Universal Studios Orlando Planning Guide (2022)

Universal Studios Orlando is the largest Universal Studios in the world. As such, it’s no surprise that planning and booking a vacation here can take a little more planning.

That being said, we’ve had the pleasure of visiting Universal Studios Orlando more than ten times in the past decade.

So, it’s safe to say we know what to pack, where to stay and what to do while at the resort, along with all the hints and tips to make both planning and experiencing your trip significantly easier.

To start it’s important to know that Universal Studios Orlando is a resort that is made up of;

  • 2 Theme parks
  • 1 Water park
  • 8 Hotels
  • An outdoor entertainment complex

The resort is located just off International Drive and the I-4 roughly 10 miles north of Walt Disney World and 15 miles west of Orlando International Airport (MCO).

When To Visit Universal Studios Orlando

While Universal Studios Orlando is located in Florida (the sunshine state) the weather is still a factor you’ll want to consider when booking your vacation.

Best Months To Visit Universal Studios Orlando

In our experience, the best time to visit Universal Studios Orlando is in either mid-April (after Easter) or May.

These months are the best for two key reasons;

  • Schools are in session (for the majority of the time) both in the US & UK
  • The weather is warm, however, humidity is still relatively low

Given this you’ll find that not only are the parks quieter and as such standby wait times for rides are shorter, but also hotels in the area can be significantly more affordable.

Months To Avoid When Visiting Universal Studios Orlando

While Universal Studios is open year-round (inc Thanksgiving and Christmas) there may be some months you want to avoid visiting.

Even if you do choose to visit Universal Orlando during these months you’ll want to be aware of what you may experience (both in weather and in crowds) so you can plan accordingly.

Hurricane Season (Sept – Nov)

Since Florida is located close to the tropical and subtropical regions the state can experience hurricanes.

While these rarely make it as inland as Orlando, you can still feel the effects of high winds in the park.

This can result in the parks being closed for health and safety reasons in some rare cases.

Tropical storms typically occur between the middle of September to the end of November.

While these aren’t necessarily months you’ll want to avoid (especially if you’re a fan of Halloween and subsequently the park’s Halloween Horror Nights) it is something you’ll want to consider when planning your trip.

Bank Holiday Weekends

Long weekends as a result of holidays such as Labour day and Thanksgiving are often a popular time to visit Universal Studios.

During these dates, the park can reach capacity, and standby wait times can be significantly longer than you’d experience at other times of the year.

How Long To Spend Universal Studios Orlando

While many only choose to spend a single day at one of the Universal Studios parks, we recommend booking between three to five days at the resort if you want to experience everything Universal Studios has to offer.

Three days at the Universal Studios Resort allows you one day at each of the parks (inc the water park Volcano Bay).

Meanwhile, four or five days gives you one day at each of the parks alongside some additional time to go back and experience anything you may have missed the first time round.

If you can’t stretch to three or more days at Universal Studios, then we’d suggest cutting out Volcano Bay (especially in the winter months) and instead focusing on the two main theme parks.

While one day at each of the theme parks is possible, it can be very tiresome.

You’ll want to arrive at the resort early (ideally before the parks open) and look at investing in an Express Pass where your budget allows.

Meanwhile, if you’ve only got a single day at the parks then experiencing everything both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure have to offer is going to be tough.

If you’re looking to keep costs down you could just pick one park to visit, saving the second for a future trip.

However, if you’re looking to experience both parks then you’re going to need a park-to-park ticket that allows you to move between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure freely throughout the day.

Getting To Universal Studios Orlando

Whether you are located inside or outside of the US is likely to the most significant impact on how you travel to the Universal Studios Resort.

Plane

If you’re looking at flying to Universal Studios then you’ll want to look at one of the two airports within Orlando;

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the closest airport to Universal Studios but also the busiest. Based on our experience, international flights here can take up to two hours to get through immigration.

Alternatively, you may also want to look at some other popular airports within the state of Florida;

  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  • Melbourne International Airport (MLB)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)

However, keep in mind that travelling from these airports to the Universal Studios Resort could take a number of hours.

Car

If you live within the US, then you may choose a road trip to Orlando to visit Universal Studios.

A road trip provides you with a lot of flexibility. However, depending on where you’re travelling from the journey could take a number of days.

If the trip is as much about the journey as the destination then that’s great. Otherwise, however, you’re going to want to consider the cost of not only gas but any overnight hotels and parking.

