A trip to Orlando would not be complete without planning at least a day or 2 at Universal Studios, one of the world’s best theme parks. Today, with 2 jam packed parks, Universal is just as spectacular as Disney. Unfortunately, with so much to see and do, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. Being well prepared can make all the difference between a great vs. miserable park experience. Visiting during the summer months requires even more pre-trip planning & organization due to the intense crowds and hot, humid conditions.
Every new visit to Universal brings forth new ideas on how to make the next visit a smoother, less stressful experience. After visiting the park on countless occasions, I have come up with a list of 18 helpful tips to make your day at Universal more enjoyable. Hopefully, following the tips posted below will make you more comfortable, save you some time & money, and allow you to focus all your energy on rides and entertainment!
After all, a trip to Universal is not cheap. You are going to want to devote all your attention towards enjoying as many rides and seeing as many shows as possible.
1. Wear a water hydration backpack
You are going to need a lot of water, especially if visiting during the insanely hot summer season. Not only will a Hydration Backpack save you a lot of cash (water bottles run about $3 a piece inside the park), you will also save some time by avoiding the hassle of searching around for restaurant stands. Note: free ice water is available at stands, although waiting in busy lines eats up a lot of time!
These handy backpacks, known as camelbaks, hold anywhere from 1 to several gallons of water so you should be good for the majority of the day. As an added bonus, you can store other essentials like sunblock and snacks in the extra pockets. And asides from your Orlando trip, you can use them for regular activities like hiking, running, and biking, so you are not wasting money on a one-time need.
2. Take advantage of Universal’s free Wait Times app
Universal Orlando’s fantastic free app allows you to conveniently look up wait times for all rides within both parks. This allows you to save some time by planning your next move based on current wait times. Times are updated consistently and seem to be pretty accurate. Those limited on time especially need this app to strategically plan their day.
3. Purchase park to park tickets
Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure offer a great selection of rides. Both parks are worthy of at least a full day visit. However, if you are limited to a single visit, you will want to order park-to-park tickets in order to switch back and forth between the 2. With the park to park pass, you will be able to board the Hogwarts Express, a fun & convenient Harry Potter themed train ride between the parks. Luckily, you do not have to pay full price as there are many discount deals online including 2 days free when you buy 2.
You can board at either the Hogsmeade station (Islands of Adventure) or King’s Cross Station (Universal Studios). Sit back and enjoy the ride as you pass the beautiful English countryside. In addition, the major Harry Potter rides and shopping/dining areas (Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade) are located in opposing parks, thus making park to park tickets even more necessary.
4. Get in line early for Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure
We arrived at Universal right at opening, reaching the ride at about 8:30am. By this time, there was already a 90 minute wait. At times, it can be up to 4 hours to get on this hot new ride! If you are not one to stand in hot lines all daky, you should get to this ride as early as possible! Who wants to waste money standing in lines all day! Also be sure to pull out your Wait Times app to see if the wait is worth your time.
In the morning hours, most rides have really short wait times (especially when everyone is running to get in line for Harry Potter/exploring Diagon Alley). Is it worth it to lose hours of your time for 1 ride or would you rather get on several during this time? The choice is up to you! Another option is to stay at an on-site Universal hotel which includes an hour early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Other popular rides that you should consider earlier on in the day include Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Men in Black, The Simpsons, Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. All of these rides will be insanely busy later in the afternoon, so it would be smart to try to get on 1 or 2 earlier in the morning when the park is less crowded.
5. Enjoy the perks of early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
A handful of Universal onsite hotels like Hard Rock Hotel or Cabana Bay (a wonderful affordable retro themed hotel) offer special perks such as 1 hour early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is a great way to experience the parks before they get too packed. There is so much to experience, especially with the Diagon Alley shops. Any hotel offering extra time at the park is definitely worth checking into!
You could easily spend an entire day just exploring the Harry Potter sections of the park, and with the incredible attention to detail and beautiful design, any “Potterhead” will want to do so! On a side note, anyone that doesn’t like Harry Potter will be in luck as much of the traffic is now centered around this new area of the park, meaning lower wait times for the rest of the rides!
6. Say goodbye to paper tickets
Download the Universal app to avoid the hassle of printing out tickets. Today, you can conveniently scan your phone. This comes in handy as you need your ticket to access the Hogwarts Express if you are going the park-to-park route. Make sure your phone is fully charged!
7. Book a hotel with a shuttle to the park, or one located within walking distance to the entrance
Many hotels offer free, convenient shuttles to the parks. This saves you not only time, but also the high costs associated with renting a car (price per day of car, gas, etc.) along with hefty parking fees ($25 per vehicle). In addition to the on-site resorts, many Universal Partner hotels are located within walking distance (Doubletree, Hyatt Place, & Holiday Inn & Suites).
Doubletree Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Studios, the closest hotel to the park, is a fantastic option. Not only is it located only a half mile away, but you can also book a room with fabulous views of the park! Other amenities include 2 pools, several restaurants, cookies at check in, and an on-site Starbucks. You really can’t beat the amenities for the price.
Cabana Bay is another nice choice, offering a free shuttle and numerous amenities (lazy river, restaurants, Starbucks, bowling alley, and a great pool!).
