I step onto Super Star Plaza at exactly 8:03 am. In front of me, big, colorful letters invite me into the real-world version of a scenery and gameplay I know all too well: SUPER NINTENDO WORLD. I’m here and I can’t believe it.
As I walk through the life-sized green pipe, with sparkling rainbow colors all around me and a familiar soundtrack playing in the background, it’s pure deja vu — time travel, if you will. I’m suddenly that little gamer girl all over again. “This is the magic of Universal,” says Abbye Finnan, show producer for SUPER NINTENDO WORLD at Universal Studios Hollywood. “We’ve been putting guests inside their favorite movies and stories for so long, and now we’re inviting them inside a game.”
I’m in awe — and I’m not alone. Around me, I see people of all ages from all around the world. I see them walking into the land and getting on their knees, bawling. I spot them on video calls with friends who couldn’t be there. I watch entire families dressed up as their favorite characters walking around with Yoshi headbands and Bowser backpacks. I witness yet another person getting on their knees, only this time they’ve got an engagement ring inside a Super Star Popcorn Bucket and are proposing to their partner in front of Peach’s Castle. Folks, it’s a big deal.
Welcome to SUPER NINTENDO WORLD! An entirely themed, immersive land that brings to life the characters and colorful thematic spaces many of us have interacted with for the past 20+ years.
Whether you’re a gamer or not, you’ll absolutely love it and want to jump right in! So, here’s the lay of the entire land.
BEFORE YOU GO
I know you’re dying to get to the other side of the green pipe and into this immersive world, but there’s a few important things you need to know before pressing start on your day.
Turns out you’re not merely visiting SUPER NINTENDO WORLD — you’re here on a mission (as one always is when in the company of Mario and friends). As soon as you enter the land through the pipe and into Peach’s Castle, the portraits on the two side walls set up your quest: Bowser Jr. has stolen the Golden Mushroom from Peach’s Castle and Princess Peach is counting on you to retrieve it . To do that, you need to collect three keys within the land — whether it’s by facing the Key Challenges, collecting all 8-bit characters, or by getting them from Mario and Princess Peach. Once you collect the keys, you can now unlock the final battle between you and Bowser Jr.
And, there’s more: Bowser has challenged Mario and friends to the ultimate race, and you can get into your own kart (along with three other people) to help Team Mario win the Golden Cup on Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge.
Phew, busy day for you! So, let’s get started.
Getting inside the Land
SUPER NINTENDO WORLD is located on the Lower Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood — you’ll know you’ve made it when you see Bowser’s Castle from the Starway, the escalators that take you from the Upper Lot to the lower portion of the theme park.
Depending on the day, you’ll need to make a reservation to enter the land by joining the Virtual Line. It’s pretty straightforward: once you’ve entered the theme park, open up the Official Universal Studios Hollywood app, select the number of people in your party (up to 10) and join the virtual queue for that same day. Keep in mind that this reservation does not include the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge attraction, it’s solely for the land — you won’t want to skip the queue for the attraction anyway cause it’s awesome.
And although the Virtual Line gives you the flexibility of enjoying the rest of the theme park while you wait for your turn to experience the land, I personally recommend getting SUPER NINTENDO WORLD Early Access Ticket. Walking into the land before everyone else? Yes, please! It’s a great opportunity to explore every inch of SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, take awesome photos of the Mushroom Kingdom, get extra practice on the Key Challenges, snag your favorite Nintendo souvenirs (wanted: the reversible Super Star pillow that turns into a ? Block), and experience Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge before it gets busy.
PRO TIP: If you have the Universal Express Pass you don’t need a reservation — the Pass gives you a one-time entry with no reservation required.
Level Up with Power-Up Bands
Whose team are you on? I’m Team Peach til the end and I’ve got a Power-Up Band to prove it! The bands are themed to one of six characters — Mario, Luigi, Toad, Yoshi, Princess Peach and Princess Daisy — and by picking your favorite one, you’re also picking the team you’re competing with throughout the land. Big commitment, huh? Having a Power-Up Band truly elevates your experience inside SUPER NINTENDO WORLD and takes the gameplay to a whole other level (pun intended).
What I love the most about this land is how immersive and experiential it is. It all ties together so perfectly — the band, the app, the attractions, the challenges… And getting to experience it fully, with all the perks and advantages, is truly memorable. Yes, you can enjoy SUPER NINTENDO WORLD without a Power-Up Band, but you’ll miss out on the ability to track your score and compete with friends and family.
