All the Universal Studios Orlando tips you need to know before you visit are right here. Universal Studios Orlando has everything from fire breathing dragons to Autobots saving the world in 4D, and everything in between, and When I visited in early 2018, it was primarily to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is so much more to see and do in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure though. These Universal Studios Orlando tips will help you see it all!
If you’re all about the Harry Potter attractions, head on over to my post on Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. However, I definitely encourage you to venture out and see the rest of the park!
When you’re visiting a place like Universal Studios, the more travel tips you know before you go, the more fun you’re in for. I learned a few tips from research before hand, and some on site that will help you make the most of your visit (and go on lots of awesome rides). The info in this post is for the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks.
Universal Studios Orlando Tips 2018
Purchasing Universal Orlando Tickets: Get a Park-to-Park Pass
Universal Orlando is made up of 3 parks; Universal Studios, Island of Adventures, and Volcano Bay. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is spread out across both parks, with Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
Going park and forth between the two parks requires a Park to Park ticket. A One-day Park ticket will let you visit only one park each day. The Hogwarts Express goes from Universal Studios to the Island of Adventure, so you must have a park to park ticket to ride. It’s really nice being able to go back and forth between the parks, so you can take advantage of short wait times or make your way to shows.
I booked a 2 Day Park-to-Park ticket for my visit, and used it for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Plan for 2 Days Minimum
Even with 2 days, you won’t be able to see everything but this is enough time to have an awesome visit. I visited Universal Orlando on a weekend trip, and was only there for Saturday and Sunday. The Park-to-Park pass meant that I was able to go back and forth for the rides I wanted, leaving some areas when they got really busy in favour of others that were quieter.
It’s also really fun to revisit some areas and repeat the rides, something you will have more time for with 2 days. Don’t worry about focusing on one park per day, go back and forth depending on wait times and crowds to make the most of your visit.
Download the Universal Studio Apps Before You Go
The Universal Orlando Resort has 3 of it’s very own apps that will help you navigate the park, find shows, and check wait times for rides. Download these 3 apps before you go:
- Wait times: Universal Orlando: check the approximate wait times for all of the rides in Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure. Then you can decide if it’s worth making your way over!
- Magic Guide: Universal Orlando: a map of the park, full list of restaurants, and information about the park and the operating hours are all available on this app.
- Universal Orlando: keep your park tickets handy in the wallet section of this app, and check times for shows and special events.
And to use all of these apps, just sign on to free park wifi! The network is called UNIVERSAL and can be accessed anywhere in the parks. These apps will help you take advantage of other Universal Studios Orlando tips, too.
Stay at Universal Resort to get Early Park Admission
With only 2 days, I had no time to waste going back and forth to the park. Staying on the resort has the added benefit of early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The rest of Universal Studios and Island of Adventures still open at 9AM, but you can cover a lot of ground in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade starting at 8AM.
The resorts all offer some form of transportation to the entrance of the parks. I stayed on the Orlando Studios Resort, at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, where there was a free shuttle right out front. It’s also fun to take the ferry, which goes between Loews Royal Pacific and the Universal City Walk. The only other people who have 8AM access are other visitors staying at the Universal Resort.
What to Bring
- Comfortable shoes: you will be walking on a lot on and standing in line ups, so make sure that you wear shoes you will comfortable in all day. Sneakers, or something else with a good sole is a necessity. Flip flops and high heels will not be your friend walking between areas of the park. I’ve always been a fan of sneakers like Keds for city-style walking.
- A purse or small back pack: bring a small bag for any personal items, your phone, and of course your wand for Harry Potter! The locker dimensions lockers in the park to leave your things in for some rides, so make sure whatever you bring will fit. Lockers are about 16 inches deep, 11 inches tall, 10 inches across.
- Camera: bring your camera! There are so many fun backdrops and settings for photos.
Universal Studios and Island of Adventure On-Site Tips
Have Souvenirs Sent to Your Resort
I only learned this part way through the visit, and it would have made shopping so much easier. When you stay at the Universal Orlando Resort, you can have any purchases that you make in the parks sent back to your resort. There’s no need to carry things around all day, or put off purchases until you’re leaving.