Not to mention the impact such a long journey might have on the driver to enjoy their vacation once arriving at the Universal Studios parks.

Where To Stay When Visiting Universal Studios Orlando

The best place to stay when visiting Universal Studios Orlando is on-site in one of the resort’s eight hotels.

However, these hotels can be expensive and aren’t designed for large families or groups.

These factors combined with how long you’re visiting Orlando for and what else you’d like to do and see during your trip are likely to have the most significant impact on your decision as to where to stay.

On-Site Hotels

Universal Studios Orlando has eight on-site hotels which have been categorised into four tiers;

  • Value
  • Prime value
  • Preferred
  • Premier

The benefits of staying on-site at Universal Studios include;

  • Early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Complimentary transport to the Universal parks
  • Complimentary Express Passes (for those staying in a Premier hotel)
  • Close proximity to CityWalk

Nearby Hotels

While staying on-site at the Universal Studios Resort is incredibly convenient it often comes at a cost.

As such if you’re visiting Universal Studios on a budget then staying in a nearby hotel may be a better value for money.

When looking for a hotel close to Universal Studios you’ll want to consider how you’ll get from your hotel to the parks.

Parking at Universal Studios costs upwards of $25 per day.

As such we look to stay in a hotel either within walking distance of the parks or in a hotel that provides a regular complimentary shuttle.

If you’re planning on visiting other theme parks and attractions during your visit to Orlando then you’ll want to consider where you’ll be spending the most time.

For example, if you’re looking at only spending three days at Universal Studios but seven days at Walt Disney World, then it often makes more sense to be in Kissimmee or Lake Beuna Vista which is closer to the Walt Disney World parks instead of on International Drive near Universal Studios.

While hotels often provide a shuttle to both Disney and Universal Studios you can also look to either an Uber or a Lyft to get around too.

Airbnb & Verbo

Finally, if you’re travelling as a large family or group of friends then the extra space you’ll find in an Airbnb or Verbo is often incredibly worthwhile.

Sadly, there are a limited number of Airbnb options in and around International Drive so you’ll likely be further away from Universal Studios when compared to staying on-site or in a nearby hotel.

Depending on your circumstances having to either get a rental car or a rideshare to the Universal Studios parks may offset the cost and convenience of staying in an Airbnb or Verbo.

When we’re looking to choose between this option and a hotel the three major factors we consider are;

  • How many people are travelling?
  • How many days are we visiting for?
  • Do we want to see / do more than just Universal Studios?

If we’re staying for more than a week our own kitchen becomes essential.

Meanwhile, if we’re visiting more than just Universal Studios then the need to be within walking distance of the resort is less important.

Things To See & Do In Universal Studios Orlando

The Universal Studios Resort in Orlando is made up of;

  • 2 Theme parks
  • 1 Water park
  • 1 Entertainment complex
  • 8 Hotels

As such there are a lot of different things to see and do during your visit.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios Florida is one of the two theme parks at the Universal Studios Orlando Resort.

For the most part, this theme park has traditional themed areas that reflect different parts of the US including;

  • Hollywood
  • Production Central
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • World Expo

However, there are some just as iconic albeit not as reality-focused areas too;

With an extensive range of shows alongside traditional rides and rollercoasters, this theme park is the best of the two for younger children (five and under).

Some of the best things to do at the Universal Studios theme park include;

  • Waiting for the dragon to blow real fire on top of Gringotts bank
  • Grabbing a Duff beer in Springfield
  • Riding Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Trying Butterbeer in Diagon Alley
  • Watching The Blues Brothers in Chicago
  • Taking a photo with Jaws
  • Casting spells in Diagon Alley with an interactive wand

Islands Of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is the second theme park at the Universal Studios Orlando Resort and is located next to Universal Studios Florida.

The two parks are connected by the entertainment complex CityWalk and the Hogwarts Express which runs from Kings Cross Station just outside of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios over to Hogsmeade Station at Islands of Adventure.

The areas inside Islands of Adventure include;

  • Skull Island
  • Toon Lagoon
  • Marvel Super Hero Island
  • Jurassic Park
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.