With the Power-Up Band, you are able to collect the keys that will ultimately unlock the final showdown with Bowser Jr. to retrieve the Golden Mushroom, track your score on Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride (more on that later!), punch the ? Blocks to collect digital coins and stamps, and keep track of your score against other teams on the Checkpoint screens inside the land and on your Universal Studios Hollywood App. And because you synced the band with the app, you’ll have a history of how well you did and can use the same one each time you visit (fun fact: it works at SUPER NINTENDO WORLD in Universal Studios Japan as well!) “We wanted SUPER NINTENDO WORLD to be a fully immersive land, so guests aren’t just watching it all happen, they’re part of it,” says Finnan. Mission accomplished.
PRO TIP: Download the Official Universal Studios Hollywood App before you arrive so you can join the Virtual Line as soon as you walk into the theme park and sync your Power-Up Band before entering SUPER NINTENDO WORLD.
WHAT TO DO
As you walk into the Mushroom Kingdom, you’ll probably need to hit pause for a moment to take it all in. Go on, you deserve it. I’ll wait.
Once you’re ready to resume, check out Mt. Beanpole and all of its layers! Can you spot the Goombas, Piranha Plants, Thwomps, coins, ? Blocks, and Koopa Troopas moving around the facade of the land? Even the lampposts are dotted with little Super Stars on them!
One thing to keep in mind is that there’s no right way to explore the land. You can do it differently every time you come. Exploration is a big component to SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, so be curious, look a little harder each time you come, and go wherever your heart takes you.Whether you’re taking on the different Key Challenges, battling Bowser Jr., getting your picture taken with Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad, or catching your breath by sitting in the shade on top of a mushroom under another mushroom, here’s everything you can do, tap, punch, collect, win at SUPER NINTENDO WORLD.
Play Around the Land
One thing you have to know about me is that I’m not a competitive person. I’m just not. Well, until I stepped foot into SUPER NINTENDO WORLD. I made it my mission in life to rank as high as possible on the Daily Ranking board — which you can see on your Universal Studios Hollywood app and on the big screens at Checkpoint, right by 1-UP Factory store. And you’ve got tons of opportunities to outscore your friends. Just like in the games, the more coins you collect from around the land and from the ride, the more points you get.
Besides committing to every Key Challenge (more on that below) and riding Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, I had a blast just running around SUPER NINTENDO WORLD punching ? Blocks, collecting coins, exploring the Frosted Glacier area while peeping into the AR Binoculars for fun surprises, and hunting easter eggs around the land. (Can you find all of them?) Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I wrapped up the day in 4th place and did get my name on the big screen — who knew my gamer genes would stand the test of time?
There are four main Key Challenges around SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, a great way to collect the three keys you’ll need to unlock the final challenge against Bowser Jr. and retrieve the Golden Mushroom
Piranha Plant Nap Mishap
As soon as you start, several alarm clocks start ringing and wake up the giant Piranha Plant. The goal is for the players to turn off all the alarm clocks so the Piranha Plant goes back to sleep. It’s much easier to play as a team, but I’m living proof that you can tackle the challenge solo — you just might need to practice a bit.
Koopa Troopa POWer Punch
This one is all about timing: you have to punch the red POW Block at just the right moment so a spinning green shell bursts though the upper pipe exit, hitting the POW Block. Definitely one of the most challenging of the four, and when you finally get that key, you’ll feel extra proud.
Goomba Crazy Crank
You’re up against a Goomba! This challenge is pretty straightforward, but takes arm power — turn the crank fast enough to knock down a running Goomba from the spinning wheel.
Thwomp Panel Panic
This challenge requires coordination and teamwork. Players have to tap the blocks on the screen to change from either blue to all yellow or yellow to all blue before the Thwomp strikes down and mixes everything up again. Be sure to decide which color you want to make the board BEFORE you start the challenge.
PRO TIP: When you flip a panel with a red arrow, the panel next to it will also flip. So, the order in which you flip is also critical!
Bowser Jr. Shadow Showdown
Congratulations! You’ve won at least three of the four challenges and have collected enough keys to unlock the final challenge. You’re about to enter Bowser Jr.’s hideout to finally retrieve the Golden Mushroom. To face the ultimate showdown, you’ll position yourself in front of a large screen alongside other players. Once the game starts, your shadow will be projected on that screen in front of you. Be prepared to move your whole body to hit Bob-ombs, dodge Bullet Bills, swing your arms to throw Fireballs, punch the ? Blocks, and jump to get a Power-Up. See who scores the highest among your group and celebrate having defeated Bowser Jr. and reuniting Princess Peach with her Golden Mushroom.
