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The best time to arrive at Universal Studios Orlando is before the park opens. This way you’ll be at the entrance of the park ready and waiting as the gates open.
From there you can go straight to the most popular rides in the park when they have the shortest wait times.
Which on rides such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, this can be the difference between waiting roughly 30 minutes and 3 hours.
As such we recommend arriving at the entrance to the park itself 30 minutes before the opening time for you’re desired date. So, if the park opens at 9am on the day you visit, aim to arrive at the entrance at 8.30am.
This also means factoring in the 20-minute walk through CityWalk from the parking lot or getting the bus from your hotel and heading through security at the resort entrance. Not to mention the actual drive to the resort itself if that applies to you.
All this can mean that in our instance of the park opening at 9am and you’re arriving at the park at 8.30am you’re actually leaving your hotel or villa as early as 7am.
But is it worth it?
What Time Does Universal Studios Orlando Open?
Universal Studios adjusts the opening and closing times of all the parks throughout the year based on various different factors (peak season, Halloween Horror Nights etc.)
As such it’s always best to research the specific opening times for the parks when you’re visiting using the Universal Studios Orlando website.
However, keep in mind that the park hours are subject to change so if you’re planning months in advance make sure you recheck the times a couple of weeks before you go to ensure they’ve remained the same.
Remember that the park opening times will be different if you’re staying on-site at a Universal Studios Orlando resort hotel since you’ll have early admission.
Speak to a staff member at the hotel to confirm which park has the early admission and what time it’s available from.
What Are The Benefits Of Arriving At Universal Studios Orlando Early?
The thought of setting off to Universal Studios Orlando as early as 7am can be incredibly daunting, especially if you’re suffering from jet lag.
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However, based on our multiple trips to Universal Studios Orlando over the past decade throughout different times of the year we have consistently found that the first hour in which the park opens is the best.
Why is this?
Firstly, the dull answer is the heat.
Florida is obviously known for getting incredibly hot and incredibly humid. As such you’ll find that one of the coolest times of the day are those first few hours after the sun rises and again after the sun sets.
The worst hours are between 12 midday and 4pm when humidity can hit 80% or even 90% and temperatures can easily surpass 100°C.
On our most recent trip (June 2022) we found that the best photos we took either of ourselves for this blog, or selfies for memories were in the morning.
The sun was shining so we had good lighting, yet we didn’t look like we’d just walked three miles through the rainforest.
Ride Wait Times
However, most avid theme park goers aren’t favouring those early morning hours at the park for friendly temperatures and luckily that isn’t the only benefit to arriving at Universal Studios Orlando.
That’s because the second and perhaps the most popular reason to arrive at Universal Studios Orlando before opening is so you’re ready to race to the park’s most popular rides.
It’s essential to do your research on the park you’re visiting (either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure) to ensure that you head to the “right” rides first.
Some rides will have a 15-minute wait time when the park opens and a 30-minute wait time by lunch. Others will have a 15-minute wait time when the park opens and a 120-minute wait time by lunch.
While everyone has their own opinions as to which rides you should head to first, I’d personally suggest researching and deciding for yourself from the following;
Universal Studios Orlando
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hogwarts Express
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Hogwarts Express
What Time To Arrive At Universal Studios If You Have Early Admission (Staying On-Site)
If you’re staying on-site at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel then you’ll be able to enter selected areas of one of the parks before those with general admission tickets.
However, keep in mind that you’ll still need valid park admission tickets alongside your hotel ticket to gain entry into the parks early or otherwise.
Going back to our initial example of the parks opening at 9am and you, therefore, arriving at the entrance at 8.30am.
Early admission means that the park will likely open at 8am, and as such you’ll want to arrive at the entrance of the park 30 minutes before the park opens (therefore in our example at 7.30am).
In most cases, early admission is only available for one park (either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios) and while the entry is usually one hour early it is subject to change.
When checking in at the hotel the staff member should inform you as to which park has early admission during your stay. However, it’s often displayed around the resort too if you forget.
We had the pleasure of staying on-site during our most recent trip to Universal Studios (June 2022) and thanks to jetlag we were able to head down to the bus stop to catch the bus to Universal Studios at a whopping 6.45am.
Believe it or not, you will not be the only one heading to the bus stop at this time and the queues for the resort bus may be some of the busiest you experience all day.
As such this meant that we actually didn’t arrive at Universal Studios bus pick-up and drop-off area until 7.10am.
Which after getting through security and walking through CityWalk saw us arrive at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (our early access park during our stay) at around 7.30am ready for an 8am opening.
By this time there was already a queue for entering the park all the way to the bridge, which meant when the park opened at 8am it was 8.15am before we actually made it through the barriers.
In most cases, only a select portion of the selected park is open for early access and during our visit it was Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hogsmede) and the newly launched Jurassic World VelociCoaster.
In this case, Helen headed straight for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and I hung back with our six-month-old.
Despite being open for more than two years now Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal’s Islands of Adventure park still see’s wait times in excess of two or even three hours.
Given that this ride still doesn’t accept Express Passes the only way to minimise your wait time for this ride in the hope of getting it sub one hour is to arrive at the park before it opens so you can go straight to this ride.
I’d estimate that 90% of the people who entered the park with us during those first 15 minutes after the park opening headed not to the newly launched Jurassic World VelociCoaster but instead to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
This resulted in Helen still waiting one hour to go on the ride.
