When visiting Orlando’s numerous theme parks, time is off the essence! Make sure you check out my top tips and find out all you need to know about Universal Orlando Resort before you go.
Orlando is without a doubt one of the world’s best family holiday destinations. However, did you know there are over 20 theme parks to explore? It is impossible to see everything during one holiday, so you need to select the theme parks that suit your needs best. Universal Studios is one of the world’s best theme parks, and shouldn’t be missed if visiting Orlando. There are three parks to explore, I’ve listed some of the most important things you need to know about Universal Orlando below.
1. There are 3 parks in Universal Orlando Resort – and you will want to visit all 3!
The most important thing you need to know about Universal Orlando Resort is that you need AT LEAST three days to see it properly. Universal Orlando has three parks, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay Water Theme Park. There are great rides in all three parks, so it is impossible to recommend one over another – you need to visit them all.
Many may not realise but the Wizarding World of Harry Potter stretches over two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Universal Studios is also home to Transformers – an old ride but still a classic, as well as a whole area dedicated to The Simpsons, a super Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride, and the unmissable Bourne Stuntacular stunt show.
However, Universal’s Islands of Adventure is equally as impressive, and is home to the brand new Jurassic World VelociCoaster, The Hulk Coaster, great water rides, as well as Hogwarts Castle and three Harry Potter rides.
While rollercoasters and simulator rides are the top attractions in Orlando, on a roasting hot summer’s day you can’t beat a waterpark. Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park boasts over 30 unique experiences and 19 different attractions, including it’s own real sand beach! Now do you see why you need to visit all three parks?
Read: Top things to do in Universal Studios, my top tips and tricks
2. You need to book tickets before you go
Booking tickets before you go is a golden rule when visiting Universal Orlando resort. Not only will you save yourself a fortune, but you will also be able to secure park tickets that you can not buy locally. Tickets are valid for 14 days so rather than trying to blitz the parks over three days, why not enjoy it at your leisure and take advantage of the unlimited entry over 14 days.
My favourite ticket is the Universal 3 Park Explorer ticket. This gives you unlimited access for 14 days to Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. You will also have access to selected live entertainment venues in Universal’s CityWalk and receive the free Tapu Tapu, a waterproof wearable, that allows you to hold your place in a ‘virtual line’ at Volcano Bay.
Attraction Tickets.com offer many more combination tickets, so if you want to visit other parks, they have a wide selection to choose from.
The exclusive Universal and Disney Combo ticket, is very popular, or if you want to see all the parks, opt for the Orlando Freedom Ticket Ultimate. This allows you to visit all three Universal Parks, six Disney Parks as well as Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Aquatica and Legoland.
Attraction Tickets.com send you real park tickets (not vouchers) so there is no queueing when you arrive, just sail through the entrance doors. I love that a €25 deposit secures your booking on park tickets. So even if you are planning for 2023, you can book now and pay the balance 6 weeks before departure!
3. There are five rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as many great experiences
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If you haven’t visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you are in for a real treat. Wandering through Diagon Alley and Hogsmede are experiences in their own right. Pop in and out of the curio shops, have lunch in the Leaky Cauldron, enjoy some frozen Butter Beer. Top Tip: The frozen Butter Beer is much nicer than the regular one!
TOP TIP: Ollivanders wand shop is another unmissable experience, where a child is chosen at random from the audience to receive a wand. If you are staying in one of the Universal hotels and have early access to the parks, I recommend you go there early.
We were lucky that there was no one else in the shop at that time, so my daughter Alex was chosen. It was one of her favourite experiences in Universal Orlando Resort.
Don’t worry if you are not lucky enough to be chosen, you can buy a wand in the shop afterwards. They are beautifully made and are a great souvenir to bring home. The wands are interactive and work in various locations throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. You are given a map with clues, and there are numerous places where you can perform magic tricks – children love it!
There are five rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Flight of the Hippogriff ride is ideal for young children, The Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts are thrilling family rides, while Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is a thrilling rollercoaster ride.
You ride through the Forbidden forest complete with 1200 trees, at a mind boggling 50 miles per hour! You can choose whether you want to be in the driver’s seat of the motorbike, or in the sidecar. Each seat offers a different experience – so try to ride this twice if you can.
TOP TIP: This ride one of the few rides where you can not use your Express pass, and the average queueing time was two hours during our visit, so the earlier you can go there the better.
The Hogwarts Express is another unmissable ride. The train journeys between the two parks, and offers a different experience in each direction. TOP TIP: Make sure to board it in Kings Cross so you can walk through the magic wall on Platform 9¾.
4. Stay at a Universal Hotel and reap the benefits!
Staying in one of Universal’s eight hotels is not as expensive as you might think. The newly opened Endless Summer Resorts offer superb value, and there are plenty of hotels to suit all budgets. Attraction Tickets .com offer excellent rates on all hotels, so you can book the hotel and park tickets in one simple transaction.
