We have planned many trips to Universal Studios and have learned a few tips and tricks along the way. Today we are sharing our Universal Studios Orlando insider tips on how to make the most of your Universal Orlando vacation.
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Universal Studios Orlando is one of two Universal theme parks at the Universal Orlando Resort. There is also Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Universal’s third park Epic Universe is set to open in 2025.
This is not to be confused with Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. Universal Parks are not related to Disney Parks.
We think Universal Orlando is one of the best places to visit for a family vacation. It has 2 theme parks, a water park, and awesome hotels.
At Universal Studios you step into the movies with thrilling attractions, family fun characters, and awesome lands to keep your family entertained all day.
This post will go into tips for Universal Studios and what you need to know if you are planning a visit to Universal Studios with your family.
We have been annual pass holders almost continuously from since 2017 and we’ve had enough visits to share how to plan an awesome Universal Orlando vacation.
Universal Studios has a Harry Potter area called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley, Springfield U.S.A, a Minion area, as well as the E.T. Adventure attraction.
There are a few changes at Universal Studios to be aware of that I go into later in this article.
If you are planning on visiting other Universal parks check out these helpful articles: First Timers Guide to Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure Tips and Volcano Bay Tips.
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Are you visiting a city and want to research hotels? Check out Booking.com. City attraction and theme park tickets check out CityPass
Best Universal Studios Orlando Tips
Arrive at least 30-40 minutes before park opening to get on the most popular attractions with a short wait times. If you have early entry because you are staying at an on-site resort or you have an annual pass, plan on arriving 30-40 minutes before early entry time.
Purchase your tickets ahead of time to get through the turnstiles quickly. This will allow you to ride attraction before long lines start. (Check Universal ticket prices here.)
Universal Orlando is a large resort and you will do a lot of walking. Everyone that visits the Universal Resort parks in one parking lot.
You then walk through Universal CityWalk(the dining district) and go towards the Universal Studios entrance or the Island of Adventures entrance. Be prepared to walk a lot.
Once inside Universal Studios, the park is not very large but walking from the parking garage to the park entrance can take some time. Plan extra walking time to arrive at gate early.
Pack a Few Essentials
When visiting Universal Studios we always pack a small backpack and include: water bottles, ponchos, and any medication essentials we may need for the day.
This will save you a lot of money at the parks. You can ask for free water at any counter service spot but often lines are long and it is easier to fill up your water at a water fountain.
Take Advantage to On-Site Perks
Early park admission is available to guests staying at one of the Universal Orlando resort hotels. They change seasonally and are often available for the Harry Potter areas at the parks. We have used this and it has saved us a lot of time!
We stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay and Universal’s Endless Summer Surfside Inn on previous visits and really enjoyed the perks of staying on-site. All of the on-site hotels at Universal offer early park admission.
Guests staying at a premier hotel like Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, or Loews Portofino Bay Hotel receive express passes included in their stay.
Express passes are a skip the line add-on that can be purchased in addition to your admission ticket. They are not cheap but if you can have them included with your stay you may be able to benefit from them.
I always compare the price of staying at a premier hotel to see if it is worth it for the express passes. Learn more: Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?
Visit During a Special Event
The special events at Universal are a great time and usually included with your theme park ticket, with a few exceptions. My favorite special events are the Holidays at Universal and Mardi Gras at Universal.
Both of these events are included and have festive food and parades during your visit.
Use the Single Rider Lines if You Can
The single rider line is a great option to skip the long lines. Adults can use this if you are traveling with small children that do not want to ride.
As a family we have recently started using this to avoid the long wait times. Your party will be split up so this doesn’t always work but it is a great way to shorten your wait times when visiting on busy days.
If you have questions about being split up you can always ask team members at the ride entrance but don’t expect to be seated together.
Understand What Type of Ticket You Purchased
When you visit amusement parks you assume you can ride all the attractions, but at Universal there is one attraction that you need a park-to-park ticket to ride.
Hogwarts Express is the train ride that takes you from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. It is part of the Harry Potter themed areas and you can only ride if you have a park-to-park ticket.
