Do you want to plan a trip to Universal Studios Orlando?

Awesome!  Universal Studios Orlando is often the general term to refer to all three Universal parks in Orlando:  Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. 

This post will give you some basic information to help you plan a trip to Universal Studios.   We will go over the things you need to know before you go!  

As you plan a trip to Universal Studios we hope to give a few tips and tricks to make your vacation a success! 

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A Little History of Universal Studios

Universal Orlando Florida rollercoaster

Universal Studios Florida opened on June 7, 1990,  a second park was added in 1999: Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Universal Studios Orlando: Volcano Bay then opened on May 25, 2017.

Harry Potter World was a major addition to Universal Studios and is the highlight of the park, in my opinion.  Keep in mind that Harry Potter only found his way into Universal Studios a relatively short time ago. It opened on June 18, 2010, and the Diagon Alley extension opened on July 8, 2014. 

Universal has become an extraordinary park and is still evolving.  

Where is Universal Orlando?

map from airport to Universal Orlando

Orlando is located about 20 minutes East of the the MCO airport. If you are coming from Disneyworld it is about an 18 minute drive.

What is the Best Time to go to Universal Orlando?

Plan a trip to Universal Studios Orlando

Honestly, there is a reason all the major theme parks are located in Orlando.  The weather makes it where the parks can be open year-round. 

Weather in Orlando

The summers in Orlando are hot and humid. For me, hot + humid + little kids = death to any plan to have a full (enjoyable) day at an amusement park. Going as adults or older kids is a different story.  We went last summer and had a great time. 

What I like about Universal is that there are plenty of places with air-conditioning.  Most of the lines for the rides have air-conditioning.  

Fall can be a little hot as well but not as intense as summer.  

Florida is perfect the rest of the year! 

Crowd Levels 

Go to Universal Orlando in off-peak times. If you look at the ticket prices, that is a good indicator of crowd levels. Holidays and weekends tend to be busier.   If you can go when children are traditionally in school, you will usually find better weather and wait times.

Hours of Operation

Plan a trip to Plan a trip to Universal Orlando Universal Orlando

Islands of Adventure – Opens 9:00 am

Universal Studios – Opens 9:00 am

Volcano Bay – 10:00 am

Closing times vary depending on the season.  

Hot Tip

If you stay on resort you have access to the park an hour earlier than general admission. 

Parking at Universal Studios

Plan a trip to Universal Orlando

The address to the parking garage is:

  • 6000 Universal Boulevard
    Orlando, FL 32819

Daily Parking Fees Per Vehicle

  • Prime Parking:
    $36
  • Prime Upgrade:
    $9
  • RV/Bus Parking:
    $32
  • Regular Parking:
    $26

Receive a complimentary upgrade to prime parking with Avis and Budget car rentals at the MCO Airport. (Voucher required. Payment for regular parking is required.)

Self parking is free after 6:00 pm.

Hot Tip

As you exit the parking garage be prepared for a long walk.  Luckily, there are moving side walks and escalators along the way. 

Tickets to Universal Orlando

Plan a trip to Universal Orlando

As you are planning your trip to Universal Studios you will need to purchases tickets. Personally, I like to purchase my tickets ahead of time.  This will usually save you money.

There are a few different types of tickets to choose from:

Prices vary based on the date you choose to go, but not by much.

Discounted Tickets for Universal Studios

Plan a trip to Plan a trip to Universal Orlando Universal Orlando

There are a few ways to save money on tickets.  Universal usually offers promotions throughout the year.  A promotion that I have seen often is “buy 2 days get 2 free.”  The longer you stay at Universal Studios the more you will save.  

You may be able to save money by booking a vacation package.

Costco and Costco Travel

resort at Universal Studios

Discount tickets are sometimes available at the Costco store. In Utah, we often see discounted tickets for the California Universal Studios. It is worth a shot to check it out at a local Costco nearby. 

On Costco Travel there are also packages to choose from that could save you money.  Sometimes they will just offer a Costco gift card on top of already published promotions.

These packages include:

A stay at a Universal hotel or offsite hotel with all the perks! You can include airfare and tickets as well. 

