Orlando has so many things to do around every corner – water parks, museums, eateries, and, of course, leading amusement parks across the globe. This is why it’s so crucial to plan a Universal Orlando vacation when at The Fun Capital of the World.
Universal Orlando mainly comprises three theme parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, and an entertainment complex, CityWalk Orlando. (With EPIC Universe currently being built.) Spanning over 800 acres, the park is as expansive as it is impressive, which makes planning ahead a must to make the most of your visit.
So, if you are coming down to Orlando, allow us to save you some time with your Universal Studios trip planning.
Our article covers everything you need to know when at the beginning stages of planning your trip, right from buying tickets to nifty little tips that will ensure you have all your bases covered.
When to Visit Universal Orlando
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Wondering when to visit Orlando? Like most amusement parks, weekends at Universal Orlando are the busiest. If you are looking to avoid crowds, your best bet is weekdays. Steer clear of holiday seasons or special days to avoid large footfalls.
Tourists flying into the United States should remember to check out holidays on the US calendar too, such as spring break, President’s Day etc. The one downside to this is that you might end up missing out on seasonal attractions during holidays. These include things Halloween Horror Nights (for teens and older) or events for the whole family like the Holiday Parade and Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter during the last few weeks in December.
Alternatively, you might also choose to visit during April or May, as crowd levels are somewhere in the middle during these months except for Cheer competition days and Easter/Spring break. It’s the perfect time to enjoy the energy of a peak season but the perks of an off-season.
How Many Days Do You Need To Visit Universal Orlando
The number of days you and your family will need to experience the park’s hair-raising rides and attractions depends on your family’s plan and budget.
Do you want to ensure that your little ones enjoy themselves without feeling rushed? Or are you looking for a Universal Studios Orlando one-day touring plan to enjoy only the best parts of each park?
If you are the former kind of vacationer, try to put aside one day for each park. This will allow your family plenty of time to take in your favourite rides, meet-and-greet experiences, and shows that these magical spots have to offer. You may also want a Park to Park ticket to experience the Hogwarts Express.
For a shorter trip, like a Universal Orlando 2-day touring plan, purchase a Park to Park ticket. This pass will allow you to travel between the parks on the same day without purchasing a separate one, making it easier to cover all of them in one go. As above, this means being able to travel on the Hogwarts Express between the parks and experiencing both ways as each journey is different.
If budget constraints are not a problem, throw in Express Passes for everyone in the bunch to avoid waiting in long lines. This way, you can complete your trip in a day or two without missing any of the headliners. Prices vary depending on demand, but read on to discover how to get them FREE!
Tickets to Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando tickets come either as individual park entry passes or as Park to Park tickets that allow you to park hop without any hassle! This is especially handy for Potter aficionados, as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is separated into Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. You can upgrade to park to park inside the parks too – just look for the kiosks dotted around with blue umbrellas.
In order to take in the entirety of the Wizarding World experience at Universal Orlando, guests have to take the Hogwarts Express from either of these points to get to the other. The catch is that you are only allowed to board if you have a Park-to-Park admission ticket.
For bigger travel parties, you can find group tickets and other ticket bundles on the website and other third-party ticket sellers such as Undercover Tourist. Tourists who are flying in from the UK can often find 14 day tickets for the price of 7 or similar.
Ballpark prices come to around $134 for adults and $129 for kids. But they tend to vary, with more discounts on days with fewer crowds and higher prices on busier days.
Keep in mind that tickets are mostly cheaper to buy online compared to at the park gates. It’s best to try and purchase your passes beforehand to save money and time. You’ll be able to start making your way through the parks right away!
Getting To Universal Orlando
For those of you planning to fly into the city, the Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the closest to the park (about 14 miles away). From there, you can hail a cab or an Uber, which will cost you between $30 to $60 to the city.
Private shuttles can also be found outside the airport at the two taxi ranks. If you are looking for convenient, hassle-free rides without having to keep an eye on your luggage, this is your best option.
If you want to save a little extra on transit so you have more to splurge on at the park, board a shared shuttle for a cost-effective option. While the journey will take only as long as a cab, it will cost you much less.
The cheapest option for traveling from the airport is the public bus but is the most cumbersome. Public Lynx buses can be easily spotted outside the airport at bus stops. You only have to follow the signs to get there. Board the Lynx bus heading towards Florida Mall, and from there, you will have to get on the next bus heading towards Universal.
Keep in mind that while this may help save money, bus journeys take a lot of time, and lugging around your heavy bags with children in the sweltering heat may not be the best choice. You will also have to walk to your resort from the last bus stop, so consider this option only if you are on a strict budget.