It transfers guests between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade and you must get off at the station and line back up to ride again. Guests park tickets will be scanned as they enter the attraction and you will be turned away if you do not have a ticket for both parks.
Plan On Using Lockers for Some Attractions
A few attractions require the use of lockers. They are Escape from Gringotts, Men In Black, Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, and The Mummy. All items must be put in lockers.
This includes bags, purses, sunglasses, phones, etc. I have seen people turned away from riding for having a wand in their pocket on Gringotts-after waiting in line. I always play it safe and put everything in the locker.
The lockers are free for the attraction wait time. Each attraction has a locker area and the “free time” is based on the ride wait time. The free lockers are small but we were able to fit a small backpack into it.
If you need a larger backpack you will have to pay for a large locker. I honestly thought the lockers would be a much bigger deal but it ended up being easy.
Be prepared to use lockers for most roller coasters at the Universal Orlando parks.
Make Time to Explore Diagon Alley
One of my favorite areas at Universal Studios is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. It is hidden behind the brick walls of London but once you stepped inside you are transported to another world.
We always visit Diagon Alley first because I like to explore the area before the crowds get big. It is really an amazing area and has one of my favorite attractions in any Universal park: Escape from Gringotts.
We usually ride Gringotts and then spend our first hour in the park exploring the are and using our interactive wands to cast spells. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a can’t miss attraction at Universal Studios.
Visit the Best Rides First
A great tip for visiting Universal Studios is to ride the best attractions first. As I mentioned earlier we start with Escape from Gringotts and then usually ride The Mummy, Transformers, Race Through NY with Jimmy Fallon, Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, Men in Black, Simpsons Ride, and E.T.
These rides tend to have the busiest lines. Race through NY with Jimmy Fallon has a virtual line option that you can reserve your ride time. Make a time that works for your visit and save time waiting in line.
Universal Studios is has different streets and areas in the park and it doesn’t really have an obvious flow of crowds. This makes it easy to back track and easily go between rides and attractions.
Break Up Your Day
Universal Studios size makes it easy to arrive early at the park, ride all the attractions, have lunch, and take a break around mid-afternoon. We like to go back to our resort, recharge, and return to the parks in the evening.
If you plan on leaving the parks early, check the park hours. There are times of the year when Universal Studios closes at 7:00pm and going back may not work for you.
Decide What Attractions are Must Do’s for Your Family
When planning a theme park vacation I always ask what specifically your family likes to do. Every family is different and there is no point going on the “best rides” if you don’t like it.
The great thing about theme parks is there is something for everyone. There are rides at Universal Studios that teens will like and attractions that are better for younger kids.
Take a look at the Universal Studios website and talk to everyone going on vacation about what they would like to do at the parks. This saves so much time and stress at the parks.
With that being said I am going to share what we always ride when we visit. Our family favorite rides at Universal Studios are:
- Escape from Gringotts (42 inches)
- Men in Black (42 inches)
- Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon (40 inches)
- E.T. Adventure (34 inches)
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Diagon Alley has is an attraction in itself because there is so much to discover and visitors often spend hours taking it all in.
- Diagon Alley is the Harry Potter themed area inside Universal Studios. It is immersive and you could spend hours there. People visit and spend their entire day in this area. There are shops, restaurants, shows, characters, attractions, and places to explore and it is one of the best themed areas I have ever visited.
- At Diagon Alley you can purchase a wand, or watch the wand show and have the wand choose you, then explore Diagon Alley practicing spells. If you are a Harry Potter fan plan to spend a lot of time in Diagon Alley.
Best Age to Visit Universal Studios
Again this is a personal decision but we think age and height play a big factor in deciding the best age to visit Universal Studios. My youngest was 4 and 42 inches for our first visit and that allowed him to ride most of the attractions.
That didn’t mean he wanted to ride everything though. There were some attractions that were too scary and he was not ready for. We skipped those for our next visit.
There are splash areas, shows, and rides that young kids will enjoy like Curious George Splash Area, Woody Woodpecker Roller Coaster, and Despicable Me 3D show.
