The theme parks of Orlando, Florida are one of the best attractions in the United States. They bring in thousands of annual visitors from all over the world. Universal Orlando Resort has set itself apart with thrilling coasters, unique character experiences, and surprisingly good restaurants. It’s entirely possible to see both of the resort’s parks in one day, but you should allow yourself plenty of time. If the weather allows, don’t forget about Volcano Bay water park. If it’s your first time visiting Universal Orlando Resort, we’ve shared some of our best tips below.
Hotels In and Near the Parks
There is an inherent advantage to staying in the Universal hotels. First, there’s the convenient location. You can walk or take the shuttle to the theme parks. Guests also get to enter the parks one hour earlier than the general public, allowing you to go straight to the rides that will eventually have the longest lines, as well as to get an Express Pass. There are five, soon to be six, onsite hotels, including Universal’s Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Aventura Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort. *Two additional hotels are set to open in 2019 and 2020.* Remember that you can also get Loews points for some of these stays.
If you don’t want to stay onsite, to save money, you’ll find that many of the hotels near the park’s entrance still offer shuttle services. You just won’t be able to take advantage of early entry into the parks. Crowne Plaza Orlando Universal is a short drive from all parks and offers an outdoor pool, free WiFi, and a game room. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is also near the amenities of International Drive and has a free parks shuttle as well as its own rental car desk.
If you plan on camping, be prepared to drive around 10 miles to Kissimmee’s Tropical Palms RV Resort. Camping facilities exist at other parks, but this is the closest to Universal beyond that. It boasts RV and tent sites as well as cabins and year-round amenities. Another option is condo and home rentals, which you can find both on Booking.com and Airbnb.
The original park is Universal Studios, where most rides are movie-inspired. Enter through the classic Hollywood area before wandering through New York and San Francisco. I recommend making a beeline for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, as this section fills up with guests quickly. Here you’ll find Gringotts, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, and Ollivander’s as well as dining options at the Leaky Cauldron.
Beyond the Wizarding World, check out some of the park’s classic rides like E.T. Adventure and the rides appropriate for smaller visitors in the Barney and Woody Woodpecker areas. Other favorites include Revenge of the Mummy, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster.
Among the food and drink options in this section are butterbeer in Diagon Alley, massive donuts from Lard Lad, Flaming Moe’s at Moe’s Tavern, burgers from Mel’s Drive-In, and chowder from Lombard’s Seafood Grille.
Islands of Adventure
Where Universal Studios focuses on interactive experiences, Islands of Adventures has more thrill rides. Most of the big roller coasters are in this park. Some of the theme zones include Seuss Landing, Hogsmeade, and Marvel Super Hero Island. The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong are all popular rides.
When you’re ready for a bite, try Mythos Restaurant, the top-rated theme park restaurant in the world, pizza at Cafe 4, or fish and chips at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.
A Word on the Hogwarts Express: Remember that you’ll only be allowed to ride the Hogwarts Express with a Park to Park ticket. It lets you go between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Unless you’re a massive Harry Potter fan, it’s not worth the added cost for such a short ride.
Open throughout the year, Volcano Bay is Universal’s water park, boasting thrilling slides, lazy rivers, and a massive wave pool inspired by the South Pacific. The Krakatau aqua coaster is a favorite, one of the few in the nation. They also have cabanas for rent.
The restaurants around the park also take inspiration from the island nations and are spread throughout the park. You’ll find dishes like flatbread pizzas, poke bowls, burgers, and everything in between as well as cocktails.
The gateway to the parks and hotels is Universal CityWalk, a collection of shops and restaurants. Instead of waiting two hours for The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen, we had dinner at The Cowfish and drinks at Pat O’Brien’s. Also onsite is Margaritaville and Antojitos. This is a great spot for a night out, especially thanks to the easy transportation and evening activities.
Tickets and Passes
Ticket prices start at $105 for an adult for one day and $100 for a child. Prices go down based on multi-day passes, with a four-day pass averaging out to $54 per day. Park to park admission is $155 for an adult for one day and $150 for a child for one day. Florida residents and annual pass holders receive further discounts, but you’re likely to find the best prices online before you go.
If you’re traveling during peak times of the year, it might be worthwhile to invest in an Express Pass. This allows you to go through a shorter line for certain rides, excluding most in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They cost almost as much as the park ticket, starting at $40 per park per day, but if you’re short on time, are worthwhile. Also keep in mind that Single Rider lines are another way to skip ahead if you’re not worried about sticking with your group. As mentioned earlier, the park hopper pass is only worth it if you’re trying to see both parks in one day or are a massive Harry Potter fan. There’s also a VIP Experience, which allows visitors front of the line access at all rides, valet parking, meals, and a private tour.
Tickets into the park come in the form of printed tickets with barcodes and reusable cards, so you should bring or buy a lanyard to keep everything organized. You’ll be able to keep the important items with you on most rides, rather than checking a bag every time.
And if you’re here to eat, look into the dining plans that the parks offer. They typically include meals both in the parks and at your hotel if you’re staying onsite. Plans start at $27.99 and include refillable Coca-Cola drinks in a reusable souvenir cup.
If you’re traveling in a group, there are a few easy cost-saving measures. The first is in regards to when you go. Avoid weekends and holidays whenever possible and summer altogether. Special events will also cost more. Buy your tickets online before you go and compare hotel prices. Bring your own breakfast, like dry cereal or granola bars, to eat before you go. Take advantage of the in-room coffee makers and skip that line for a $5 Starbucks. Also, limit your meals in the parks by bringing a lunch or dining on International Drive for dinner. You can also bring a drink into the park, namely a water bottle to refill throughout the day. Lastly, skip the souvenirs if possible. Most items, especially in the Harry Potter universe, can be found online. Every Universal gift shop, whether in the parks, hotels, or the airport, have the same prices. So don’t buy at the beginning of the day and lug it around all afternoon. Onsite hotels allow you to have your purchases sent to your room, which is a great benefit.
Double check the park hours, as they vary by season. Grab a map or use their app to organize your day in advance. For example, start at the busiest ride and go clockwise or jump around based on activity. Prioritize what you want to see and do, whether it’s character encounters, the themed areas, or roller coasters. I recommend starting with Escape from Gringotts and Diagon Alley before doing the rest later in the day. Plan the next ride you want to go on while waiting in line at your current ride so that you won’t spend too much time wandering aimlessly. You should be prepared to wait for shuttles back to the hotels, especially at the end of the day. And lastly, but most importantly, have fun!
Have you been to Universal Orlando Resort? Share your tips below!
For more tips, follow our Disney World and Florida Theme Parks board on Pinterest. I received complimentary Park to Park tickets and Express Passes for Universal Orlando Resort as well as a discounted hotel rate. This post also includes affiliate links. Information is accurate from the time of publication.