However, given the fact that by the time general admission was entering the park at 9am the wait time was already up to 210 minutes, this was still really good.
Throughout our two-week stay at Universal, we didn’t once see Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure wait time drop below 60 minutes regardless of the time (or the weather!).
Given that 90% of the people entering the park with early admission seemed to be heading for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure other rides had insanely low wait times including;
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – 10 minutes
- VelociCoaster – 20 minutes
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop – 5 minutes
- Flight of the Hippogriff – 10 minutes
What Time To Arrive At Universal Studios If You Have An Express Pass
While the Universal Express Pass is an incredible benefit to skipping the lines it’s not available for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers and also can not be used during the early admission hour for those staying on-site.
As such if you want to go on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure specifically (Pteranodon Flyers isn’t too bad of a wait if you’re eligible to ride) then you’ll still want to arrive at the park entrance 30 minutes before the park opens.
If you’re not interested in going Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure then you could choose to arrive slightly later given that you’re able to skip the lines to all other rides (except also Pteranodon Flyers if you’re eligible to ride).
However, this decision is likely to come down to;
Are You Visiting For One Day Or Longer?
If you’re visiting Universal Studios Orlando for one day and therefore only have the Express Pass for one day I’d recommend arriving as early as possible so you’re able to go on as many rides as possible using your Express Pass.
If you’re visiting for more than one day but only have the Express Pass for one day you could choose to use your Express Pass day to only go on the most popular rides (where the Express Pass is permitted) and then ride the less popular rides with wait times of under 30 minutes on your secondary day(s)
Are You Visiting Both Parks?
Visiting both of the Universal Studios Orlando parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) means you’re going on double the rides.
As such you’ll need all the time you can get to ensure you’re able to go on as many rides as possible. Therefore we reccomend still arriving 30 minutes prior to the park opening.
Do You Have The Express Pass For More Than One Day?
If you’re staying on-site in a Universal Premier category hotel you’ll benefit from free Express Passes throughout your stay.
As such the pressure to arrive early is only applicable if you’re looking to go on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
What To Do Before You Arrive At Universal Studios Orlando
Time and time again I see people make significant mistakes when it comes to planning their early arrival at Universal Studios Orlando.
To help you avoid these mistakes here’s a list of things I recommend doing before you set off to the parks for your early morning experience.
Have Breakfast & Coffee
The number of people I see enter the park and head straight for Starbucks, Cinnabon or any of the other cafés absolutely blows my mind!
If you’ve queued to enter the park early then that first hour in which you’re inside is absolutely critical in ensuring you minimise the amount of time you’re spending waiting for rides later in the day. As such, I always recommend eating breakfast (and grabbing your coffee) before you head to the parks.
If you’re grabbing coffee on the way to the parks make sure you factor that in when it comes to calculating how long it’ll take you to get to the resort.
If you would like to get a coffee or breakfast when you arrive at Universal then do so at CityWalk instead of waiting until you get inside the parks. Be sure to also add a minimum of 20 minutes to your morning to allow for the queues and eating.
Calculate How Long It’ll Take You To Get To The Resort
How long it takes you to get to Universal Orlando will depend on two different things;
- Where you are staying
- Your transport method
If you are staying at one of the on-site hotels at Universal Orlando then you’ll be able to take complimentary transport or walk to CityWalk from where you’ll then be able to go on to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
However, even then you’ll need to account for the queues at the bus or boat stop. During our most recent visit to the parks, for example, we spent at least 15 minutes waiting for a bus from Dockside at Endless Summer Resort at 6.45am to arrive for early entry.
Alternatively, there are several hotels within walking distance of Universal Studios that aren’t owned or operated by Universal. These offer the benefit of being close to the theme parks but are often cheaper than the Universal alternatives.
Meanwhile, several hotels in the area also offer a free shuttle to Universal Studios Orlando. These shuttle buses drop you off at the bus depot just below the CityWalk parking garage, much like the complimentary buses offered by the Universal Orlando Resort on-site hotels.
Whichever way you travel, you’ll need to get an understanding of how long it’s going to take you and factor that into your plans accordingly.
Be sure to factor in an additional five or ten minutes here for those unexpected queues or any traffic to avoid disappointment.
Calculate The Walking Distance From The Parking Lot To The Park Entrance
If you’re getting a resort bus or parking your car in the resort parking lot then you’ll also want to factor in the amount of time it takes you to get all your belongings together, head from the car to security, through security and then through CityWalk to the park entrance.
Depending on the number of people travelling and how organised you are this could be as little as 10 minutes or as long as 45 minutes.
Buy Your Tickets In Advance
Don’t spend vital minutes in the morning waiting to buy tickets when you could be in the parks maximising your time with short wait times.
Instead, be sure to buy your Universal Studios Orlando tickets online.
If you’re in the US I recommend buying your park tickets from Get Your Guide
If you’re in the UK I recommend buying your park tickets from AttractionTix
Pack Your Hotel Key
If you’re staying on-site in one of the Universal Studios Orlando hotels then you’ll need to remember to pack your hotel key for early admission.
Each person is given a hotel key when they check in and each person will need this key when heading to the parks for early access.
If you don’t plan to head to the parks for early access then you won’t need your hotel key (well, just the one to get back into your room) and instead just need your valid park tickets.