Are you looking to plan a trip to Universal Orlando? Featuring Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, and Universal CityWalk, Universal Orlando has endless options for thrill rides, entertainment, dining, and hospitality. Our comprehensive guide will show you how to plan a Universal Orlando vacation step-by-step, covering everything from the different parks, ticketing costs and packages, hotels, dining, crowds, and more!

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Theme Parks and Major Attractions

Composite image of the entrances of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks

One of the primary features of Universal Orlando Resort is, not surprisingly, its selection of theme parks and other major attractions.

How Many Parks Does Universal Orlando Have?

I love visiting Universal Orlando because there is so much to do. The resort has two fantastic theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), with a third under construction. There’s also a water park (Volcano Bay), so there’s something for every adult, teen, and child.

Universal Orlando is certainly comparable to Walt Disney World, but a trip to Universal is a magically unique experience in itself. The resort has so many iconic rides, shows, and restaurants, it’s something you absolutely must try.

On top of these parks, Universal Orlando has Universal CityWalk, an entertainment complex filled with restaurants, shops, entertainment, and more. The resort also has two Harry Potter Worlds, one located in Universal Studios and one in Islands of Adventure, both of which I will cover in more detail later in this article.

Which Universal Park is Best? That depends on what shows and rides you are most interested in seeing, because there are plenty of ways to compare Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. Step one of planning your dream Universal vacation is to learn about the parks and decide what you are most excited about trying, so let’s take a deeper dive into what each of these parks has to offer!

Universal Studios Florida (Orlando)

Entrance archway at Universal Studios Florida

Entrance archway at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios is Universal Orlando’s first theme park. The park opened in 1990 with the intention of letting visitors immerse themselves in their favorite TV shows and films in the form of rides, shows, and other experiences.

Universal is known to be themed around more of the “classic” shows and films, meaning it will be great for teens and adults to enjoy their old favorite shows! I love the movies and shows in Universal Studios because they are a blast from the past. Some of my favorite themes in Universal are E.T. and the Simpsons, but if these are not your favorite don’t worry — there are so many more to choose from!

You don’t need a reservation to visit Universal Studios, but sometimes the park can limit attendance if it reaches full capacity, so make sure to get your ticket in advance to secure your spot!

The theme park is divided into eight main themes:

  • Minion Land (formerly Production Central)
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
  • World Expo
  • Springfield, USA: Home of the Simpsons
  • Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone (Most of which is currently closed for transformation into a DreamWorks-themed area)
  • Hollywood

I love walking around Universal Studios because you really feel like you are leaving one world and entering another when you cross into a different themed area. One minute I am walking around San Francisco in the world of Fast & Furious, feeling like I’m on set with Dominic Toretto, and the next I feel like I’m a Hogwarts student walking around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Studios has some great thrill rides like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, and more. These rides combine crazy drops, turns, and suspense, with mind-blowing visual effects that really make you feel like you are trying to escape from the dragon in Gringotts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, or that you are being chased by a mummy from ancient Egypt.

Just as much as its rides, Universal Studios is known for its amazing shows and experiences. One of my favorite shows to watch is the Bourne Stuntacular. You can watch Jason Bourne run, jump, climb, and flip away from his enemies in a show that combines real, mind-blowing stunts with 4D technology.

Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure Theme Park Entrance

Islands of Adventure Theme Park Entrance

Islands of Adventure is well-known for immersive thrill rides — they’re some of the best rides in the park. The park is slightly newer than Universal Studios and was opened in 1999 to combine more modern films and shows with crazy theme park rides. Here, you can see everything from your favorite Marvel superheroes to dinosaurs in Jurassic Park! Like Universal Studios, the park also has eight major sections:

  • Jurassic Park
  • Marvel Super Hero Island
  • Port of Entry
  • Seuss Landing
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • The Lost Continent
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
  • Toon Lagoon

The park is best known for its crazy thrill rides. I love thrill rides but even some of these get my heart racing! The Velocicoaster, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall are known to really get your blood pumping, and I can attest that they are some of my favorite thrill rides ever.

Islands of Adventure is also well-known to have one of the most famous theme park rides in the world: Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. The roller coaster takes you twisting and turning through the Forbidden Forest as your ride alongside Hagrid and some magical creatures from the World of Harry Potter.

Hagrid’s has everything you could ever ask for in a theme park ride and is a must-see! This park is especially good for teens and adults because of all the crazy rides, but if you come as a whole family there is still so much for little kids to do! Just make sure to check the height requirements of the various Universal theme park rides before you plan your days. We will talk about all there is for kids to do later on in the article!

Coming Soon: Epic Universe

Concept Art showing the entrance to Epic Universe

Artist Concept | Image © Universal

A third theme park, Universal Epic Universe, is expected to open sometime in 2025 and will feature rides, shows, and experiences, all based on more recent films and series. Here’s an overview of the themed “worlds” inside the park:

  • Celestial Park
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Ministry of Magic
  • Super Nintendo World
  • How to Train Your Dragon — Isle of Berk
  • Dark Universe

Epic Universe was originally supposed to open in 2023, but that date was delayed because of COVID. But everything appears to be on track now for a 2025 opening, presumably in time for the summer rush. Until then, I would not worry about delaying your Universal vacation to wait for Epic. There is already so much to do in Universal Orlando and you can always come back if you want to try out Epic Universe!

Universal CityWalk

The buildings of CityWalk, alongside the water as a water taxi boat floats by

Universal CityWalk Orlando | Image © Universal

Universal CityWalk is located between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. CityWalk is a great place to take a break from the theme parks and enjoy some amazing dining, shopping, shows, and even mini-golf. I love to visit Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and grab a cocktail whenever I am in Universal, or you can visit the world’s largest Hard Rock Café for some great food and rock music.

