3-Day Universal Orlando Itinerary Planning Guide

You have your trip to Universal booked and now you need a plan. This 3-day Universal Orlando itinerary planning guide is a great place to start to plan your trip.

Theme parks are always evolving and adding new attractions but this Universal Orlando itinerary is one we have used numerous times. It evolves as the parks do but it is a good frame work.

Overview 3-Day Universal Orlando Itinerary

  • Day 1: Volcano Bay and Universal’s Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios
  • Day 2: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios
  • Day 3: Universal Studios

Universal Orlando 3 Day Itinerary

We have visited Universal Orlando Resort many times in the last few years. We are Universal annual pass holders, even though we live in New York, and find the price of the pass to be comparable to the price of a 4-5 day ticket.

For this visit we visited the parks and Volcano Bay. We also had Express Passes for our 3 day visit.

Express passes allow you to skip the regular line and it cuts out a lot of wait time. This allowed us to quickly ride all of our favorites during our visit.

When we do not have express pass we take advantage of the single rider line. The single rider line will split your group up but the wait time is shortened.

Express pass is included with your hotel accommodations for Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

I recommend checking the prices of the resorts and see if they fall within your budget. If they do the perk of the Express Pass is great to have.

Check out Universal Orlando Resorts with Express Pass Pricing!

If you do not have express pass, do not worry! Our visits without express pass are always a success and we never miss attractions we want to experience.

Without an express pass you have to be prepared to arrive at the parks before park opening and have a plan on what rides and attractions you will experience first.

Be sure to check out our updated Universal Studios Itinerary and Islands of Adventure Itinerary that details the most popular attractions and current availability.

Day 1

For our first day we slept in a bit and headed over to Volcano Bay around 10:00am. We had a full day ahead of us and needed the extra sleep. Our day looked like this:

  • Volcano Bay water slides and attractions in the morning
  • Universal CityWalk for lunch at Moe’s/Burger King
  • Island’s of Adventure Water Rides: Dudley and Popeye
  • Hotel to relax and dinner.
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios)
volcano bay entrance for our universal orlando vacation
Entrance to Universal’s Volcano Bay

Universal’s Volcano Bay is one of the most beautiful water parks I have ever seen. It is stunning and you feel like you are on an island oasis.

If you are arriving by car you will park at the Universal Orlando Resort parking garage and take the bus from there to Volcano Bay. If you are staying at an on-site Universal resort you will be provided with transportation to the water park.

Even though we arrived a little after 10:00am attraction wait times were low and we got to ride the attractions we were looking forward to doing.

When you arrive at Volcano Bay you are given a Tapu-Tapu which is a band you will wear during your day at the park. You must return it when exiting. Before you arrive at the park you should connect your Universal Tickets with a credit card on the Universal App.

By doing this you can use your Tapu-Tapu to charge meals and lockers, and keep your valuables locked in a locker.

Volcano Bay lockers can be used throughout the day, even if you leave the park and return. I would pack lightly to purchase a small locker for the day.

volcano bay

You also are not provided with towels. We didn’t realize this until the day before and I didn’t pack towels for the vacation.

Honestly I thought this would be a bigger issue but we didn’t really need towels because it was so hot. If you do want a towel they can be rented at the park or bring your own.

After we figured out all the logistics of getting our locker, applying sunscreen, and deciding if we needed towels we made our way to the right of the park to explore.

We kept our sandals/flip flops on us and at the entrance of all the attractions they have canopy cubbies to leave your shoes. If you are not comfortable with this you would have to use a locker.

We made our way through the attractions and most were ride now, which means you don’t need to use the virtual queue.

Volcano Bay uses a virtual queue. You scan your Tapu-Tapu and it tells you when to come back for your turn to ride.

If the wait times are low, like they were on our visit, you will see a ride now posted and do not need to scan your band.

We did this until we arrived at Krakatau Aqua Coaster. This is the main attraction at Volcano Bay and typically the one with the longest lines.

We scanned our Tapu-Tapu and had a return time for 75 minutes. This allowed us to explore more of the park and return when it was time to ride.

