Guide to Universal Orlando Resort

categories: USA Travel

I have spent this year as a member of the Universal Orlando Resort’s Blog Squad. Because of that I have been back to the park 4 times just this year for different events and in different seasons. This is what I have learned.

There are three different theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort. The oldest is Universal Studios Florida. The second oldest is Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The newest park is Volcano Bay.  It is a Waterpark. I will be covering tips for Volcano Bay in a separate blog post.

When to go to Universal Orlando Resort

The busiest times for the resort are Summer and Christmas holidays. If your schedule allows you to come at some other time, you should. Also in the Summer, Florida will be hot and sticky with a thunderstorm almost every day at 5:00pm.

Universal has some annual events which are quite popular like the Celebration of Harry Potter in January or the Halloween Horror nights in October. Many of the different areas of the parks will be decorated for Christmas, notably New York in Universal Studios Florida and Suess Landing and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. If you want to experience Christmas in the parks, the best time is in the first half of December before schools get out.

Staying in a Resort Hotel

Before you make your accommodation plans, you should understand the advantages that staying in one of the resort hotels can have. Universal currently has 6 hotels on site with a 7th coming in 2019. The hotels are all run by Loews Hotels. They range in price with 4 different categories, from least expensive to most expensive:

Value Hotel starting from $73 / night + taxes based on a 4 night stay

  • Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites – opening Summer 2019

Prime Value starting from $116 / night + taxes based on a 4 night stay

Preferred Hotel starting from $160 / night + taxes based on a 4 night stay

Premier Hotels starting from $220-314 / night + taxes based on a 4 night stay

Benefits of Staying in the Resort Hotels

  • All the hotels give the guests the ability to enter the park as much as an hour and a half early with early park admission. This is quite valuable on a busy day in the parks.
  • All the hotels have free shuttle bus service to all the parks
  • All the hotels allow you to buy things in the park and have them delivered to your room
  • The premier hotels also have a boat that will take you to Universal CityWalk in addition to a shuttle bus. If you take the boat you will clear security at the boat dock.
  • The premier hotels include FREE Universal Express Unlimited™ Pass so make sure you factor that into the value of the room

Universal studios parking

If you are not staying on site and you drive to Universal, Universal has a shared parking structure for all its parks as well as for Universal CityWalk. You can pay $30 for premier parking to get you closer to the park or $20 for general parking. I would recommend saving that extra $10 for food or souvenirs as the parking system works fine at the general price.

Take a picture of your row and parking area so you can find your way back at night when you are exhausted.

Between the parking structure and Universal CityWalk you will clear security. This does make it easier to move between parks later in the day as you will not need to clear security again. You will also not need to clear security if you leave the park to have a meal at Universal CityWalk.

The entry to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure is through Universal CityCWalk. As you walk through you might want to scope out a place for tonight‘s dinner.

Park Entry

Avoid the line for tickets by purchasing in advance.

Themed Park Areas

All of the theme parks are divided into different themed areas.

Universal Studios Florida

  • Hollywood
  • New York
  • Production Central
  • San Francisco
  • Springfield: Home of the Simpsons
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
  • Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
  • World Expo

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

  • Jurassic Park
  • Marvel Super Hero Island
  • Port of Entry
  • Seuss Landing
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • The Lost Continent
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
  • Toon Lagoon

The most popular of these areas are the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas which you will notice are split across the two parks. They are connected by the Hogwarts Express which is both a train and a moving “dark ride” which goes from one park to the other. You will need a multi-park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express. You should also know that the show you will see on the Hogwarts Express is different in the two directions.

Happy Birthday

If it is your birthday when you were visiting the park, stop by guest services to get a happy birthday button. It will at least get you birthday wishes as you walk around the park, but may get you other perks. Go to the guest services inside the entrance (just to the right of the entrance at Universal Studios Orlando) for much shorter lines than those outside the entrance.

Express Pass

Universal offers a pass called the Express Pass which is basically a VIP experience to their parks. If you buy this pass (there are different prices depending on how many parks you want it for and some other details) then at pretty much every ride there is a shorter line you can take. so while the sign outside Escape from Gringotts, for example, may say that it takes 60 minutes, with the Express Pass it may only take 10 minutes. 

The price of the pass is not cheap, but it will significantly increase the amount of time you spend having fun instead of standing in line.

At first, honestly, we felt a bit guilty about using the Express Pass (doubly so since ours came from Universal’s PR department instead of being purchased with our hard earned money). But soon, you will adapt to your day as a member of the 1% and will start to wonder why it cannot get you a quicker place in line at the Taco Truck or a faster lane in traffic back to your hotel.

I would guess you can get to twice as many rides in a day, at least, by buying the Express Pass. 

Solo Travelers / Single Riders

Another way to significantly reduce your time in line is to use the Single Rider line. Some attractions that seat guests in groups of 3 or 4 will have a special line for solo travelers or for those of you willing to travel solo for your time on this ride. So getting back to our 60 minute line at Escape from Gringotts. At the time that the normal line was an hour long, I saw the single rider line be as short as 8 people. If you did take that line you did also skip the whole pre-show so it might be a better option for re-riding a ride instead of riding it for the first time. 