Once you reach the city, Universal Orlando is easily accessible from most hotels and resorts, with some being just a short walk away. For resorts located at some distance, there are local shuttles; Uber or Lyft; and the popular regional cab service, Mears Taxi, available. If you are staying at one of Disney’s resorts, such as All-Star Movies, the drive to Universal will take you 15 to 20 minutes.
Where to Stay in Orlando with Kids
There are a plethora of family hotels and resorts in Orlando (more on this below) but Universal Orlando Resort hotels offer many perks and advantages and range from very reasonably priced value accommodation at the Endless Summer resorts, Surfside and Dockside to the the luxury hotels with free Express Passes included and themed rooms. Plus they are close to the Universal Parks.
Advantages of Staying on Site at Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando has a handful of gorgeous hotels within its properties to give you the holiday of a lifetime. The best part about staying at one of Universal’s resorts is the easy accessibility to the rest of the attractions.
All hotels and resorts provide complimentary shuttles to the parks. You also have the option to walk their pathways through beautiful gardens, rockwork, and fountains to get there and some hotels offer boat services to City Walk.
Each resort comes with different perks you can avail of during your visit. All Universal hotels offer early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to Volcano Bay Water Park with a show of your hotel room key card. Some of our favourite Universal hotels for families include:
The best part about staying in these deluxe Universal hotels are the complimentary Unlimited Express passes are provided for the duration of of your stay; including check out day for whomever is staying in the same room! All three are close to the Parks and various transportation options.
The onsite amenities at the Hard Rock Hotel are also worthy of praise. The pool, for one, is perfect for families with kids. Not too deep and complete with a fun water slide, it has underwater music as well as plenty of lifeguards to make it kid-safe. Kick back and relax with a drink from the poolside Velvet Bar. And if you happen to pop by during the afternoon, you might even catch the DJ playing some gnarly tunes!
For a bite to eat, head to the breakfast buffet at The Kitchen for a delicious range of food and drinks. Be sure to try the Elvis French Toast to kick-start your day! The Palm Restaurant is great for some delicious steak later in the day.
Inspired by the small Italian fishing village of Portofino, this Italian-themed hotel makes luxury and comfort its number one priority. It offers three themed pools, a fitness center, and an entertaining game room for amenities, and is set amid a picturesque setting that has a small lake with water taxis and rowboats.
Young Dr. Seuss fans will love the two-bedroom Dr. Seuss-themed kids suite! This premier hotel, like most others, provides complimentary transport to Universal Studios along with complimentary Express Passes. For those who are always in a hurry, water taxis are a lifesaver!
Of the three onsite Loews hotels, this one is the most extravagant but also very kid-friendly. Start off your day by indulging in the breakfast buffet at Trattoria del Porto before heading to the pools! The beach pool is terrific for families.
It has a Roman aqueduct-themed water slide, a splash area, and a little sand beach, and is located adjacent to the children’s pool, making it easy to keep an eye on the kids. There are also poolside games to keep you and the little ones entertained, and a Villa Pool if you want some privacy at one of the private cabanas.
At only 0.5 miles from the Universal theme parks, Universal’s Loews Portofino is one of the few hotels within walking distance of Universal Studios Orlando.
With two hot tubs, a volleyball court, a large swimming pool, cabana rentals, and a fitness center, Universal’s Loews Royal Pacific is a hard one to pass up. At 0.6 miles from the parks, it’s another one of the hotels within walking distance of Universal Studios Orlando.
Take the scenic, sign-posted path for a calm walk to the theme park, or make use of the complimentary transport services. Much like the other Loews hotels, this one is a premium hotel that provides Express Passes to guests.
Choose from 6 restaurants on the site including the The Islands Dining Room and Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar. The Bula Bar & Grille has a separate buffet for kids and has live Hawaiian music, hula dancers, and fire eaters.
Families with little budding paleontologists in their midst will love the Jurassic Park suites. The hotel also has a large swimming pool inspired by the natural lagoons of the Royal Bali Sea and an interactive play area attached to the pool.
Kids get to shoot water guns and canyons, play water volleyball, or other water games here. When you need a little time away from the kids, there’s the Mariners Club that will keep the kids entertained with arts and crafts, board games, and even story tim
The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is a modern, extravagant, and tropical-themed resort that is designed to give you an experience like no other.
From lagoons to pools, steel drums to vintage rums, this Carribean-style haven is perfect if you don’t mind spending a little extra on your vacation. Plus, when you’re back after a day of fun, the hotel’s Caribbean taverns and eateries will be there to greet you and delight your taste buds with island flavors.
