Are you thinking about planning a trip to Universal Studios Orlando? We all know how chaotic and stressful theme parks can be. Even more so if you go without a plan. There are many things to consider when visiting like where to eat, what to bring, and how long to stay. Are the dining plans worth it? Do I need to get an express pass? Don’t worry, I have compiled all of my tips for Universal Studios Orlando so that you can plan your trip with ease, save money, and get the most out of your trip.
I LOVE Universal Studios Orlando and have explored it many times. I’ve visited during every season, have gone with 1 person, and gone with 10, and have stayed on and off-site. Throughout my time at the park, I have learned some tips and tricks to save time and money. I’m excited to share my knowledge with you!
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Universal Studios Orlando Resort consists of 3 parks, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay.
Also on the property is City Walk. City Walk consists of restaurants, clubs, bars, and nightlife.
Note: On the weekends after 9 pm, guests under the age of 18 have to be accompanied by an adult.
Preferred: $50-$60 (seasonal and may vary by day)
FREE PARKING: After 6 pm
All the parks can be accessed from the parking garage. If you are exploring Volcano Bay, tell the parking attendant as there will be a separate line to follow so that you are parked closer to the shuttle that takes you to the waterpark. It is still the same garage so if you are in a group and some of you are going to the waterpark and some of you are going to the theme parks you can still access both from the garage.
Once you park it’s time to walk to the park! It takes about 20 min depending on the amount of people to get to the park from the parking garage. Follow the signs toward the park you are headed to until you reach security. Once you’ve gone through security you will walk a little farther before reaching City Walk. After City Walk, you will either keep going straight (veering off a little to the left) for Islands of Adventure or head towards the right to Universal Studios. There are plenty of signs so don’t worry about getting lost.
Universal Studios consists of Diagon Alley, Minions Mayhem, Springfield (Simpsons), Transformers, Fast and Furious, The Mummy, Riptide Rock-it, and more.
Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure consists of Hogsmeade, Suess Landing, Comic Strip, King Kong, Marvel, Jurrasic Park, and more.
Volcano Bay is Universal’s on-site waterpark. The virtual queue makes exploring the waterpark even easier so you don’t have to wait in super long lines in the Florida sun.
Tips for Universal Studios Orlando
Download the App
The first thing you want to do before you even leave for your trip is download the Universal Studios app. This allows you to add your ticket to the app so you don’t have to worry about carrying a physical ticket around.
You will also be able to access the park map, ride descriptions and wait times, restaurants, show times, and more.
You can also set up a virtual wallet through the app and use it to pay instead of carrying around cash or cards.
Purchase your tickets through Undercover Tourist
Undercover Tourist is the best place to purchase your Universal tickets. Through Undercover Tourist you can find discounted park passes and deals you can’t find anywhere else. And yes it’s legit. I have used Undercover Tourist multiple times and love it.
Whether you purchase them through Undercover Tourist or not, be sure to purchase them in advance. You do not want to waste a bunch of time standing in line trying to purchase tickets once you arrive at the park.
The kind of tickets you purchase will depend on you but I highly recommend getting a park-to-park ticket. A park-to-park ticket allows you to visit all three parks on the same day instead of being restricted to just one. I prefer this because I can go to the other park if one is too crowded or if I decide I want to eat something from the other park. The best part of the park-to-park ticket is that you get to ride the Hogwarts Express Train. You can’t do this without the park-to-park ticket because it takes you from one park to the other. It is a great addition for the Harry Potter fans to go from London to Hogsmeade. And yes, you do get to go through platform 9 ¾.
Going to Universal Orlando? Buy 3 Days, Get 2 Days FREE when you buy through Undercover Tourist.
Check the Crowd Calendar
To plan my days at the park I use the crowd calendar here: https://www.undercovertourist.com/orlando/crowd-calendar/
This shows you which park is normally the busiest and when based on previous years. Every time I have used this it seems to be pretty accurate. Of course, it won’t always be 100% but it’s nice to use this as a suggestion.
