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Everything You Need to Know to Plan Universal Studios Orlando Vacations

Last updated on August 20th, 2021 at 09:47 pm

verything you need to know before you go to Universal Orlando and how to make the most of your trip! Everything from planning, where to eat, where to stay, what rides to go on, money saving tips and more... all for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, City Walk, and the on-site hotels!

Planning a trip to Universal Orlando — home to the amazing Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade — can be a daunting task. We’ll make your trip planning as easy as possible with our step by step guides.

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How Many Theme Parks are at Universal Orlando?

Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure), a water park (Volcano Bay), and a night-time entertainment complex (Universal CityWalk Orlando)

Universal Studios Florida

Ride the movies in this amazing park. There are 20 attractions and 8 lands to choose from. Throughout the day, you will find parades, shows, and fireworks displays. Also, there are a myriad of dining and options as well as complimentary shopping delivery to your on-site resort.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Where adventure comes to life. Visit the Cat in the Hat in Seus-Landing, Spiderman, Jurassic Park and Hogsmeade. Get the Park to Park ticket option and ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks. There are themed quick service dining locations within each land that are sure to please the family.

Universal’s Volcano Bay

At Universal’s own Volcano Bay water park, explore 30 experiences throughout 19 attractions. This is a full-day adventure. Get your complimentary TapuTapu so you can virtually queue for rides while you enjoy the park. Raft’s auto lift to the top so you don’t have to struggle.

Universal CityWalk

Also known as the “Epicentre of Awesome”, Citywalk is located between the entrances of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Open until 2am, Universal CityWalk is free to enter, though some clubs do have a cover fee.

Best Time of Year to Visit

The best time to visit lands at the beginning of November, beginning of December, end of September, February (avoiding Presidents day weekend) and any weekday in October.

Where to stay and how to get there

There are a variety of Loews-operated hotels on Universal Orlando property with a range of themes and prices, from the luxurious Portofino Bay Hotel to the value-priced Cabana Bay Beach Resort. First, take a look at our Universal Orlando Resort Hotel Basics page for an introduction to the resorts’ amenities and policies. Then check out our Universal Orlando Resort On-Site Hotel Benefits page, where we cover exclusive perks like Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, free Universal Express passes for skipping the standby lines, and more. 

How many days should you spend at Universal Studios

3 days is ideal, particularly with a park-to-park pass, as it will allow you to fully explore each park and revisit your favorite attractions.

Buying the right tickets

Buy tickets online and in advance

By purchasing online and in advance, you will save yourself the hassle of purchasing onsite when you arrive. And all you need is the credit card you used to make the purchase.

Using a registered Travel Agent

Not only does using a registered Travel Agent not cost you anything, but they are also able to find you deals that you may not be aware exist.

If free advice and great deals weren’t enough, Travel Agents also give you the gift of Early Admission when staying off-site. That’s right, you will be treated like an on-site guest with off-site prices.

What are the Ticketing Options at Universal Orlando?

Base Tickets

A base ticket will grant you access to one park per day for the number of days you have purchased. You can visit the same park each day, or explore something new, but you can not explore both parks in a single day.

Park-to-Park Tickets

A Park to Park ticket allows you to come and go between the two parks as often as you please.

The Hogwarts Express requires a Park to Park ticket in order to ride, even if you don’t get out at the second park.

3-Park Ticket

The 3-Park Ticket entitles you to enter to Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure AND Universal’s Volcano Bay. You have the option of purchasing Park to Park or single park tickets but 3-Park is always cheaper than 2 Park and adding Water Park later on.