The resort provides a complimentary water shuttle to the rest of the park, and from there on, it is but a quick walk to wherever you are headed for the day.
Step back in time at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The place is designed like a 50s lodging facility but comes with all the modern amenities needed for a memorable stay. This three-star facility includes massive pools to splash around in and features in our list of the best Orlando hotels with lazy rivers.
The Bayliner Diner here is known for its all-day dining options, with different outlets within their court offering grab-n-go bites. For a poolside meal, head to The Hideaway Bar & Grill and grab some classic American dishes. There is also the onsite bowling alley with a restaurant too.
Shuttles to the parks are complimentary, so you don’t have to worry about transportation when creating your Universal Orlando itinerary. If you’re looking to go on drives with the family, you’ll be pleased to know that the hotel partners with Avis Car Rentals to provide its guests with transportation options.
For affordable yet luxurious accommodations, check out Universal’s Endless Summer Resort. which encompasses Surfside Inn And Dockside. With a chill, beachy ambiance, the resort is perfect for those thrifty vacationers who want to experience life within Universal Boulevard.
For breakfast, head to the resort’s Beach Break Café for burritos, burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and more. Later on in the evening, you can even check out the joint’s poolside bar.
When staying here, or at any of the other park hotels, you can buy merchandise from the park and have it delivered directly to your hotel room. That means no carrying them around all day! Just find them waiting for you in your room when you get back.
Other Hotels Close To Universal
If staying at Universal doesn’t fit your budget, pick one from among the several grand yet affordable options that are located within walking distance of Universal.
Super 8 by Wyndham Orlando International Drive is located only a mile away from the Universal theme parks and is the most budget-friendly option you’ll find. The hotel offers free WiFi and free parking that is large enough to accommodate both small and large vehicles.
For food, guests have a free light breakfast with cereal bars, fruit, hot coffee, and fruit juice to look forward to. Amenities include an outdoor pool with a sundeck, laundry services, and ticket booking services for the theme parks. All the rooms feature a work desk, cable TV with HBO, coffeemakers, a seating area, a microwave, a mini fridge, and spacious bathrooms with premium toiletries.
The best part about this hotel is its location. Apart from being one of the hotels near Universal Studios in Orlando, it is also close to other popular attractions such as SeaLife Orlando Aquarium and Madame Tussauds Orlando.
Holiday Inn & Suites is perfect if you’re looking for a budget-friendly space that is at the doorstep of Universal. It’s located less than a mile away from the park and a quick walk away from your room.
The hotel offers all the amenities that you will need during your stay too, including a 24-hour fitness center, free Wi-Fi, and an outdoor pool. Treat your palette at the in-house TGI Fridays, where kids 11 and under eat for free (subject to some conditions)! With so much to offer, this amazing stay is definitely worth considering when you plan a Universal Orlando vacation.
One of the very few hotels in town to be eco-certified, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel is a good fit for families as it is located right at the entrance to Universal Orlando. No long walks with tired kids necessary!
The rooms promise beautiful views of the city along with an outdoor pool for guests. It also offers a breakfast that has been praised by many guests. In addition, DoubleTree by Hilton also has a number of restaurants to satisfy your eating needs while here.
When planning a family trip to Universal Studios, there’s no better option than staying at a Universal Partner hotel, such as the Hyatt House. It’s situated only a few steps from Universal CityWalk.
With a relaxing contemporary vibe, the hotel comes packed with features like free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a pool, and an on-site restaurant.
The Holiday Inn is just perfect for families thanks to its 4D theater, onsite water park, Batman Laser Challenge, and spacious suites with connecting rooms, cribs, and kitchenette or full kitchen.
Located a mere 0.7 miles from the park, this is a hotel close to Universal Studios Orlando that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
The hotel offers on-site discount tickets to the theme parks and a complimentary hot breakfast buffet. Families love the seasonal heated outdoor pool, massive splash pad complete with five waterslides, and the game room for a fun time.
Previously known as the Nickelodeon Suites Hotel, the lobby lounge today has a video screen that plays shows with your kids’ favorite animated characters to keep them occupied.
Tips for Making the Most of your Trip to Universal
- If you are visiting at a busy period, consider buying the Express Pass in advance, unless you are staying at one of the deluxe Universal hotels where complimentary Unlimited Express passes are provided for the duration of of your stay.
- Planning on buying snacks? Buy a refillable popcorn bucket and then refill for a fraction of the price – a great snack to share with your family throughout the day.
- Use the Universal Orlando App to plan your day, see ride waits, order food and more to save time!
