23 Tips For Visiting Universal Orlando Resort: Know Before You Go

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Planning to visit Universal Resort Orlando but never been before? Then you’ve come to the right place, as we’ve got some of the best tips for visiting Universal Orlando Resort to make sure you make the most of your experience.

family posing with the lorax at universal
Meeting the Lorax

With so many theme parks and attractions to explore in Orlando, you’re going to want to make sure you’re well clued up on what to expect beforehand so you don’t a) get overwhelmed and b) can enjoy the experience.

Below you’ll find all the things you need to know before you visit Universal Orlando Florida.

This post is sponsored by our partner Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and we have received financial compensation as ambassadors, however all thoughts, opinions and ideas about Universal Orlando are our own.

Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando Resort

mother and two daughters outside universal orlando logo

1. Understand It’s Three Theme Parks

First of all, in case you are confused like I was before visiting, Universal Orlando Resort consists of three theme parks:

And then there is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is located in both Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) and Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade).

No, it is not called Harry Potter World, or Harry Potter theme park, or Universal Studios Harry Potter World as I kept calling it pre-trip – but I soon got that out of my system.

So you have three Universal theme parks plus City Walk. Don’t worry, it’s easy to get around all three by using the Park Hopper Shuttle Bus which comes with your tickets. You can find the best combo Park Hopper tickets here. 

2. Prepare for Excitement!

woman and two girls smiling in Hogsmeade Village at Universal Orlando Resort
Arriving in Hogsmeade

You’ll probably never see your kids more excited than when you first walk through the gates to Universal Orlando, especially when they enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter if they are big Harry Potter fans like our eldest daughter!

I’ll never forget the look on Kalyra’s face as we entered Hogsmeade on our very first day at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park. She’s read all the books and watched all the movies, and I think she could have cried.

In fact, we all couldn’t believe how magical it all made us feel. It was like we were stepping into the movie. Universal has done an incredible job bringing the Harry Potter series to life.

But Universal Orlando Resort is much more than Harry Potter! As adults, we expect it to be just exciting for kids, but it’s even exciting for adults too.

At the end of our trip, there was this feeling of sadness that it was all over. Of course, we adults got over it and moved on, but our kids still talk about our time there and consider it a cherished memory. Have this in the back of your mind when visiting as there may be times where you want to savor the moment.

3. Plan for 3 Days, Minimum

With Hedwig at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando

Making sure you spend the right amount of time at each theme park would be one of our top tips for Universal Orlando.

We had a 3 day park-to-park ticket so we could explore all of the Universal Orlando Resort parks, and I think that was a perfect amount of time (Undercover Tourist provide authentic attraction tickets at discounted prices!)

Coming from a family of four with kids aged 10 and 6, I highly recommend you also plan for a minimum of three days!

Essentially, we spent one day at each of the three parks!

Our kids have different levels of bravado when it comes to what rides they will go on, and our 6 year old was restricted due to height requirements for some rides as well.

So three days gave us ample time to cover all the rides and attractions for everyone to enjoy.

You know what theme parks are like, they can be long and tiring days, especially if you are dragging younger kids around with you, so don’t try and do it all in a sprint.

Water slide at Volcano Bay

We spent our first full-day at Universal’s Volcano Bay, which was awesome and the best water park we have ever been too.

Then we had two days hopping between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios on a Multi-Day Pass (see tips down below).

4. Get a Multi-Day Ticket

As mentioned, we had a 3-Park hopper ticket which allowed us to visit Volcano Bay + Islands of Adventure + Universal Studios at any time each day over 3 days!

There are several options available for Multi Passes. You can also get a 4 day ticket + 3rd park free, and a 5 day ticket + 3rd park free.

So if you plan on visiting all three parks, I recommend you choose one of these tickets!

5. Ride Hogwarts Express

family posing in front of Hogwarts Express, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando

Our eldest daughter Kalyra is a MASSIVE Harry Potter fan!

Our youngest Savannah is getting there, and one of our kids favorite Harry Potter experiences at Universal Orlando was riding Hogwarts Express.

By getting a Park-to-Park ticket, it allows you to ride the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade Station (Islands of Adventure) to King’s Cross Station in London (Universal Studios) unlimited times in either direction.

It’s a fun and convenient way to move between the parks. We park hopped several times using Hogwarts Express and it worked out perfectly.

Hogwarts Express -train

I won’t spoil it for you, but you never know who – or what – you might see out the trains window during the journey. And it’s a different experience going from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, and vice versa. So do both!

