The Universal Orlando Resort is home to two theme parks, a water park, and an entertainment complex, all of which combined provides you with a fun-filled, action-packed vacation.
Having been visiting the resort for more than a decade, we know first-hand the best things you should do during your trip to make it one to remember.
1. Take Your Picture By The Universal Globe
A trip to the Universal Orlando Resort isn’t complete without a photograph in front of the Universal Globe at the entrance to the Universal Orlando theme park.
You can take a photograph from in front of the NBC Sports Grill & Brew looking down towards the globe, or down in front of the globe itself by heading towards the Universal Orlando park entrance.
During the early morning as the park opens this area gets extremely busy so taking a photo without anyone else in it can be incredibly difficult. As such it’s often better to try and get one over lunch or if you’re leaving the park early.
Thankfully, there should still be other guests around who will be able to take your photo if you don’t fancy the selfie look.
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2. Ride The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express connects the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas; Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and is one of the best attractions for fans of the Harry Potter franchise.
However, given that The Hogwarts Express moves between the two theme parks (Universal Studios Orlando and Universal’s Islands of Adventure) you’ll need a park-to-park ticket to go on the ride.
At Universal Orlando, the Hogwarts Express departs from Kings Cross Station, platform 9 ¾. Meanwhile, at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the Hogwarts Express departs from Hogsmeade Station.
3. Watch The Blues Brothers Live Show
Based on the popular 1980s film, The Blues Brothers Live Show is a must-see at Universal Studios Orlando.
Enjoy the groovy sounds of the pharaohs of funk, direct from the streets of Chicago.
Jake and Elwood will entertain you with top tracks like Soul Man and Gimme Some Lovin’. You will see those trademark black suits, dark sunglasses, and of course, porkpie hats.
You’ll be able to catch this show every day so get ready to Shake your Tailfeather! “Bring me four fried chickens and a Coke.”
4. Go On A VIP Tour
Get the ultimate celebrity treatment without actually being a celebrity, by booking yourself a VIP tour at Univeral Studios Orlando.
The red carpet will be rolled out for you as you’re led through the most popular attractions and rides, enjoying lots of fantastic benefits before, during and after your very special tour.
There will be no waiting in line as you are shown around the park in a group by an in-the-know tour guide!
Other parts of the VIP package include valet parking, priority access, complimentary food, behind-the-scenes experiences, and reserved seating.
5. Drink Butterbeer
If you have read the books or seen any films from the Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts series, you’ll have noticed the many references to Butterbeer.
The drink is a fictitious one, created by JK Rowling and is now available at Universal Studios Orlando.
Despite the name Butterbeer, there is no alcohol inside the drink, and it’s therefore available to be consumed by both children and adults.
The flavour of the drink is somewhere between butterscotch and cream soda and it is now available in different forms including; as a hot or cold drink, in fudge or as a flavour ice-cream.
6. Play Mini Golf At CityWalk
Universal’s CityWalk is home to a number of entertainment options including the Hollywood Drive-In Golf.
Here you can choose from two different 18-hole mini golf courses (The Haunting of Ghostly Greens or Invaders from Planet Putt) or play both in a double-feature.
Each course comes complete with special effects and amazing lighting that make playing here a fun experience for the entire family day or night.
7. Let The Wand Choose The Wizard At Ollivanders
Ollivanders in Hogsmeade (Universal’s Islands of Adventure) is the perfect place to equip any young wizard with a new wand.
This five-minute performance sees one lucky wizard be chosen to have the wand choose them, just like Harry did in the first book (and film).
However, don’t worry if you’re not chosen. All wizards are encouraged to purchase a wand of their very own from the store next-door or from one of the wand carts located in front of Hogwarts.
There are a variety of different wands to choose from, however, the most popular is the interactive model which can be used to cast spells throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
8. Take Your Picture With A Famous Character
Photographs are taken every second at Universal Studios Orlando. They are a great way to remember those amazing adventures.
Capturing a photograph with a famous character is always an exciting experience so when you see one, be sure to get your camera out.
Character meet and greets are loads of fun and you can get unlimited digital downloads with a My Universal Photos package.
You can document your entire trip and look back on those times you met heroes, villains, and lots of Minions!
