Universal Orlando is the perfect place for a weekend getaway, any time of the year. 3 parks to choose from means something for everyone. There are all kinds of different rides, experiences, foods, and activities – and lots of great options for passes and accommodations that will help you make the most of a short visit.
I visited Universal Orlando over a weekend myself. I fly in on a Friday night, and spent all day Saturday and Sunday enjoying the parks before flying back home to Canada on Sunday night. Even though it was a really short visit, I had a blast and was amazed by how much of the park I was able to see and how many rides I had time for!
Universal Orlando: Know Before You Go
There are a few details you will find helpful to know before you visit Universal Orlando. The ticket process in particular can be a little bit confusing, so here’s what you need to know:
- Universal Orlando consists of 3 parks: The Island of Adventures, Universal Studios, and Volcano Bay. One-Park Tickets will only allow you access to one park per day. If you want to go back and forth between two parks in a day, you need a Park to Park ticket. This is crucial for you Harry Potter fans – the Hogwarts Express serves as transportation between the Island of Adventures and Universal Studios, and you need a Park-to-Park ticket to ride it.
- Buy your tickets before you go. Score great deals using this website, such as a free extra day when you book 2 days. Make your trip in to a long weekend without paying extra, or enjoy a Friday night in the parks along with your weekend.
- Add your tickets to your virtual wallet, or to the Universal Orlando app so that you’re not carrying around paper versions.
- Check out this post for more Universal Orlando Tips for planning your visit, dinning, getting around the parks, wait times, lockers, and more.
- Really just here for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? These 19 Magical Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter include insider tips for spotting and accessing magical details, how to get early access to the rides, and other must-knows for any muggle who wants to cast spells (which you totally can).
10 Reasons Universal Orlando is the Perfect Weekend Getaway
1. Step in to Fictional Lands on the Island of Adventures
My favourite part of visiting Universal Orlando was walking through worlds that you read about in books, or see on the big screen. Universal’s Island of Adventures includes fictional places such as Skull Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Hogsmeade (Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios), and Marvel Superhero Island.
While you’re exploring each world, make sure to pop in to stores and take time to explore. It’s easy to walk through quickly, but the small details of each area are what make the fictional lands of the Island of Adventure amazing.
2. Catch Special Events and Live Shows
Choose from a long list of live shows and character meet-and-greets in the Universal Studios and Island of Adventure Parks. There’s no extra charge for these shows!
On the Island of Adventures walk-throughs from Marvel superheroes and villains give you a chance to get up and close with your favourite superheroes. Make your way to the stage in Hogsmeade village for Triwizard Cup performances of the Frog Choir (my personal favourite).
Universal Studios features meet-and-greets with characters like Shrek, Hello Kitty, and the Transformers. The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard are performed in Diagon Alley. Other live musical performances, a Horror Make Up Presentation, and a parade featuring Hollywood favourites like Marilyn Monroe are also on the schedule.
3. Stay Up Late on the Universal City Walk
The Universal Orlando parks are all closed by 10 PM, but the City Walk is open until 2 AM so there is still lots to do. This is the place for shopping, entertainment, and food after hours.
The restaurants on the City Walk are include fun places like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hard Rock Café Orlando, and the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen.
Get tickets to enjoy a performance by the Blue Man Group, head to the Groove for a multi-level dance club experience, or step in to Rising Star to showcase your karaoke talents. There’s lots to choose from – you don’t have to call it a night just because the parks are closed!
4. Go Around the World at Universal Studios
While the Island of Adventures gives you a chance to walk through fictional worlds, Universal Studios will take you to some of the U.S.A.s greatest cities. Hollywood, New York, and San Francisco all have small segments in Universal Studios I have been to both New York and San Francisco, and the Universal Studios versions are very reminiscent of the real cities.
The World Expo, Production Central, Springfield (the Simpson’s), and Diagon Alley are also located in Universal Studios. Essentially, you can tour the U.S.A., an alternate dimension of the U.S.A., and then hop over to London for some magic. One park, several cities!