It tells you which park is recommended you visit on which day, which park is usually the busiest, any big events that are happening, and more. This calendar also includes Disney Parks, Seaworld, and Discovery Cove. You can find the California park crown calendar on the same site!
Don’t Try to do Everything in One Day
It’s easy to get carried away and want to ride every ride and see every single thing on the same day. I get it! It’s exciting to be at the park and exploring but you have to make sure you are doing it smart. Trying to do everything in one day will leave you exhausted.
Unless you only have 1 day in the parks (which I don’t recommend. You need at least 3) you have plenty of time to do it right and see everything without rushing and packing it all into 1 day.
Wear Comfortable Clothes and Shoes
It is so important to wear comfortable clothing while at a theme park especially in Florida. It’s hot and humid, and you are likely to encounter an afternoon rainstorm.
Whether you want to dress for comfort or take advantage and dress up for the occasion, you will want to wear lightweight clothing and comfortable shoes. You can check out my full article on what to wear to Universal Studios here.
As for shoes, my favorite shoes are Vessi. They are waterproof, lightweight, and extremely comfortable. There are multiple colors and styles to choose from.
Bring a Small Bag
Though you don’t want to bring a bunch of things into the park you will need some things like sunscreen, your phone, medications, etc. You should bring a small bag like a fanny pack to ensure that you can carry your items and that you don’t need to rent a locker.
Some rides will make you put all of your items in a locker, in this case, those lockers are free while you ride. If you bring a bigger-sized bag then you won’t be able to use the free lockers and will have to purchase a bigger one.
I used this fanny pack and was able to hold everything I needed in it. I could wear it on most of the rides and on the rides I couldn’t it fit perfectly inside the free locker.
Some of the rides have free lockers available for use. The time available on these lockers is based on the wait and ride time of the ride you are going on. The free lockers are 5.5 in height, 14 in width, and 16.9 in depth. These will easily hold a small bag, phones, wand, and a water bottle or an EMPTY reusable cup (they don’t fit standing up).
If you have a bigger sized bag you will have to purchase a bigger locker. The paid lockers are 13 in height, 12 in width, and 16.9 in depth and cost $2 for the ride wait time plus the ride time
Be sure not to leave your bag in the free lockers longer than the allowed time (they do take into consideration delays or ride problems) because you will have to pay to get your bag out.
If you are staying at one of the 6 on-site hotels, you will have early access to the park. Early access means that you can enter the park 1-hour before opening time.
Certain attractions in each park are open during early access so be sure to check the site here as the attractions change seasonally.
Early access is a great way to get more out of your trip if you are already staying at an on-site resort.
Staying at an On-Site Hotel
This is one of the most asked questions I see when it comes to visiting any theme park. Should you stay at an on-site hotel? Of course, this will be a personal preference but there are a lot of perks to staying at an on-site hotel.
When you stay at an on-site property you can take the shuttle or water taxi depending on the hotel for free to the parks. This saves you the parking fee ($30). If you have a car during the trip though, you will still pay around $20 a day to park at your hotel. Yes, even if you are a guest.
All six of the on-site properties give you Early Access into the park but three of them (Lowes Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, and Lowes Royal Pacific) also give you a FREE Universal Express Unlimited pass.
If you book your tickets and hotels through the Universal website or Undercover Tourist you can find great offers with discounts for bundling your vacation.
Bring a Poncho
Whether you are going to be riding water rides or fear you will get stuck in one of Florida’s daily afternoon rainstorms, make sure you have a poncho or a rain jacket on hand.
I don’t normally ride the water rides so I just brought my raincoat. It was especially handy when we got rained on and then got in line for an inside ride. It was freezing in there.
You can get packs of cheap ponchos on Amazon or buy some at the park if you forget.
As I said before, Florida is known for its almost daily afternoon rainstorms. Most of the time they only last about 20 min or so. But if you happen to be visiting the park on a rainy day keep an eye out on your app and the wait times of the rides. When the weather gets gross, especially if there is thunder and lightning, a lot of the rides will close until the storm passes.
