Universal Orlando is one of our favorite theme parks. We have visited many times as annual pass holders the last few years, and today I am sharing our Universal Orlando tips and secrets for your first visit.
Like any visit to an Orlando theme park it helps to go in with a basic plan. Doing a bit of research and knowing what to expect can really help during a visit to Universal Orlando.
I always recommend researching a bit about the parks before you plan your visit. This can help save you time and frustration during your time at the parks.
There are two theme parks and one water park at the Universal Orlando Resort. They are Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. There is also a shopping, dining, and entertainment area called Universal CityWalk that connects the two theme parks.
In this guide to your first visit to Universal Orlando Florida we go over the most important things to know when visiting the Universal Orlando theme parks.
Best Universal Orlando Tips and Secrets
- Arrive Early
- Consider Staying On-Site at a Universal Resort for On-Site Perks
- Do you need a Park to Park Ticket
- Will You Purchase Express Passes
- Take Time to Explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Familiarize Your Family with the Movies
- Check Ride Height Requirements and Scare Factors.
- Plan for Water Attractions or Rain
- Rides that Require Lockers
- Check for Special Events
First Time Visit Best Tip: Arrive Early at the Parks
When you are visiting a theme park I always suggest you arrive early. This is the best time to visit when the crowds are lowest and you can avoid long lines.
We love theme parks but we don’t love waiting in lines, so we always arrive early, before the park opens, and are usually among the first to enter the park.
This means you should plan on arriving at least 30-40 minutes before official park opening. Plan time to get from your resort to the entrance of the park.
If you are staying at one of the Universal Orlando resort hotels you will have access to early park entry. If you are staying off-site you will enter through the parking garage for all the parks.
The perks of staying on-site might be worth it for the extra cost, which brings me to my next Universal tip.
Time Saver: Consider Staying at a Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando has 8 resorts with plans for more. They are expanding the resort offerings to include all budgets and offer some great perks for guests.
The biggest perks of staying on-site is early entry, premier hotels offer Universal express pass, and transportation to/from the parks.
The Premier Hotels include Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Guests can walk from almost all of the Universal Orlando resorts but some are a bit far after a long day at the parks.
I wouldn’t recommend walking from the Endless Summer Resorts: Surfside or Dockside. The on-site transportation is a much better option.
If you walked it would take at least 30 minutes to get to security. Maybe less if you walk really fast and don’t have kids with you.
Hard Rock Hotel is the closest with around a 5-7 minute walk. Cabana Bay Beach Resort is about a 17-20 minute walk.
We have stayed at numerous on-site resort. Read our reviews below:
- Hard Rock Hotel
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort
- Universal Endless Summer Resort Dockside Review
- Endless Summer Resort: Surfside Inn and Suites Review
Early Park admission changes through the year and is usually updated monthly. During our visits early entry was only available at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
It also only includes specific rides, typically the Wizarding World attractions. It is a great perk for on-site guests. Taking advantage of early entry allowed us to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure without the long wait times.
Hagrid’s is one of my favorite roller coasters. It has thrills but is not an extreme intensity coaster.
Guests staying at one of the Premier resorts also receive Universal Express Unlimited. This can be purchased, but is included in your stay at a Premier resort. Universal Express allows guests to skip the regular lines on many of the attractions.
Should You Get a Park-to-Park Ticket
Many people have asked us if the park-to-park ticket is worth it. This allows access into Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the same day.
The cost of a park-to-park ticket prices starts at $164.00. A one day-one park ticket cost $109.00 (Prices are accurate as I write this 1/2023 but change often.)
I suggest also checking Universal ticket deals with our partner Undercover Tourist. They often have specials that may off-set the costs.
The real advantage to having the park to park ticket is entrance onto the Hogwarts Express. Hogwarts Express is the Harry Potter themed train that transports guests from the two Wizarding World areas of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
If you are visiting to experience all the Harry Potter attractions you will want to purchase the park to park ticket. If you do not have a park to park pass you can’t ride the Hogwart’s train.
If you only have one day and want to do both parks then a 2 park/1 day pass may be your only choice. It is easy to hop between the parks but it is not a necessary way to enjoy your Universal Orlando visit.
If you have 2 days but 1 park each day you will not be able to ride the Hogwart’s Express.
Deciding on a park to park ticket depends on who is in your group on your visit and how important the Hogwart’s Express is.
