14 Helpful Tips for Universal Orlando First Time Visit

Are you visiting Universal Orlando for the first time or has it been a few years since your last visit? Today I am sharing helpful tips for Universal Orlando to plan an awesome day at the theme parks.

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.

My Best First Timer Tips for Universal Orlando

  • Prioritize the rides and attractions you want to do and plan your day around them.
  • Arrive early if you can, if not stay late. These are the lowest crowd times of the day.
  • Understand what park you are visiting, what rides are at that park, and if you need a park-to-park ticket.

If you are at the start of your trip planning check out this post: Universal Vacation Planning Guide. Want to learn more? Read on for more details and tips for Universal Orlando trip.

universal orlando tips hogsmeade
Hogsmeade is located at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.

Things to Know About Universal Orlando Resort

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.

Between the theme parks there are two Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas, a Dr. Seuss themed land, and many other immersive areas and rides.

In this guide to your first visit to Universal Orlando Florida we go over the most important tips for Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

14 Universal Orlando Tips to Help Plan Your Visit

  • 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
  • Consider Using the Single Rider Line
  • Take Time to Explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Familiarize Your Family with the Movies that Inspires the Rides
  • Check Ride Height Requirements and Scare Factors
  • Plan for Water Attractions or Rain
  • Rides that Require Lockers
  • Check for Special Events
  • Take a Midday Break if You Can
  • Use Mobile Order for Dining
  • Prioritize the Most Popular Attractions

Arrive Early at the Parks

When you are visiting a theme park I always recommend you arrive early. This is the best time to visit when the crowds are lowest and you can avoid long lines. We like to arrive 30-40 minutes before official park opening.

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.

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.

If you are looking to stay on-site on a budget consider the Endless Summer Resorts: Dockside or Surfside.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a prime value resort that has a water slide and lazy river.

Early Park admission is either at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, sometimes both. Check the Universal Orlando app for the most updated times and dates.

Early Park entry only includes specific rides, typically the Wizarding World attractions. It is a great perk for on-site guests.

If you are using Early Park Admission head straight to Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure to avoid the long wait times.

Courtyard at Cabana Bay
Cabana Bay is a great on-site resort for families.

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 but that is on the low end depending on the time of year you visit.

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.

hogwarts express at hogsmeade

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 Hogwarts 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.

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.

Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure DOES NOT accept Express Pass. It does have a single rider line at times. Ask a team member on your day of visit.

Consider Using the Single Rider Line

The single rider line allows guests to enter a much shorter wait time by being split up from their party to fill in any missing seats on attractions.

This is not for everyone and you should not use this if you want to ride with your group. We use it often when the lines are longer. Men in Black is usually a walk-on for single rider.

On our first visit to a theme park we rarely use single rider because we want to experience the first time riding together as a family.

Single rider lines are offered on the following attractions:

  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall (Islands of Adventure)
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)
  • Jurassic World Velocicoaster (Islands of Adventure)
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barge (Islands of Adventure)
  • Skull Island: Reign of King (Islands of Adventure)
  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster (Islands of Adventure)
  • Fast & Furious Supercharged (Universal Studios)
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Studios)
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (Universal Studios)
  • Men in Black (Universal Studios)
  • Revenge of the Mummy (Universal Studios)
  • Transformers: The Ride 3D (Universal Studios)

At times the single rider line may not be open. Ask a team member if you don’t see the entrance.

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 Florida and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. They 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 takes 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.

hogwarts at universal

Familiarize Your Family with the Movies that Inspired the Attractions

This is not something you must do but it is fun to watch the movies that inspired the attractions before you arrive at the parks.

We read the Harry Potter Illustrated book before we visited Universal Orlando for the first time. Then we watched the movie. There are Despicable Me attractions as well as Dr. Seuss Land and Jurassic Park.

universal studios tip don't miss exploring diagon alley
Visiting Diagon Alley is a highlight of visiting Universal Studios.

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:

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.

Water Rides at Universal Orlando Dudley Do-Rights
Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls is a fun log-flume adventure.

Rides that Require Lockers

Some attractions at the parks require you to stow your bags/purses/belongings in a locker. For the rides that require lockers, 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.

Universal Orlando lockers
The lighting doesn’t do much for pictures but I wanted to show you what the size of the free lockers looks like.

Check for Special Events

Be sure to check for special events at Universal. The most popular events are the Holidays at Universal, Mardi Gras, and Halloween Horror Nights. This may impact park hours.

Take a Mid-day Break if You Can

The parks are next door to each other making it very easy to get to the parks, head back to the resort in the afternoon, and then return later in the day.

If you are staying on-site taking a break for a few hours for pool time and a nap can help avoid the afternoon slump.

Use Mobile Order on Dining to Save Time

Mobile order is available at participating dining locations. Guests need to have a credit card linked to their account on the Universal Orlando app.

Most of the casual dining now have a QR code at the table that you will scan and order from. Then your food will be brought to you. This saves time waiting in line and frustration finding a table.

Experience the Most Popular Rides First

When visiting any theme park you want to ride the most popular rides as early in the day as you can.

Universal Studios Florida most popular rides are Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, The Revenge of the Mummy, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and Transformers.

Villain-Con is a newer ride but I don’t think you have to ride it first because we saw under 15 minute wait times at different points in the day.

Islands of Adventure most popular rides are Hagrids, Velocicoaster, Jurassic Park, The Incredible Hulk, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

On busy high crowd days you will find long wait times at most of the rides, even the less popular ones.

Overall you want to do a bit of research before you arrive so when you are at the parks you can enjoy your day. I hope these tips for Universal Orlando help you have an amazing trip!

Read Next: What to Do at Universal Orlando: 25+ Can’t Miss Things to Experience

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