Top 10 Things to Know For Your First Visit to Universal Orlando
Updated: Sep 7
So many who travel to Orlando, Florida, go to Disney but have never experienced Universal. This is a theme park that should not be overlooked. I recently spent a few days there with my family and compiled a list of the top ten things I think those who have never been to Universal Orlando should know in order to get the most out of their vacation.
Top 10 Things To Know When Planning Your First Universal Vacation
Three theme parks, all kinds of amazing. Universal Orlando’s three theme parks are Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Universal Studios is home to the classic replicas of movie sets, Diagon Alley, The Mummy Returns, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, Hogwarts Express and many other thrilling attractions. Islands of Adventure is where you will find Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, Jurassic Park, Seuss Land, The Hulk and much more to keep the entertainment going all day long. Looking for a day in the water? Head on over to Volcano Bay for some of the most exhilarating water slides around.
Single Park or Park-to-Park – which ticket is for me? If you want to ride Hogwarts Express, then the answer is simple. You will need a park-to-park ticket to ride this train. Hogwarts Express carries passengers between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Your park ticket will be checked upon entering King’s Cross Station (Universal Studios) or Hogsmeade Station (Islands of Adventure).
Universal Express Pass vs. Universal Unlimited Express. Universal Express Pass is a ticket add-on that allows visitors to bypass the regular lines at most rides throughout Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Universal Express is good once per ride per day. Universal Unlimited Express is good multiple times on the same attraction each day. You may purchase this ticket add-on through your travel advisor. Guests staying at one of the Universal premier hotels will receive this complimentary add-on (approximately $129/person value) as part of their room package.
On-Site Hotels vs. Off-Site Hotels: How Do I Decide? Universal has a hotel for every style and budget. The hotels are broken down into 3 categories:
Value: These are budget-friendly properties a bit further away from Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and City Walk. However, they give you direct access to Volcano Bay. The hotels in this category are Universal’s Aventura Hotel, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites (opening Summer 2019), and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites (opening Summer 2019).
Preferred Hotels: This level of property is a step-up to the value properties. It is a bit closer to the parks compared to the value properties. Water taxi service is available for the preferred hotels. The only property in this category is the Lowes Sapphire Falls Resort.
Premier Hotels: As the top hotel category, you will have bigger rooms, more luxurious amenities, closer proximity to the parks, water taxi service from your hotel to City Walk, and complimentary Universal Unlimited Express Pass. The three properties in this category are Hard Rock Hotel (which is the closest to the parks), Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel, and Lowes Royal Pacific Resort. In addition, guests staying at any of the Universal hotel properties will receive early entrance one hour before normal opening time at Universal Studios and complimentary package delivery to your room when you purchase from the souvenir shops throughout the parks.
Ticket Add-Ons. There are all kinds of add-ons to make your Universal Orlando vacation even more awesome. There’s the Blue Man Group, Marvel Character Dinner, photo packages, VIP experiences and more. Ask me for details about these when you are ready to book your Universal Vacation.
Dining Plans. There are dining plans available. However, for you Disney goers, keep in mind Universal’s dining plan doesn’t work quite the same way. You are a bit more limited to where the plan can be used and you can not make advanced dining reservations. However, you can use third party services for making reservations for up to a month in advance. (Note: During spring break week we would eat normally around 6:00 p.m. and the longest we ever waited for a seat was 10 minutes.) You can purchase a Coca-Cola Freestyle souvenir cup for unlimited refills throughout Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You pay approximately $16 for the first day which gets you the souvenir mug with unlimited refills for 24-hours. Then each day thereafter it is $8 per day for unlimited refills. You can use this mug for soft drinks, Icees and water. Volcano Bay has its own refillable mug. Feel free to bring your own snacks into the park to keep you energized throughout the day. If you would rather, there are plenty of snack carts located throughout each park.
City Walk. From dining to shopping to night light, City Walk is the Epicenter of Awesome! Here you will find the likes of the famous Blue Man Group as well as the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Be sure to stop by VooDoo’s Donuts and grab some late night snacks or breakfast for the next morning.
My kids are small. Will there be enough for us to do? Absolutely! Universal Orlando has the reputation of being a theme park for older kids and adults, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While many of the rides have height restrictions there is still plenty to do for smaller kids. There is Pteranodan Flyers in Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, Woody Woodpecker’s Kids Zone, all types of character interactions, parades and much more. There is even child swap service at many of the rides. This allows younger guests to skip a ride (either because they are not tall enough or they do not want to go), and gives everyone else in the party an opportunity to hop on the attraction without having to go through the queue all over again.
What Should I Bring into the Park? Don’t get bogged down by taking a bunch of items in the park. However, if you need to bring in personal items, there are lockers available throughout the parks at most of the major rides. Keep in mind you will not be allowed to take your bags on most rides and all bags will be searched by security before entering the parks.
I only need tickets and not accommodations. Why should I use a travel advisor? Tickets purchased through a travel agent guarantee the 1-hour early access to the parks, just like on-site hotel guests get. Visitors cannot get this by purchasing through the Universal consumer site themselves.
If you are an experienced Universal visitor and have a tip for first time visitors, I would love to hear it. Please post those down in the comment below.
If you are ready to book a Universal vacation and need a travel advisor, you’ve come to the right place. Click here to contact me. I would love to help you plan your next adventure.