Many people travel across state lines to visit family and friends over the Thanksgiving period and choose to visit theme parks such as Universal Studios in Orlando during this time. However, this might not always be a good idea.
Thanksgiving is the busiest time to visit Universal Studios Orlando, second only to Christmas and New Year. The park usually reaches capacity at around 11am on Thanksgiving and occasionally hits capacity on the days before and after too. As a result, wait times for popular rides are often 2 hours or more.
However, if you’re adamant about experiencing Universal Studios Orlando over Thanksgiving then there are some things you need to know to maximise your wait times and experience inside the parks.
Is Universal Studios Orlando Open On Thanksgiving?
Universal Studios Orlando is open on Thanksgiving. This includes all three of the Universal Studios parks, all the hotels, the restaurants and the stores.
Universal Studios Thanksgiving Opening Times
The exact opening times for Universal Studios vary depending on the park you’re looking to visit (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure or Volcano Bay) and on different days / dates of the year.
The opening hours for Universal Studios theme parks are available three months in advance. So you’ll want to set a reminder to check the opening hours on the Universal Studios website for Thanksgiving in September.
The quietest time at any of the Universal Studios parks is in the first one and a half hours after the park opens.
Therefore given how busy the park is I highly recommend arriving 30 minutes before the park opens to ensure you’re able to head to the most popular rides and minimise your wait times when compared to later in the day.
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Guests staying in any of the Universal Studios hotels (even value hotels) are also able to benefit from an additional hour inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in either Universal Studios or Universal’s Islands of Adventure before it opens to the general public.
As such we recently stayed at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort and during our trip, early admission was available for Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
This meant we spent only 90 minutes queuing for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure instead of the 210 minutes which was advertised later in the day.
Is Volcano Bay Open On Thanksgiving
The Volcano Bay water park is open year-round provided that the conditions meet the Universal Studios weather policy.
As such provided that the weather isn’t too cold then Volcano Bay will be open on Thanksgiving.
Universal’s Thanksgiving Special Attractions & Decorations
Sadly there are no special attractions and decorations put out for Thanksgiving specifically.
Instead, you’ll find that the park is decorated for the Christmas season since the park regularly puts up its Christmas decorations during the second week of November.
What Is Universal Studios Like On Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving specifically is one of the busiest days at Universal Studios Florida. As such you’ll find crowds begin to start queuing at the park entrance at least an hour before the park opens.
If you are staying on-site then you’ll have admission into either Universal Studios or Universal’s Islands of Adventure around one hour before the general public.
Staff should tell you which park you’re able to enter and when upon check-in, if not then you’ll find all additional information on the boards around the hotel.
Make sure you take advantage of this as it’s the quietest the park will be all day!
Whether you have early entry or general admission into the park the best time to arrive at the park is at least 30 minutes before the park opens.
Make sure you’ve done your research as to which rides you’re wanting to go on and of them which have the longest wait times so you know where to head to first.
Meanwhile, if you have the budget make sure you also have bought a Universal Express Pass in advance which will allow you to skip the lines on the majority of the rides inside the park.
Once the ‘rope drops’ and the park opens fast pace walk to the ride of your choosing because from there, the crowds are only going to get bigger.
Both Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure usually reach capacity by around 11am on Thanksgiving, at which point the wait times for major rides inside the parks will often span two hours.
Grabbing food inside the parks can also be difficult when it’s this busy so make sure you’ve read the menus of most of the restaurants in advance and decided where you want to eat.
If you’re planning on having a table service meal either for lunch or dinner you’ll want to make sure you reserve a table as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a quick service meal then consider downloading the Universal Studios mobile app so you can place a mobile food and drink order for pick-up rather than having to wait in line.
If you’re staying for the Universal Studios fireworks then be sure to stand and reserve a good space at least an hour before the show starts.
While the crowds generally dwindle as the day goes on, they will still be higher than average during this time.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to purchase any Universal souvenirs make sure you do that prior to getting your space for the show since a large majority will wait to grab souvenirs as they exit which can make browsing the store incredibly difficult.
Remember if you’re staying on-site you can have all your souvenirs dropped off at the front desk of your hotel for free to leave you free to enjoy the park for the remainder of the day.
If this is your first time at Universal Studios, make sure it’s not your last. I think it’s incredibly difficult to experience a park as incredible as Universal Studios when the crowd levels are so high.
What’s Universal Studios Like On The Week Of Thanksgiving?
How busy Universal Studios is on the week of thanksgiving really depends on the day specifically.
Given the long weekend, you’ll often find that Universal Studios is as busy on Thanksgiving weekend as it is on Thanksgiving specifically.
As such if you’re visiting on either Black Friday, Saturday or Sunday I’d reference my notes from Thanksgiving above.
Alternatively, if you’re visiting Monday to Wednesday on the run-up to Thanksgiving or the Monday to Wednesday following Thanksgiving then you’ll generally find that the crowds are beginning to subside and peak time normality at Universal Studios is resuming.
This also means that Universal Orlando Resort hotels and other hotels within Orlando will be slightly cheaper when compared to those peak Thanksgiving holiday dates.
These two things combined make the Monday to Wednesday the best days to visit Universal Studios if you’re looking to incorporate a visit here into a Thanksgiving trip.
However, do keep in mind that from Thanksgiving onwards, Universal Studios is in full holiday season mode and from then until the end of December is still peak season.
As such you’ll still experience relatively long lines for all of the parks rides which makes arriving at the park early and planning your trip important.
If you can, I still recommend staying at a premier Universal hotel in order to get complimentary Express Passes for all guests in the room.
A Universal Express Pass get you straight to the front of the majority of the rides inside the parks and can save you a lot of time – especially at this time of year.
