How to Plan a Universal Orlando Vacation

Are you planning a Universal Orlando vacation? This complete Universal Orlando trip planning guide will give you step by step details for everything you need to know for planning your trip to the Universal Orlando resort.

The Universal Orlando resort is located in Orlando, Florida and includes multiple theme parks, resorts, and an entertainment complex.

There are many things you need to know when planning a Universal Orlando vacation and I have included a quick overview of the main things to help you plan your trip.

Overview of Universal Orlando Trip Planning

  • Transportation Needs: How will you get to the parks? How will you get around the parks/resorts?
  • Park Tickets/Theme Park Admission: How many days do you want to spend at the parks? What rides/attractions are a priority to you and your family?
  • Accommodations: Do you want to stay on-site or off-site? What are the perks to staying at a Universal Orlando resort?
  • Dining: Do you need to make reservations? Do you prefer casual or fine dining?
  • What is your overall budget?

Not sure where to start? Read our guide to Universal Orlando parks and resorts to get started.

These are the basic things you need to consider when planning your trip. Want more? Read on for more details on how to plan your Universal Orlando vacation.

villain con at universal studios florida
Jimmy Fallon Race Through New York attraction at Universal Studios Florida.

Basics for Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando Vacation

When you start to plan a Universal Orlando vacation it is important to understand the Universal theme parks, what type of tickets to purchase as well as how to plan your Universal Orlando itinerary.

I have been visiting the Universal Orlando theme parks for years and love helping other families plan their trip. At times people tend to group Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World in the same category but they are entirely different theme parks.

Universal Orlando Theme Parks

Universal Orlando Resort Hotels

Universal Orlando Resort also has entertainment complex, Universal CityWalk, that has dining, shopping, a movie theater, and live entertainment.

Transportation for Your Universal Orlando Trip

Transportation from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) to the Universal Orlando Resort is something you need to consider. There is not a specific shuttle that takes you to and from the airport and parks.

There is on-site transportation to and from the theme parks and the on-site resorts.

We have used many different types of transportation from Uber or Mears. They are all comparable with price for our family of 5. I suggest comparing prices to help you decide which fits in your budget.

If you are planning on visiting Walt Disney World or other Orlando theme parks it will most likely be cost effective to rent a car. Don’t forget to include parking cost at the resorts as well as theme park parking costs.

If you stay on-site you will not have to worry about parking costs and the resort provides complimentary theme park admission.

Park Tickets for Universal Orlando Vacation

If this is your first visit to Universal Orlando I suggest planning at least a single day at each of the parks. That would be one day at Universal Studios, one day at Islands of Adventure, and one day at Volcano Bay.

You will most likely want to plan full days at the Universal parks. If you are visiting during spring break or the busy season you will need at least a day to experience the best things to do at Universal.

Universal Orlando offers 1 day park tickets as well as park-to-park tickets that include admission to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Often you can find Universal ticket deals that include buy 2 get 2 free or other special offers.

Check the latest deals from our partner Undercover Tourist. I always recommend comparing prices to the Universal Orlando website and always purchasing from a reputable seller.

Universal Orlando Ticket Options

  • One Day Theme Park Tickets- This ticket will allow you to enter 1 park for the day.
  • 3 Park/3 Day- This ticket will allow you admission to one park each day for 3 consecutive days.
  • 2 Park/Park-to-Park- These tickets allow you to park hop between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
  • 3 Park/Park to Park- This offers the above but also includes Universal’s Volcano Bay.
  • It is important to note that you must have a park to park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express. The Hogwarts Express takes guests from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley(Universal Studios) to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade(Islands of Adventure).
  • They also offer 2 day tickets, 4 day tickets, etc. Learn more here.

How Many Days Should You Spend at Universal Orlando

I find that 3-5 days is the sweet spot to get everything done and explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This time frame allows you to see everything at each park and not rush through anything.

This may seem like a lot but you can spend a week at the Universal parks and still not experience everything there is to see and do. When Universal’s Epic Universe opens a week at Universal will be more common.

