If you are planning a trip to Universal Studios Orlando during your stay in Florida, you need to read these 10 Universal Orlando tips before you go.
We’ve pulled together some amazing hacks for you. Universal Orlando features three amazing theme parks — Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the Volcano Bay water theme park — it offers days and nights of endless fun for every member of the family.
Whether or not you’re staying at an Ellis Exclusive Villa or not these Universal Orlando tips will save you time, effort and money. And, most of all, help you to have a fantastic day at Universal. We’ll even help you discover one or two secret areas that most visitors miss!
Tip 1: Arrive Early – Even Before the Parks Open!
To enjoy the most popular attractions, do make sure you get to the parks early. The parks will be less crowded in the morning as most people like to sleep in late whilst on vacation.
If you can, aim to arrive about 1 hour BEFORE the park opens. If you are lucky, the park gates may open 15 minutes before the official opening time.
BONUS TIP: Once in, head to the back of the park and make your way to the front. We’ve tested this and being early allowed us to breeze through several wait times on the most popular attractions before the crowds arrive.
Most people will start at the gate and work their way into the park, so if you start the opposite way round you should maximise your time without the crowds.
Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are much calmer early on and you will be able to get some good photo shots and browse the shops in relative peace. These areas can get pretty busy and it’s easy to miss some of the highlights when the usual crowds are buzzing around.
Tip 2: Buy Park Tickets in Advance
To save time and money we recommend buying your park tickets ahead of time. For the best deal, buy them through our ticket partner, Kissimmee Guest Services.
You can purchase them on the day at Universal Studios, but expect a big queue and the tickets tend to be more expensive.
Make sure you purchase a park-to-park ticket if you plan to ride the Hogswarts Express, as this visits both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
Don’t worry if you forget or decide on the day, as there are ticket booths at the train stations in both parks, but you’ll save money and time if you purchase your tickets for both parks ahead of time.
Tip 3: Plan for Four Days Minimum
To conquer Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and the new Volcano Bay Water Park we recommend planning 4 days of your vacation to these parks. Maybe 5, if you don’t have an Express Pass. See our Tip Four for our tips on the best way to get an Express Pass.
You will definitely need a full day to explore the NEW Volcano Bay Water Park. It is amazing and is one of the best water parks around. It’s been a big hit with our guests.
BONUS TIP: If you are visiting Universal’s Volcano Bay water park, plan ahead and hire a private cabana where you can relax and unwind. The cabana retreats have padded lounge chairs, a small refrigerator stocked with bottled water, a complimentary fruit and snack basket, plus towel and locker service. You also have access to a concierge service with an exclusive menu of food and drink which can be delivered direct to the cabana.
One-story and two-story retreats are located throughout the park and you can get single or a family suite.
Tip 4: Get a FREE Express Pass by Spending a Night in a Universal Hotel
You’ll need to stay at either the “Royal Pacific”, “Hard Rock” or “Portofino Bay” hotels.
I know this tip sounds crazy coming from a vacation rental company, and you want to experience all the extra conveniences of staying in a villa over a hotel. However, it can pay to spend a night at one of these hotels at Universal Orlando if you plan to visit the Universal parks. This is because hotel guests get THREE amazing perks that will help you to more than double what you see in the Universal parks.
Perk 1 – You get to enter the Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure parks one hour earlier than the general crowd.
Use this early admission to go on the Forbidden Journey or the Gringott’s Bank ride an hour before anyone else is let into the park. If you’re quick and it’s not a busy day at the hotels, this extra hour potentially gives you enough time to ride the Forbidden Journey THREE times before the rest of the park even opens! We tried this for ourselves last time we visited Universal Orlando and it does work!
Another good use of this early entry is to visit Ollivanders in Hogsmeade, where the queues can get long very quickly. Getting there early will save you a lot of time waiting. Plus, the shops and town of Hogsmeade and the brilliant Diagon Alley are totally different when it’s empty; much calmer and more photogenic!
Perk 2 – Each guest staying in the room gets a FREE Universal Express Unlimited pass (worth around $149 each). This can be used every day of your visit and this includes your date of check in and departure.
Universal Express allows you to skip the lines at most Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure attractions. It is awesome and includes the major Harry Potter rides: Escape from Gringotts, Forbidden Journey and Hogwarts Express. However, please note, an Express Pass is a separate purchase at Universal’s Volcano Bay.
The value of the Express Pass tremendous, especially during busier times. Do the maths and see if it makes sense to stay on site for your party! It is often cheaper to stay on-site with Unlimited Express Pass when you compare it against staying off-site and purchasing the Unlimited Express separately.
