options: A snack stand or Toadstool Café.
The snack stand gets a super long line, but you can get collectible popcorn buckets and … well, I honestly don’t know because I ain’t waiting in that damn line for some popcorn.
Toadstool Café is the only real food option, but here’s a funny catch — you have to get on a waitlist to get in, unless you get there early and head straight towards it. And the waitlist can only be joined, at least right now, by scanning a QR code at the entrance to SNW, which means watching at least dozens of people pass you and essentially get in line in front of you for Bowser’s Challenge.
We were able to snag a waitlist spot for 8:15 p.m. by scanning the code at about 9:20 a.m. So... yeah. But hey, we didn’t care, we were excited to come back and check it out. In fact, I even purposely didn’t eat too much the rest of the day so I could eat a ton at Toadstool Café.
One problem — turns out the waitlist is almost meaningless, and they either give out way too many or it’s super easy to just spoof it. When we got there there was a huge line of people who had “reserved” a spot on the waitlist. In fact, the line went all the way outside. Bummer, but we were willing to wait a little bit. After almost 30 minutes, we finally made it to the front doors, where we assumed we’d pretty much be in and just needed to order.
Nope! Even more of a line.
Someone’s there checking for the text you received for your waitlist, but there’s nothing they can do. It goes super slow and, at least for us, it was obvious the waitlist system was not working. I was tired, I was hungry, and it was clear we were going to spend the rest of our time at the park in line. So, we bailed, grabbed some Panda Express, and rode like 5 more rides instead.
It’s really too bad, because the cafe looks really fun. But Universal has issues with food in general. The systems don’t work when it gets busy, and you end up standing in slow lines for waaaay too long. The workers are overwhelmed and it’s not their fault — it’s clear there’s just not a coherent system that can manage the surges.
Toadstool ought to have an actual reservation system that actually means something. Not to compare to Disney parks again, but we visited both while we were in the area, and boy the difference with food systems right now is glaring.
That all said, just know what you’re for. We only had one night, so we had to make some tough choices. I would love to try again with Toadstool, as it does look fun, and there are even some Power-Up things to collect in there.
Yes, you should visit
Whether it’s busy, whether there are kinks, or whatever else, it’s totally worth it to visit Super Nintendo World.
If you’ll be there more than a day, you’ll definitely get to take it all in, but even with one day you’ll get a great experience.
Take advantage of early access for sure. And splurge for Universal Express if you want to enjoy the rest of the park and you’ll be there anytime from now until, oh, next year probably. And bring some extra snacks just in case.
Oh, and dress up, talk in a funny voice, and whatever the hell else you feel like doing. It’s a good time to be a fan of the Mario Bros.