Universal Studios Annual Pass prices and savings

Discounts on hotel stay, City Walk dining purchases, Universal Orlando owned and operated merchandise stores and carts, All Universal Orlando owned and operated restaurants and carts (excluding alcoholic beverages)

Premier Annual Pass Benefits

  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the theme park opens (select attractions)
  • Universal Express Pass after 4:00pm at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (one time per participating attraction)
  • Includes admission to select special events such as Mardi Gras and Holidays
  • Special discounts on separately ticketed events such as Halloween Horror Nights, Rock the Universe and EVE at Universal CityWalk
  • 15% off multi-day theme park admission tickets purchased at the front gate (Up to 6 tickets per transaction per day; not valid on Universal Express passes, or tickets with Universal Express)
  • Free Valet or Prime Self-Parking (after first visit). Note that when visiting Universal’s Volcano Bay it will be more convenient for you to self-park in the Parking Garage, where you will access the park shuttle.
  • One free night admission select event night ticket to Halloween Horror Nights^ (on select nights only) for Annual Passholder only. To use, you must present your valid Premier Pass at any Halloween Horror Nights turnstile
  • Save up to 25% off base rates plus enjoy a free single car class upgrade at Budget

Between the food, ticket, resort discounts and more, it is worth considering upgrading your Universal Orlando tickets to Annual Passes if you plan on staying on property and visiting Universal Orlando more than once during a validity period (because Universal has been known to offer 18 months for the price of 12 months), then the Annual Pass is right for you.

Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?

Trip Tip – Get to the fun faster with a Universal Express pass. You can skip the regular lines* at most of your favorite rides and attractions, including both lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (Separate theme park admission required.)

Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass is valid for one time per ride only at participating rides and attractions. You can add the Universal Express Pass as a 2-Park or 1-Park enhancement to your tickets. The prices for Universal Express Pass will vary based on travel dates.

Universal Express Pass Unlimited

The Universal Express Pass Unlimited provides unlimited ride access at participating rides and attractions each day the pass is valid. This is definitely the best Express Pass option. You can add the Express Pass Unlimited as a 3-Park, 2-Park or 1-Park enhancement. Note: prices for Universal Express Pass Unlimited will vary based on your travel dates.

How Much Does Express Pass Cost?

2-Park Universal Express Unlimited Pass starts at $89.99

The 2-Park Universal Express Unlimited Pass entitles one (1) guest unlimited express ride access at participating rides and attractions within BOTH Universal Studios Florida AND Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme parks on the same day. 

2 Park Universal Express Pass starts at $74.99

The 2-Park Universal Express Pass entitles one (1) guest one (1) time express ride access at participating rides and attractions within Universal Studios Florida AND Universal’s Islands of Adventure Theme Park.

Universal Express PLUS starts at $39.99

Skip the Virtual Lines at ALL participating rides and attractions at Universal’s Volcano Bay.

Volcano Bay Universal Express Pass starts at $19.99

Skip the Virtual Lines at SELECT participating rides and attractions at Universal’s Volcano Bay.

verything you need to know before you go to Universal Orlando and how to make the most of your trip! Everything from planning, where to eat, where to stay, what rides to go on, money saving tips and more... all for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, City Walk, and the on-site hotels!

Download the App

Of course there is an app for that. Download the Universal Orlando Resort The Official App

Whether you’re still planning your trip or already here, our official app is the ultimate must-have. You can purchase and redeem select theme park tickets and Universal Express passes, see the latest wait times, access maps, and so much more. Plus, it’s easy to stay connected while you’re here with free WiFi throughout the parks and Universal CityWalk.

Make It Your Virtual Wallet

Purchase tickets and more within the app, then head straight to the turnstile.

Find Everything You Need

Get detailed, interactive maps of the theme parks, Universal CityWalk™ and the on-site resort hotels.

Order Meals On The Go With Mobile Express Pick Up

Place food and drink orders from select restaurants when you’re in the parks.

Create A Favorites List

Add to your My Favorites list by marking your top rides, attractions and more with a heart.

Single Rider

Single Rider lines can be even faster than Universal Express pass lines. If you don’t mind splitting up your party on the ride, you can experience some of the most popular rides much quicker.

Check out Single Rider Lines at Universal Orlando for the complete list

Weather and Ride closures

How much does heavy rain impact Universal Park rides?

In Universal Studios, most of the rides are indoors, so heavy rain will not affect them. The Rocket Rollercoaster can close during bad weather. Basically, all the parks including waterparks that have activities outdoor can close due to the rain.

Lightening is the issue rather than rain. Yachts from the resort hotels stop running and attractions in the parks stop if there is lightning within a 5-mile radius.