Don’t check out of your Ellis Exclusive Villa – just take an overnight bag and check into the hotel for one night so you can use the Express Passes for free.
Perk 3 – Added benefit of being close to the parks. Your hotel stay also includes free parking – and this can save you a further $25 per day (so assume 2 days parking charges are saved during a one-night stay).
There are five Loews hotels on site at Universal Orlando:
• Loews Portofino Bay Hotel – includes the Universal Express passes and early park admission.
• Hard Rock Hotel – includes the Universal Express passes and early park admission.
• Loews Royal Pacific Resort – includes the Universal Express passes and early park admission.
• Loews Sapphire Falls Resort – includes early park admission.
• Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort – includes early park admission.
All of the hotels are within walking distance or a shuttle bus ride to all three theme parks and Universal CityWalk, which is well worth visiting.
If you are interested in checking out whether booking into a hotel could work out as a cheap way to get an Express Pass for you, give the Ellis Exclusive Villas team a call or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org We work with a number of ticketing and hotel booking partners who can get you a great rate.
We will help you do the maths and see if this will work for you.
Tip 5: You’ve Got Your Tickets – Now Plan Ahead
To get the most out of your days at Universal parks, we recommend you plan, plan and plan.
To help you do this, Universal has a very useful app. As well as helping you find out what’s going on in the parks, the app includes an interactive map, real-time wait times for rides, park hours and a parking reminder so you will remember where you parked your car. Best of all, it enables you to connect to Universal’s park WiFi – for FREE.
The app is FREE to download, so do download it!
Before you go, use the app to get the whole family involved in planning the day, making it more fun and efficient. It will save you so much time and frustration.
Another thing to plan in advance is PARK RESTAURANTS. Check out the Universal Dining Plan. Planning where you are going to eat will help you with your budget, as you will not have to eat at the closet restaurant you can find when everyone is hungry.
Planning ahead will also give you a chance to check out the menus and prices before you visit. Another option is to come out of the parks and eat at Broadwalk at Universal Citywalk. It tends to be quiet in the afternoon.
If you want to eat in the parks, try and wait until late afternoon to have lunch. This is when the ride waits are the longest and the restaurant queues are shorter.
Tip 6: Wear Comfortable Footwear and Bring a Backpack and a Rain Poncho
Universal doesn’t have any transportation inside the parks, so you can expect plenty of walking and standing in queues.
Make your number one wardrobe priority some good, comfortable footwear. Get them before you go and break them in before your trip! Sore, tired feet can make for a miserable day at the parks.
If you have a two-park ticket, don’t miss taking the Hogwarts Express between the parks. It is a really convenient way to get around and is a brilliant family experience – plus it saves walking time.
BONUS TIP: Take the train from both parks, so you make the journey in both directions; the experiences are totally different and, if you are a Harry Potter fan, not to be missed.
We also recommend taking a backpack for your snacks, water and personal items. If you don’t feel like carrying a backpack, you can rent a locker at the parks.
Do take a lightweight rain poncho. Florida rain showers can blow in quite suddenly, and the poncho will come in handy on some of the water rides anyway!
Tip 7: Beat the Queue as a Single Rider or with a Child Swap
The parks try to make the queuing work as seamlessly as possible for everyone and two of the options introduced to manage the queues for the rides better include “single rider” and “child swap” policies. The canny park visitor can use these two policies to make the most of their visit.
If you are 10 years or older, then you have the option of grabbing a spot as a “single rider”.
Since most people ride in groups of two or more, if there is an extra single spot available on a ride, the attendants will ask for a single rider to fill the empty seat and you’ll be able to skip to the front of the queue.
At some rides, there is even a special queue reserved just for single riders.
Single Rider Lines at Universal Studios Florida:
• Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
• Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
• Men in Black : Alien Attack
• Revenge of the Mummy
• Transformers : The Ride 3D
Single Rider Lines at Universal’s Islands of Adventure:
• The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man
• Doctor Dooms Fearfall
• Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
• Skull Island : Reign of Kong
One perennial problem if you are visiting the parks with small children is the age and height restrictions on some rides.
“Child swap” has been designed to help families visiting with little ones to wait in the queue together once while allowing both adults a turn on the ride.
This works by one parent staying off the ride and waiting in the designated child-swap room with the child who is not tall enough to ride. Meanwhile, the rest of the family hops on the ride.
