Universal Orlando Resort, also referred to as Universal Studios Orlando or Universal Studios Florida, is a theme park located in Orlando, Florida. It is one of the most popular destinations in the area behind Disney World and is definitely a worthwhile stop. Whether you’re visiting as part of your trip to Disney World or it’s your only destination, here are a few things to know before you visit Universal Orlando Resort.
There are three gardens
This can be confusing for first time visitors. Universal Orlando Resort consists of eight on-site resorts, a Universal CityWalk (an outdoor shopping and dining area), and three theme parks. Theme parks include Universal Studios Florida (USF) and the Islands of Adventure (IOA), which are adjacent to each other and are traditional theme parks. Volcano Bay is a Universal Water Park.
When purchasing Universal Orlando park tickets, you’ll need to make sure that your ticket covers all of the parks you want to visit. One ticket won’t get you to every park. Make sure you read the fine print of tickets before you buy them to make sure you cover all of your bases.
A ‘One Park’ or ‘One Park per Day’ ticket will get you entry to Universal Studios Florida or the Islands of Adventure for the day only. A “Two Parks” or “Park to Park” ticket will allow you to enter both Universal Studios Florida and the Islands of Adventure on the same day. Volcano Bay tickets are sold separately or as part of a “3-park” ticket package.
Harry Potter fans will want to get special tickets
For many people, the biggest draw to Universal Orlando Resort is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a wonderful recreation of the fictional world of Harry Potter. It’s very well done and worth all the hype, so if you’re a Potterhead fan, be sure to spend plenty of time in these sections of the parks! You will easily get lost in every detail.
The only thing that confuses some people is where the magical world of Harry Potter is located. It’s actually within both Universal Studios Florida (USF) and Islands of Adventure (IOA) – the USF side contains Diagon Alley and King’s Cross Station and their stores, rides, and restaurants, while the IOA side contains Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and their stores and rides and restaurants. You can travel between the two parks via the Hogwarts Express, but only if you have a park-to-park ticket.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will need to purchase park-to-park tickets that allow you to enter both parks on the same day. Riding the Hogwarts Express is a magical experience and can help you navigate the parks more quickly than using the main entrances.
Universal Express passes may or may not be worth it
Universal Express and Universal Express Unlimited are additional cards that you can purchase on top of your park tickets that take you to a shorter line at participating attractions. You will be given a physical ticket that you will need to scan at the entrance to each eligible flight.
Universal Express tickets, which allow you to skip regular lines once per trip per day, start at $79.99 per person. These passes are definitely not worth your money. Get the Universal Express Unlimited card instead!
For a little money, you can get Universal Express Unlimited, a pass that allows you to skip regular lines as many times as you want for each ride per day. If you’d be proud of one of these passes, the unlimited version gives you more bang for your buck for your money.
Volcano Bay sells its own version of much cheaper Express PLUS tickets, but most of its flights operate on a virtual queue system. Since you won’t actually be waiting in line anyway, it may not be worth the money unless you have a very short time.
This does not mean that you have to get Universal Express Unlimited. At $109.99 per person per day during the low season and jumping to over $300 per person per day during the busiest season, these are very expensive. A family of three, for example, who visits for two days during early July, spends about $1,500 on Universal Express passes alone during that trip.
These passes may actually be worth the money if you’re visiting during a very busy season (although the price will go up), you don’t have enough time (for example, you only have one day to see both parks), or you’re on a one-time trip. Only once in a lifetime want to splurge. They probably aren’t worth it if you’re visiting during low season when the crowds aren’t too loud (and wait times aren’t too long), have more than a full day at each park, or visit fairly regularly.
On-site hotels come with perks
The perk of staying at the Universal Orlando Resort on-site is that you enter the parks one hour before other park guests. The Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure alternative allows guests to enter early, so you’ll want to double-check their early admissions calendar before planning your day.
Only limited attractions open early. Most of them will be located in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both Universal Studios Florida and the Islands of Adventure, but other games include Jurassic World Velocity Coaster at Islands of Adventure and Despicable Me at Universal Studios Florida, among others. Most of the stores in the Harry Potter sections of the parks are also open.
If you are a fan of any of the games that will unlock early, this is a very important feature. If you plan to get to any of these attractions but aren’t there for the early opening, you’ll run into a crowd that’s already been filling lines for an hour. However, both parks rarely open early on the same day, so if you’re staying offsite, you can start your day at the park in the park that doesn’t open early for hotel guests.
