Universal Studios Orlando Planning Guide

If you are planning a trip to Universal Studios Orlando, then you have come to the right place. We have everything you need to help plan your trip, from saving money and what to do when you get there!

Universal Studios Orlando is the largest Universal Studios in the world, so there is no surprise that it can take a little more planning to book and organise. With that said, we will break down everything from what you need to be packing, what you need to know and any hints and tips that make your trip easier.

To start, you might want to know a couple of things about Universal Studios Orlando. First, it has three parks; Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay (a water park). Secondly, Universal Studios Orlando has a public (free to enter) area called CityWalk where you can see shows, go for meals and do some shopping. And third, Universal Studios Orlando is home to the magnificent Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

We have been massive fans if not just the films produced by Universal Studios but the parks themselves for several years and have enjoyed picking up these helpful hints and tips to make your trip to Universal Studios Orlando not just cheaper but stress-free and more enjoyable!

When To Visit Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando is in Florida’s sunshine state, so weather can often be a factor you don’t have to worry about. However, there are times of the year that are better for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando, which comes down to storm season, spring break, and even Christmas.

Florida is prone to having a hurricane season which typically occurs between June 1st until November 30th though this isn’t a reason not to visit in those months. You can still visit Florida and Universal Studios Orlando and have a great time.

The optimum time to visit Universal Studios Orlando is during April and May as these are months in which students are still at school in both the USA and UK, making it much quieter with guests.

April and May is also a great time to visit as the footfall are lower, hotels are cheaper, and you can spend less time waiting for rides and more time enjoying them.

While Florida does experience tropical showers, you can count on the sunshine state to dry up in no time, with temperatures ranging from 16 to 28 degrees during April and May and reaching highs of 34 degrees in August.

So even if you get caught in a rain shower at Universal Studios Orlando, there are plenty of options to help pass the time.

Universal Studios Orlando Resort is a popular place to visit and not just during spring break or summer break but especially on holidays and special events. For example, a popular time to visit Universal Studios Orlando is Labour day, as they often do special events and fireworks to celebrate.

Another date that has a similar peak for the day(s) of the holiday at Universal Studios Orlando is Thanksgiving. Again, this can equally be as important to families and can reach peak wait times and crowd levels due to the number of people visiting for that short period.

Suppose you are looking at whether to visit Universal Studios Orlando or Universal Studios Hollywood. In that case, you can make some quick comparisons such as size, number of things to do and even price.

While Universal Studios Hollywood can be significantly cheaper, you may find it doesn’t offer the family-style trip you had in mind compared to Universal Studios Orlando.

How Long To Spend Universal Studios Orlando

3 – 5 days is the optimal number of days to spend at Universal Studios Resort in Orlando, in our opinion. However, you could opt to stay longer depending on your vacation plans. 3 – 5 days at Universal Studios Orlando allows one park per day, including Volcano Bay resort water park.

On the other hand, if you increase the length of your trip to five days, then you can take the time to have a day off in between for resting, exploring more of Orlando or just enjoying an afternoon at CityWalk.

Alternatively, if you need to cut this down to 2 days, I suggest cutting out Volcano Bay and focussing on the two main parks as they have the most to do and see. Though no matter the time you get at Universal Studios Orlando, it is still worth visiting.

Working out how many days to spend at Universal Studios Orlando may depend on what you are visiting the attraction for. We love visiting Universal Studios Orlando to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

So we like to take extra time to get on the rides, take the Hogwarts express and even use an interactive wand. While you can do both Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas in one day, you would still need a park to park ticket to access both parks within one day (I will explain more later on).

It is essential to know that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not a stand-alone park; it is split between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. These are just themed areas within the larger parks and are linked together by the Hogwarts Express.

Universal Studios Orlando Resort has plenty to keep anyone entertained. Still, if you are looking at only spending three days at the resort, you can maximise your time in several ways.

At Universal Studios Orlando, you can save time by looking at the main areas you want to see and rides you want to go on; that way, you can prioritise what you do and see first and then go back to see the rest later on.

We found a great way to maximise our limited number of days at Universal Studios Orlando Resort was to arrive early for park opening. This meant you could get into the park while it was still reasonably quiet, make the most of the short ride lines, and see areas better with fewer people around.

Getting To Universal Studios Orlando

Plane

There are two major airports within Orlando; Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). While either airport is a viable option to fly into, Orlando International Airport (MCO) is preferred as it is closer to Universal Studios and Walt Disney World.