When they are finished, the parents can swap roles and the parent who initially stayed back is given a chance to ride without having to queue up again. Instead, they simply walk to the front of the queue in the child swap designated area.
Another added benefit of using the child swap is that the second parent can take up to three guests on the ride with them. So, several people in the family get to go on the ride twice without having to go to the back of the queue in between!
Tip 8: Factor in Breaks and Take Time to Explore
Make sure you factor in breaks during the day. It can get overwhelming for adults – and young children can find it especially hard going without some downtime.
Make the most of the water splash areas around the parks to help your little ones cool down. Pack a change of clothes for them so they can splash around to their heart’s content.
Another low-key activity little kids will enjoy can be found near the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. The air-conditioned shop in Seuss Landing has a colouring station in the store – a great opportunity for the little ones to cool down with some calming activity.
If you are visiting Universal Orlando with kids, do take advantage of child swap and single rider rides and plan your time wisely.
Don’t rush through the parks. Take time to explore, especially both the Harry Potter worlds. You will discover there is so much more to see in them than the rides and main attractions. If you know where to look, you can find magical elements hidden all around. For example, buy an interactive wand at Ollivander’s and you will be able to cast spells.
Magic will happen right before your eyes! It’s truly amazing.
Tip 9: Shhh… Use the Secret Entrance
Ok, so it’s not really a secret entrance… More like an entrance most people aren’t aware of.
If you don’t manage to get to the parks early, you can still avoid some of the queues by entering Universal Studios by the Blue Man Group auditorium, under the Rip, Ride, Rocket rollercoaster. Using this entrance will help you get in to the park quicker.
You access the park right in between the entrance to Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and the Studio store. Do note, however, that this entrance does not open with the regular park opening (or early admission). It generally opens around 10AM – ideal for late arrivals!
Tip 10: Useful Insider Knowledge!
Here are a few of the things that many people aren’t aware of… but we think are absolutely worth your time.
• While visiting Gringotts ask the goblin in the Money Exchange any question and he will respond. Ask him about the dragon in Gringotts next time you visit.
• Want to impress Harry-Potter-mad kids? Head to The Three Broomsticks or the Hog’s Head pub and order a Pumpkin Fizz. You won’t find it on any menu, but it’s a magical carbonated delight! A secret item you shouldn’t miss!
• Why not try the Fire Whisky, the booze of the wizarding world? In the Deathly Hallows, it’s said to give anyone who drinks it an overwhelming sense of courage to go along with its “burning sensation”. You can order it at the Leaky Cauldron and Hog’s Head pub.
• Dial 62442 (MAGIC) in the phone in Diagon Alley and it will connect you directly to the Ministry of Magic. Give it a try!
• You can buy an interactive wand at Ollivander’s. With it, you can cast spells around Diagon Alley. If you yell “Metelojinx!” and move your wand the right way, water will pour down from the umbrella!
Men in Black Tour
Talk to the team member outside the attraction and ask them if you can get a tour of the immigration room. If it is a slow time and they have someone available, another Team Member will come out and escort you into this incredible room. This is a fantastic spot to take fun photos, so take full advantage of the unique opportunity.
Live Raptor Photo Opportunity
If you’re brave enough, you can approach the nearly nine-foot-tall raptor for a unique photo-op. But don’t make any sudden movements—as she gives you a sniff, her dagger-like teeth are just inches away. Are you daring enough to meet this prehistoric predator?
Jurassic Play Area
After you ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure, you can go to the Jurassic Park Discovery Centre. Here you can relax in the air-conditioned room while kids check out all the cool dinosaurs. Make sure to wander over to the eggs. If you’re there when a baby dino breaks out of its shell, you may be lucky enough to name the newborn and get an official birth certificate!
Choose your own song on Hollywood Rip Ride Rock it.
How do you find these hidden tracks? After lowering the restraints, push and hold the ride’s logo for around 10 seconds. When you release your finger, a number pad will show up. Enter a three-digit code, then push enter, and a mystery song corresponding to the code will be played. Most of the tracks are located between 101-132, 301-312, 501-508, 701-718 and 901-904. If you hit a different number, you’ll hear the default song.
To get you started, try 902 (Rainbow Connection by The Muppets) or 310 (Vogue by Madonna).
Character Meet and Greet with Shrek and Donkey
We recommend you check the guide for times for this character meet and greet so that you can hang out with these totally awesome and funny characters.
Share your Universal Orlando hacks!
If you have other Universal Orlando tips you can share with our guests, please do share your thoughts on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear your Universal tips and hacks.
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