Transportation Between Universal Resorts and Theme Parks

Universal offers water taxi service between each of its on-site hotels (except Cabana Bay) and the two theme parks. The boat service uses a dock in CityWalk near the bridge to USF as a hub, which is great if you’re going from one of the hotels to a theme park. If you’re traveling between hotels for a meal, however, you’ll need to switch boats. Boats depart about every 15 minutes, from one hour before Early Park Entry begins until after CityWalk shuts down at 2 a.m.; allow 20 to 25 minutes for each leg of your journey by boat.

Additionally, walking from any resort hotel to either theme park takes a maximum of about 15 minutes using the resort’s beautifully landscaped (though frustratingly winding) garden pathways. Hard Rock Hotel is the closest to the parks, being only steps away from Universal Studios Florida’s front gates, while Portofino and Cabana Bay are the furthest. To walk between the two hotels farthest apart, Portofino and Cabana Bay, takes 25 to 35 minutes. 

Is Universal Orlando Just for Older Kids?

Best Attractions for Children

Below are our top picks for little ones.

  • Seuss Landing. This entire area is geared around children.
  • Pteradon Flyers (Jurassic Park) is fun for children over 36 inches tall.
  • Camp Jurassic (Jurassic Park). This prehistoric playground is perfect for the little ones.
  • Flight of the Hippogriff (Hogsmeade) A family-friendly roller coaster.
  • Toon Lagoon. Children over 44 inches tall can enjoy all of the attractions here.
  • Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone. This entire land is geared around children and even includes a playground.
  • Shrek 4-D
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is fun for children over 40 inches tall.

A Complete Guide to Universal Studios for Toddlers and Babies

Universal Dining Plan

Enjoy a selection of over 100 participating dining locations when you choose from the Universal Dining Plan. There 4 levels of dining plans;

  • Universal Dining Plan
  • Universal Dining Plan — Quick-Service
  • Universal Dining Plan — Quick-Service + Coca-Cola freestyle Souvenir Cup
  • Coca-Cola freestyle Souvenir Cup

The Universal Dining Plan is only available when pre-purchasing a Vacation Package or at the Universal Orlando Ticket Desk for Universal Orlando Resort Hotel guests. This is the only package that includes 1 full-service meal.

Should you Stay at an On-site Resort Hotel at Universal Orlando?

Yes, a thousand times yes! Staying in an on-site resort hotel at Universal Orlando is unquestionably the way to go. The perks are simply that good.

  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Universal’s Volcano Bay.
  • Complimentary transportation to and from the theme parks and CityWalk.
  • Universal Orlando Character Experiences with some of your favorite theme park characters
  • Complimentary Merchandise Delivery to your hotel from shops throughout Universal. There’s no reason to lug your souvenirs around all day.
  • Free Universal Express Pass (at selection Universal Hotels) For guests staying at Portofino, Royal Pacific and Hard Rock, an Express Pass (starting at $89.99) is included for each person on the reservation. 
  • Resort Wide Charging Privileges with your room key.
  • Wake Up Calls from one of your favorite Universal Orlando characters.

Extra Perks for Guests Staying at Premier Resort Hotels

Importantly, guests staying in one of on-site Premier Resort Hotels can enjoy the following exclusive benefits:

  • FREE Universal Unlimited Express Unlimited ride access to skip the regular lines at participating rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This is NOT valid at Universal’s Volcano Bay.
  • Priority Seating at Select Restaurants throughout Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk.

Universal Orlando On-Site Resort Hotels

There are a myriad of options to choose from so we break them down below.

Universal On-Site Value Resorts

verything you need to know before you go to Universal Orlando and how to make the most of your trip! Everything from planning, where to eat, where to stay, what rides to go on, money saving tips and more... all for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, City Walk, and the on-site hotels!

Universal’s Endless Summer Resorts are the newest Universal Studios resorts. That means getting the benefits of staying at an on-site hotel at a value price point. This is a great option if you’re looking for the least expensive way to stay on-site.