AAA Discount

AAA does offer a discount but you will want to compare it with the current promotions that the park itself is offering. Check out AAA Discount.

Use Points

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Use credit card points to buy Universal Orlando Tickets including, American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, IHG Rewards Club, and Regal Crown Club.

I looked into using my Chase Rewards but they probably would go farther booking airfare.

Military Discounts

Active duty military with valid military IDs can receive a discount when purchasing multi-day tickets at the front gate ticket window at Universal Orlando Resort.

You must present your current military or Department of Defense identification at any participating ITT or LTS office on base.

Florida Resident Discount

Discounts for Florida Residents at Universal Orlando

Discounts given to residents are pretty significant.  In some cases even half the cost depending on the time of year and other promotions being offered.

Season Passes

If you live close enough that a season pass would make since, than there are a few options to chose from check out the season pass information.

Group Discounts

Group discounts are available but you have to call Universal Orlando directly to get more information.

Do Ticket Prices Change Based on the Time of Year I Go?

Plan a Trip to Universal Orlando tickets

Somewhat. The changes seem to be less volatile, but you will see about $10, maybe $20 increase based on the time of year and whether you are going on a Saturday.

Do I Need Park to Park Ticket?

Hogwarts Express at Universal's Harry Potter World

Depends, lets explore some of the reasons you would want a Park-to-Park ticket and why you might not. 

Reasons to Get a Park to Park Ticket:

  • You are a Harry Potter fan and want to ride the Hogwarts Express.

The Hogwarts Express is only available to ride if you have a Park-to-Park ticket. 

  • You want to spend time at a specific area in each park.
  • Option to change parks if one is too busy. 

Reason Not to Purchase a Park-to-Park Ticket:

  • Significantly, more expensive.
  • Only want to spend all your time at one park. 
  • Do not want to transition because of time between parks 

Park-to-Park Ticket

If you do decide to purchase a park-to-park ticket there are two ways to “hop” parks.  One is the Hogwarts Express but the line can get long.  The other way is go through the entrance.  The parks are close together so it is not a big deal.  

If your main purpose is Harry Potter World and that experience, than it is worth it to buy a park-to-park ticket, if not you are all good!

How Many Days Should I Spend at Universal Studios Orlando

Plan a trip to Plan a trip to Universal Orlando Universal Orlando

The first time we went we were told that we would be able to do everything in one day.  This was false information.  You could do one park in a day but not both parks.

If you are a Harry Potter fan you could spend most of your day just in that section alone.

Stay Longer

As I said earlier, the longer you stay the better the ticket price is per day.  So how long should you stay? It really depends on how much time you have.  If you want to do all three parks I would allow a park per day.

Plan a Trip to Universal Studios Orlando - Accommodations

Universal Orlando resort pool Lowes

As you plan a trip to Universal Studios accommodations are a huge part of the planning process. Universal‘s hotels are really nice.  Just like Disney World, there are different levels: value, prime value, preferred, and premier.

Let’s go through each so you know what to expect.

Value Hotels

Plan a trip to Universal Orlando - Hotel Dockside inn

Benefits of staying at this level is early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is also free and easy transportation.

Endless Summer Resort

Value is a new category just added in 2019 with the opening of Universal‘s Endless Summer Resort.  There are two hotels in this category.  Surfs Side Inn and Suites and Dockside Inn and Suites.

Each room is themed! These rooms also sleep up to six guests, which is a big plus for larger families and groups! 

When we planned our trip, a couple of years ago, we were very limited in where we could stay because we had a family of six.  This new hotel is an awesome addition for families!

Prime Value

Cabana Bay Universal's Studio's Florida

Prime value, like value, gives you early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as free and easy transportation. There are also two hotels in this category.

Adventura Hotel

Universal hotel Aventura

Adventura Hotel is a new hotel, built in 2018.  It is designed to be sleek, stylish, and modern.  It has a great view of all three parks. These rooms are equipped with high tech tablets that control everything in your room!