But you’ll need a park-to-park ticket.

people waiting for the Hogwarts Express

To ride from Hogsmeade to London in Universal Studios, head to Hogsmeade Station inside Islands of Adventure. When you arrive in London, pop around the corner to find the secret entryway into Diagon Alley.

To ride to Hogsmeade, head to London in Universal Studios and board the train at King’s Cross Station. 

6. Get a Universal Express Pass

two girls on Pteranodon Flyers ride, Islands of Adventure
Pteranodon Flyers ride, Islands of Adventure

First off, a Universal Express Pass is an Add-On ticket that allow you to skip the regular lines at select attractions, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

So you get “express access”.

You may be familiar with these types of passes from other theme parks who call them Fast Passes etc. At Universal, they are called Universal Express.

Depending on the time of year and day you visit, instead of standing for hours in the regular queue, with an Express Pass you could only be waiting 5-15 minutes (or less).

Regular lines can be anything from 45+ minutes, and Universal Express Passes allow you to go on your favorite rides multiple times and maximize your time.

Different types of Express Passes

  • Universal Express Pass – Skip the regular line ONE TIME PER TIDE at participating rides and attractions each day that your pass is valid.
  • Universal Unlimited Express Pass – Skip the regular lines an UNLIMITED NUMBER OF TIMES at participating rides and attractions.
  • Single Park Universal Express – You buy one of these Add-On passes only for either Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, or Volcano Bay.
  • 2-Park Universal Express – use at both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
  • 2-Park Park-To-Park + Express Unlimited – admission to Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, plus Universal Express Unlimited access.
  • 3-Park Park-To-Park + Express Unlimited – admission to Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay, plus Universal Express Unlimited access.

Are Universal Express Passes worth it?

Popeye & Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges ride, Islands of Adventure
Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges ride, Islands of Adventure

I believe Universal Express Passes are worth it. I don’t like standing in long lines, especially with kids, and especially in the heat – you all know Florida!

Obviously, the extra costs of these passes on top of your admission tickets and accommodation adds to your budget, especially if you are a family of four.

But if your budget allows, and this is your dream trip, having these passes can dramatically improve your overall experience at Universal so you have the vacation of a lifetime!

Seriously, I don’t know how many times we said to each other as we walked past the long regular lines that we were so glad we had these passes.

Without these passes there would have been a lot of precious time wasted, and restless and frustrated kids.

Find a way to cut back in other ways in your travel budget to free up money for Express Passes. What are your priorities?

  • Staying in a 5 star hotel?
  • Flying business class?
  • Eating out three times a day?
  • Shopping at the outlets?
  • or having the best Universal experience?

When you really look at your expenses and consider your priorities, you can find a way. And I have more tips on accessing these passes for better value down below!

7. Join the Single Rider Line

If you’re not visiting as a family, then you can save time on queuing by joining the “single rider” line for some attractions.

This is a special line for people who don’t mind riding along, or joining another group.

8. Stay On-Site at a Universal Resort Hotel

Cabana Bay Beach Resort swimming pool
Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Orlando,Universal Orlando Resort Florida

For those who want to maximize time when visiting Universal Orlando, then our top tip would be staying on-site at one of the Universal Orlando Resorts.

There are key benefits to staying on-site as I will explain below, and these benefits can make a world of difference to your family’s Universal vacation.

Staying on-site can be the best way to experience all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer.

Here are some of the most popular Universal Resort Hotels to choose from (in order of Budget to Luxury):

I know, figuring out where to stay on any family vacation can be stressful, especially in Orlando where there are endless options!

HOT TIP: Traveling with a large group of friends or family? Consider staying in one of these at one of these vacation homes near Disney World in Orlando

overlooking Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Cabana Bay Beach Resort

The Universal Orlando Resort Hotels are conveniently located and come with some nice perks:

  1. When you stay at any on-site hotel you get Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay one hour before the theme park opens.
  2. Guests who choose to stay at select Universal Resort Hotels get FREE Universal Unlimited Express Passes! (learn more down below)
  3. Free transportation to the theme parks from each of the hotels via either water taxi or shuttle bus. Cabana Bay and Aventura Hotel are by shuttle bus only!

You even get these benefits the day you check-in and the day you check-out. You DO NOT have to book directly through the hotel when staying at one of the Universal Studios Orlando hotels to qualify for the free Universal Express Passes. You get these passes even if you book via a third party, like Booking.com.