5. Dine at Restaurants from Other Worlds
The dining and snack experiences at Universal are well-priced and lots of fun. On visit you can choose from at places like the Leaky Cauldron, Captain America Diner, Green Eggs & Ham Restaurants, and Mythos (a mythic, under-water themed restaurant).
Enjoy snacks from some of your favourite stories. Try butter beer warm, cold, and in ice cream form while you wander Diagon Alley. Get one of the Simpson’s Big Pink Donuts at Lard Lad Donuts (best shared!) and explore Springfield.
6. Watch the Fireworks Over Hogwarts Castle
What could be more spectacular than a light show and fireworks over Hogwarts? The lights and fireworks show runs from dusk til close (check the schedule to see if they’re on during your visit).
I loved the light show! The show is themed around the Hogwarts houses and includes light projections on the castle, and a firework finale. Pro tip: if it’s too busy in Hogsmeade, watch the fireworks from the bridge that connects the Lost Continent and Jurassic Park.
7. Stay at the Universal Orlando Resort
The option to stay on the resort is one of the things that makes Universal Orlando perfect for a weekend – no commuting or busing around the city! If you’ve bought your tickets for the weekend, I highly recommend staying on the resort.
I stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and was very happy with it. The rooms were basic (with funky decor) and there was a shuttle directly from the front door to the parks. I’ve heard great things about the Loews Royal Pacific Resort (they have a boat to take you to the park!) and Hard Rock Hotel.
Most importantly – staying at the resort grants you early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, by an entire hour.
8. Splash Around at Volcano Bay
Universal Orlando is great for more than just rides – you can work in a full day of beach chairs, water fun, and relaxation at Volcano Bay.
Enjoy aqua-coasters, water slides, and fresh food and drinks. Volcano Bay is a big place, so some are more family friendly while others are preferred by adults and those wanting to relax with the sand under their toes.
9. Go On Different Types of Rides
One of the things that I love about Universal is the variety of rides. Even if upside down roller coasters and thrill rides aren’t your thing, that leaves tons of awesome experiences to be had at Universal Orlando.
- 3D / 4D Theater: Settle in to what at first glance might seem like a traditional movie theater for experiences like Shrek and Jimmy Fallon. While your seat only moves a little bit, the action on screen makes it seem like a wild ride.
- 3D /4D Rides / Motion Stimulator: The 3D / 4D rides includes Transformers, Escape from Gringotts, Spiderman, and the Forbidden Journey, or the new Fast and Furious Ride. These are my favourite types of rides! You are in a cart with a few rows of 4. The cart moves, along a small circuit, but most of the experience actually comes from screens and projections along the way.
- Roller Coasters and Thrill: I love a good roller coaster! Revenge of the Mommy and Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure have all the thrill (there are some impressive drops on Hagrid’s ride) but do not go upside down. The Incredible Hulk and the Rip Ride Rocket, on the other hand, will have you doing loops.
- Water: Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls are for you if you like some water-coaster fun! The first is a white-water rafting experience guaranteed to leave you soaked, and the second is a coaster style water ride that will also, most likely, leave you completely soaked.
10. Skip and Minimize Wait Times
Make the most of a weekend visit to Universal Orlando by not waiting in line. Once you’ve got your park tickets, there are a few ways to spruce up your experience and not spend time waiting around.
Download the Universal Orlando app so you can check wait times for rides you’re interested in, and check waits before making the trek across the park. If you’re visiting with other adults, use the Single Rider line to get on rides quickly. This means you won’t ride right with each other, you will be seated in the 4th seat when a family of 3 sits down. It’s not like you can chat with your friends during the ride, anyways! If you’re travelling with children or a larger group, consider adding an express pass – but my recommendation is to do this on site only if you feel you need it.
This post was sponsored by Orlando Fun Tickets. All opinions are my own.