Are there scary rides at Universal Studios?
Some rides may be scary for young kids but most at Universal Studios should be okay. The Mummy is an indoor roller coaster that is themed to The Mummy movie and can be scary for some kids.
Escape from Gringotts can also be scary and has elements from the movie that may frighten children unfamiliar with the characters. Read this article for all the ride height requirements and scare factors at Universal Studios.
Will Universal Studios rides cause motion sickness?
Motion sickness can be an issue at any theme park but Universal Studios can be difficult for some. A lot of the attractions at the park use screens and simulators. If you are prone to motion sickness plan accordingly.
Stay Updated with What Is Happening at the Parks
I always suggest checking Universal’s website before you arrive. Check what rides and attractions may be closed during your visit.
A big change coming to Universal Studios is the closing of KidZone and the opening of Illuminations Lane. KidZone is closing in January to make way for new yet announced atttractions.
Illuminiations Lane will include a new Minions attraction: Villain Con as well as Minions Café.
Meet Characters at Universal Studios
Almost every section of Universal Studios has characters to meet. Some have designated areas and others are randomly walking around the park. Read the 65 Characters You Can Meet & Greet at Universal for more information and in-depth details about the characters.
Dining at Universal Studios
You have many dining options when visiting Universal Studios that range from sit down to quick service. We have experienced both and I prefer the quick service because the food is great and it takes less time.
- Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters Cafe (Quick Service)
- Leaky Cauldron (Quick Service) *One of our favorites!
- Finnegan’s Bar & Grill (Sit Down)
- BumbleBee Man’s Taco Truck (Food Truck-Amazing Tacos!)
- Beverly Hills Boulangerie (Quick Service)
- Richter’s Burger Co. (Quick Service)
- Lombard’s Seafood and Grill (Sit Down)
- Moe’s Tavern- Flaming Moe or Duff Beer
- Lard Lad Donut- The Famous Simpson Giant Pink Donut
- Mel’s Drive-In (Quick Service)
- Louie’s Italian Restaurant (Quick Service)
- KidZone Pizza Company (Quick Service)
- Cafe La Bamba (Sit Down and Character Meals)
- Simpsons Land Food-There are a few different options inside The Simpsons Land that range from seafood, to grab and go, healthy options, sandwiches, pizza, etc. They are cafeteria style and can be found by entering Moe’s Tavern.
Reservations are taken at Lombard’s Seafood and Grill and Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. You can make reservations here. Check out this list where I share our favorite places to eat at Universal Orlando resort.
Universal Studios Orlando Review: Should You Plan a Visit?
I often get asked if Universal Orlando is worth a visit when you have young kids. My answer is yes and no…sorry!!
We waited to visit Universal until my youngest was 42 inches tall. At that point we felt it was worth the cost to plan a visit. He was tall enough to ride everything except 2 rides.
With that being said, being tall enough and being ready and willing to ride some of the attractions can be different.
My oldest kids are tall enough to ride the Mummy but are not ready and choose to skip it every time we visit. (It is a bummer because it’s an awesome ride!) UPDATE: We finally rode the Mummy and they liked it!
I will never force my kids to ride an attraction they are not ready for and we skip it and enjoy something else.
There are many ways for younger kids to enjoy the park. Each park has great play areas, shows, and character meet and greets but, it is not like visiting Walt Disney World.
Your child will miss out on a lot of attractions if they do not meet the height requirements and it might be beneficial to wait.
Another thing to factor in is the scare factor and intensity of some of the attractions. If your kids are familiar with the Harry Potter franchise then a ride on Escape from Gringotts will not be a surprise.
However if this is your first encounter with the Harry Potter characters, specifically Voldemort and dementors, it may be too intense.
You know your family best and can make the best decision for them. We started visiting Universal when my youngest was 5 and there were a few rides he didn’t want to do.
We were okay with this and ended up loving our vacation. It depends on the ages and height of everyone visiting the parks.
I hope our Universal Studios Orlando tips help you plan your family visit to Universal. Please reach out if you have any questions.
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