9. Make Use of Early Park Admission (and stay late)

woman and two girls posing in front of universal orlando resort entrance

As mentioned, by staying at a Universal Hotel you get early park admission, one hour before the theme park opens to other regular paying guests.

As soon as we entered Volcano Bay using early admission, we found sun lounges and a place to base ourselves for the day.

Relaxing at Volcano Bay

Then we made us of early entry and headed for the most popular slides:

  • Krakatau Aqua Coaster
  • Ko’kiri Body Plunge
  • Kala & Tui Nui Serpentine body slides
  • and Honu of the Honu Ika Moana
Aqua Coaster at Universal's Volcano Bat Water Park in Orlando, Florida
Krakatau Aqua Coaster

At Universal Islands of Adventure, we headed straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hogsmeade) to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

This is the most popular ride at the park, and regular lines can be a long wait, so head straight there.

girl posing in front of Hogwarts Castle at Hogsmeade in Universal Orlando Resort
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey is inside Hogwarts Castle

At Universal Studios we headed straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Diagon Alley) to ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

person walking down Diagon Alley, Universal Orlando Resort

Then we headed to Ollivanders to buy wands (this store gets really busy). See down below for more tips on buying wands.

Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley is a much nicer experience if you get there before the crowds. Their shops are much calmer and it’s easier to take photos and video.

On the flip side, the crowds at the parks tend to die down later in the day shortly before closing which means shorter wait times for rides and less crowded shops.

At Volcano Bay, most people disappeared before closing so we had the gorgeous Volcano and Waturi Beach almost to ourselves. It’s pretty at sunset, especially with the volcano lighting up in rainbow colors.

Grab a cocktail, or elderberry cider from the Dancing Dragons Boat Bar and let the kids swim and relax with the views.

10. Arrive As Early As Possible

woman and child in pool
Volcano Bay

Even if you decide not to stay at a Universal on-site hotel, another one of our important tips for Universal Orlando would be to still plan on arriving at the theme parks early before opening time.

Traffic in Orlando can be unpredictable and congested, so you don’t want to be delayed and get there after park opening times.

Get there early so you can get the best available parking spot, so that you aren’t rushed, and so that you can be close to the front of the lines!

And sometimes, they actually open the park gates 15-minutes early and you could be riding the popular thrill rides before the masses turn up!

Don’t start off your dream visit flustered and annoyed – get up and get going!

11. Buy Tickets Online to Save Money & Time

entry way to universal studios

I don’t think there is such thing as cheap Universal Orlando tickets, but a few tips here to save money and time:

  • When you buy your tickets online through Undercover Tourist there are no hidden fees with free shipping and tax included!
  • Print your tickets at home and go straight to the front gate to save time!
  • When you purchase any multi-day ticket online, you get a Coupon Book with up to $150 value in savings at select in-park restaurants, shops, on-site resort hotels, and free admission to select Universal Citywalk venues. 

By purchasing tickets online, you’ll avoid waiting in line at the gates to purchase tickets. I like saving money AND time.

12. Get an American Express

Lunch at Volcano Bay
Volcano Bay food

Are you an American Express Card owner? American Express is the official card of Universal Orlando Resort, and AMEX Card Members enjoy special in-park privileges.

If you purchase your Universal Orlando tickets with an AMEX card, you get access to the AMEX Lounge inside Universal Orlando when you buy any Multi-Park Ticket or Annual Pass with any AMEX Card at UniversalOrlando.com or at the Universal Orlando Resort ticket window.

Here you can enjoy complimentary light snacks, drinks, a full-time concierge and more.

The American Express Lounge is open seven days a week from 12pm – 5pm and subject to availability. Entrance to the lounge is across from Shrek’s Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe

Present your confirmation page or original receipt plus your AMEX Card to gain entrance. Nice perk!

See all the current AMEX offers here. 

13. Take Advantage of the Child Swap Program!

mom and child smiling on The Incredible Hulk Coaster
Watching Caz and Kalyra at the start of the Hulk coaster from child swap area

The child swap system was awesome! And another great way to skip the long lines.

Our kids are aged 10 and 6, and whilst our eldest daughter Kalyra went on every ride, 6 year old Savannah was either too short for adult rides, or not brave enough.

So, if your children are too small or don’t want to go on a particular ride, take advantage of the “child swap” program.

Each ride has a “child swap room” where one parent (or member of your party) can wait with the little ones, while the other parent and older child goes on the ride.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster doing a loop

Once they are finished, the adults can simply switch roles.