Where To Have Thanksgiving Dinner Inside / Near Universal Studios Orlando
If you’re spending Thanksgiving with family and friends while visiting Universal Studios Orlando then you may be looking for somewhere special to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
In that case, you have a number of options both inside and outside of the Universal Studios Resort.
If you’re looking to stay on-site then I recommend booking a table at The Hard Rock Hotel where between the hours of 11am and 9pm guests can dine on a large Thanksgiving day buffet at a cost of $75 for adults and $29 for children (aged between 3 and 9).
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a Thanksgiving buffet at Universal Studios at a slightly more affordable price consider visiting the Royal Pacific Resort’s Islands Dining Room.
The buffet here is open from 11am until 9pm, and costs $62 for adults and $30 for children (aged between 3 and 9). Meanwhile, adults age 21 and over can add all-you-care-to-enjoy mimosa and Bloody Mary cocktails for just an additional $15.
Of course, buffets can be great since you can eat as much as you want and kids are able to pick and choose what they like.
However, if you’re looking for an affordable set menu then consider heading to the Bayliner Diner at Cabana Bay for a Thanksgiving Day meal special.
This quick-service meal costs just $19.99 for adults and $10.99 for children including Turkey and all the trimmings as well as a delicious pumpkin pie for dessert. The only compromise is the very casual dining setting.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to have Thanksgiving elsewhere in Orlando then consider heading to The Capital Grille on International Drive.
This high-end restaurant is popular with both locals and tourists and serves a delicious Thanksgiving meal alongside their traditional full dinner menu – ideal for those who aren’t interested in turkey and cranberry.
Given that both Universal Studios parks will likely reach capacity on Thanksgiving it’s important to note that once you leave the park you will have to queue and wait to re-enter.
The park works on a one in, one out system. As such, if you have a reservation for lunch or dinner at any of the restaurants in city walk, the on-site resort hotels or elsewhere in Orlando you’ll be forfeiting your entry into the theme park.
In that case, one way I’ve found to add in the magic of Thanksgiving without compromising on my day at the park is to instead book a Thanksgiving day breakfast buffet.
The breakfast buffet is served at a number of Universal Studios restaurants and hotels including;
- The Hard Rock Hotel – Avalon Ballroom
- Royal Pacific Resort – Jake’s American Bar
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort – Amatista Cookhouse
- Endless Summer Resort: Surfside Inn & Suites – Beach Break Café
Special Events At Universal Studios Over Thanksgiving
While the Universal Studios parks don’t do much for Thanksgiving there are some other special events that you won’t want to miss during your visit.
Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s
Catch larger-than-life balloons floating through the streets of Universal Studios Florida, along with appearances by the Minions from Illumination’s Despicable Me and some of your favourite characters from DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek and Madagascar films.
Macy’s Holiday Parade takes place from November 12th through to January 1st, with show times announced for each day available from September onwards.
Given that Universal Studios has already decorated for the holiday season by Thanksgiving you’ll find that Seuss Landing™ is decorated with the holiday charm and cheer of Dr. Seuss’s Who-ville.
Enjoy the music and fun of The Grinchmas™ Who-liday Spectacular. Plus meet the maven of mischief himself for a photo opportunity.
Christmas In The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter
Once again, given that Universal has decorated for the holidays before Thanksgiving you’ll find that both Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure are decorated with festive decor.
Meanwhile, be sure to catch both the Frog Choir and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees since both put a holiday spin on their performances.
Universal Orlando Travel Planning Guide
🎟️ Where To Buy Tickets for Universal Orlando?
If you’re based in the US or Canada, I recommend Klook for your Universal Orlando tickets. Klook consistently has the most competitive prices. There’s also a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in the United Kingdom. Then I recommend buying your Universal Orlando theme park tickets from AttractionTix. I personally use AttractionTix when purchasing Orlando theme park tickets. That’s because AttractionTix consistently has the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.
🏥 Should I Buy Travel Insurance for a Visit to Universal Orlando?
If you’re travelling to Universal Orlando for vacation, then travel insurance is recommended. Basic travel insurance coverage with Safety Wing averages between $5 – $10 per day and offers peace of mind.
However, if a trip to Universal Orlando isn’t part of a vacation. For example, you live locally. Then travel insurance isn’t likely to be necessary.
🚘 Do I Need to Rent a Car for a Visit to Universal Orlando?
You don’t need to rent a car to visit Universal Orlando, as the resort has Uber / Lyft pick-up and drop-off points. However, if Universal Orlando makes up the majority of your vacation, then you may want to stay on-site.
Staying onsite at the Universal Orlando Resort comes with several perks. Including complimentary transport from the hotel to the Universal Orlando theme parks. In some cases, you can even walk from your hotel straight to the theme park gates.
However, if a trip to Universal Orlando only makes up a portion of your vacation, then you may want to rent a car. I personally use Discover Cars to find the best car rental for all of my trips to Orlando.
🏨 Where to Stay When Visiting Universal Orlando?
If you’re spending the majority of your vacation at Universal Orlando, it’s a good idea to stay at a Universal Orlando hotel. Staying onsite at Universal Orlando comes with several perks, including;
- Early park admission
- Complimentary transport
- Complimentary Universal Express Passes (selected hotels only)
- Walking distance of the Universal theme parks (selected hotels only)
While staying onsite at Universal Orlando is great value for money, it can still be out of budget for many. Thankfully, there are several budget-friendly hotels close to Universal Orlando to choose from.
Meanwhile, if Universal Orlando only makes up part of your Orlando vacation, then you may want to stay elsewhere. Kissimmee, International Drive and Lake Buena Vista are all within a 40-minute drive of Universal Orlando.