The highlight of flying into MCO is that it also comes with various transport options once you arrive. These can be anything from a pre-booked transfer with your resort/hotel, taxi, private transfer, car hire or using public transport such as buses.

Suppose you are travelling from the UK to Orlando. In that case, you will most likely be flying into Orlando International Airport (MCO) as this is the most commonly used and most popular. You can expect to arrive at this airport when flying with airlines such as Virgin Airlines and British Airways.

Car

Getting to Universal Studios Orlando by car is simple, whether this is your car, renting or even private transfer.

We often choose to book a private transfer or head to taxi places such as Mears Taxi as we fly in.

Alternatively, you can opt for an Uber or Lyft to your accommodation and Universal Studios Orlando Resort. These can often work out cheaper for bigger parties rather than booking the Universal SuperStar Shuttle.

Shuttle/Bus

A shuttle bus service from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) takes you to Universal Studios Orlando Resort directly; the round trip costs roughly $40 per person. The Universal SuperStar Shuttle would need to be booked in advance and is an excellent option if you are flying in and not planning on driving.

You can get to Universal Studios Orlando resort by local bus or shuttle. Where you plan to stay will depend on the access you have to and from the parks. You can use the complimentary guest shuttle service from the hotels to the parks and back if you stay on-site.

Alternatively, suppose you are staying off-site at a hotel. In that case, you can often find many that offer a shuttle service (paid or complimentary) to and from the parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando Resort.

Where To Stay In Universal Studios Orlando

Orlando is an expanse area with every style of accommodation and price range you could want or need. With so much on offer, you can find a nice hotel or AirB&B located either near Universal Studios Orlando or in between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

There are three main accommodation options for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando, on-site hotels, hotels nearby and AirB&B’s.

On-Site Hotels

Universal Studios Orlando has eight on-site hotels, including their flagship hotel – Portofino Bay. The hotels are categorised into four tiers – value, prime value, preferred, and premier. With the four different tiers, you can expect other options and perks included with a stay at a Universal Studios on-site hotel.

Staying in one of the on-site hotels at Universal Studios Orlando, you can experience some perks such as early park admission to the Wizarding Worlds and Volcano Bay, free parking at the main CityWalk garage and free transport to the theme parks.

Each tier of the on-site Universal Studios Orlando Resort hotels come with another level of space, service and facilities that you can utilise. Some hotels on-site were better suited to families whilst other Universal Studios Orlando hotels were better for adults.

Hotels

When looking for an off-site hotel for visiting Universal Studios Orlando, it is essential to think about your transport options. For example, will you be driving from your hotel to CityWalk, or are you looking for a hotel with a shuttle service?

There are many hotels near Universal Studios Orlando with shuttle options which is something we found most helpful on our first visit. Finding a hotel with a shuttle service was great as we could save money on our hotel by staying off-site and further away while getting to and from the parks efficiently.

Universal Studios Orlando is also in a great area, which means there are plenty of hotels close to Universal Studios you can walk to and from, making this not just cheaper but often easier. These are perfect if you don’t want to drive or save money on parking every day.

When looking for family hotels at Universal Studios Orlando Resort, we suggest looking off-site due to the number of places you can stay and the space you can get. In addition, the price can be much more affordable, especially if you plan to visit during peak seasons.

AirB&B

AirB&B is another great option for looking at somewhere to stay while visiting Universal Studios Orlando Resort.

You can often find an entire home for a reasonable price along with more space, a pool and more rooms for the family. We love this option, especially for those travelling as a group and wishing to cook their meals together.

The only downfall to staying in an AirB&B is that you would be required to drive and pay for parking. Alternatively, you would have to rely on getting Uber’s or Lyfts, which is a viable option for the savings you can make on your accommodation to counteract the cost of parking and transport.

Things To See & Do In Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando Resort has so much more to offer than just rides; it has everything you could need and dream of to make a perfect fun-filled break. There are three main parks at Universal Studios Orlando Resort; Islands Of Adventure, Universal Studios and Volcano Bay.

Along with the three immersive parks, you can find the ‘downtown’ area of CityWalk, and is a place open to the public and has everything from entertainment, shows, a variety of dining options and plenty of shopping!

Islands Of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is the second park to arrive at Universal Studios Orlando Resort. Once upon a time, the land was part of Universal Studios Florida, but then the parks were separated and built into what we see today.