During our wait time we went on TeAwa the Fearless River. This is unlike anything we have every experienced. It looks like a lazy river but is basically a lazy river and wave pool mash up.

Everyone must wear a life jacket and it is a bit intense for small children. The height requirements is 42 inches. The Fearless River was our family favorite and we went around multiple times.

After that it was time for our ride on Krakatau Aqua Coaster. It was a lot of fun but we all loved the river attraction the best.

At this point it was lunch time so we collected our things to have lunch at CityWalk. Volcano Bay has great dining options but we had plans to ride the water attractions at Islands of Adventure.

We didn’t get to see everything at Volcano Bay but for a first visit we got a great taste of what they have to offer. More of our favorites are in this post: 14 Volcano Bay Tips for Your Visit to the Universal Water Park

I would love to add it to our Universal Orlando vacation next time to explore the rest of the park and relax at Waturi Beach with my toes in the sand and the volcano views.

tapu tapu return at volcano bay
Tapu-Tapu at Universal’s Volcano Bay.

We stopped at CityWalk for lunch at Moe’s and Burger King. Nothing fancy and it was quick to make it to our next destination.

Our next stop was Universal’s Islands of Adventure for the water rides. Islands of Adventure has 3 water ride attractions but 2 of them you get soaked on. The water rides are some of our favorite rides at the parks.

Dudley’s Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls and Popeye’s Bilge-Rat Barge will get you drenched. Jurassic Park River Adventure is the 3rd water attractions but you don’t usually get soaked like the other 2.

We planned to visit Islands of Adventures with our bathing suits/cover ups/flip flops to ride the water rides and then head back to the Universal hotel to relax and get ready for the night.

They are both really fun rides and we always make a point of riding at least once.

After our day we were ready to rest a bit at the hotel. We headed back to the Surfside Inn and Suites to get ready for our Harry Potter evening at the parks.

Surfside Inn and Suites is a value resort at Universal. It does not include express pass but it does have 2 bedroom family suites that fits our family of 5 perfectly. Check prices for Surfside Inn and Suites.

After some rest and dinner at the hotel we planned to spend the evening at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands. If you want to eat a quick meal try the Leaky Cauldron at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley.

Harry Potter has two locations at Universal Orlando Resort. They are The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade(Islands of Adventure).

To experience both Universal parks in one day you need a park to park ticket. The best way to visit both worlds is to ride the Hogwarts Express.

hogsmeade at Islands of adventure
Entrance to Hogwarts Express at Islands of Adventure. This takes you to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios.

We started at Hogsmeade. With our wands in hand we tried our spells and visited the shops. We also used our Express Pass to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is a popular attraction that has long wait times. Currently express pass is not available at the attraction.

After we explored we took the Hogarts Express to Diagon Alley. I know this is backwards and if you are a Harry Potter fan I suggest doing Diagon Alley first and then take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade.

We ended up back at Hogsmeade at the end of the night but we could have saved time by doing Diagon Alley first.

At Diagon Alley we watched the Tales of Beedle the Bard show. It is a 10 minute puppet show that was really entertaining and well done.

After that we used our Express Pass to ride Escape from Gringotts. We love Gringotts and try to ride it as much as possible during our visits.

night show at Hogwarts
Night show on the Hogwarts castle at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The parks were close to closing and we took the Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmeade to watch the evening castle projection show. The castle show runs from dusk until park close but I like to end our day with the show.

After a long day we took the complimentary transportation back to our resort for the night.

Day 2:

  • Arrive at park opening at Islands of Adventure to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike
  • Ride Jurassic Park and Spider Man.
  • Lunch at Mythos. (make reservations)
  • Explore Seuss Landing and ride attractions.
  • VooDoo Doughnuts at CityWalk
  • Pool at Surfside Inn
  • Universal Studios in the evening for dinner and show.

One of our goals for this vacation was to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures. It had been posting lines of 300 minute waits and we were nervous we might not ride it.

Taking advantage of early park admission allows you time to have a short wait. As soon as we are done with Hagrid’s we go directly to Velocicoaster.

The best way to ride as many attractions as possible with a short wait time is to arrive about an hour before the park opens. We always do this and it gets us ahead of the crowds.