Get ready for a water ride
Lots of theme parks have water rides, but they usually give you one or two splashes if you’re not so lucky. Jurassic Park River Adventure is a good example of this. You might get splashed a few times, but this water will probably feel great in the Florida heat. Plus, it will dry within a few minutes once you get back outside.
However, Universal’s Islands of Adventure also has two water rides that keep you as wet as horseback riding in Volcano Bay. Dudley Do-Right and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges Ripsaw Falls are designed to drown you to the bone. We’re talking gallons of water sprayed on you between splashes, waterfalls, and strategically designed sprinklers.
While these games are very fun and tempting on a hot day, you will get annoyingly wet, especially if you end up soaking your socks and shoes. Unless you plan to head back to your hotel immediately after the ride, be sure to put on a raincoat and wear sandals before you ride. You’ll still be a little wet, but you’ll feel comfortable enough to get on with your day.
Don’t forget Universal City Walk
Universal CityWalk is a shopping and dining center located adjacent to two major parks. There are no attractions here but you may want to plan some time for this outdoor mall for several reasons.
First, every side of the CityWalk is directly outside the Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida entrance, so it’s very easy to get to. Second, it offers plenty of dining options spanning all budgets, and with Universal’s lack of quality food in the parks (with a few exceptions), it can be a great place to get a meal. Universal CityWalk also has a few entertainment options if you want a break from park life.
Some of CityWalk’s top-rated dining locations include Hard Rock Café, Coo Fish, and The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. You’ll also find budget-friendly options like Panda Express, Auntie Anne’s, and Burger King. As for entertainment, you’ll find a movie theatre, mini golf and a Blue Man group with regular shows.
You can certainly have a great trip without spending time in CityWalk but it’s good to know what options you have here.
Riding lockers are mandatory on some rides
Universal Orlando’s heaviest rides will require you to store all of your loose items in a small storage locker while on the ride. You are still allowed to bring phones, wallets, etc. during the flight as long as all items are securely attached to your person (or at least in a pocket) but you are not allowed to bring bags, backpacks, etc. Small fanny packs with a buckle lock may also be fine on some rides, although your luck may depend on how full your fanny pack is and the opinion of the ride host who helps you.
Three rides, Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, have a “no loose articles” policy, which means you’re not allowed to bring anything with you while riding, even in your pocket. You’ll pass through a metal detector before these trips to make sure you don’t bring anything with you.
All rides that limit what you can bring allow you to use the free ride lockers located outside the entrance. These are easy to use as long as you don’t encounter any technical issues. You will simply scan your park ticket at one of the kiosks near the lockers and it will automatically open a nearby locker. Store your things, close the locker, and take a picture of your number so you can remember it as soon as you get off the ride. To reopen your locker, check the same kiosk and the locker should open automatically.
These lockers remain free for the duration of the flight. This length of time will vary, but the system is able to take into account your current wait time and flight length, plus a little extra. Ride stops or delays are also taken into account. After this grace period, you will start charging hourly fees for using the locker.
Keep in mind that the free lockers are very small. There is only enough room to fit a small backpack and some odds and ends. Some games offer larger tanks to use but you have to pay a few dollars up front.
If you have young children, use baby swap
All of Universal Orlando’s thrill rides offer a system called Child Swap, which allows younger guests to skip the ride (whether they’re too short or don’t want to ride) without any party members having to wait in line more than once.
At the front of the ride queue, tell an attendant you’d like to use Child Swap and they’ll direct you where to go. Once you reach the ride loading area, kids and parents seated outside will jump into the waiting area while the other people in the party ride around the attraction.
On their return, the adult who just rode will swap places with the adult who waited in the baby swap area and that adult will have their turn for the ride. When this adult gets off, you’re all going to get off the ride together. This system means that no one has to miss a ride as long as there are at least two people in your group old enough to watch the little kids while you wait.
Download the Universal Orlando Resort app
The official Universal Orlando Resort app is a must-have for your trip. Download it for free before your vacation to learn about its functionality so you’re ready to go as soon as you arrive in Orlando.
With the app, you can place food and drink orders via mobile devices, participate in virtual lines, view interactive park maps, link your park tickets, and see current ride waiting times.
Trek information and park maps are especially helpful. Universal parks are huge and knowing where to find something and what to expect when you get there will save you a lot of time wandering around.
Planning a vacation at Universal Orlando Resort is an exciting experience, but it’s important to do your research before you go. Whether you’re going on a family vacation or a romantic couple’s trip, these tips will help you make the most of your time at the parks.