There are so many benefits of staying in a Universal hotel, but my personal favourite is getting early access to the parks, before anyone else. If you are travelling in peak season, this is a Godsend. As well as avoiding lengthy queues, it is wonderful being able to wander through the parks without crowds around you.
Other benefits include free entrance to CityWalks’s best venues and priority seating at selected restaurants in the parks and in CityWalk. You can also charge any meals or purchases to your room, so you don’t need to carry cash, and any merchandise that you buy, is delivered straight to your hotel.
This was particularly useful when Alex bought the wand in the morning. It meant she didn’t have to carry it with her for the whole day, we simply sent it back to our hotel.
5. If you stay in one of Universal’s Premier hotels you get FREE Express Passes
If you can afford to stay in one of Universal’s premier hotels – Lowes Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel or Lowes Royal Pacific, you will get a FREE Universal Express Unlimited Pass, which lets you skip the regular lines at some the most popular attractions in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I stayed in Lowes Portofino Bay many years ago – it is superb.
The price of a Unlimited Express passes range from €79 per person, per day. So that €200 per night you think you are saving, by staying in a cheaper hotel elsewhere, may not be worth it, particularly you going to buy the express passes for a family.
You will receive a complimentary Express pass for two days with a one-night stay, three days with a two-night stay etc. This can be very cost effective if staying for a short duration. I highly recommend you to stay in one of the Universal Hotels, even for a few days, so you can avail of these amazing benefits.
6. Enjoy the facilities in ALL Universal Hotels
You can use the facilities in all Universal hotels if you are staying in a Prime Value, Preferred or Premier Universal hotel. That’s all Universal hotels except Endless Summer Resorts (Surfside or Dockside).
Once you book for a Prime Value, Preferred or Premier Universal hotel, you can enjoy an Italian meal on the piazza in Lowes Portofino. You can also slide down the 260-foot long water slide and listen to the latest tunes via the underwater sound system in The Hard Rock hotel.
If opera is more your style, listen to a live performance at Lowes Portofino Hotel. Fancy taking the family bowling? You can do that at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
7. Plan your meals – check out my top dining tips for Universal Orlando
Planning good meals is essential at Universal Orlando Resort. Trust me, the queues are longer at lunch time in some restaurants, than they are for rides. I can highly recommend Mythos Restaurant in Universal’s Islands of Adventure – it was one of the best meals we had in Orlando – but make sure you pre book.
If you avoid the peak lunch time rush from 12-3, not only will you have a much better dining experience, but you will also find that the rides are much quieter at that time too. Its a win-win! Have lunch at 1130am or 330pm instead and you will love the benefits.
Alternatively if you fancy a leisurely lunch, pop outside the park to CityWalk, the restaurants are far superior and less crowded. We enjoyed a nice Italian meal in Vivo at City Walk. Its contemporary style and extensive menu was enjoyed by all of us.
Other recommendations I received were Big Fire Steakhouse, Cowfish for sushi and burgers, NBC Sports Bar, and the Chocolate Toothsome Emporium for decadent desserts!
8. There is a Child Swap facility and shorter Single Rider lines
If you are travelling with small kids, make sure to use the child swap system. This allows one person to stay behind with a child while the other members go on the ride. When they return, the remaining family member can go on the ride without queueing.
Another good tip is to use the single rider line, it is always the shortest. If you are happy to go on a ride alone, choose this line and save a huge amount of queueing time. This is great when you are looking to experience a ride for the second time and don’t necessarily need to have your partner beside you to share the experience.
9. Get to Volcano Bay early to secure sun beds by the beach
The queueing system in Volcano Bay is excellent. When you arrive you are given a wearable Tapu Tapu, which looks like a waterproof watch. You tap the Tapu Tapu at the entrance to the ride you want to go on, and it places you in a virtual queue.
You are given an allotted time to return to the ride, so you are free to enjoy the wave pool or sun beds in the meantime – hence the reason to get there early and bag a sun bed!
Note the Express passes that are included when staying at a 5-star Universal Hotel only apply to Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure only, and not to Volcano Bay.
If you wish to purchase an Express pass for Volcano Bay, you will need to do this separately. Prices start at $39 per person per day and you can go straight onto any water slide without having to register in the virtual line.
10. Make sure you download the Universal Orlando App
The Universal Orlando app is not only great for planning before you go, but it also helps you when you are inside the park. You can see show times, the latest wait time for rides, and access maps of the park. It also lets you pre-order your meals in selected restaurants, so you can skip the queue when you arrive!
All you need to know about Universal Orlando Resort is in their app. Top Tip: Set an alert for your favourite ride, it will tell you when the waiting times are low.
Prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change. This post, 10 Things You Need To Know Before Booking Universal Orlando Resort contains affiliate links, where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at not additional cost to you.