Orlando is the home of theme parks and Universal is one of our favourites, that is why we are sharing our best Universal Studios Orlando tips to help you plan your next vacation!
Universal Studios Orlando tips
How many days for Universal Studios Orlando?
At least 4! You will, of course, want to explore both Universal Studios and Island of Adventure but we would always say that 3 days are needed to see everything at your own pace if you have the Universal Express Pass. However, Volcano Bay can’t be forgotten and a full day should be set aside to enjoy this fun water park.
If you do not have the express pass, you may want to extend your stay to at least 5 days so to avoid disappointment.
Planning before your visit
Avoid the crowds
Of course, this is the first thing we all want to find out when planning a trip to Universal. We would suggest, to really avoid crowds, visit in September when all the children are back at school or visit at the very start of December. Children are still at school but the parks are fully decked out for Christmas and you get to enjoy extra shows such as The Grinch musical and the festive parades.
As always, check the school holidays for not only America but also for the UK and Europe as many visitors are from across the pond.
Stay on property
Universal Orlando has three resorts to choose from but they all come with great perks. The hotels may appear more expensive than other hotels nearby but, once you compare the prices of the extra things you get with property hotels, it is actually a great deal.
You can choose between Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort and Hard Rock Hotel. All hotels offer the universal express pass for free, meaning you get access to the front of the line for park rides. You also get early park admission, free transportation and priority seating at many restaurants.
Book ahead at discounted rates
Using websites such as ARES Travel and Undercover Tourist, you can get massive savings on legitimate tickets for the parks. Tickets are emailed directly and you can feel happy knowing you have purchased real tickets for the best price around.
Upgrade to Concierge
The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and the Loews Royal Pacific Resort both offer a concierge Level, meaning you get a complimentary breakfast, snacks and soft drinks in the afternoon and they even offer small tasting plates in the evenings alongside cocktails and desserts. Having food available throughout the day makes for a much more relaxing trip and helps you save money; you don’t need to eat out much at all.
Arrive early and stay late
As with all major theme parks, this rule applies if you want to make the most out of your time. Try to arrive before the park opens and head to your must-ride picks first. It is also worth noting that the parks tend to die down around 4 pm. Many guests will head back home by 3/4 pm which is why we prefer to head there early, get back to our hotel for lunchtime and spend a few hours by the pool before heading back to the park for a fun-filled but quieter afternoon.
Buy with American Express
If you have an American Express card, it is worth purchasing your tickets using it. This gains you access to their lounge inside the park, near the Shrek Character meet and greet. Here you can enjoy an air-conditioned lounge complete with bottles of water and snacks.
Get an Unlimited Express pass
This may sound obvious but you will ride many more rides with the express pass! These are essential at any time of the year because Universal Studios Orlando is always busy. For $79.99 you can get a 2 park express pass and you will save hours queuing.
There are a few different express pass options to choose from:
Universal Express Pass – Skip the queue once per ride per day.
Universal Unlimited Express Pass – Skip the rides an unlimited number of times.
These options are also available for two and three park-to-park tickets.
Are Universal Express Passes worth it?
I would recommend the pass if you love rides and are visiting with children. There are times that we visit a theme park to explore and we aren’t as fussed about riding everything; especially if it is a low season and the queues aren’t too long anyway.
But when visiting during peak times then these passes can make your day a lot better. It is all about priorities; if you love rides and have the budget, definitely get these passes. If you are on a tight budget and just want to explore and ride a few, you can give it a miss.
You may choose not to stay on-site, especially if you are looking to visit other parks and attractions in Orlando. It is still worth looking for hotels or resorts that include shuttles to and from the parks; not only does this save you money but these shuttle buses will be able to drop you off and pick you up at the actual car park, making it a lot easier for you to get home when it is busy.
One park a day
The first time we visited Orlando, we tried to see both parks in one day. Although it was doable to see the parks in one day, we didn’t get to ride as much as we would have liked. In one day, from morning to evening, we explored both Harry Potter worlds, enjoyed the Simpsons land and experienced 4 rides – one of which being the Gringotts ride that had over an hour wait.
I would recommend spending one day in one park, another day in the other park. You could even spend one morning in one park then take the Hogwarts Express over to the other park in the afternoon but then do the same thing the next day but the other way around – that way you get to see both journeys on the Hogwarts Express whilst seeing both parks.
Download the Universal resort app
With current wait times, show schedules, dining options and facility locations, the resort app is perfect. Use the map whilst in the park to make the most out of your trip.
If you are staying on-site, you may want to look at the different dining plans available. You can choose from full service and quick service plans and there is up to 100 dining locations to choose from inside both parks as well as the CityWalk.
Use Universal’s coke freestyle program
If you are planning on spending the whole day at the park, take advantage of this soda program. You can buy a freestyle cup to get unlimited refills from the refill stations around the park. There are also loads of flavours to choose from with up to 100 combinations of flavours.