If you love interesting and original souvenirs, it’s definitely worth doing a little bit of shopping on your visit. There was a lot more merchandise available in the park than I was expecting. Most are the classic t-shirt and mug souvenirs, but there were also more unique items. I bought a Marauder’s Map scarf!
Dining in the Parks
There are a lot of dining options at Universal, right in the parks, at the resort hotels, and along the City Walk leading up to the park entrances.
Out on the City Walk you can dine at places like Hard Rock Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp. There City Walk is a night-out destination with a movie theatre, mini-golf, and other activities so the dining options here are extensive and the reviews are excellent.
Meals in the parks themselves were more reasonable in price than I was expecting. Lunch at the Three Broomsticks rang in around $15 USD.
Universal Studios Orlando Tips: try Butterbeer in every form! It’s a great snack as ice cream or frozen.
Visit Harry Potter Parks Early Morning and Mid-Afternoon
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the busiest areas of the parks, and the best times to go are first thing if you have early access and in the middle of the afternoon.
There’s a 9AM rush, of visitors who don’t have early access and want to avoid long wait times on the Harry Potter rides. My recommendation: go straight to Hogsmeade at 8AM and ride the Forbidden Journey, take the train to Diagon Alley and ride Escape from Gringots.
There’s a lot of magic and things to discover in both areas, so go back and explore after lunch. The ride line ups will be long, but it’s a good time for casting spells!
Want more tips for a magical visit? Check out my other post, 19 Magical Tips for Visiting the Wizarding of World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. Hop on over there for specific tips on the shops, magic, food, and rides in the Harry Potter parks.
Ride the Hogwarts Express Between Parks
It’s a long walk from the back of one park to another, so if the Hogwarts Express wait times is an hour of less it’s worth getting in line. The walk is about the same time. You’re going to be walking a lot anyways, so give yourself a break and take the train.
Remember that in order to ride the train at all, you have to have a Park-to-Park ticket. The train is a ride in and of itself, so don’t miss it.
Making the Most of the Rides
Skip Wait Times with the Single Rider Lines
One of the best Universal Studio Orlando tips there is… use the single rider lines. These will save you so much time getting on to rides. The heigh requirement for the single rider line is greater than for the regular line, because you can end up riding separately. This means it really only works if you’re travelling with other adults.
Most of the rides have rows in the carts that seat 4+ people, so the single rider line is used to fill up the one or two extra seats at the end. You are your friends can end up a row or full cart apart, so you’ll be on the ride minutes apart.
As the park fills up, or during the high season, consider the Universal Express Pass for even faster entry.
Put Your Things in Lockers While You Ride
There are some rides that allow you to bring your things with you, and any that don’t offer lockers. The lockers are usually free for about as long as your wait time + ride is expected to take. However, there can be some surprises with locker prices. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t clear when or why the locker fees were changing but for the most part, using them was free.
And I have the locker dimensions! I took a moment to measure them with my wand. 16 inches deep, 11 inches tall, 10 inches across. Plan your purse or bag accordingly so that it will fit inside. No gaps in this list of Universal Studios Orlando tips!
Ride in the Morning, Explore in the Afternoon
Ride lines across the park increase throughout the day, so I suggest doing lots of rides first thing in the morning. As the park starts to get busier and line ups get longer, explore the finer details of the various areas of the park.
Universal Studios and Island of Adventure are both divided in to lots of different sections. Venture in to recreated areas of the United States like New York, San Fransisco, and Hollywood when you’re in Universal Studios. On the Island of Adventure, explore Marvel Superhero Island, Jurassic Park, and the Lost Continent. You might even see some characters and famous figures go by.
And of course, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. These are probably the most enjoyable areas to explore, as there’s all kinds of “magic” going on.
The Different Types of Rides
Universal Studios classifies it’s rides by four different categories. You can see the rides by category in the Universal Orlando app. Best to know what kind of ride you’re in for before lining up!
Thrill: thrill rides are the ones that will give you that stomach-jumping feeling, and honestly I went on very few of these during my visit. These have some of the longest line ups, consistently, and conclude rides like Revenge of the Mummy, King Kong, and Incredible Hulk.