9. Dine At The Largest Hard Rock Café In The World
Universal CityWalk is home to the largest Hard Rock Café in the world.
This restaurant has more memorabilia than any other location including Pete Townshend’s 1973 Gibson Les Paul custom guitar and Buddy Holly’s famous black glasses.
However, that’s not all, as this restaurant is also joined to Hard Rock Live, an incredible 3,000-person concert/party venue that sees famous artists perform multiple times a year.
10. Watch The Incredible Nighttime Show At Universal Studios Florida
The Cinematic Celebration is a night-time show at Universal Studios that takes place on the lagoon in the centre of the park. This performance features movie projections, water fountain displays and a limited number of fireworks set to music.
The Central Park viewing area is the best place to watch the projections, fountains and fireworks at Universal Studios Florida and unlike at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, people typically don’t start queueing up to get a ‘good spot’ here until 15 or 20 minutes before the start of the show.
11. Grab A Donut At Voodoo Doughnuts
It’s rare you’ll pass by Voodoo Doughts at CityWalk and not see a queue outside. This doughnut store has a cult-like following, delighting guests with an extensive variety of different doughnut flavours.
Thankfully, if you don’t want to queue you can still pre-order your doughnuts using the Universal Studios mobile application and collect them as you leave the park at the end of the day.
12. Cast Spells Inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
One of the highlights of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is casting spells using your very own interactive wand.
There are multiple different markers on the ground around both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade that show you where to point the wand and how to cast the spell.
Each unique spell location produces a different result that is sure to delight.
13. Get Wet On A Water Ride At Islands of Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure has a whole host of different water rides including; Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, and Jurassic Park: River Adventure.
Each of these rides are going to leave you getting very, very wet. However, thankfully you can use the human dryers (or Florida sunshine) to dry off pretty quickly.
14. See A Piece Of The Berlin Wall
Did you know that part of the Berlin Wall can be found at Universal Studios Orlando? In a courtyard area outside of the Hard Rock Café stands one of the few salvaged pieces of the famous wall.
It is complete with a plaque that details what happened and part of the text reads;
“On November 9, 1989, the wall was symbolically brought down. Only a few parts of the wall remain. The Hard Rock Café is proud to display this piece of history that symbolizes the fall of oppression.”
This piece of history is on display for all to see.
15. Enjoy A Rum-Tasting Class
Head down to Strong Water Tavern at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort to experience an incredible rum-tasting class.
This nautical-themed retreat pulls together a blend of modern-day joy with old-world class. You will have your own rum specialist, tapas-style dining, and a wall of incredible rums, many of which are vintage and rare.
If you are a fan of this distilled liquor, you’ll have a blast sampling some of the best rums on the planet. Enjoy an experience that will certainly leave the right taste in your mouth.
16. Try A Milkshake At The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium is an iconic sight at Universal’s CityWalk.
This 19th-century-themed establishment is a full-service restaurant, bar, and confectionery. You can enjoy a full dining experience or drinks, but for those with a sweet tooth, this is the place for you!
We’re talking about gourmet chocolates and sumptuous sundaes that are beyond mouthwatering. Then there are the artisanal milkshakes which are uniquely incredible.
If you’re visiting during the festive season, Santa’s Cookies & Milkshake is ideal and includes vanilla and cookie butter ice cream along with holiday sprinkles.
Other delicious options include Espresso Buzzzz and Right Side Up Shake. Grab a table, place your order and enjoy these sweet treats.
17. Go On The Tallest Body Slide In America
Down at the Wave Village in Universal’s Volcano Bay, you’ll find the tallest body slide in America. The Ko’okiri Body Plunge lets gravity do the job with a 70-foot drop at a 70-degree angle. The 125-foot-long slide starts with a drop door so you aren’t sure exactly when you’ll fall.
This is one of Volcano Bay’s most popular attractions so be sure to use your TapuTapu wristband to check in. This will minimise how much time you need to wait in line so you can get the most excitement and adventure out of your day.
18. Watch A Movie At Universal Cinemark Cinema
Universal CityWalk is home to the Cinemark Cinema with more than 20 screens complete with state-of-the-art projection and sound systems, luxurious recliners with extended footrests.