Compared to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure is better for thriller rides due to Hulk Roller Coaster, Jurassic World VelociCoaster and Skull Island: Reign Of Kong. I would also suggest if you like water rides, then Islands of Adventure is the park for you.

Several different lands are part of Islands of Adventure park, from Toon Lagoon, Marvel Superhero Island, Seuss Landing, Skull Islands, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. We found many more adults enjoying Islands of Adventure due to the thrilling rides and Marvel area.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios is one of the more iconic parks and usually the first one we start with on a trip to Universal Studios. Though originally both Universal Studios and Islands Of Adventure were the same park, Universal Studios came first, followed by Islands Of Adventure.

Universal Studios is home to several different lands and themed areas such as Hollywood, Production Central, New York, San Francisco, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield, and Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone.

There are a variety of rides for everyone to enjoy though there may be some rides you wish to avoid, especially if you have young children or suffer from motion sickness.

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is the latest addition to Universal Studios Orlando Resort, opening in May 2017. The water park replaced the previous water park Wet’ n Wild which was closed in December of 2016.

While you can experience water rides at Islands Of Adventure, Volcano Bay is better as there is much more to experience at Volcano Bay with over ten tropical-themed rides. Some of these include Kala and Ta Nui Serpentine Body Slides, which take you from the very top of the Volcano to a pool at the bottom.

Volcano Bay is also home to a wave pool, kids friendly swimming areas and a winding river, along with plenty of seating and sunbeds scattered around the park for sunbathing and relaxing. You can easily spend a day at Volcano Bay as there is so much to see and do.

Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

If you didn’t already know, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split across the two parks of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.

Hogsmeade is located in Islands of Adventure, while the Hogwarts Castle and Diagon Alley are located in Universal Studios, with the Hogwarts Express running between the two.

Suppose you are solely heading to Universal Studios Orlando Resort for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In that case, I highly recommend getting a Park To Park Ticket as this is a requirement for riding the Hogwarts Express, and it is most definitely worth it!

Universal’s Islands of Adventure is home to Hogsmeade and was the first instalment of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It showcases everything you would expect from the films and books from The Hogs Head, where you can head for a drink, The Three Broomsticks, where you can enjoy a meal along with Honeydukes for sweets and treats and even carts on the streets selling fresh Butterbeer!

There are, of course, shops where you can shop for wands, robes, Quidditch outfits, an interactive owl and even some of the more obscure items from books, potions and more.

Also, in Hogsmeade, you can find the rides of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures, Motorbike Adventure and Flight Of The Hippogriff. Alternatively, in the Universal Studios park, you can experience the thrilling ride of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Within the Universal Studios’ side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you can find places to eat, such as The Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue’s and The Hopping Pot, along with The Fountain of Fair Fortune and Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop.

The magic of the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter doesn’t just stop there; you can go to places such as Olivanders and pick out a wand and even head to Madam Malkin’s Robes for all occasions to pick our your Hogwarts uniform.

Universal Studios Orlando is a place where you can let the magic happen as you can feel like you have joined the Wizarding World with interactive wands that allow you to cast spells and enchant objects.

CityWalk

CityWalk is the ‘downtown’ area of Universal Studios Orlando Resort and is a public space. You can visit CityWalk at any time, and it does not require an entry fee or ticket. CityWalk has everything from a variety of dining options, shopping experiences, shows and bars for all ages to enjoy.

Personally, we found CityWalk a great place to head for something to eat and drink after a long day of walking and exploring the parks. The area is expanse and has plenty to offer, so even if you want something quick to eat, they have a whole place to suit those needs.

Alternatively, there is plenty of high end and casual dining options to explore for a sit-down.

CityWalk is perfect for families and kids as it has various things to do, from live shows on the boardwalk area, a cinema and mini-golf. Not to mention the fantastic places to eat from The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Voodoo Donut and Hot Dog Hall of Fame.

While Universal Studios CityWalk may not have as much included as Walt Disney Worlds Disney Springs, it does offer up more unique dining opportunities. Especially for those who are celebrating on an adults-only trip or just looking to experience something different.

Special Events & Shows

Universal Studios Orlando, much like other theme parks, offers up more than just rides. You can find special events, shows and even parades that change during the year.

One of the most popular events held at Universal Studios Orlando Resort is the Halloween Horror Nights. It takes place over a select number of nights between early September and the end of October. The event is not to be taken lightly and is not something everyone can handle.

