Some quick details: My friends and I stayed at a small hotel along both Osaka's Chuo and Sennichimae lines, which was just a quick ride to Universal City. We headed to the JR Osaka Loop Line's Nishi-Kujo stop, and then crossed to the JR Yumesaki platform heading to Sakurajima. Universal City is two stops away from Nishi-Kujo and the entrance to USJ is a few hundred meters outside the station.
Prior to going there, we had already discussed being at USJ by 8:00 AM. Unfortunately, we were still at Nishi-Kujo station by that time, so we knew we were running a little later than schedule. It turned out that the few minutes weren't a problem. We decided to purchase our tickets at Hotel Kintetsu Universal City, which is the nearest hotel to USJ and is on our way from the station. The ticket counter opened at exactly 8:30, but since we were third in line, we got our tickets right away.
I don't know how early the main ticket booth opened, but by the time we got to there, there were already lines at the counter (but all moving quickly). But no, those were not the long queues you should be wary of. Everyone else was now queued up by the gates, waiting for them to open. There's a special line for guests who can enter earlier; just be sure to find the correct lines. We were there on a Thursday and though the website said that the park opened at 10:00 on that day, we were let in by around 9:15 (9:00 for the special pass holders).
Once the gates opened, there was a mad dash to the Harry Potter area, located near the lakeside (turn right after Main Street or just follow the crowd). From reading a few early blog entries AND USJ's official site, we all knew that there were timed tickets to the Wizarding World attraction. So when everyone started running, we ran for it as well. My friends and I got separated at this point and I belatedly realized that we had not discussed where to meet once this happened. I just kept running to the area and looking for a kiosk or ticket machine with a long line.
There was none I could see.
At this point, I had stopped to catch my breath and was now just walking along Forbidden Forest. I was still in a hurry wondering: (1) where my friends were, and (2) where the ticket machine was.
More alarmingly, still no sign of my friends. People were running deeper into Hogsmeade and towards Hogwarts Castle, so I decided to ask one of the attendants around.
Me: (in English) Is there a ticket for this area? (Because hey, everyone said there was!)
Attendant: (looking surprised by the question) No, no ticket. (Maybe she was thinking, What the hell are you doing here if you don't have a ticket?)
Me: (thinking, hmmm maybe she didn't understand me. Time to bring out my laughable Japanese) Uh... koko... kippu... arimasu ka?
Attendant: (in English) This area, no tickets.
Twilight Zone. Okay, no tickets. I'm not going to question the fates. I was already in, right? (But why were people still running?)
I thanked her and jogged to the castle anyway, since I saw people heading there. That's when I foundnd the longest queue I've seen so far. And finally, my friends were there! We lined up and soon realized that the queue was for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and a trip through Hogwarts Castle. I didn't want to go on the ride, so I went through the separate entrance for those who just want to go on the Castle Walk. You get to walk through the same thing that the ride-goers go through before the Forbidden Journey starts, but since there are less of us in our lane, we weren't rushed by the attendants.
Once we were through with the Castle Walk, we decided to explore the rest of Hogsmeade. From butterbeer to robes to owl posts to wand selection, there was a surprise waiting at every corner.
We did not expect the long line at Honeydukes so we decided on lunch at Three Broomsticks first. The meal is more expensive than usual, but I thought the serving size was just right and the interiors made it feel like you were really there.
Finally, when we got to Honeydukes, we made a beeline for the chocolate frogs and peppermint toads...
only to find out that there are small kiosks outside that sell the more popular items like the frogs and the every-flavored beans.
But then again, who would pass up the chance to enter Honeydukes, right?
So the timed entry tickets? Not yet applicable for early park-goers, it seems. I think it depends on how many people are in the attraction before any sort of timed entry applies. If you're there when the main gates open, I suspect that you could still enter the Wizarding World without running from the main gate. But please note that we were there on a Thursday in the fall, which could have been part of the off-peak season. I don't know how applicable these tips are if you're heading there around the holidays. The golden rule is still the earlier, the better, which is also a good way to avoid the crowds. The timed entry tickets seem to take effect later on, maybe when the attraction is at full capacity or maybe an hour or so in the day. In any case, when we left, we already saw that the area had been closed off and attendants would look for the guests' timed entry tickets before allowing them into the Harry Potter world.
If you plan on going to USJ, make this attraction your first stop. The place is beautiful. Not everyone gets the chance to walk through the pages of a beloved story and this experience just made Harry Potter come alive for me. I didn't regret a single minute.