You can choose a cup or a sipper (themed to a character), both of which are $16, then your first drink fill is free with additional refills costing $1.99. Refill locations are in and around all quick and full-service restaurants but you can’t refill drinks at beverage carts.
Things to remember are, you have to wait for 20 minutes’ in-between refills, so, if you travelling as a couple or small family, then sharing a cup is fine but for larger groups, you may want to opt for a few cups to share. You can add additional days for a cheaper rate too.
Read this guide for more information on the refill program.
At the park
Don’t bring too much stuff
It is easy to overpack for theme parks but as always, try to avoid it. Most rides will not allow bags or backpacks and you will have to put personal items in lockers or nearby storage units. We suggest you stick with your phone and wallet. If you do bring a bag, try to bring a smaller one as you have to pay for your locker and there are three different sizes available.
We always advise for you to arrive early but, we appreciate sometimes you need a bit more time in the morning. If you are arriving after 10 am, head towards the entrance near the Blue Man Group and you will find yourself spending less time queuing and entering between Despicable Me and the Studios Store.
Parking is available and is shared for both Universal parks. If you are arriving before 10 am, you won’t need the premium parking. I would always recommend taking a photo of your parking section to avoid getting lost or losing your car at the end of a busy day.
Take advantage of the single riders queue
Guests above the age of 10 can opt for the single rider queue. These are often a lot shorter and means you get to ride a lot more of the ride. How does this work? When a group of 3 jumps on a ride that fits 4, they fill out that extra space with a single rider.
As a couple, we use the lines when the normal wait time is super long. It is great because generally, we find we don’t have to wait too much longer to be reunited in the gift shop.
Check the height requirements
It is worth checking the height requirements ahead of time if you are visiting with younger children. Many rides have a 40-inch height requirement but there are still lots of rides worth checking out such as the Shrek 4D, Fievel’s Playground, Camp Jurassic and Seuss Landing.
Use Child Swap
For families travelling with young children, take advantage of the child swap program. This means one parent waits for whichever child isn’t riding a ride (because they are not tall enough to ride), whilst the rest of the family enjoys the ride. Then, when they finish, the parents swap roles and can enjoy the ride too without having to wait in line again. Plus, the second parent can take up to 3 guests with them so the kids get to ride twice.
Use the free Wi-Fi
Log into the free wifi whilst you re at the park to save data and help you use the Universal Studios app (ideal for those who don’t live in America).
Eat at Citywalk
There are some special experiences to enjoy food and drink in the theme parks such as Moes in the Simpsons land or a butterbeer at Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. But, the food itself isn’t great in the parks, especially for the price. You are better off eating in Citywalk, trying out the Cowfish Sushi Burger bar, Bubba Gump Shrimp or Blaze’s pizza.
An extra tip, however, is to avoid eating at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. The food is so so and the wait time can be super long. Instead, pop inside after your dinner and pick up some dessert to take back to your hotel.
Buy at the end
Of course, we all love to buy a souvenir or two to remember our fun day out at the theme parks. If you are staying on-site, you can opt for the Universal Orlando’s package pick-up and free package delivery – meaning anything you buy will be packaged and delivered to your hotel room. If you are off-site, save your shopping until the end of the day. Both parks have stores near the exit, so you can shop and avoid carrying everything around for the rest of the day.
You also have an option for package pick-up, where you can collect purchases at the front of the park.
Wizard World Of Harry Potter Tips
Visit in the afternoon
Yes, you read that right. Every visitor heads to the Wizard World in the morning to ride their favourite rides and explore the world with as fewer people as possible. But, unless you are going to be one of the first people in the park and run to a ride, you are best off heading to the other lands first then visiting Harry Potter world around 4 pm.
Take the train both ways
You have to experience the Hogwarts Express at least once in your visit but if you can, try and take the train both ways. The experiences are different and both magical – of course.
Try a butterbeer
I know it feels like a way for Universal to make money and it kinda is BUT, getting a butterbeer in the Wizard World is a must. Head to The Three Broomsticks or Hog’s Head Pub to escape the heat or try a butterbeer flavoured ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
Try their Secret Menu item
Head to The Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head Pub and order a Pumpkin Fizz. This is a secret menu item that is still relatively secret.
Visit the stores
In most theme parks, I very much avoid the stores as much as I can, buying any souvenirs at the end of the day in whatever merchandise store they have at the entrance/exit. However, the stores dotted around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley have their own magic to them and are definitely worth a visit.
Remember, however, to buy your costumes BEFORE visiting the park – they are much cheaper on Amazon and it means you can spend a whole day sporting your house.
Those are our Universal Orlando Studio tips so that you can make the most of our time at the park. Have an awesome time and tell us what was your favourite ride in the comments below?!