Bring your coffee and breakfast to go and be among the first in the park. We did this two days during our vacation and it allowed us to ride without waiting too long.

After Hagrid’s and Velocicoaster we took our time exploring and taking full advantage of the Express Passes. We rode Spider-Man a few times, Jurassic Park and then went to Mythos for lunch.

Mythos is a sit down restaurant and is on the pricey side. We decided to splurge because it was my birthday!

Honestly, Mythos was okay. The food was good but it was a bit pricey. I would save it for special occasions and be sure to check the menu before you arrive to make sure it is a good fit for your family. It may be an unpopular opinion but there are other restaurants at Universal that we like better.

After Mythos we went to Seuss Landing. Seuss Landing is one of my favorite areas of Islands of Adventure. I wrote a post about everything we love at Seuss Landing you must see, it really is just a fun place to explore.

Having the Express Pass saved us a lot of time at Seuss Landing because we were able to bypass the lines and walk on to all the attractions.

carousel at Islands of adventure
The carousel at Islands of Adventure.

After Seuss Landing we walked back to the buses for some time at the resort pool. On our way back we stopped at CityWalk for VooDoo Doughnuts.

VooDoo Doughnuts have some really fun and unique doughnuts to try. We had tried to stop in a few times before but the lines get really long especially later in the day.

VooDoo Doughnuts at Universal’s CityWalk.

When we visit the theme parks we like to start our day early and then head back to the hotel to relax and have some pool time. This works for us because it is usually the hottest time of the day and busiest.

At Universal it is easy to go back and forth during the day because of the Universal bus transportation between resorts. It was under ten minutes to take the bus from our resort to the parks.

That night we went back to Universal Studios Florida. Again the Express Pass allowed us to have flexibility in our schedule, not worry about wait times, and get on everything we wanted to ride.

We started with dinner at Monster’s Cafe(closed to reopen as Minion Cafe in Summer 2023!) and then did Fast and the Furious and a few other rides before getting a spot for the show.

At this point it was almost closing time. I really wanted to see the evening show Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration. (This show is no longer running.)

We ended up getting a close spot across from the Fast and the Furious ride, unfortunately we were at the back of the the show and couldn’t see much of the water projections.

If you are visiting during special events like Mardi Gras or the Holidays Universal Studios has a nightly parade that is amazing!

Universal Studios Florida nightly show

Day 3: Best of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure

  • Started our day at Universal Studios.
  • Ended at Islands of Adventure.
  • We did our park favorites.

Day 3 was our last day at Universal before we headed back home from our Universal Orlando vacation. We used the express pass to take advantage of the short lines and created a best of day.

We started our day at Universal Studios and did Despicable Me, the Jimmy Fallon ride, the Mummy, met Beetlejuice, rode Transformers, Men In Black, E.T., and Gringotts. All of this was done in under a few hours because of the Express Pass.

There are so many characters walking around at the Universal theme parks. Learn more about the characters on our post about the 65 Meet and Greets at the Universal Orlando Parks.

After that we took the Hogwarts Express to Islands of Adventure and checked out a few of the stores. Then it started to rain. The rain can often be part of a Universal Orlando vacation.

It is unpredictable but if you are prepared it won’t affect your day.

We put on our ponchos and made our way to Seuss Landing for lunch at Circus McGurkus. By the time lunch was over the rain had stopped and we finished our day with a ride on Spider-Man.

rain at islands of adventure

It was early afternoon and we had done all of our favorites at the park. We walked through CityWalk to the resort buses and started packing for our flight home the next day.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, theme parks are always evolving. Since our last visit Universal Studios Florida has opened Minions Land. This includes a brand new attraction: Villain-Con.

I suggest riding this during early entry, park open, or the end of the day to avoid long lines. There are also fun photo-ops so plan a little time to explore the new area.

We loved taking our time to enjoy all the entertainment and attractions during our Universal Orlando vacation. It is a great family friendly destination and we can’t wait to plan our next visit.

Planning a trip to Universal? Check out this helpful post: Universal Orlando Trip Planning Guide for 2024

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