- Look out for special offers. eg the Mardi Gras cards for discounts is well worth it!
- Utilise all the different transport options for getting around the resort. From walking the Garden Walkway to the gentle boat rides to the resort buses, you’ll see different perspectives and it’s all free.
- Want to do a VIP tour but budget won’t stretch quite the far? Well how about experiencing parts of a VIP tour at no extra cost? A not so well known feature is that certain rides have additional tours which are free – if staff are available to do them, then you are good to go! One of these is the eg Men in Black Immigration tour. Be led to the immigration control room area and see Bweryang and Bob, the tentacled twins, fill out your own report form and touch many of the props (bar the twins). A great photo opportunity! Other ‘secret’ tours include on Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Revenge of the Mummy, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Skull Island: Reign of Kong and Jurassic World: VelociCoaster Paddock Tour, Dr. Doom’s Villain Tour, Harry Potter: Forbidden Journey Castle Tour (normally self guided) These always depend if staff are available to do this and may take a few attempts before you are successful. Tours are done on request, there are no scheduled times and they are never guaranteed.
Before you Visit Universal Resort
- Check Park opening hours. One is often open a little later than another and on set days, may close earlier due to private functions.
- Before you arrive, work out what the priorities are for each family member and consider if you need Child Swap or whether everyone meets the height requirements for key rides.
- Are there any restaurants that you really want to eat at or is a quick meal sufficient? Consider mobile food ordering via the Universal Orlando app for your quick service meals and snacks to save time in line.
- Are any shows that are on your must do list? Animal’s On Location is great for a respite from the sun as is the Bourne Identity Stuntacular!
- Do you need a break in-between or will you head to the park the full day and night? With little ones a return to the hotel for a swim ands nap might be beneficial to avoid any meltdowns. Or if you have a longer itinerary then you van head to the park for a morning one day and then afternoon/early evening another day.
- Are there any must buy souvenirs? eg An interactive Harry Potter wand is a must do for maximising the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
- Try and do the rides in one area before moving to another area – your feet will thank you
These itineraries may prove useful too!.
Highlights Of Each Park
Step right into the Home of Hollywood, where magic comes to life and reality meets the screens. At Universal Studios, you and your kids will find your favorite Hollywood characters, superheroes, and mythical creatures and join them on their adventures!
Stop by the popular Despicable Minion Mayhem ride, a favorite for parents and kids alike with banana fart smells as you queue! This motion-simulated attraction takes you on a wacky tour through Gru’s laboratory, where the kids can spot their favorite minions like Kevin and Stuart!
Another major headliner is the Simpsons Ride, where adults and kids join Homer and his family on their visit to Krustyland. This one can make you feel a bit dizzy!
Teens will love the Transformers Ride, where they’ll get to join forces with their favorite alien robots. For something a bit more musical, check out Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. This rollercoaster takes you to the skies at a 90-degree angle, turns you upside down, and then zooms through more twists.
The Potterheads in the family cannot miss The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which features an actual fire-breathing dragon perched atop Gringotts! Once there, hop on to the Escape from Gringotts ride, a subterranean rollercoaster where you must break out of the most secure vaults in Diagon Alley.
Don’t forget to capture memories of your visit with fun snaps with Autobots like Optimus Prime at the astonishing Transformer character meet sections! Revisit your own childhood by meeting Scooby-Doo and his whole gang, or everyone’s favorite yellow friend – Spongebob Squarepants.
Take a break from the rides and treat yourself to Butterbeer and other favorites from the Wizarding World at the Leaky Cauldron. If you prefer Muggle food, try classic Italian fare at Louie’s or sample some American bites like burgers and fries at Cletus’ Chicken Shack.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
True to its name, Islands of Adventure is the park to visit to go on some of the most adrenaline-pumping adventures ever. Board the VelociCoaster ride, a ride that’s based on Jurassic Park. Hold on to your seats as you are taken through a life-like raptor enclosure chasing Blue, Echo, Delta, and other predators.
One of the biggest headliners here is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. This fast-paced rollercoaster takes you through the Forbidden Forest with the beloved groundskeeper, with whom you will encounter many familiar beasts from the Harry Potter franchise.
There’s a lot to see and do with the smaller family members, too. Seuss Landing is the perfect place to visit with a toddler. Watch their little faces light up around the various Dr. Seuss creations, including the famous Cat In The Hat.
Next, head to Marvel Super Hero Island, where your munchkin can meet their favorite superheroes and join them to save the day. If you have a Park-to-Park pass, you can also board the Hogwarts Express with your kid for a magical journey across the two parks.
