Universal Orlando Guide to the Parks & Resorts for Beginners

This beginners guide to Universal Orlando theme parks and resorts will give you everything you need to know for your visit.

We have visited the Universal parks and resorts in Orlando, Florida many times as a family of five, and there is a reason we keep coming back. It is a great place for a family vacation!

The big theme parks in Orlando are Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. Both offer amazing entertainment and are great choices for a family vacation.

Basics Universal Orlando Guide

There are 3 theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Epic Universe (opening 2025).

Universal’s Volcano Bay is a water park and Universal CityWalk is the shopping, dining, and entertainment district. There are also numerous resorts on-site for Universal guests that offer perks like early entry and Universal Express Pass.

Want more details? Read on for a full guide to Universal Orlando theme parks and the Universal Resort Hotels.

Universal Orlando Resort

There are 3 parks, 8 resorts, and 1 entertainment complex included at the Universal Orlando resorts. They offer a range of pricing for the resorts, and ticket options to fit your family and budget.

Universal Orlando Florida Theme Parks

Universal has Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Epic Universe. Universal’s Epic Universe, a brand new theme park, will open in 2025.

Universal also has Volcano Bay is an oasis-like water park. Learn more about Volcano Bay.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida is the original Universal park. Here you will find attractions like Despicable Me and Illuminations Minion Land, Transformers, E.T. Adventure, Men In Black Alien Attack, The Fast and the Furious, Jimmy Fallon Race Through New York and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley.

It also has Springfield U.S.A., home of The Simpsons and my favorite Taco Truck (BumbleBee Man’s Taco Truck). You can also visit Moe’s Tavern to indulge in a Duff Beer.

My favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida has to be Escape from Gringotts. This is inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley.

Diagon Alley is incredibly themed and if you are a Harry Potter fan it is a must. Honestly, I wasn’t even a big Harry Potter fan during our visit and I was blown away with the attention to details and the immersive feeling.

They are also in the process of building a new DreamWorks land that will feature Shrek, Trolls, and other favorite characters. This will be a great addition for kids at Universal and will open summer 2024.

springfield at universal studios
At Universal Studios you will find Springfield U.S.A. Home of the Simpsons.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure is home to Seuss Landing, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade, Marvel Super Hero Island, and Jurassic Park. There are more thrill rides at Islands of Adventure like the Incredible Hulk, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Velocicoaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, and Skull Island: King Kong.

There are also a few water rides at Islands of Adventure like Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Popeye + Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges. You will get soaked on these attractions.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure is also home to two of the most popular attractions at Universal Orlando resort. They are Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Velocicoaster. Both are rollercoasters with Velocicoaster being way more intense.

These are both very popular attractions and will get long lines. Ride them with early entry or as soon as the park opens.

Photo Courtesy of Universal Orlando Media Site

Universal Parks Tip: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has two locations. One at Universal Studios and one at Islands of Adventure. If you purchase a park-to-park ticket you can ride the Hogwarts Express(Train), that transports guests between parks.

You must have a park-to-park ticket to ride this. If you choose to go with a 1 Park/1 Day pass you can still enjoy the Wizarding Worlds at the park you visit for that day, but you will not have access to ride the Hogwarts express.

I suggest comparing ticket prices with the Universal website to find the best offers. Check out ticket prices for Universal Orlando resort.

Epic Universe (Opening 2025)

Epic Universe is the brand new theme park being built and set to open in 2025. This will be located near the Endless Summer Resorts.

It will have 5 lands: Celestial Park, How to Train Your Dragon: Isle of Berk, Dark Universe, Super Nintendo World, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Ministry of Magic.

More attractions and details are being announced so stay tuned. Super Nintendo World is open at Universal Studios Hollywood if you can’t wait!

It will also have resorts within walking distance and on-site transportation to the theme parks.

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is the water park at the Universal Orlando Resorts. It offers virtual lines and is one of the prettiest water parks I have ever visited. There are attractions for all ages from lazy rivers and splash pads to more adventurous slides.

We spent a few hours exploring Volcano Bay in August. It is an incredible park! Read more about tips for your first visit to Volacano Bay.

Photo Courtesy of Universal Orlando Media Site

Universal Orlando Resorts

There are currently 8 resorts at Universal Orlando. The resorts allow guests special perks like early entry and on-site transportation as well as pricing that fits any budget.

We have stayed at the value resorts and they have the most spacious rooms for a family while staying on a budget.

As you move to the premier hotels you will be closer to the park, some are within walking distance, as well as have more amenities at the resort like water slides and sit down restaurants.

It depends on what your priorities are as a family visiting. One of the best perks of the premier hotels is they include express pass with your stay. Express Pass is the line skipping add-on offered at Universal.

Guests not staying at a Premier hotel or staying off-site can purchase express pass to be added on to their tickets but it can be pricey and it is worth comparing the costs.

Read details about it: Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?

Premier Hotels ($$$$)

hard rock hotel walk to universal
The path from Hard Rock Hotel to Universal Studios Florida.

Preferred Hotel ($$$)

Prime Value Hotels ($$)

Courtyard at Cabana Bay
Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Value Hotels ($)

surfside inn and suties pool.
Photo Courtesy of Universal Orlando Media Site

CityWalk Entertainment Complex

CityWalk is an shopping, dining, and entertainment complex at Universal Orlando. After a day at the parks or if you want a break for lunch, you can walk over to CityWalk to enjoy a great meal.

Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen is a favorite because of the chocolate bread and amazing milkshakes. We have played mini-golf at Hollywood Drive-In Golf and there are so many different restaurants to choose from.

the toothsome chocolate emporium milkshakes
Milkshakes at Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen

Universal’s CityWalk gets extremely busy after parks close and it does cater to an older crowd as the night goes on. Keep this in mind when planning your visit.

Universal Tip: One of the great things about Universal is the parking garage/transportation drop-off leads you to all of the parks. You walk through CityWalk and take a left to Islands of Adventure or a right to Universal Studios. This makes park hopping easy!

FAQ’s about Universal Theme Parks and Resorts

Is Universal Orlando and Disney World the same park?

I am often asked about visiting both parks or people are confused about what theme parks are where. Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World are not related. This is important to know when planning an Orlando vacation.

They are close in proximity, about a 15-20 minute drive, but they are different. You can visit both parks during your Orlando visit but be sure to do your research so you understand what parks and resorts are at what theme park.

If you want a comparison check out this article: Walt Disney World vs Universal Orlando | What Theme Park is Best for Your Orlando Vacation

How Many Days Do You Need for Universal Orlando Theme Parks?

If you want to visit both parks and water park you would want at least 3 days. When Epic Universe opens you will want at least 4. Currently I would recommend 5 days and when Epic Universe opens I would recommend a week.

Are there Universal Orlando ticket deals?

Occasionally there are buy 2 days, get 2 days free ticket offerings. These can be found on the Universal Orlando website and also with our partner Undercover Tourist. Check the latest Universal ticket deals.

Are you ready to start planning your Universal Orlando vacation? Head to my Universal Orlando vacation planning for a step by step guide to plan your best trip!

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

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