Meet and Greet Friends
As if all of this wasn’t already cool enough, you can meet and actually talk to Mario and Luigi, right in the center of SUPER NINTENDO WORLD. A few steps away, go and say hi to Princess Peach in the Gazebo by her Castle. Make sure you find Toad, too!
Experience Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge
This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for — I know I have. It’s time to put on the visor and battle Team Bowser alongside Mario, Luigi and friends on Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. This groundbreaking ride has cutting-edge technology that makes you feel like you’re actually steering through different levels and versions of the Mario Kart game. You drive on different tracks, go up in the clouds, and drift through underwater courses, all while collecting coins and throwing shells to win the Golden Cup. Who knows, you might even make it to Rainbow Road… “People from all over the world have some sort of memory tied to Mario Kart,” Finnan says. “I used to play it with my brothers and cousins growing up. So, when coming to SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, guests want to be able to experience the game with Mario riding alongside of you. They want to feel part of the competition.”
As you explore the different areas of the queue, including a set of Yoshi’s Island themed spaces, Bowser’s iconic castle (where you get the best view of the land), and two pre-show rooms (where you’ll gear up with a pretty cool visor), you’ll eventually be ready to board a kart. But first things first: make sure you tap your Power-Up Band to the steering wheel right in front of you so you can earn points and see how well you’re doing compared to other teams (and isn’t that the whole point?). Next, attach your special goggles to the visor and… well, enjoy the ride! Although I wish I could put into words the awesome things you’ll experience during the ride, I guess I’ll save the details. But I will tell you that what I love the most about this ride is that there are multiple outcomes to the race, making each time very unique.
WHERE TO EAT
Toadstool Cafe is an attraction in itself. Trust me, I toured Chef Toad’s top-notch venue and tried every single dish — from everything on the kids’ menu to the themed desserts. Each item was created by Chef Toad himself. Chef Julia Thrash, Universal Studios Hollywood’s executive chef explains that there’s a story behind each dish and that Chef Toad’s whole ideation was inspired by the Mushroom Kingdom.
I’ll give you some examples so you can understand what a gift Chef Toad’s creations are to Nintendo fans: The Super Mushroom Soup (probably my favorite dish) is a creamy mushroom soup with truffle oil and little mushroom crackers on it, served in an awesome Super Mushroom bowl. The Princess Peach Cupcake, almost too pretty to eat, is a raspberry-filled funfetti cake and the Mt. Beanpole Cake represents the tiers of the landscape in the Mushroom Kingdom. Yoshi’s Favorite Fruit & Veggie Salad has starfruit in it as a reference to the Super Star and it’s also topped with Yoshi egg croutons.
From the mind-blowing pesto-grilled-chicken Luigi Burger (adding a slice of crunchy green pepper is just genius!), to the ? Block Tiramisu (which I recommend using one of the cookie block walls as a vessel to dig into the dessert!) to the Super Star Lemon Squash, a lemon soda topped with mango-flavored Super Stars with juice-filled bobas that pop inside your mouth, everything on the menu is cooked, plated and decorated to perfection. “From creation to execution, Chef Toad put a lot of thought and time into each item. And his biggest accomplishment is making sure that every guest is getting an elevated, picture-perfect dish in front of them every time,” says Chef Julia.
WHERE TO SHOP
Super Star Popcorn Bucket (that lights up!), Super Mushroom Sippers, Yoshi and Luigi Headbands, Chef Toad plushies, Mario Kart themed shirts, stylish backpacks (one of which shaped like Bowser’s shell), a lamp with a little Mario jumping … There aren’t enough shopping bags in SUPER NINTENDO WORLD for all I wanted to bring home with me. Although you can get most of the merchandise options around Universal Studios Hollywood and CityWalk, the most exclusive ones can be found at the 1-UP Factory store, located within SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, right by the Checkpoint screens. As other fun elements in the land, you enter the store by walking into a yellow pipe. You also exit Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge through the store, so you can’t and won’t miss it.
Well, as you can see, I had the time of my life. Visit SUPER NINTENDO WORLD at Universal Studios Hollywood!