When this happens you will see a lot of people grabbing food, inside the shops, or racing to get in line for the inside rides.
My top tip is that if you know it is going to rain or if it just started, get yourself to the nearest inside ride like The Return of the Mummy, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Escape from Gringotts, and get in line. The lines will get long super quickly since they won’t shut down because of the weather.
One of the best-kept secrets when it comes to making the most out of your trip is the single-riders line. The single-riders line is for people riding the ride alone. They will get placed onto the ride when there are open seats like when a group of 3 people get seated together and there is an open seat.
Going into the single rider line even if you are with a friend can drastically cut down on your wait time. If you don’t mind being split up from your group while riding this is the best way to get more ride time. You still wait in line together, you just will be riding separately.
We did this for Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-it since it plays music and you aren’t really experiencing it together and it worked out perfectly.
We almost did this for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures but I am so glad we didn’t. That was such a great ride to experience with a friend for the first time. It ended up being my favorite ride at Universal Orlando. If you ride it make sure you do it twice and try it from both perspectives (on the motorbike and in the sidecar). They are both very different experiences. Riding on the motorbike side was my favorite.
If you are with a child who is too small or who just doesn’t want to ride a particular ride, you can take advantage of the child swap program. Each ride has a family area where one member of your group can sit with the child while the other(s) ride and then the previous rider can sit with the child while the other person gets to ride without having to wait in line again.
Check Showtimes and Events in Advance
Don’t miss any shows or any of the great events that are happening around the park. Check the events section on the website or the app.
There are a lot of fun events like Mardi Gras, Halloween Horror Nights, Grinchmas, and more. Keep in mind that the parks will most likely be busier during these times.
My biggest concern when spending time at any theme park is if I am going to end up getting motion sickness. I take Dramamine religiously since I get motion sick so easily. Most of the time though the Dramamine isn’t enough. I have to take it at least twice throughout the day and use the motion sickness bands.
I brought a pair of bands that were velcro with me on my last trip to Universal and they helped but they were kind of uncomfortable since I needed to wear them so tight. They have different kinds of the same bands that aren’t as uncomfortable.
Recently I tried the Refliefband and this has been a game changer. This band helps with nausea, motion sickness, hangovers, and more. You put a little bit of the gel on your wrist and then strap the band and turn it on. It works within a few minutes and helps so much. I haven’t used it while riding roller coasters yet but I used it in the car and it worked great.
Ride the Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express doesn’t get the hype it deserves. It’s entertaining, air-conditioned, gives you a chance to sit, and it’s fun! To ride the Hogwarts Express you have to have a park-to-park ticket since it takes you from London (Universal Studios Florida) to Hogsmeade ( Islands of Adventure).
When you enter the ride on the Universal Studios side, you will go through platform 9 ¾. This is a great spot to grab a photo but you have to do it quickly because the employees will tell other people to go around you to move the line along.
If you have time ride the train each way. The videos are different depending on which way you are going and if the line is short it’s faster to ride the train to the other park than to walk.
Visit For At Least 3 Days
If you have the time I suggest visiting the parks for at least 3 days, four if you can. I say this because if you go for less than 3 days you won’t be able to do everything you want to do and you will feel rushed.
I like to spend 1 day in each park so that I can get to everything and then if I have a 4th day I go to anything I missed on the other days or re-ride my favorite rides. Or if it rains and closes a ride you have another chance to ride.
When To Visit
When you visit can significantly impact the quality of your experience. There really isn’t a bad time to visit weather-wise since it’s warm in Florida year-round. I would suggest going during the off-season (February/March or September) but make sure to check the crowd calendar to see when the lowest crowds are. Be sure to check for events as you may experience higher crowds during those times.
Holidays and weekends will always be busier with Christmas being the busiest time for the parks. I was just there in July 2023 and it was busy but the lines weren’t as long as I expected.