Islands of Adventure has a number of water rides and large thrill rides which make it incredibly popular with adults and teenagers. These include;

  • Hulk Roller Coaster
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
  • Jurassic World VelociCoaster
  • Skull Island: Reign Of Kong

Some of the best things to do at Universal’s Islands of Adventure include;

  • Drinking Butterbeer in Hogsmeade
  • Riding The Hulk roller coaster
  • Dining at the award-winning Mythos
  • Taking a photo outside of the Hogwarts Castle
  • Getting wet on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • Letting the wand choose the wizard at Ollivanders

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is the Universal Studios Resort water park and is located just across from International Drive, a couple of miles from CityWalk and the two Universal theme parks.

If you’re visiting Orlando in the summer then a day at Volcano Bay should be high on your to-do list.

The theme park boasts a large number of thrill enduring water rides including;

  • Krakatau Aqua Coaster
  • Honu of the Honu ika Moana
  • Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides
  • Tonga of Taniwha Tubes

Similar to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure the target audience for this water park is adults, tweens and teens.

However, we’ve visited the waterpark with seniors and a baby in the past and still had an incredibly awesome day.

CityWalk

CityWalk is a public space that connects Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure and requires no theme park ticket to enter.

This area is similar to Disney Springs (albeit smaller) in that its outdoor entertainment complex made up of a number of;

  • Restaurants
  • Stores
  • Nightclubs
  • Shows
  • Activities

Some of our favourite things to do at CityWalk include;

  • Play mini-golf
  • Eat at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
  • Shop at the giant Universal Studios store
  • Grab a doughnut from Voodoo Donut
  • Check out the Berlin Wall behind The Hard Rock Café
  • Watch a film at the Cinemark cinema

How To Get Around Universal Studios Orlando

How you get to and from the Universal Studios parks, and any additional stores and attractions during your trip to Orlando is likely to depend on a number of factors including;

  • Where you’re staying
  • How you travelled to Orlando
  • Your budget

For example, if you’re staying on-site in one of the Universal Studios Resort hotels then you’ll be able to take advantage of complimentary transport to the parks.

Meanwhile, if you’re staying off-site in a nearby hotel then you’ll want to look for a hotel either within walking distance or one that provides a shuttle to the parks.

However, if you’re staying elsewhere in Orlando in Airbnb, Verbo, villa or in a hotel that doesn’t offer a shuttle to the parks then you’ll want to either look at driving or getting a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft.

Driving is going to be the best option if you drove to Orlando originally. However, you’ll still need to ensure you budget the cost of parking at the Universal Studios Resort which starts at $25 per day.

If you’ve not driven to Orlando, then you could look at a rental car once you arrive in the city.

However, the cost of rental cars has increased dramatically in recent years.

As such the math generally now only works out on this if you plan to drive long distances (to the coast for example) or have a family/group of more than six people (since this would require you to get two rideshare cars instead of one).

Typical Costs At Universal Studios Orlando

Working out the cost of a trip to Universal Studios Orlando Resort can be relatively complex.

While transport and hotels are the most significant expenses (in most cases), there are other additional costs you’ll want to consider including; food, tickets and even souvenirs!

Tickets

Your tickets to the Universal Studios parks are among the most significant expenses of your vacation.

Given this, it’s easy to see why you might want to look for a deal, discount or coupon to save money.

Sadly, however, saving money on Universal Studios Orlando tickets can be very difficult since there are very few legitimate deals to take advantage of.

For those in the US or Canada, we recommend buying your Universal Studios park tickets from Get Your Guide or direct from the Universal Orlando website.

Meanwhile, if you’re travelling to Universal Studios Orlando from the UK then we recommend purchasing your park tickets from AttractionTix.

If you’re in the UK and looking to visit multiple theme parks while in Orlando (inc Universal Studios) then consider purchasing a combi-ticket to save money.

The cost of your Universal Studios park tickets will vary depending on;

Three-day park-to-park tickets for all three of the Universal Studios parks start at $334.99 per adult.

However, three-day tickets with one park per day (no park-to-park) start from $275.99 per adult – a saving of upwards of $60 per person.

As such you’ll want to consider whether the investment of a park-to-park ticket is worth it for your trip or whether that $60 per person is likely better spent elsewhere.

Another add-on that can significantly enhance your visit to Universal Studios Orlando is an Express Pass.

An Express Pass allows you to skip the regular line on rides and save (in our experience) up to 70% when compared to the standby wait time.

Express Passes at Universal Studios Orlando can be worthwhile, especially if you want to experience all the rides and attractions inside the parks and only have a one-day or two-day park ticket.