We plan time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to use our wands, explore the shops, look around, and ride the attractions. If you are a Harry Potter fan you definitely should plan time to really explore the Wizarding World.

diagon alley gringotts bank at wizarding world of harry potter.
Diagon Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Where to Stay When Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando

I always recommend staying on-site at a Universal hotel when visiting Universal because it is convenient and personally I like staying inside the “theme park bubble”.

That may not be for everyone. If you prefer to get away from the parks you may want to stay off-site.

Guests staying on-site at Universal do have some perks. Early park admission allows on-site guests early access into the park before the general public. This can allow you to skip the long lines and ride some of the most popular attractions.

At the premier Universal hotels Unlimited Express Pass is included with your stay. This allows you to skip the regular lines. Guests can also purchase Express Pass at an additional cost.

Express pass is pricey and it almost always makes sense to stay at a premier resort if you are considering purchasing it. Read More: Is Universal Studios Express Pass Worth It?

If you are traveling with a large group or just want more space there are a few great house rentals near Universal.

Off-site options are great if you are visiting other theme parks or attractions around Orlando.

Dining During Your Universal Orlando Trip

When planning a theme park vacation don’t forget to consider where you want to eat. Do you prefer a sit down restaurant each day or would you rather find casual dining options. Typically we like to do a mix of both.

At Universal I recommend making reservations around 2-4 weeks before you arrive for sit down restaurants. Some are busier than others but most places will have availability about a month before.

I love dining at Leaky Cauldron at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley as well as Pat O’Brien’s at CityWalk. Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen is a steam-punk themed restaurant with amazing chocolate infused meals.

I share our favorite tried and true spots in this post: Best Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Vacation Budget

Everyone has a different budget when it comes to a family vacation. I go into more details in this post: how to plan a Universal vacation budget but here is an overview of what to expect.

How much does a trip to Universal Orlando cost?

The major costs of a Universal Orlando trip is tickets, accommodations, food, and transportation. Tickets and accommodations are usually the first thing people look at.

For our family of five, tickets are usually the most expensive part of the trip. I checked prices in January 2024 for an August 2024 trip for a family of 5:

  • Tickets: 2 park, 3 day tickets: $18909.35 (Seasonal Annual Pass cost is $2263.10. If you can visit 2x in one year it is worth considering. We live in NY and have been AP holders for multiple years. I go into details of how it works and saves us money: Is the Universal Orlando Annual Pass Worth It
  • Dockside Inn and Suites for 4 nights: $741.60 | Check Dockside Inn and Suite Prices
  • Flight: $1500.00
  • Food Budget: $150.00/day

Food and transportation are usually the places we try to save the most. We will splurge on a few meals during vacation but also order take-out on some nights. We also pack to-go breakfast to save money on meals out.

FAQ’s For Universal Orlando Vacations

These are questions that I often get when asked about planning a Universal vacation. I update this often as more questions come up.

Best Month to Go To Universal Orlando

The best time to visit the parks are when the crowds are low and the weather is nice.

Florida is very hot and rainy in the summer, although late summer is one of our favorite times to visit because of low crowds. Low crowd times are when kids are in school. These are often less expensive making it a great time to visit.

During school breaks the parks are busy. This is usually the months of March, April, and July. October through December are busy around holiday breaks.

Special events like Halloween Horror Nights and Holidays at Universal will see large crowds.

Do you need a stroller for Universal?

Expect to do a lot of walking when you are at the parks. If you are traveling with young children a stroller may be important to have.

Can you do Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in one day?

Yes. You can do both parks in one day although you will not be able to do everything, especially if it is a busy day. I don’t recommend it but if you are only going for Harry Potter attractions it may work for you. More details are in this post: How to Do Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in One Day

What Should I Pack for my park day?

Only pack what you will need. Think essentials like sunscreen, snacks, water bottle, portable charger. You will need to use a locker for some of the attractions at the park so packing only what you need is important. This post: Best Packing List for Universal Studios Orlando should help.

Is Star Wars at Universal Studios?

No, Star Wars is at the Disney World parks. Harry Potter, Minions, Jurassic Park, Dr, Seuss, and Dreamworks are at the Universal Orlando parks.

Universal Orlando is a great place to spend a family vacation! Want more details? Check out my 3-day Universal Orlando itinerary for an example of how we plan our trips.

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