The cinema shows all the latest releases, and is the perfect place to hang out after a long day at the parks.
19. Ride The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit To Secret Songs
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is one of the best roller coasters at the Universal Studios park. This ride is no doubt incredible, however, what makes it all the more unique is that you can select which song you listen to while you ride.
While the list of songs from which you can choose is available using the touch screen in front of you, there are codes you can enter to unlock secret songs. A full list can be found online but we reckon number #128 – Vertigo by U2, is a cracking song to enjoy on this ride.
Hollywood’s Rip Ride Rockit is one of several rides that will close if the Universal Studios Orlando rain policy is implemented. As such if it’s expected to rain during your visit to the park then I suggest going on this ride as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.
20. Drink A Can Of Duff Beer
Anyone who has ever watched an episode of The Simpsons will know all about Duff Beer.
This well-known beer, served at Moe’s Tavern, is popular with characters such as Homer and Barney and can be obtained from multiple locations across Springfield, home of the Simpsons inside the Universal Florida theme park.
21. Put Your Head Inside Jaws
Jaws was one of the most loved rides at the Universal Florida theme park until it was closed in 2012 to make way for the Diagon Alley part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Thankfully, an iconic part of this ride still remains in the form of Jaws hanging from the ropes.
This photo opportunity used to be outside of the ride’s entrance but is now found in the San Francisco area of the theme park and is the perfect place for a super cool photo.
22. Go Bowling
Be sure to head over to Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort for a game of bowling at Galaxy Bowl.
This bowling alley has ten lanes to choose from and combines the retro themed architecture of the hotel together with the modern technology to make your bowling game one to remember.
Onsite you’ll also find a fantastic restaurant serving pizza, burgers and quesadillas – perfect for an after game snack!
23. Sing Karaoke
Over-18s can head to CityWalk’s Rising Star for a night of karaoke. This is a far step away from singing in the shower.
The karaoke club has a full bar, along with a nightly host to get people up on the stage. Subject to availability, there are backup singers and a live band, to help turn you into an absolute star.
You can also upgrade to enjoy a VIP experience, which includes exclusive seating, table service with a dedicated server, and express entry into the venue.
Belt out your favourite songs, impress the audience and enjoy your moment in the spotlight. The only question is, what song will you sing to show everyone that you are a Rising Star?
24. Exchange Muggle Currency At Gringotts Bank
A fantastic free activity inside Diagon Alley to turn your US dollars into Gringotts at Gringotts Bank.
These bank notes can be used to purchase goods inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or even exchanged back into US dollars at the end of your day.
25. Experience Halloween Horror Nights
If you have the pleasure of visiting the Universal Orlando Resort in either September or October then consider enhancing your visit with a ticket to the Halloween Horror Nights.
Halloween Horror Nights features terrifying haunted houses, sinister scare zones and outrageous live entertainment that is sure to equally scare and delight guests.
26. Stay At The Hard Rock Hotel
The Hard Rock Hotel is the closest hotel to the Universal Studios Florida theme park – Just a five minute walk away.
This five-star hotel offers guests an extensive range of amenities and facilities including a large guitar shaped swimming pool, fitness centre and multiple on-site restaurants.
However, what truly makes this hotel one worth staying at is that guests staying here can benefit from complimentary Express Passes to allow them to skip to the front of the line on the majority of rides within the parks.
27. Dine At Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar is one of the more unique restaurants at CityWalk, serving, you guessed it, burgers and sushi. While this combination of foods doesn’t feel like it should go together, it very much does!
Better still the restaurant has an incredible outdoor balcony with views out over Universal’s Islands of Adventure making it the perfect place to dine on some delicious food and relax after an incredible day at the parks.
As you might expect Universal Studios Florida food prices are higher than similar restaurants in the Orlando area. As such, you’ll want to budget for food and plan your trip accordingly to avoid disappointment.
28. Experience The Parks With An Express Pass
The Universal Express Pass provides you with the opportunity to skip the line on the vast majority of rides within the Universal Studios theme parks. This is great if you only have a short amount of time at the parks and don’t want to spend it waiting in line.
