No vacation to Orlando is complete without a visit to Universal Orlando. Home to three different theme parks, an entertainment complex, and a handful of luxury hotels, Universal Orlando Resort offers enough for days of chills and thrills!
But, if you’re on a tight schedule and have only one day to spare for this theme park giant, don’t despair. With the help of our specially crafted itinerary designed to give you the essence of Universal, you can still make the best of your time here. Read on to find out how you can get through most of the headliners across all three parks in just one day!
About Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando Resort, more commonly just known as Universal Orlando, is the second-largest resort in Greater Orlando, second only to Walt Disney World. Universal is home to three parks – Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and a water theme park named Volcano Bay.
Apart from that, there is also a free-to-enter entertainment complex called CityWalk Orlando that consists of a shopping area, live music, entertainment, and many luxury hotels and resorts with state-of-the-art amenities and services.
What To Know Before Embarking On A One-Day Itinerary for Universal Orlando
Let’s jump right in and just answer the million-dollar question already: Is it even possible to cover all three parks at Universal on the same day?
The answer is yes! It is possible, provided you are willing to skip some of the smaller rides for the bigger crowd-pullers. You will also need to make special efforts to keep track of time and not lose yourself in all the frenzy.
Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios are both situated pretty close together which makes it easy to move between them. Plus, there’s The Hogwarts Express (more on this below!) to make traveling to and fro more fun. Volcano Bay is also situated close via a Universal shuttle bus from City Walk.
With only one day to spend here, we recommend you make the most of it by availing all the perks Universal has to offer. The first one is Early Park Admission.
Guests who choose to stay at one of the hotels at Universal Boulevard are offered Early Park Admission, which allows you to enter one of the two parks (not applicable to Volcano Bay) an hour before the normal park opening time.
This gives you enough time to take in the park rides and everything else before the mad morning rush. If possible, try and squeeze in an early breakfast before heading out for the day to give yourself more time for fun activities at the park.
The mornings are much less crowded than the rest of the day so it is absolutely crucial that you make the most of it.
Using Express Pass And Single Rider Lanes On Your One-Day Itinerary for Universal Orlando
Universal’s skip-the-line system is called Express Pass. Express Passes are available for free for guests choosing to stay at one of the Universal Premier hotels and are also available to purchase online or at the park entrance.
Express Passes will help you skip the long queues and finish off rides faster so you can move on to the next one on your Orlando itinerary. An alternative to purchasing an Express Pass is making use of the Single Rider Lanes.
Most rides come with a Single Rider Lane option which allows you to skip the longer lines and experience the ride much quicker, as long as you’re riding alone. This is especially useful for parents who have little ones that are still too little to enjoy certain rides.
Volcano Bay offers a reservation system called Tapu Tapu that involves wearing a waterproof wristband that’s provided for free at the park entrance. If you see that your favorite ride has a long waiting time, go up to the totem at the ride entrance and tap your Tapu Tapu on it.
It will then show a reserved time slot for you at the ride. Then, just show up at the ride at your allotted time slot and walk right in without having to wait in the Florida heat!
Other Tips For Your One-Day Itinerary for Universal Orlando
Your main objective during a one-day trip to Universal should be to skip as much of the crowds as possible, which is why it’s a good idea to visit on a weekday and not a weekend. Summer weekends are usually the busiest days, so plan accordingly.
There are a few other things that you can do to make your visit go much smoother. For starters, make sure you buy your passes (both entry and Express) online, earlier on. Remember to buy the 3 Park Explorer tickets to hop between all three parks.
It also helps to check out the layouts of the parks before your arrival so you can get a basic idea of the location of the rides you want to visit. Universal Studios has more family-friendly attractions, whereas Islands of Adventure has more in store for thrill-seekers, so prioritize which park you wish to spend the most time at based on your family’s preferences.
Traveling in a huge group? You’ll be able to cover more ground and explore more of the park in smaller groups of 2 to 4. So, split up based on preferences or age groups at each park and assemble back at a common meeting point once done.
Another way to make things easier is by downloading the Universal Orlando app. The app lets you in on all the shows that are being performed on the day of your visit as well as show timings and locations.