The designated child swap area is usually a room (or an area) right near where you actually board the ride, so you don’t have to go outside and come back in again.

You simply walk to the front of the line in the “child swap” area.

The child swap room typically has a movie playing to keep the younger ones entertained. Win-win!

14. Try ALL the Butterbeer options

family in front of butterbeer truck

Whoever created the recipe for Butterbeer is a GENIOUS!! Talk about addictive!!

And just in case you don’t know, it’s non-alcoholic so your kids, and you, can have a Butterbeer or three and it comes with a compulsory foamy mustache!

Butterbeer, Universal Orlando Resort

Butterbeer is a very popular wizarding beverage that tastes a bit like butterscotch, or icecream soda.

The drink is drawn from a tap, just like a beer, and the dense, whipped topping is added from a separate tap.

Apparently two of the ingredients are of course butterscotch and marshmallow cream. Not sure what else is in it, but I’m guessing a good serving of sugar – be warned!

Before our trip to Universal Orlando, I had no idea you could have Butterbeer in so many different styles!

You can get:

  • Cold Butterbeer
  • Frozen Butterbeer
  • Hot Butterbeer
  • Butterbeer ice cream
  • Butterbeer potted-cream

Where can you get Butterbeer?

man holding Butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando Resort

When you enter Hogsmeade you’ll see a large wooden barrel that bears the word “BUTTERBEER” and you can buy it from the street cart.

Other places you can get it in Hogsmeade:

  • Hog’s Head (Hogsmeade)
  • Three Broomsticks (cold or frozen  is $6.99, as ice-cream it’s 45.49,  and as potted cream it’s $5.29)

In Diagon Alley:

  • The Hopping Pot (walk-up counter)
  • The Fountain of Fair Fortune
  • Leaky Cauldron
  • Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor (butterbeer ice-cream in a cup, in a waffle cone, in a souvenir glass)

My favorite version was cold (on a hot day) and hot (when the weather got cool. Kalyra loved it hot, Savannah and mommy frozen!

girl drinking Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice-cream at Universal Orlando

15. Visit during the winter

We visited in mid November 2017, just after the craziness of Halloween had died down at Universal.

The staff at Cabana Bay Beach Resort said they went from being completely full over Halloween, but after its one of their quietest times to visit Universal Orlando.

Mid-January is apparently a less crowded time to visit too, but of course it will be cool if you’re considering Volcano Bay!

Obviously the parks will be crowded around main holidays and school break times.

girl standing in the middle of Diagon Alley - inside Universal Studios Orlando Parks

Historically, September is one of the better months to visit Universal Orlando because the kids have just returned to school and families have either visited Orlando over summer.

16. Avoid the Holiday Period (Unless You Don’t Mind Crazy)

Thanksgiving, we were told, is the worst time to visit. The same goes for the weekend straight after Thanksgiving – it’s just nuts.

But it all comes down to your desires and tolerance for crowds level.

I’m sure visiting Universal over one of the main holiday periods like Thanksgiving and New Years would be spectacular with holiday lights and parades etc.

But of course peak periods mean high prices for flights, accommodation and other travel related expenses.

17. Download the Official Universal Orlando App

If you are a fan of using apps, download the Universal Orlando app which can help you plan your trip, and whilst you are inside the park:

  • See the latest wait times for rides
  • Find show times and dining venue hours
  • Set alerts for when wait times are low and for show start times.
  • Locate restrooms
  • Access maps
  • Purchase and redeem select theme park tickets and Express passes
  • and more.

Available on Google Play and in the App store.

18. Take Time to Explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Castle on a hill

Like I said, Universal has done an AMAZING job with both sections of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are magical and the detail they have gone into creating them makes it feel like you are part of the movie.

And I say that without having even seen all the movies yet, or read the books!

Shame on this daddy, I know! But I too was blown away with how special it all was, and got inspired seeing families dressed up in the house gear.

dragon on top of Diagon Alley, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando
snow covered buildings in harry potter world
girl standing in a telephone booth

So if you, or your kids are big Harry Potter fans, you want to allocate plenty of time for these lands. I’m sure my kids could have spent all day just in here.

19. Get Your Kids a Wand

girls holding wands Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando

Kalyra had her heart set on getting a wand. She’s a BIG Hermione Jean Granger fan and so wanted a Hermione wand.

And Savannah wanted a Luna Lovegood wand.