Express Passes can be purchased in advance at the time of purchasing your park ticket, provided complimentary with a stay at a premium onsite hotel or purchased inside the parks during your visit (where available).

Food

The cost of food and drink at Universal Studios is inflated when compared to elsewhere in Orlando – as you’d expect with any theme park.

The majority of quick-service meals inside Universal Studios cost between $9.99 and $19.99.

Meanwhile, the cost of a meal at a restaurant both inside the parks or at CityWalk is roughly between $15.99 and $25.99.

The quality of the food and drink inside the Universal Studios parks is for the most part, incredible. Albeit the portion sizes aren’t typical of that you’d find elsewhere in America.

With one quick-service meal at lunch, dinner at a restaurant as well as snacks and drinks throughout the day expect to spend roughly $69.99 per person on food and drink per day.

Souvenirs

The souvenir game at Universal Studios is incredibly strong with everything from themed candy to t-shirts and cuddly soft toys.

However, much like food and drink inside the parks, the costs can be somewhat inflated compared to similar items you can find either online or elsewhere in Orlando.

Souvenirs at the Universal Studios Resort vary dramatically in price with the likes of a keyring costing just $9.99 and a Hogwarts Robe costing upwards of $134.99.

However, there are some incredible souvenirs that can be purchased from the Universal Studios parks.

So much so that it can make buying nothing during your trip near impossible.

Given this, you’ll want to budget at least $20 per person, per day to optionally spend on souvenirs – although significantly more than this may be required for fans of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic World and other Universal franchises.

Money Saving Tips For Universal Studios Orlando

A trip to Universal Studios Orlando can be expensive. However, thankfully there are a number of ways you can cut costs during your visit without compromising on the experience.

Get A Refillable Cup

If you’re looking to stay hydrated but don’t fancy bringing a water bottle to the parks, consider instead purchasing a Universal Studios refillable cup.

This RFID-chipped cup costs $17.99 plus tax and includes one day of unlimited drinks. Reactivating an existing cup then costs $10.99 per day plus tax.

Buy Souvenirs Offsite

While the souvenirs at Universal Studios are incredible, they often come with a relatively high price tag.

Thankfully there are a number of independent and mainstream stores along International Drive (just next to Universal Studios) that offer similar merchandise for a significant discount.

Buy A Refillable Popcorn Bucket

Another favourite tip of ours is to buy the Universal refillable popcorn bucket.

This bucket has the same concept as the drinks whereby you purchase the bucket for a one-off fee and then have it refilled with popcorn all day.

However, unlike the drinks, the refills do come at a cost – albeit a smaller one than you’d pay for a regular bag of popcorn ($1.99 plus tax during our last visit).

Bring A Water Bottle

If you’re happy drinking water during your day at the Universal parks then consider bringing a water bottle from home.

While bottled water inside the parks currently costs $4.49 plus tax you can quickly and easily refill your bottle for free at any of the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines (that serve the Universal Studios refillable cups).

How To Stay Safe In Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando has a strict security policy to ensure that you remain safe during your visit.

While this helps to prevent people from bringing any form of weapon to the parks, crime can still occur.

As such it’s important to consider the safety of your possessions while inside the park. Especially high-value, important items such as your keys, wallet, phone and camera.

We recommend using a comfortable bag with a zipper that will safely fit into the lockers while you’re on selected rides.

Gear & Packing List For Universal Studios Orlando

Packing for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando combines the needs of practicality and style.

Luckily, after more than ten trips to the Universal Studios Resort, we’ve become experts in what to wear and what to pack for a day at the parks.

The dress code at Universal Studios is incredibly relaxed, and only prevents guests from wearing; wedding attire, costumes and revealing clothing.

Personally, we find the best things to wear for a day at the parks are loose-fitting shorts that are quick drying (for water rides or any potential rain showers) and a fun Universal-inspired t-shirt.

Over the course of a day at the Universal Studios parks, you’ll likely walk in excess of 10,000 steps. As such it’s essential you wear comfortable footwear. Personally, we opt for trainers but sandals are a great alternative.

When it comes to packing essentials for your day at the park you’ll want either a backpack or a fanny pack.

A backpack is great if you’re visiting the parks with babies or young children who require additional items.

Meanwhile, a fanny pack is a great choice if you’re travelling solo, as a couple or with friends and only need to bring your phone, wallet and keys into the park with you.

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