Buy Your Themed Gear Before You Go
One tip for maximizing your experience at the park is purchasing your themed gear before your trip. Not only will this save you money, buying gear in the park is incredibly expensive, but it also saves you time trying to find the gear you want and standing in line to purchase it.
I dressed for the parks while visiting and it was so fun. I purchased all my stuff beforehand. Etsy and Amazon have great options. Here are some of my favorites below.
Want more ideas on what to wear? Check out my post here post here.
Consider An Express Pass
The Express Pass grants you priority access to a variety of popular attractions, minimizing your wait times and allowing you to make the most of your time. While it comes at an additional cost, the time saved may be worth it if you don’t have much time to explore the parks.
I have never purchased an Express Pass because I have had the time to explore the parks. Consider your priorities and the duration of your visit when deciding on the type of Express Pass, as there are various options available to cater to different preferences and budgets.
Check out the Express Pass here.
Bring Snacks And Water
Another way to save money is to bring your own snacks and water or a reusable water bottle into the park. You are allowed to bring up to 2 liters of water per guest into the park as well as small snacks that don’t need to be heated.
I chose a collapsible water bottle because it folds up and fits into my bag nicely and I didn’t want to lug around bottled water. You can fill up your water bottle at any of the Coke Freestyle machines. Staying hydrated is super important while at Universal.
As for snacks, I brought granola bars, sliced apples with lime juice, and fruit snacks. It was nice to have something to snack on while waiting in line or to hold me over until lunch.
Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive
The last thing I want to do when I arrive at the park is find something to eat for breakfast. I want to start enjoying the park. Making sure you have a nutritious breakfast before you arrive at the park will ensure you are full, energized, and ready to take on the park.
If you are waiting to eat breakfast until you get to the park there are some options like Starbucks, although the line was always super long as we walked by, Cinnabon, and Crescent Moon Bakery. None of these options are necessarily nutritious but there are a few options if you need them. There is also a small quick-service counter right after City Walk that serves breakfast sandwiches.
What To Eat
Universal Studios is filled with delicious treats throughout the park. It’s hard to decide what to try. There are full-service restaurants, quick-service cafeteria-style spots, and food cart-style stops that have things like popcorn, pretzels, and hotdogs.
You can find just about every cuisine you can think of inside the park. Keep in mind that you are at a theme park so things are going to be pretty expensive. For the most part, I try to bring snacks with me so I am not spending so much at the park but enjoying the food is part of the fun.
Here is a list of a few things you should try:
Butterbeer Ice Cream
At Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley, you can find the highly sought-after Butterbeer ice cream. If Butterbeer isn’t your thing you can try one of the other unique flavors offered like Earl Grey and Lavender, Chocolate Chili, Sticky Toffee Pudding, or Salted Caramel Blondie.
Leaky Cauldron Platter
Immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter and enjoy a traditional British-style meal. Head over to the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and try the Leaky Cauldron platter, featuring Bangers and Mash, Fisherman’s Pie, and Toad in a Hole. The cozy ambiance of the restaurant adds to the dining experience.
Lard Lad Donuts
While in Springfield, check out Lard Lad donuts and indulge in one of their oversized and delicious donuts, available in a variety of flavors.
For an upscale dining experience be sure to check out Mythos in Islands of Adventure. Enjoy a diverse menu featuring Meditteranean-inspired dishes like Pad Thai, Grilled Swordfish, and more.
Read my in-depth post on what to eat and drink in the park here.
If you plan on dining in at some of the restaurants you may want to consider making a reservation. Minions Cafe, Three Broomsticks, and Leaky Cauldron are some of the really popular places since they are more than just restaurants, they are experiences. Mythos, a full-service restaurant, located in the Lost Continent has been voted #1 theme park restaurant in the world from 2003-2008 and then again in 2018 so you will want to make a reservation if this is somewhere you do not want to miss.
You can use the app to order food or make reservations. Some of the restaurants do require that you call to make reservations.