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites 

This extra affordable resort hotel will feature 750 rooms and suites. The standard guest rooms will sleep up to four guests. Alternatively, the 2-bedroom suites will sleep up to six and include a kitchenette. The resort will feature one pool and a splash pad for the kids.

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites

Dockside Inn and Suites will feature 2,050 rooms and suites. The room layouts will be the same as those offered at Surfside Inn and Suites. Differing from Surfside Inn and Suites, this resort will feature two resort style pools with a splash pad for the kids.

Universal On-Site Prime Value Resorts

verything you need to know before you go to Universal Orlando and how to make the most of your trip! Everything from planning, where to eat, where to stay, what rides to go on, money saving tips and more... all for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, City Walk, and the on-site hotels!

Universal Orlando offers two Prime Value Resorts. These resorts offer everything you can possibly need on vacation at a price point that won’t break the bank.

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort 

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort  is retro-themed after the iconic beach resorts of the 1950s and 60s. Accommodations include standard guest rooms that sleep up to four and family suites that sleep up to six. In addition, there are 2-bedroom family suites that sleep up to eight. The resort features two enormous swimming pools, a water slide, a lazy river, and a 10-lane bowling alley.

Universal’s Aventura Hotel

Universal’s Aventura Hotel opened in August 2018. It features all the latest modern details and technology. Accommodations include standard guest rooms that sleep up to four guests, and specially themed kids suites that will sleep up to five.

Universal On-Site Preferred Resort

Universal features one Preferred Resort that offers even more amenities.

verything you need to know before you go to Universal Orlando and how to make the most of your trip! Everything from planning, where to eat, where to stay, what rides to go on, money saving tips and more... all for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, City Walk, and the on-site hotels!

Universal’s Sapphire Falls Resort 

Universal’s Sapphire Falls Resort is a Caribbean-inspired resort hotel with 1,000 guest rooms and suites. Accommodations include standard guest rooms that sleep up to five and several different suite options. The highlight of this resort is the 16,000 square foot, resort-style pool surrounded by cascading waterfalls.

Universal On-Site Premier Resorts

verything you need to know before you go to Universal Orlando and how to make the most of your trip! Everything from planning, where to eat, where to stay, what rides to go on, money saving tips and more... all for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, City Walk, and the on-site hotels!
Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando’s newly-redesigned Future Rock Star Suites let guests perform under the lights on their very own stage. Designed to capture the excitement of being on tour, these two-room suites feature applause-worthy floor to ceiling details, including a stage with liquid flooring and lights, a twinkling starlight canopy over the beds and brand new Hard Rock memorabilia from today’s superstars.

Universal Orlando offers three on-site Premier Resorts that include exclusive benefits: complimentary Universal Unlimited Express Pass, water-taxi transportation to and from the theme parks, and priority seating at select restaurants. In addition, there’s a Club Level option with access to concierge lounges.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort 

Loews Royal Pacific Resort is themed around the island paradises of Fiji, Bali and Hawaii and is the least expensive of the three premier resort hotels. Accommodations include standard guest rooms as well as amazingly themed suites. The standard guest rooms and the Jurassic Park Kids Suite sleep up to five. Larger families can stay in one of the Hospitality Suites that can sleep up to 11. The lagoon-style swimming pool includes a white sandy beach.

Hard Rock Hotel 

The Hard Rock Hotel is a music lover’s dream, featuring all of your favorite musical memorabilia. Accommodations include standard guest rooms that sleep up to five, along with several themed suite options. The 800-square-foot Future Rock Star Suite accommodates up to five. Larger families can stay in one of the King Suites, including a 2-bedroom suite that sleeps up to 9, and a 3-bedroom suite that will accommodate up to 13. You can party like a rock star at the 12,000-square-foot pool with an underwater sound system, or request a guitar and amp to be delivered to your room.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel 

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is the most luxurious of all the Universal on-site resort hotels. Themed around the Italian Riviera, this European-style resort features three swimming pools, a spa, and deluxe dining options. Accommodations include standard guest rooms that sleep up to five and several suite options. The Despicable Me Kids Suite sleeps up to five, while the Portofino, Villa and Hospitality Suites can accommodate up to 10.

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