Universal Studios Orlando Resort is also home to annual events and is often a popular destination for things such as Grad Bash, Mardi Gras party and even Rock The Universe.

How To Get Around Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando, like any major attraction, has a form of transport between parks. Parking is all directed to CityWalk, and then from there, you can catch a shuttle bus provided by Universal Studios Orlando to Volcano Bay.

Alternatively, you can walk through CityWalk to the designated park, like Universal Studios and Islands Of Adventure. There are, however, other ways of getting to Island’s Of Adventure from Universal Studios, such as taking the Hogwarts Express.

Alternatively, if you are staying on-site at one of the Universal Studios Orlando hotels, you can get a shuttle from your hotel to the other parks.

If you want to go a little further afield to other attractions such as Walt Disney World from Universal Studios, you can look at different transport types from Uber, bus or driving.

Parking for a single car is $26 for the day if you are looking to visit CityWalk. However, you can arrive after 6pm, and parking is free. The only time free parking is not available after 6pm is when Halloween Horror Nights or other select events (you can find more information on the Universal Studios Orlando website).

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Typical Costs In Universal Studios Orlando

Working out the cost of a trip to Universal Studios Orlando Resort can be relatively complex and not something many enjoy doing. It often takes the fun out of the trip and leaves you feeling like you can’t enjoy it, especially if you feel you are working on a tight budget.

While transport and hotels are the most significant expenses (in most cases), there are other additional costs to think about such as food, tickets and even souvenirs!

Tickets

Tickets and flights, and hotels are among the most significant expenses of a Universal Studios Orlando Resort trip, so it is easy to see why you might want to find a deal, discount, or coupon.

Saving money directly on Universal Studios Orlando tickets can be very hard as there are limited deals and coupons to take advantage of.

We always buy our park tickets directly from Universal Studios Orlando as it is easier. You are protected against scams and can pick them up as you arrive or get them posted out to you.

There are, however, ways you can get your tickets at a better rate, especially if you are looking to bundle in other Orlando attractions such as SeaWorld, Disney World and Legoland. This can be done through companies such as FloridaTix who are reputable and trustworthy.

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

  • The number of days you are visiting Universal Studios Orlando
  • Whether or not you’d like to visit all three parks or selected ones
  • The age of the guests (children are slightly cheaper than adults)
  • The time of year you are visiting (peak season may be higher)
  • Whether or not you are looking to purchase express passes
  • Whether or not you plan to return within the year and looking at annual passes
  • If you are interested in having a park to park ticket (remember this gives you access to the Hogwarts Express)

As a rough estimate, park tickets cost $339.99 per person based on visiting all three parks over three days. However, if you plan to go to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – one park per day prices are from $219 per adult.

You can, however, choose to add on Park To Park, which would add an additional $60 roughly to the price of your ticket. Nevertheless, buying a Universal Studios Orlando park to park ticket is worth looking into, especially if you plan to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and wish to ride the Hogwarts Express.

Another expense that can occur with tickets is the addition to add an express pass. An express pass is an addition to your ticket, which allows you to skip the regular queue on rides. There are separate lines for express pass holders, so you can skip to the front and get on the ride much quicker.

Express passes at Universal Studios Orlando can be worthwhile, especially if you want to get on all the rides and have a short number of days at the park. The express pass can be purchased in advance along with your tickets or at the gate/entrance to the park when you arrive.

When purchasing an express pass, it is only one per person per day, and costs start at $89.99 per person per day. If you wish to have express passes for everyone, you can stay in one of the premier hotels where you can get the express pass as complimentary to your stay.

Food

Food at Universal Studios Orlando Resort, like any theme park and attraction, the prices are slightly inflated compared to the surrounding area outside of the parks. This can be anything from food and drinks to clothing and souvenirs.

While you can cut out souvenirs and merchandise, the likely hood is that you can’t cut out food costs, but you can reduce them. The biggest bonus to Universal Studios Orlando Resort is the open policy on bringing in food to the parks.

Restricted items are large cooler boxes, anything that comes within a glass bottle or container, anything that requires heating up will not be permitted, and alcohol is also not allowed. You can, however, buy alcohol within the park at designated areas and restaurants.

Bringing snacks and even sandwiches into the parks is an excellent way of saving money on food during your trip. This can be highly beneficial to those with allergies and young children who like to snack often. You can shop at the local Walmart and stock up on supplies before heading to the parks.