Universal‘s Studio’s Florida-Cabana Bay

Cabana Bay Resort in Orlando

Universal‘s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a great family option.  It has a very retro theme.  We actually stayed here on our last trip and really liked it.  The room we received was very large to fit a family of six! We really loved the lobby and arcade.

Cabana Bay has a courtyard in the middle, with a 10,000 square foot, zero entry pool, a water slide, and a play area.  Four buildings surround the courtyard. In the front is the lobby with amenities. The other buildings make a “U” around the rest of the courtyard. There is a laundry facility at each building.

Benefits of Staying at Cabana Bay

Plan a Harry Potter Trip

We stayed at the building on the opposite of the courtyard from the lobby. What we found is that it was a long walk to get places on the site.  So what does prime value give you that value does not?

Location

One thing is location. These hotels are closer to the parks, and unlike the value hotels, have a walking path to get to the parks as well as the shuttle buses. These hotels also offer full-service restaurants, as well as access to kids’ camp and spa for additional fees. This is one thing to consider when you plan a trip to Universal Studios.

Cabana Bay also has something to offer that the hotels in this and other categories do not: a lazy river and a bowling alley. It also has a kitchenette option. Pizza delivery is available only at the value level not above!

Preferred

Benefits of preferred hotels start out with most of the same perks as prime value, including early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and transportation.

Unlike the first two categories, there is currently only one hotel that is a preferred – Lowes Sapphire Resort.

Lowes Sapphire Resort

Lowes Sapphire Universal Resort

Lowes Sapphire Resort has an island paradise feel.  You will be steps away from the new water park Volcano Bay.  The feel is going to be a little nicer than the value resorts.

The hotel also has a concierge desk, business center, room service at all times.

Premier

Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando

Benefits at staying at this level start out with most of the benefits of preferred, an Express Unlimited Pass is included with a stay which gets you to the front of the line on rides at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  All the pools are amazing in this tier.

Lowes Royal Pacific Resort

Resort at Universal

Lowes Royal Pacific Resort has a South Pacific feel and is the highest tier of hotels that Universal offers. One problem we found is that there are not many accommodations that will fit a large family. If you have a small family and love luxury this is your place.

Hard Rock Hotel

Hard Rock Hotel you can really feel like a rock star. This may be a better option for an adult trip.  There is a club level offered at this hotel which is a swanky seventh floor experience.  They offer special food and services throughout the day.

We have stayed at club level at Disney before, and if it is anything like what we experienced, you may not want to go back to normal hotel stays.

Lowes Portofino Bay

Universal's Portofino Room

 Image Courtesy of Universalnsider

Lowes Portofino Bay has an Italian feel. The views are amazing and is a great high level tier hotel.

Weddings and other events take place at this hotel, just to give you an idea of elegance that it holds. Plus, they offer themed rooms that will make your vacation a little extra special.

Hotels Near Universal Studios

There are many hotels around the Universal area.  The area is nice and usually less expensive.  The two things to consider when deciding to stay on site or off is if you want the extra hour in the park and knowing that you will have to pay to park each day you go.

Is It Worth It To Stay At A Premier Hotel?

I have not stayed at any hotel other than Cabana Bay Beach Resort, so I can’t tell you from first-hand experience if it’s worth it.

What I will tell you is that a few years back at Disney World we stayed most of the time at a moderate, and the last night prices dipped and we splurged on a luxury hotel. The pool was amazing. The rooms were great.

The atmosphere was sublime. Maybe someone slipped something in the water, but I have to be honest; it’s hard going back. I imagine the same could be said about the hotels at Universal. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

Arrive Early

Arrive early as you plan a trip to Universal Studios

No matter which amusement park we go to we always arrive early.  We find that most people do not get up early and arrive right when the park opens.  Using this strategy will enable you to walk onto any ride you want the minute you enter the park.

Our Experience

On our last trip to Universal we logged into our app the minute we walked into the park and immediately reserved a time for Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure. 

During Covid, the crowd levels were not an issue. But as life begins to return to normal and more people begin traveling this tip is very important.  

Visit During The Week

As you plan a trip to Universal Studios make sure to schedule your days of attendance in the middle of the week.  Weekends tend to get so busy.  If you want less crowds plan accordingly.

