There are a lot of articles floating around the internet with some variation of the title Universal Orlando 101. I know this because I read at least half a dozen of them before a recent Orlando trip, and was still confused when I was done. In fact, it wasn’t until I was at the entrance of Universal Orlando Resort, tickets in hand and kids by my side, that I found a real person to help me understand how the parks are laid out and figure out how I could (try to) tackle it all in one day. Here are a few things I learned, in the hopes that they help make planning a trip to Universal Orlando Resort a piece of cake!
4 Steps to Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando Resort
Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando Resort – Step 1: Getting There
The first thing you need to know is that Universal Orlando Resort consists of Universal CityWalk — an outdoor shopping mall with restaurants, a splash pad, and entertainment — and two separate theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. After paying $20 to park in the Resort lot (and taking an elevator to moving sidewalks which transport you to a hub which leads to Universal CityWalk), you will walk through Universal CityWalk to get to the entrance of the two parks.
Tip: Be sure follow the directions on this page to find the parking garage, so your GPS doesn’t lead you in circles. Also, you probably want to bring a stroller for littles, to avoid them being exhausted before you even make it to the parks!
You can purchase tickets to one theme park, or buy a Park-to-Park admission ticket to visit both on the same day. The park entrances are a short walk apart, so no matter what you decide, once you’ve parked your car you can easily stay for the day. I knew we wanted to do both parks on the day we visited, but wasn’t sure where to go first. As it turned out, the weather decided for us.
Tip: Don’t forget to pack ponchos, and a plastic cover for your stroller, too!
Universal Studios Florida – It was raining when we arrived, so we went to Universal Studios first, where nearly every attraction is indoors! We got wet running between rides, but for the most part we were inside and happy. My three-year-old’s favorite attraction was the 4D movie experience Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. My elementary school-age boys loved the wild (loud) indoor coaster TRANSFORMERS: The Ride – 3D. And my favorite was the peaceful bike ride through the sky in E.T. Adventure. Most rides are designed to make you feel as though you are a part of the movie or television show, so they are a neat/zany/funny/action-packed adventure, depending on the theme. There was a good mix of attractions for younger and older audiences.
Tip: Just because your child is tall enough for a ride, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appropriate for them. I figured that out in the middle of the Transformers ride, with my wide-eyed three-year-old watching as we “joined the battle” against the Decepticons. We probably should have sat that one out.
Also at Universal Studios, take the well-concealed entrance across from the triple decker bus to discover The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. My kids have not yet read the Harry Potter books, but we still enjoyed drinking Butterbeer and watching the fire-breathing dragon above Gringott’s bank. The boys loved the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s ride so much, they rode it three times.
There are two ways to get from Universal Studios Florida to Universal’s Islands of Adventure: by foot or by Hogwarts Express. If you have a Park-to-Park admission ticket, I highly recommend taking the train. It’s not just a locomotive – it’s an interactive ride! We didn’t know that when we boarded, so we were surprised and delighted by scenes that unfolded outside the window of our private cabin.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure – By the time we arrived at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the rain had stopped so we were ready to enjoy some outdoor entertainment. This park is more like a traditional theme park, with thrill rides, roller coasters and water rides. Starting in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, my boys were terrified and thrilled by the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride inside Hogwarts castle (so terrified that they begged to do it again). My three-year-old was excited to be tall enough for Flight of the Hippogriff, a family-friendly outdoor coaster.
Out of time too soon, with the park about to close, we headed to Seuss Landing to enjoy a few little kid rides. These attractions — One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, the Caro-Seuss-el, and The Cat in the Hat — had no lines at all, which was a good way to end the day.
We enjoyed both parks, but if you don’t want to pay for a Park-to-Park admission ticket, here are some questions to help you decide:
- Is it raining? Go to Universal Studios Florida.
- Do you love movies and think it would be cool to be “inside” the action? Go to Universal Studios Florida.
- Are you a thrill-seeker looking for a wide variety of rides? Go to Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
- Love Harry Potter? He’s in both parks, but my boys enjoyed the Universal’s Islands of Adventure side more.
Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando Resort – Step 3: Plan Your Day
To get the most out of your day at Universal Resort Florida, take time to map out your route. This way you will hopefully avoid what happened to us: arriving at the second park with only enough time to enjoy two areas of the massive park.
Some things to consider:
- Universal Express Pass – There are two types of skip-the-line passes. To make the most of your time in the parks, you might want to invest in these to ride as many attractions as you can, without waisting time standing in line.
- Height Requirements – Check out the height requirements for each ride to best plan your day. In our case, 40″ was the magic number. My three-year-old was exactly 40″ and was able to ride everything she wanted to. It worked out perfectly! There were only two rides her brothers had to ride without us.
- Child Swap – Many attractions offer a child swap area where one parent can wait with a small child while an older child goes on the ride. Unfortunately, participating rides are not listed online, so you’ll have to ask.
Planning a Trip to Universal Orlando Resort – Step 4: Have Fun!
Know that even if you completely fail at planning ahead, like I did, you will still have a blast once you get there and figure it out!
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Disclosure: Heidi and her family were invited to visit Universal Orlando Resort. We were not compensated for this article. All opinions are our own.