Don’t forget that each of the three parks and CityWalk have some fantastic places to eat, so you might want to check out some of the top spots before heading to the park with a pre-packed lunch. We often found that Islands Of Adventure has a fantastic variety of places to eat, so it is worth planning beforehand.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs are usually one of the most unexpected areas we can end up spending our money on, especially as you see items you haven’t seen before or are unable to buy online for cheaper.

Souvenirs for people back home are optional and not something we often buy. Instead, we like to save money and use it to experience more on our trip, such as better meals out, express passes and even better hotel stays.

Universal Studios Orlando Resort has a wonderful selection of souvenirs and things you can buy while at the park, but the Harry Potter wands and robes are one of the most popular. You will more than likely see a dozen few wizards and witches every few yards styling their house robes and a wand.

The robes are undoubtedly one of the most sold items within the park and are pretty expensive, especially when bought alongside an interactive wand. The Harry Potter robes are definitely worth buying but not always from the parks themselves; you can however bring your own to wear once within the park.

Money Saving Tips For Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando can be an expensive trip to take especially when you count in travel, hotels, food and park tickets, not to mention extras such as souvenirs and express passes. However, with that said, there are plenty of ways in which you can still save money during your trip to Universal Studios Orlando.

When visiting Universal Studios Orlando Resort, we opt for a Universal Refillable Cup, which supplies us with unlimited drinks for the entire day. We can have anything from unique flavours of Fanta, Coca Cola, Dr Pepper and Minute Maid to Iced Tea and Juices.

The refillable cup can be shared amongst your group so you can enjoy refreshing drinks throughout the day and save while doing so.

Another favourite tip of ours is to buy the Universal Refillable Popcorn Bucket as this has the same concept as the drinks where you can buy a large bucket and have it filled, and then refills cost a small amount each day. Once you have the bucket, you can refill it any number of times you want.

Universal Studios Orlando Resort can get a little crowded, especially if you are visiting in the peak season between July and August. However, if you are only visiting for 2-3 days and still want to fit each park in, there are several ways you can save time at Universal Studios Orlando in order to see everything.

How To Stay Safe In Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando Resort is relatively safe as there are bag checks upon entering the parks along with plenty of helpful and helpful staff members located around.

There are several ways you can stay safe during a trip to Universal Studios Orlando Resort, and mostly these come down to your belongings and your health and safety.

We suggest using a bag with a zip and is comfortable to wear as you don’t want to be losing money, keys or tickets while you are in the park. This will also account for any rides that don’t require a locker for your items.

Make sure to pack suncream in your day bag for the parks, as the sunshine can get intense, especially during the summer months. Also, look at taking a sunhat in some form as this can help shade your neck, face and shoulders while walking around.

We also suggest taking a water bottle to refill during your time within the parks as you can often do more walking than you realise and be dehydrated. Hence, keeping water on hand is an excellent way of staying healthy and hydrated.

Gear & Packing List For Universal Studios Orlando

Packing for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando Resort can often leave many wondering what they need, what I am not allowed to wear, and what I can take to the parks.

Universal Studios Orlando Resort is pretty relaxed on the dress sense but asks guests not to wear costumes (unless for special events), wedding attire or anything too revealing such as bikinis (unless under other clothing items) and not to go shirtless.

There are no set rules (apart from the ones above) on what to wear to Universal Studios Orlando Resort, and it is mainly open to what you feel most comfortable in, whether denim shorts or long combat trousers. We find shorts, a t-shirt and a comfy pair of shoes are the best for us.

When planning a trip to Universal Studios Orlando Resort, you will be doing a lot of walking, and therefore you will require comfortable footwear. This can be anything from sandals to boots and trainers; it is all about personal preference, though I would suggest wearing different shoes every 2-3 days, so your feet don’t get too sore.

As Universal Studios Orlando is popular not just with families with teens but with families with younger children, you can often get confused with what you need to take and what type of bag to use.

Finding the best bag for Universal Studios Orlando doesn’t have to be complicated and can be something you already have at home that will work perfectly.

Alternatively, suppose you are going as part of a group to Universal Studios or even solo. In that case, you might find smaller bags for the essential items easy to carry around and wear.

We often found if you plan to separate from a group at any point, it is best to keep your things with you in a fanny pack or small waist bag.

What you plan to take to Volcano Bay may differ from what you plan to take to Universal Studios or Islands Of Adventure mainly due to the requirement of bringing towels, suncream, swim diapers and even armbands.

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