We went during the week and loved that we were able to see and do more!

Let's Plan a Trip to Universal Studios

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando consist of three theme parks. Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay.  This is just a brief overview of what you can expect in each park.

Universal Studios Florida

Butter Beer at Harry Potter World

Universal Studios is a lot like is sister park in California.  Most of the rides are virtual experience aside from Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket.  There are about 14 different rides. 

Two kiddie lands are located at Universal Studios,  as well as a parade, and character meet and greets. 

There are a ton of shows! If you love having a seat and being entertained you will love Universal Studios.  

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter Wands

Universal Studios has the Diagon Alley part of the Harry Potter World.  This includes King Cross Station, Gringotts, and the Knight Bus.  All of which are in London.  Ollivanders want shop is in both parks. You can eat at the Leaky Cauldron.  

There is also a a few shows: Tales of the Beatle and the Bard and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees

Islands Of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is a fun park that includes Marvel, Jurassic Park, Dr. Seuss, Skull Island, Harry Potter and Toon Lagoon.  There are so many rides at Islands of Adventure.

There are some exciting shows as well Poseidons Fury and Oh, the stories you’ll hear are great options. 

My Opinion

This is my favorite park. I love all the themes. The rides are amazing and this is where I would want to spend most of my time. My all-time favorite ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  I would be happy to ride this ride over and over again.  

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter Souvenir Honey Dukes

Hogsmeade is located in the Islands of Adventure area.  The new Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Ollivanders is located here. 

There are some great shows in the Harry Potter World: The Dark Arts at Hogwarts nighttime show, The Nighttime Show at Hogwarts, Triwizard Pep Rally, and the Frog Choir.  (the nighttime shows are not happing in 2021) 

You can also grab a bite to eat at Three Broomsticks.

Volcano Bay

Universals Volcano BAy

Volcano Bay is a water park.  There are a bunch of slides and other water activities that can help cool you off from the heat.  One thing that is really cool is the Tapu Tapu. 

The Tapu Tapu is something you wear that gives you access to sign up for virtual lines.  When it is time to ride your bracelet will tell you.  

Should I go to the Water Park?

If you are making a week trip to Universal, why not?  It breaks up the time by giving you something new to do.  But if you are only there a short time, you may want to skip this.  It is close to the main parks, but not too close.  And so it’s not a convenient walk if you are trying to jam multiple things into one day.

However, if it is hot this could be a great idea to go! 

Can I Exchange my Volcano Bay Ticket if it Rains or is Too Cold?

The customer service is amazing at Universal. If you need to talk with them about issues that arise they will hopefully answer any of your questions.  Many people of received refunds if the conditions do not meet their expectations.

Helpful Tips to Plan a Universal Studios Trip

Best Rides at Islands of Adventure

I just wanted to throw in a few helpful tips that will help you as you plan your trip to Universal Studios.

Can You Bring Outside Foods and Drinks Into the Park?

Universal doesn’t want you to bring in outside food and drinks (surprise, surprise). The official policy allows for bottled water and small snacks. There are a few other exceptions, and you can see the policy here: Universal Orlando Food and Drink Policy.

Do I Need a Swim Suit at the Amusement Parks?

There are a few water rides at Islands of Adventure that will soak you to the bone.  If you want your kids in swim suits they may like that when you decide to ride those rides.  You could also bring ponchos to avoid getting soaked.  

At Universal Studios Florida there is a splash pad and water slides for the kids.  You may want to bring the swim suits with you so they can change and have fun in the water. 

How is Universal During Covid?

Amazing! We went last summer and we were so impressed with how organized Universal Studios was.  You will be required to wear a mask. There will be a health and temperature check before you enter the park.

There are social distancing markers in place in lines.  Hand sanitizer is administered before riding every ride.  What I was more impressed with is that everyone followed the rules.  We had an incredible time! 

Are You Ready To Plan A Trip to Universal Studios Orlando?

Food at Harry Potter World

Hopefully, this helps you plan a trip to Universal Studios Orlando!  I know you are going to have so much fun! This park is amazing!  

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