3D and 4D: the rides that are 3D and 4D are where I suggested spending most of your ride time, because these are the ones that are really unique to Universal Studios Orlando. The excitement and thrills come from the storylines and interactive nature of the ride, rather than full upside spirals.
These ones were definitely my favourite! A few suggestions for some great rides:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,
- The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man,
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Water: there are only a few rides with water, and I suggest saving them until the end of the day so that you don’t have to walk around the park soaked.
Kids: unless you’re really in to Minions (and hey, Minions are awesome) or are travelling with kids, you’ll probably have more fun on the 3D, 4D, and thrill rides.
Universal Orlando Events and Shows
Catch a Live Show
There are dozens of short, live performances going on across Universal Studios and the Island of Adventure all day, every day. These shows are no extra cost, and they’re excellent. Find out what’s on while you’re there on the Universal Orlando app.
- Menu -> Things to Do -> Shows. The shows are sorted in to action, comedy, music, parade, and character.
There’s a huge variety of shows available, and you could keep busy watching performances all day if you wanted to. On my visit we saw some character appearances in Hollywood, and caught the Frog Choir (an incredible a cappella performance in Hogsmeade). You can also catch shows like Fear Factor Live, a telling of Beetle the Bard, the Beat Builders (Street Drumming), and Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show. Seriously, everything.
Watch the Nighttime Light’s at Hogwarts Castle from a Distance
The fireworks and light show over Hogwarts is beautiful, but getting close up to watch can land you in the midst of an enormous crowd. I headed over to Hogsmeade an hour before the show was due to start, only to find it so busy that I couldn’t actually get in to Hogsmeade.
If you luck out and find yourself there on a night that’s not too busy, enjoy! But if Hogsmeade is full an hour before, I suggest turning around as you probably won’t get much closer. The crowd when I visited was very pushy, and it didn’t feel safe. There’s a bridge that you can access from the Lost Continent, and you can see some of the light show from there instead.
Visit During an Annual Event
There are a few annual events at Universal Orlando, so check if your visit coincides with any. Mine just so happened to fall during the Celebration of Harry Potter – the dates were announced after my flight was booked! They also host events for Hallowe’en, Mardi Gras, and even Highschool Grad.
Special event times at the park have additional shows, special guests, and VIP access and event passes might be available. Even if you don’t do any event extras, a lot of people dress up for events and it’s fun to come in costume.
Universal Orlando City Walk
The City Walk is an area worth exploring on it’s own, and it’s before the park entrances so you actually access without a ticket to Universal Studios Orlando. Great if you have an afternoon or evening the day you arrive in Orlando, or if you want to stay out and keep the fun going after the parks close.
There’s entertainment, shopping, and lots of dining options in the city walk. Within this are you’ll find a movie theatre, multiple karaoke bars, live music, and even mini golf. If you’re going to see Blue Man Group perform, they’re also on the City Walk.
Planning Your Visit to Universal Studios Orlando
The Best Time to Visit Universal Studios
Universal Studios Orlando is one of those places that’s always pretty busy, but some times are just a little less busy. The parks fill up during any major holidays, and on summer vacation. My visit was over a week in January, and happened to fall during the Celebration of Harry Potter but outside of this event, January is considered a quiet season.
I suggest finding a non-holiday time to visit, even if that means you’re just visiting over the week. On my visit I flew in Friday night and out Sunday night, and it was well worth it and very fun. It sounds super short, but you’ll get to on more rides and be able to move around the park more easily than during high season.
The number of people in the park changes a lot through out the day. Make the most of your morning with early access because once the park starts to fill up in the afternoon, it’s hard to get on rides. Evenings can be surprisingly busy, as a lot of Orlando locals are annual pass holders and will come in just for a few on a night out.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort! It comes to around $100 per person per night, and has it’s own restaurants, multiple swimming pools, and include early access. There are lots of options on the resort for places to stay. Check out these family friendly options in Florida if you’re travelling with kids. Access a complete list of options for your travel dates:
I hope these Universal Studios Orlando tips are useful for visit! Any other tips to add, or questions before you visit? Comment below!