What To Drink
Just like the food, there are so many options for drinks as well. Whether you are looking for something fun or ready to take a break and enjoy an adult beverage, there is no shortage of drinks to choose from.
This is arguably one of the most popular drinks in Universal. Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic beverage that tastes like a mix of cream soda and butterscotch from the Harry Potter movies. I feel like most people either love it or hate it. I LOVE it. It is sweet though, so I couldn’t drink more than one or two throughout the day but if you like cream soda I highly suggest trying it.
There are many ways to try Butterbeer:
Cold– This is the classic way to drink it and my favorite. It has a frothy whipped cream-type topping on it.
Frozen- Comes with the same topping but is frozen. It does taste a little more like butterscotch when frozen.
Hot- Hot butterbeer is only available during the wintertime. I have not tried it this way but heard it is good.
If you like butterbeer or are looking for more ways to try it you can find ice cream, potted cream, and even fudge in each of the Harry Potter parks.
Located in The Simpsons Springfield, you will find Moe’s Tavern, and inside is Flaming Moe’s. This walk-up drink counter serves their famous Flaming Moe, something you won’t find anywhere else. This non-alcoholic beverage is a smoky orange soda. You will see the “smoke” on the top of the drink which is created by the dry ice in the bottom of the special cup, hence the flaming part.
If you are a Simpsons fan you know this isn’t exactly canon, but it’s a fun drink to add to the experience. The drink is quite expensive for what it is because of the cup, which you get to keep.
You can’t explore Springfield without a visit to Duff Brewery for a taste of Duff Beer. This fictional brew from the Simpsons was created by Carib Brewery (formerly Florida Brewing Company) exclusively for Universal Orlando. You can find three varieties, Duff, Duff Lite, and Duff Dry. These exclusive beers provide a novel and immersive experience.
Hog’s Head Brew
Also made by Carib Brewery is Hog’s Head Brew. You can only find this Scottish ale at Hog’s Head in Islands of Adventure. This hazy amber ale is creamy with notes of malt and caramel.
If you plan on drinking more than just water throughout the day you may want to look into the Coke Freestyle Program. For $17.99 plus tax, you can get a souvenir cup plus unlimited Coke Freestyle (once every 5 min) beverages for the day. The cup has an activation code on the bottom that is scanned so you can access the beverage of your choice.
The cup doesn’t “expire” and you can re-activate it for $10.99 per day. You can find the Coke Freestyle machines all over the park.
Note: the Coke Freestyle Machines are also where you can fill up your water bottle if you have one. You don’t need to scan anything for water.
Tips For Volcano Bay
TapuTapu is the wristband that you receive when you enter the park and is connected to your ticket. You can connect your card, use it to access your locker, and tap into ride queues throughout the park.
Bring a Towel
You have to pay $6 to rent a towel so make sure you bring your own towel to the park. You could probably borrow a pool towel from your resort but be sure to return them to your hotel. If you decide to bring your own, a quick dry towel would be the best since you will probably be using it alot throughout the day.
You will want to wear a pair of water shoes. Not only do the sidewalks get hot but in terms of hygiene and safety I don’t want to be barefoot.
Some of the rides, like the body slides, don’t allow you to wear any type of shoes but for the rest of the rides you can. I suggest wearing something like Tevas or a sandal that will stay on your feet. Flip-flops aren’t allowed on the rides because they come off too easily and not all of the rides have baskets for you to leave your shoes in.
Renting a Locker
You will most likely need to rent a locker unless you are leaving your bags, phones, or other items with a non-rider. There are three different sizes for lockers and you can leave everything in it since your wristband is your key to your locker. You can hook multiple wristbands to the locker so any of you can open the locker. Make sure you grab a locker right when you get to the park so that they aren’t all taken.
Lockers can be paid for by credit card or cash and there is an attendant there to help you if needed.
If you are staying at an onsite hotel take advantage of the Early Acess pass especially during the summer.
You are now ready to take on Universal Studios Orlando! Do you have any other tips? Let me know.