They purchased their own unique wands at Ollivanders Wand Shop in Diagon Alley, makers of fine wands since 382 BC.

Ollivanders is a cool shop with towering walls filled with thousands of boxes of wands stacked to the ceiling, but it gets super crowded inside with not a lot of room to move!

You can purchase character wand replicas or buy an Interactive Wand for $50 like our kids and cast spells like a wizard to create amazing magical experiences throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

This was one of our kids favorite things to do at Universal Studios, as they brought aspects of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter park to life.

Being a wizard at Diagon Alley
girl holding wand up to wizard store window

There are plaques on the ground spaced out around the park showing how to cast the spell and where to aim your wand, plus helpful park wizards on to help – a few of them were a little tricky!

Get your wand first thing on the first day, so you have time to play.

20. Know What To Pack

main swimming pool next to volcano at volcano bay

Comfy shoes are a must. If you do all three parks, you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet walking from ride to ride and waiting in lines. Heels are probably not a good idea, and it might be best to wear shoes that can handle getting wet.

Florida weather can change often, depending on time of year. It could be warm during the day, then you encounter an afternoon shower in the spring and summer. Or an evening chill in the fall and winter.

If you plan on getting wet on rides, or doing Volcano Bay, or hanging by the hotel pool, don’t forget your swimwear. You can even wear your swimsuits under your clothes at the parks.

And if you plan on dining out at a nice restaurant, or sneaking away to a club in City Walk, pack something a little dressy.

Pack sun protection – it’s Florida and they get a lot of sun down there. Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

21. Have a Plan, But Stay Flexible

people walking through Universal Studios Orlando

Your kids will be full of energy and excitement when you walk through the gates and they’ll want to race around and do EVERYTHING at once.

I know our kids did. And it’s hard to contain their excitement and know what to do and when.

So have a rough plan of what you want to do.

Prioritise the rides and attractions you MOST want to do and focus on those first.

  • Use the Universal Orlando app to keep an eye on wait times and to decide where to go next
  • Purchase Universal Express Passes
  • Have a plan, but be flexible

22. Bring Your Own Snacks and Water

hogwarts castle with laser show lights
Light show over Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure

There is a limit on what you can take with you into the park, but acceptable items you can take inside include:

  • Bottled water
  • Small snacks that do not require heating
  • Food required for medical purposes
  • Food required for special dietary needs
  • Baby food/baby formula

Pack small snacky things to eat throughout the day so you can save time and money by avoiding the restaurants and dining options.

23. List The Top Rides and Attractions at Universal Orlando Resort You Want To Do

Make sure you pick what rides you want to see and do in advance, so you can tick them off while you explore Universal Orlando Resort.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure
The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure

Here are some of the best rides and attractions that we loved!

  1. The Incredible Hulk Coaster (Islands of Adventure)
  2. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)
  3. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Studios)
  4. Krakatau Aqua Coaster (Volcano Bay
  5. Butterbeer (both parks)
  6. Revenge of the Mummy (Islands of Adventure)
  7. Ko’kiri body plunge, Kala & Tui Nui Serpentine Body Slides (Volcano Bay)
  8. Rip Ride Rockit Coaster (Islands of Adventure)
  9. Buying wands and being a wizard (both parks)
  10. Flight of the Hippogriff (Islands of Adventure)
  11. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (Islands of Adventure)
  12. The Simpsons Ride (Universal Studios)
  13. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (Universal Studios)
  14. Transformers: The Ride – 3D (Universal Studios)

Final Thoughts

girls holding up wands in front of hogswart castle

So there you have it, those are our top tips for visiting Universal Orlando Resort. We hope this guide helped you plan your visit and gave you some inspiration for visiting.

Universal Orlando Resort was one of our favorite theme parks in Orlando and one that we have cherished memories of visiting.

We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

As we always say…“If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”. It’s that simple.

Not having travel insurance is not worth the risk, and this is one of our important tips for Universal Orlando.

What happens if:

  • You need to cancel your trip unexpectedly
  • A hurricane damages your destination
  • There is a terrorist event
  • You get sick or injured on your trip
  • Your luggage is lost or stolen

Travel insurance is designed to cover unexpected medical emergencies and events such as those.

Anything can, will, and sometimes goes wrong. If it does and you are not insured, you can be up for a lot of money AND inconvenience.

Universal Orlando Videos

Watch our video for more tips on visiting Universal Orlando Resort!

Watch our list of favorite things to do at Universal Orlando Resort!

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