Small children cannot use the Single Rider line. The staff that enforces who can ride alone do not always seem clear on what the rule is but the best information I can find is that you must be 48” tall to ride alone.

The following attractions have single rider lines:

Universal Studios Florida

  • The Fast and the Furious
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • Transformers: The Ride 3-D

Islands of Adventure

  • The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man
  • Dr. Doom’s Fearfall
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Scheduled Tickets / Virtual Queue

Some rides like Jimmy Fallon and The Fast and Furious have a mechanism where you can get a timed entry for the attraction like the Disney FastPass system. You can either use the kiosks at the attraction to get your timed entry or you can obtain a timed entry with the Universal FL app from anywhere. Return to the attraction at the time you are told for entry. 

Owners of an Express Pass do not need to get a scheduled ticket. That is for the hoi polloi.

Transferring Tickets

Theme parks require under Florida law that multiple day park or event tickets are non-transferable and must be used by the same person on any and all days. You cannot share multiple day tickets with friends or family.

When you first activate your ticket you will tie it to a fingerprint. You will have to remember which finger you used to renter the park with this ticket or to use any of the free lockers. I recommend using the thumb on your dominant hand (the right hand thumb for most people) to avoid the confusion I saw other visitors having.

Lanyards

Many visitors put their tickets in a lanyard so that they don’t or more likely little Tommy doesn’t lose them. This is even more important if you get an express pass that you will keep accessing during your park visit.

The most appropriate lanyard, of course, is to get one to match your Hogwarts house. I am a Ravenclaw and use a Ravenclaw lanyard.

All Day Lockers

My recommendation is bring to the park as little as possible. There are general purpose all day lockers by the entrance to the parks where you can store stuff. All day lockers come in a few sizes : 17″ wide x 16″ high x 36″ deep and 17″ wide x 23″ high x 36″ deep. The cost for these lockers is $10 for the day. There are also smaller lockers in some locations 11″ wide x 16″ high x 16″ deep which cost $8 for the day. Look for these small lockers in Universal Florida Orlando to the right, just after you enter the park by the Studio Audience Center.

Remember when you entered into the park and I encouraged you to use your thumb on your dominant hand to set your fingerprint. You will need it to get back into your locker. 

Ride Lockers

Some of the rides will not allow you to bring items like purses or backpacks onto the ride.  On the Incredible Hulk Coaster I was not even allowed to wear my glasses. These rides often have nearby lockers that you can use for free “while you ride”. Check how much free time you get on the locker rental rates. Here is where you will find lockers which allow free time in the two main parks. (There are no ride lockers at Universal’s Volcano Bay). You can rent any of these ride lockers for all day but they could cost more than the all day lockers.

Ride lockers in Universal Studios Florida:

  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • Men in Black: Alien Attack
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

Ride lockers in  Universal’s Islands of Adventure:

  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Unfortunately in Islands of Adventure there are no ride lockers near the water rides like Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges or Jurassic Park River. 

Universal FL App

If you have a smart phone (iPhone or Android) you should download the Universal FL App.

Before you get to the park you can use the app to plan your visit or even buy tickets. Check out the special offers in the app before purchasing tickets.

When you are at the resort you can use the app to:

  • Access a park map within the app for each of the 3 parks and Universal CityWalk
  • Filter the map to show different types of rides: thrill, 3D & 4D, water, and kids
  • Show the location and information about different shows that are happening at the park whether it is something big like the Sinbad Stunt show or something small like the frog choir in Hogsmeade
  • Show the location and description for dining options, call a restaurant or make reservations where reservations are accepted.
  • Show the location and description of shops
  • Show  information about the resort hotels and call them
  • Set a parking reminder for where you parked
  • Find the location of lockers
  • Find the location of first aid
  • Find the location of rental services (strollers and wheelchairs)
  • Find the location of restrooms
  • Find the location of guest services, ATMs, Lost & Found, Service Animal rest areas, or smoking areas
  • Contact guest services
  • Did you seriously get this far on the list without downloading the app?

Diner Reservations 

Just inside the gate at both parks is a kiosk where you can make dinner reservations for one of the fancier restaurants in the park. 

The best rated restaurant in the parks is Mythos. 

In CityWalk some of the top restaurants are Hard Rock Cafe, Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (better for desserts or drinks than dining), The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar,  Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food (dinner only), and Vivo Italian Kitchen. 

You can make reservations for many park, CityWalk and in park hotel restaurants online.

Guide to Universal Orlando Resort #universal-studios #universal #florida #orlando #travel #themepark Guide to Universal Orlando Resort #universal-studios #universal #florida #orlando #travel #themepark

Orlando Airport Departures 

The TSA setup at Orlando International airport is one of the most poorly organized that I have seen. Combine that with a lot of families traveling and a lot of new travelers and there can be significant waits at airport security on the next days. If you are flying out of Orlando, I would get there an hour earlier than you do normally so you don’t end your vacation on a stressful note.

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

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