It also allows you to quickly order meals at the various counter-service restaurants inside the park by having you save your preferred meals earlier on.
Some Volcano Bay rides have a Virtual Line option, similar to the Tapu Tapu, with the added benefit of not having to visit the ride to make your reservation. Use the app to check out which rides offer Virtual Lines and book your earliest slot.
This way, you get to utilize the rest of your time at the other rides instead of spending it waiting in the queues.
Now that you are up to speed on everything you need to know about the parks, let’s finally dive into the best Orlando itinerary to cover all of Univeral in one single day!
Start at Universal Studios
While it is true that Islands of Adventure has some of the most exciting headliners in all of Universal, it also has much larger crowds, which is why it’s best to start your day off at Universal Studios. Make use of your Early Park Admission or just arrive a little early; if you’re in luck, the park may open a few minutes early!
Once inside, start crossing off rides from your itinerary from the back of the park where it’s usually much less crowded. Here, you’ll find rides like Revenge of the Mummy, a dark thrill ride that takes you through the tomb of Imhotep in pitch-black darkness that’s only interrupted by huge fireballs and an army of the “undead”.
While this may not be the scariest ride out there, Revenge of the Mummy can be a little too intense for the faint-hearted ones, so beware! Also in the vicinity is Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Fans of the talk show host can pop by for a quick zoom through the city of New York in this 4D immersive experience.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is arguably better over at Islands of Adventure. Still, Universal Studios has Diagon Alley with the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.
The subterranean rollercoaster takes riders through the vaults of the infamous bank, which is why it’s an attraction that die-hard Potterheads won’t want to miss.
However, there’s no need to fret if you don’t have the time, as there are plenty of other hair-raising rollercoasters at the park and much more to explore for Harry Potter fans too.
Need more thrills? You’ll find Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl much to your liking, where you get to board the alien saucers and zap the citizens of Springfield from The Simpsons! Right next to that, you’ll find the MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack.
This interactive ride takes you through the streets of the city as you chase and fire off “the scum of the universe”. Just remember not to spend too much time at these rides. If the wait times are any longer than 5 to 10 minutes, head to the next one and come back later during the day!
The last thing you want is to accidentally schedule too much for the evening. Try to strike a balance between your must-visits and the time you have on hand to avoid spending too much of it stuck in lines.
Now it’s time for the best (saved for last, of course!). As you make your way back to the entrance gate of the park, head over to Production Central and enjoy Minion Mayhem with all their favorite characters from Despicable Me including Kevin, Stewart, and Bob!
The ultimate adrenaline pump awaits you at Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the largest-ever rollercoaster built by its creators.
Reaching a summit of 167 feet and speeds of 65 miles per hour, the ride also lets you choose your own music for when you’re in the air! This rollercoaster is one-of-a-kind so make sure you don’t miss this one during your visit to Universal!
As the day progresses and gets hotter around the midday mark, you have two options to escape the sweltering heat.
Families with younger children will likely prefer to spend their afternoon in one of the air-conditioned rides at Universal Studios Families, whereas those with teens and tweens are better off going for a cool dip in the pool to beat the heat and the crowds. And there’s no better place to get wet than Volcano Bay!
If you’re visiting during one of the colder months, make sure you strike off Volcano Bay earlier in the noon to avoid shivering in the chill of a late Florida Evening.
Plus, you’ll need some extra time to dry off before you make your way to the other parks. Lines and wait times will differ between seasons, so plan out your itinerary accordingly.
Encompassing over 15 rides and overflowing with Polynesian culture and geography, Volcano Bay is designed to look like a tropical volcanic island. The majestic Krakatau Volcano stands in the middle of the park, with lava flows, rapids, and pools in and around it!
You might not be able to experience all that the park has to offer but you can be sure to check some of the highlights off your list!
For a fun-filled family experience, check out Krakatau Aqua Coaster. On this ride, your family will board round coasters and canoe your way down the rapids as you get wet in the splashes and showers.
If there’s a line that’s too long, use your Tapu Tapu, reserve your slot and head over to the next ride! The tots can enjoy themselves in the play pools that are modeled after reefs, complete with geysers, overhead sprinklers, and squirt guns!