For Harry Potter fans this will be a can’t miss attraction but if you are not familiar with Harry Potter it is fine to skip.
Should You Purchase Universal Express Pass
Universal Express Pass is a huge perk that allows you to skip the regular line and have a much shorter wait time for attractions.
This is an add-on to your park ticket. I cover all details of the Express Pass in this post: Everything You Need to Know About Express Pass at Universal Orlando.
It can be an expensive add-on (starting at $120.00 a person/per day, in addition to admission ticket). If you want to skip the lines I highly recommend using the single rider line at attractions that offer it.
Use the Universal Orlando app to see which attractions offer this feature. Single rider line shortens your wait time but you will most likely be split up from your group.
Take Time to Explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If this is your first visit you may underestimate the amount of time you need to explore the Harry Potter area at the Universal Orlando parks.
There are two Wizarding Worlds. Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. The offer some of the best places on property to explore. You almost forget you are in a theme park.
Both of the areas have interactive wand stations, rides, shows, and dining. We like to alternate eating at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and Three Broomsticks at Islands of Adventure.
If this is your first visit and you are Harry Potter Fans you may want to include both in your visit.
The main attraction at Diagon Alley is the indoor roller coaster, Harry Potter and the Escape from Grinngotts.
Even if you do not want to ride you should check out the queue for this. It winds guests through Gringotts bank and is incredible.
Diagon Alley also has shops, butter beer and a fire-breathing dragon. Outside Diagon Alley is the streets of London where you will find King’s Cross Station.
Guests with a park-to-park ticket can board to Hogwart’s Express to get to Hogsmeade at this station. Platform 9 3/4 is also on the way and is such a cool experience.
Hogsmeade has Hagrid’s, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and a kids coaster: Flight of the Hippogriff.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is inside Hogwarts castle. It is worth walking through the queue even if you decide not to ride.
Those prone to motion sickness or with small children can wait for their group in the child swap room.
Before You Arrive at the Parks: Familiarize Your Family with the Movies
We read the Harry Potter Illustrated book before we visited Universal Orlando for the first time. Then we watched the movie.
It helped to have a general idea of the characters and attractions before we arrived. There are Despicable Me attractions as well as Dr. Seuss Land and Jurassic Park.
My kids haven’t seen all of the movies but having a bit of understanding about the characters made it easier to relate to.
Especially the character meet and greets. There are so many fun character interactions, and having the kids recognize some of the characters made it more exciting.
Take Time to Research the Attractions Before You Arrive
One of the most important Universal Orlando tip is to research the rides and attractions. Know what to expect during your visit and what your kids will like. Check out these two posts to help you plan:
- Universal Studios Height Requirements and Scare Factor
- Islands of Adventure Height Requirements and Scare Factor
Plan for Water Attractions and Rain
This tip is more for Islands of Adventure because they have three attractions that you will get wet on. We often bring ponchos to wear on the ride and keep them in our backpacks for when it rains.
If you are visiting the parks in the summer expect a rain shower to pop up during your stay. Usually it is quick and passes but it is good to be prepared.
The water rides at Universal are worth it and you should plan on including them in your visit.
Rides that Require Lockers
Some attractions at the parks require you to stow your bags/purses/belongings in a locker. The lockers are provided free of charge for the duration of your wait and you must use them for your items if you want to ride.
I have seen people turned away from a ride because they have something on them. This includes sunglasses, phones, cross-body bags, and wands!
The attractions are:
- Revenge of the Mummy (Universal Studios)
- MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack (Universal Studios)
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (Universal Studios)
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Studios)
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster (Islands of Adventure)
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (Islands of Adventure)
- Velocicoaster (Islands of Adventure)
We have never had an issue with the lockers. You use your ticket to secure the lockers. The free lockers are small but we fit a medium size backpack.
Check for Special Events
I hope these Universal Orlando tips and secrets help plan your visit to the Universal theme parks.
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Leah has been traveling with her family of 5 since 2012 and sharing her expertise on planning family vacations and visiting theme parks since 2016. Leah has been featured in Visit Rochester, Undercover Tourist, and Home Publications. She has worked with brands like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Hersheypark, Toyota, and various Tourism boards and destinations. Leah creates family travel itineraries based on real trip experiences with her family. Her guides and tips help others plan great family vacations. Learn more about Leah and Five for the Road.