Come meal time, Mythos Restaurant is the spot to be. From delicious delicacies to detailed decor that looks like it is out of Greek mythology, this eatery truly offers one-of-a-kind dining. If American grub is what your teens and tweens crave, check out Captain America Diner to dine with your favorite Marvel mates.
Get ready for your heart to race as you get soaked at Volcano Bay, Universal’s water theme park! The water park is modeled around a fuming volcano, with rides set around and inside it. Body plunges, serpentine slides, family coasters, they’ve got it all to help you beat the heat.
The Ko’okiri Body Plunge drops you at a 75-degree angle from the top of the volcano, 125 feet high, into a pool of cool water. Yes, that is a steep drop to conquer, making it best suited for adults, teens, and older kids.
The Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides take you around sharp corners and loops of slippery fun before dropping from a height into the pool below. The winding river and aqua coaster, with its 4-person canoes, lets the whole family in on the fun. They have smaller play areas for little kids too.
If you dread waiting in long lines, you can sigh in relief. Volcano Bay lets you join a virtual line with its Tapu Tapu system instead of making you physically wait in one!
A wearable gizmo is provided to all visitors at Volcano Bay upon entry, and you can use this to reserve a time slot for you to board your ride. So, you can go check out and explore the rest of the park, and when it’s time, walk right in without having to wait anywhere.
You can even use this time to fill up your tummies before splashing around. Check out the Kohola Reef Restaurant for a Polynesian twist on your everyday meals, and the Whakawaiwai Eats to delight your taste buds with new fresh flavors!
Steal some time between your amusement park visits and head to CityWalk Orlando to shop, dine, and dance to your heart’s content.
Upon entering, you’ll find Cinemark Cinema, a multiplex with around 20 screens where you can catch your favorite animated classics. If the skies are clear, head to the Hollywood Drive-In Golf, an onsite golf course that is perfect for the whole family. Challenge your kids to a game on the single 18-hole course or the double feature that covers two 18-hole courses.
Kids are sure to lose themselves in the official movie merchandise and figures at the Universal Studios Store, while adults can take a trip down memory lane at the Universal Legacy Store. This store is a callback to evergreen Universal classics and features officially licensed merchandise from all your childhood favorites, from E.T. to Woody the Woodpecker.
Stop by the world’s biggest HardRock Café to dine, dance and sway to the music with your loved ones. For seafood cuisine, try Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, a Southern-style restaurant with a range of kid-friendly foods. For the big and little chocolate lovers in the family, a visit to Chocolate Emporium is a must to sample their gourmet chocolates and delectable desserts.
Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando: Essential Information
The two land parks are open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., although this may vary on different days and seasons, so check the website when you plan a Universal Orlando vacation. Volcano Bay opens at 10 in the morning and is open till 5 in the evening, whereas CityWalk Orlando opens earlier and closes later than all the other parks in the complex, from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Visitors of CityWalk Orlando and the land parks can follow the road signs to the parking garage at 6000 Universal Boulevard. Keep in mind that there is a dedicated Volcano Bay parking area too.
From here, you can board a designated shuttle that will take you to the park and back to the parking area when you are done with your day.
Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando: FAQs
- How many days do you need at Universal Studios Orlando?
With some planning, Universal Studios Orlando can be covered in one day, and that includes stopping by all the popular rides and attractions. However, if you have smaller kids, it is advised to pace your visit over two or three days, provided your passes allow you to do so.
- What is the cheapest month to go to Universal Studios?
Ticket prices vary according to season and busy weeks instead of specific months. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to pick a time when there aren’t any major occasions (like Halloween week in October or Christmas week in December) to avail prices on the lower end.
- Is Universal cheaper than Disney?
Universal is cheaper than Disney but promises the same safety, quality, and excitement. Rides, attractions, and experiences at both parks are competitively impressive, but Universal is usually known for lower rates.
- How to plan a trip to Universal Studios on a budget?
There are a few tips to follow if you want your vacation to be cost-effective. Schedule your vacation for the off-season to get lower fares on flight tickets and park passes. The Express Pass option also costs an additional amount, so you can skip it if you are okay with waiting in lines.
At Orlando, pick a hotel close to the parks or one that offers complimentary airport shuttles, to avoid spending on daily commute. Try to check in to hotels that provide breakfast, too, as breakfast at the park can be expensive. It also takes up time that you could otherwise spend exploring the parks.
Universal also lets you bring in snacks and beverages. But if you want to grab a bite when inside, check out the more budget-friendly eateries such as Louie’s Italian Restaurant, London Taxi Hut, or Hot Dog Hall of Fame.
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