While the little ones are occupied, the more daring water lovers can check out the legendary Ko’okiri Body Plunge. This is a 125-foot tube that drops you at the steepest inclination into an ice-cold pool below! If you think you have what it takes to conquer the volcano, don’t miss this one!
Not a solo daredevil? The Serpentine Slides let you race your partner on twin slides that take you down the volcano with steep drops, sharp turns, and more! There’s enough and more to keep you engaged for the whole day, but again, you want to make sure you don’t overestimate the time you have. Pick the rides that stand out to you the most and keep it moving!
A whole day of screaming and splashing is sure to leave you and your family ravenous and you’re in luck because you’ll find amazing spots to dine in across all three parks. But, since you’re already at Volcano Bay, why not relish some of the most exotic island food ever?
Here, you’ll encounter all kinds of cuisines, each with its own unique Polynesian twist; think dishes like Shrimp Mac n Cheese at Whakawaiwai or grab-n-go salads at The Bambu Restaurant. Check out the Feasting Frog Tacos, which serve delicious tacos out of a wacky eatery shaped like – you guessed it, a frog! They also have a handful of snacks and other drinks that your little ones are sure to love, so if you want to treat the tots, you know where to go!
If this doesn’t satiate your cravings, you can walk over to Islands of Adventure and dry yourself off on the way. Islands of Adventure is divided into different islands and worlds, with themed eateries at each place.
Marvel fans can head to Marvel Super Hero Island, and try out classic American cuisine at Captain America Diner. For a trip down memory lane, check out Toon Lagoon, where you’ll find Wimpy’s from the all-time favorite spinach hero Popeye!
For a more grand dining experience, stop by Mythos at The Lost Continent. They serve exotic dishes at affordable prices with exciting dishes like grilled octopus and lamb meatballs! Once you’ve had your share to fill your tummy, head out to explore the rest of Islands of Adventure.
Ready for Adventure
Islands of Adventure is home to some of the most exciting rides and themes in all of Orlando. It’s best to start slow and calm post-lunch, especially if you have a sleeping baby with you.
Seuss Landing is a good place to begin your journey if you want to avoid doing anything too upbeat right at the start. The little ones will enjoy spending time around all of Dr. Seuss’s creations, including the infamous Cat In The Hat! There’s even an indoor ride that takes you through the events of the popular book where you encounter all your favorite characters!
When you’re ready for something more fast-paced, check out Marvel Super Hero Island, with a special priority given to the iconic Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride. This dark ride lets you join the webbed superhero in taking down supervillains at another friendly neighborhood showdown!
The Incredible Hulk Coaster is another one that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping with its high-octane speed and loops.
Make sure you use the Virtual Line option wherever possible, especially for the busier rides in Hogsmeade, such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. On your way, stop by Jurassic Park for two of its famous attractions.
Loosely designed after the movie, The Jurassic Park River Adventure is an immersive ride that takes you on a cruise through the deadly waters of the park. The rather calm and fun cruise quickly takes a dark, predatory turn so hold on to your seats!
Next up is the VelociCoaster, a rollercoaster that takes you through the raptor enclosures in high-speed action. Keep your eyes peeled to meet your favorite raptors from the Jurassic World movie, with voiceovers and displays of the actual characters to make it even better!
Hogsmeade at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is best visited at night. At witching hour, the lights come alive with the golden glow of the sun, basking the entire place in pure magic. Make your way to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures (expect a long line if you haven’t made a Virtual Line reservation) as you join the bearded groundskeeper on a bike ride through the Forbidden Forest.
On the way, you’ll meet, dodge, and escape creatures from the movie, such as Cornish Pixies; Fluffy, Hagrid’s dog; Cornish Pixies, and even some new faces from the books like the Blast-Ended Skrewts! Hold onto your partner as you brave this insane ride through the woods, and once done, don’t forget to stop by Ollivander’s and choose your interactive wand! Now that’s a keepsake from the trip you don’t want to miss.
Stick around Hogsmeade for some of the best photo backdrops for your family photos. Finally, stop by Three Broomsticks, the tavern from the movies, and reward yourself with an authentic British dinner – after all, you’ve covered all three parks in one day. If that doesn’t call for a round of Butterbeers, we don’t know what does!