The cost of the Express Pass varies depending on a number of factors including the time of year you’re visiting and whether or not you want it to cover both of the Universal Studios theme parks or just one.
However, to give you an idea, the cost is often upwards of $150 per person, per day. As such when deciding how much money to take to Universal Studios Orlando you’ll want to keep this in mind. In most cases, we find it most cost-effective to stay in a Premier on-site hotel at the Universal Studios Resort to obtain a complimentary Express Pass for all guests.
29. Ride The Jurassic World Velocicoaster
Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the newest roller coaster to be opened at the Universal Studios Resort.
This ride is the tallest and fastest ride at any Universal Studios theme park worldwide and not only features multiple drops but also goes upside down for an extended period of time.
Given the thrill, this ride produces it often has long lines, however, thankfully guests can either use the single rider line or an Express Pass to minimise the amount of time they have to wait.
30. Watch The Fire-Breathing Dragon
The fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts Bank is one of the highlights of visiting Diagon Alley inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
This incredible dragon breathes fire every ten-fifteen minutes from park opening to park close, so thankfully you don’t have to wait around for long to see this incredible spectacle.
31. Enter The Theme Park Before General Admission
If you’re staying on-site in any of the Universal hotels then you’ll be able to benefit from early park admission.
This allows you to enter one of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed areas one-hour before the general public.
During our most recent visit to the Universal Orlando Resort, the theme park we were able to enter early was Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
This extra hour inside the park allowed us to go on some of the best rides (such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure) without waiting in long lines and helped us to save hours later in the day.
32. Compete For The Best Score On Men In Black Alien Attack
Men In Black Alien Attack is a family-friendly ride that sees you use a laser gun to shoot aliens to help the super agents K and J.
During this ride, you’ll obtain points based on how many aliens you take down. Be sure to compare your scores at the end of the ride to see who’s the master blaster!
33. Dine At The Leaky Cauldron
Harry Potter fans will be delighted to eat at such establishments as The Leaky Cauldron inside the Universal Studios Florida theme park.
This incredible restaurant serves a range of British-inspired cuisine and features decor similar to that shown in the Harry Potter films.
34. Race Through New York With Jimmy Falon
One of the newest rides to open at the Universal Orlando Resort is Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Before you strap into the ride there are 60 years of memorabilia to marvel at as well as entertainment from the barbershop quartet.
Then it’s a race across New York City as you strap into the “flying theatre” and speed across Manhattan.
You’ll face Jimmy Fallon and well-known characters from NBC’s “The Tonight Show” as you glide over buildings and even take a dunk in the East River.
35. Celebrate Mardi Gras
If you have the pleasure of visiting the Universal Orlando Resort between February and April then be sure to check out the Mardi Gras celebrations.
Inspired by Carnaval celebrations from around the world this special parade takes place on selected nights and features an extensive range of spectacular floats that are sure to delight guests of all ages.
36. Experience One Of The Incredible Live Shows
The Universal Orlando theme parks benefit from a number of different live shows throughout the day that are sure to delight guests of all ages.
Shows take place at different times throughout the day so it’s well worth downloading the Universal Studios mobile app in advance so you can check the times and plan your day accordingly.
37. Take A Photo In Front Of The Hogwarts Castle
The iconic Hogwarts Castle is located inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. Inside you’ll find the fantastic motion simulation ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
However, outside is a sight to behold. This castle towers above Hogsmeade and is perfect for a fantastic photo opportunity. So much so that plenty of marriage proposals have taken place here over the past decade.
38. Purchase A Hogwarts Robe From Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions
Situated inside Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida you’ll find Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions. As you might expect this store sells a range of Hogwarts-inspired clothing and materials for all four of the Hogwarts houses.
You can bring a third-party Hogwarts robe to Universal Studios with you, provided it meets all of the rules and regulations of the park. Alternatively, you can purchase an official Universal Studios Hogwarts robe from a number of stores across the Universal Orlando Resort.
However, in our opinion, if you’re going to buy one of the official Universal Studios Hogwarts robes, then the best place to do so is Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. This store is a little dark, but has the perfect atmosphere for purchasing what is one of the most expensive Universal Studios souvenirs and even offers Hogwarts robe embroidery for an additional fee.
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.