8. Bring with a full bottle of sunblock
I recommend a full bottle to split amongst everyone in your party. The sun is intense and there really isn’t much shade. Many ride queues are located directly in the sun, so lather up or you might be lying in bed the next instead of having fun at the park! My sunblock of choice is Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 – I’ve never had a burn from it and it is rated pretty good in terms of EWG’s list of safer sunscreens.
9. Don’t forget about the sunglasses
Sunglasses are a lifesaver when walking around the sunny park all day. As an added bonus, they prevent you from having that squinty eye look in all your photos! I recommend picking up a cheap pair at a Walmart or dollar store – that way it doesn’t really matter if they break or get lost. As long as they block the sun, who cares how much they cost! This isn’t a fashion show – you are the parks to have a good time!
Trust me, they all work the same and if anything, all my cheap sunglasses happen to be the ones that I still have ten years later 😉
10. Bring an extra pair of contacts and/or glasses
After 10 hours at the park, I was more than ready to ditch the contacts and change into eyeglasses to give my sore, tired eyes a much needed break. You may also want to bring an extra pair of disposable contacts just in case they get foggy or you lose one during a water ride. I recommend Acuvue 1 Day Moist as they are comfortable and usually last me the entire day without getting too bothersome.
11. A fan mister will help cool you down while waiting in lines
It can get really, really hot standing still for hours at a time waiting in various ride lines. Even though there are several large misters spread throughout the park, a personal fan mister works much better, not to mention is available on an as needed basis.
12. Wear athletic apparel
If you plan on going on a lot of water rides, you may want to wear your workout attire, which will dry much faster than regular clothing. If you are the type of person who can’t stand to be damp all day (and you will be wet for a while in the humid climate), this is definitely the route to go. Also, there are dry stations located throughout the park, however, they are a bit pricey.
I also recommend going on the water rides during the heat of the afternoon, however not too late, or you will be terribly uncomfortable the rest of the day as you walk in/out air conditioned shops and ride queues.
13. Use a waterproof phone/camera cover
Waterproof covers will allow you to take your camera and phones on the rides with you as opposed to storing them in a locker. Or just place these items in a Ziploc bag and throw them in your pocket. Another great idea is to wear a waterproof fanny pack. I saw several people walking around the park with these. Not the most attractive option, but you’ll be comfortable and prepared!
14. Wear gym shoes
Although flip flops are more attractive, the smarter choice is to lace up your sneakers. Gym shoes provide more traction, allowing you to move much quicker through the parks (helpful if you are trying to rush to a ride at park opening). Also, walking in flip flops on a rainy day is a big no-no! Trust me, I almost slipped at least 10 times! Also gym shoes will help prevent dreaded blisters! All the people in our party who wore flip flops had painful blisters the rest of the trip!
Gym shoes are also much more comfortable, a must when walking around endlessly for 10+ hours at a time. We clocked in 12-15 miles a day.
15. Bring with a large backpack
Universal allows outside food and drinks inside the park. You might as well take advantage of this perk and fill your bag up with as many snacks and water bottles (fill up water bottles at drinking fountains instead of buying new bottles) as possible. This will save you some money (and time!) on in park dining expenses. I use a hiking backpack with space for a hydration bladder as I can store lots of stuff and enjoy the benefits of endless water all day.
16. Look into park restaurants online before your trip
Reviewing menus beforehand will allow your entire party to agree on a restaurant. Leave the arguments at home! This tactic can also help those following special diets (vegetarians, gluten-free) plan out meals in advance. Visit the Universal Studios website for a full listing of the 50 restaurants found within the parks. And, if you need an allergy friendly restaurant (there are many in the Orlando area, here are a few 10 great allergy friendly choices in the Orlando area.
Food within the parks is really pricey. You are better off bringing with snacks and waiting to eat a full meal for dinner. Vivo Italian, Hard Rock, and Toothsome are all great restaurants at CityWalk. If you do intend on eating in the parks, Louie’s in the NYC section of Universal is pretty good. Grab a huge slice of pizza for 10 bucks -the slices are huge and pretty authentic!
17. Know which rides to skip!
In order to avoid wasting limited time, here is a handy guide on the best rides and attractions at Universal.
Rides worth skipping include:
- Adventures of Spiderman – Way too bumpy and horrible for motion sickness. I do not have motion sickness, and I was sick after this ride. Way too much jerking around in every single direction!
- Dr Doom’s Fearfall – Too many similar rides at other theme parks
- Despicable Me – There are better 3D shows (Shrek for instance). This one is not very entertaining and it jams you around too much!
- The Simpsons – Really bad for those with motion sickness. Skip unless you are a major Simpsons fan!
18. Pay close attention to ride warning signs
These helpful signs can help those with motion sickness avoid certain rides, especially some of the more dizzying simulator rides. In my opinion, the worst rides for those with motion sickness are the following: The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Despicable Me, and The Simpsons 3D ride.
Avoid these at all costs if you are prone to motion sickness! Some people swear by ginger root pills for motion sickness, although these rides are a bit above and beyond in terms of causing motion sickness. Any supplement containing ginger may work for milder rides.
Let me know if any of these tips made your Universal trip any smoother. Also, feel free to share some of your own tips!
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure open at either 8:00 or 9:00am depending on the time of month. Both parks close at 10:00pm. Both parks are open 365 days a year. Universal CityWalk is open from 11:00am – 2:00am.
Universal is located at 6000 Universal Blvd in Orlando, Florida. Parking is $25 per car. Between 6:00-10:00pm, the fee is lowered to $5.