Universal CityWalk really comes alive at night, and it is the place to be if you are looking for some dinner, a drink, or even just some good music!

Best of all, there’s no admission charge for CityWalk — you don’t need a theme park ticket (or any other kind of ticket) to visit. Just be aware that CityWalk uses the same (paid) parking lots as the theme parks.

Volcano Bay

The large volcano icon of Volcano Bay water park, with waterfall and a large pool

Volcano Bay | Image © Universal

Universal’s Volcano Bay is a water park located next to Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Whenever I visit I am blown away by the beauty of the park and its design — this is not your typical water park, to say the least. Volcano Bay is centered around a massive volcano with slides pouring out from all sides.

One of my favorite things about the park is its virtual line system. Your ticket to the park comes with a waterproof device called TapuTapu. You can virtually ‘get in line’ for any of your favorite rides in the water park, and when it is your turn your TapuTapu will let you know to go to the ride. So instead of standing in line baking in the sun all day, you can relax by the pool or in a cozy cabana!

Volcano Bay is a great change of pace from the two main theme parks and is definitely worth visiting if you are in the resort for a few days!

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The Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Castle at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Some of the most popular attractions in the Universal Orlando Resort are The Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter, and depending on how much time you have, picking your favorite Harry Potter World may influence which Universal Park you want to visit.

There are two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Both of these are lands located inside the primary theme parks; there is no separate Harry Potter theme park.

Hogsmeade is located in Islands of Adventure and features rides like the world-famous Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Here, you can also see Hogwarts Castle, shop around Hogsmeade, and grab a Butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks.

Just a short train ride away, Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios, and here you can ride Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, explore Kings Cross and Platform 9 ¾, and get your own wand at Ollivanders. Getting your own wand is a magical experience in itself. Every wand is imported, hand painted, and made from a durable sculpted resin. You can even get them engraved to make it more personal!

Both these worlds are fantastic, and I fully recommend seeing both to get the most out of your experience.

Another reason to see both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade is the chance to take the Hogwarts Express.

The Hogwarts Express train ride at Universal Orlando Resort

The express is definitely one of my favorite experiences in the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter, and it takes you between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The ride has some surreal visual and audio effects and you really feel like you are on a train to Hogwarts!

Pro Tip: You need a Park-to-Park pass to be able to take the Hogwarts Express. And be sure to check out our Harry Potter tips article for more insider info!

What Are the Best Rides in Universal Orlando?

The best rides in Universal are spread across the parks, which means wherever you are in the resort, you are bound to have some world-class roller coasters at your fingertips. There are so many options available it’s hard to go wrong. Depending on how much time you have in Universal you may want to prioritize going to one park over another depending on what rides you want to try. So let’s take a look at some of the top rides Universal Orlando has to offer and where they are.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

I’m a bit biased here because I am a huge Harry Potter fan, but the first ride I want to go on when I visit Universal Orlando is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Hagrid’s is one of the most popular rides at Universal Orlando. You can go flying through the Forbidden Forest and encounter some of your favorite characters along the way.

The ride is located in Islands of Adventure in Hogsmeade, and almost always has a long line – so plan ahead!

Universal Orlando Rides - Hargrid's Motorbike Adventure

Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure

Jurassic World Velocicoaster

The Jurassic World Velocicoaster is another one of my favorite rides in Universal, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. The Velocicoaster is ranked by many to be the best ride in Universal, and in my opinion, it’s also the scariest. While this ride has some cool designs, it’s all about the thrill. The Velocicoaster takes off right from the start and you are sent spinning into huge twists and turns and are met with some massive drops along the way.

The ride is located in Islands of Adventure and with the combination of speed, animatronics, and a great layout it’s a must-see!

Revenge of the Mummy

The Revenge of the Mummy is one of the psychological thriller rides in Universal Orlando. On the ride you are speeding away from an evil mummy, twisting and turning through complete darkness at some points.

This ride is located in Universal Studios, and I believe that it’s the best one in the park. Revenge of the Mummy has lots of unexpected twists, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself holding your breath!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Yes, another Harry Potter ride. And no, it’s not because I am biased. This is widely considered to be one of the best rides at Universal Orlando. Located in Islands of Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a long ride that will take you speeding through Hogwarts. You will evade death eaters, interrupt a Quidditch match, and you will be flying beside your favorite Harry Potter characters the whole time!

Even if you aren’t a Harry Potter fan this ride is another must-try!

What Universal Orlando Rides are Best for Kids?

There are great rides for kids all over the resort. Paying attention to the height restrictions is the most important factor in determining what rides your kids can and can’t ride. This list is going to focus on all the rides that kids under 48” can enjoy and where to find them!

Before I start, I want to point out one of my favorite rides in the parks that is great for kids of all ages and sizes: the Hogwarts Express. There is no height restriction on this ride and it is a magical experience that makes you feel like you are a real Hogwarts student going to school. Keep in mind you need a Park-to-Park pass for the express! Also note that while it’s slow-moving, there are still some scenes that the youngest riders might find a bit scary.

I believe that some of the best rides for kids are in Universal Studios because there are so many good options to choose from. One of the best rides for little kids is E.T. Adventure. With only a 34” height minimum, kids of almost all ages will be able to enjoy it!

In Universal Studios you also have great rides for kids like Transformers: The Ride-3D and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem that have 40” height minimums. Lastly, you have the MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, and Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts rides that have a 42” minimum which are two more great options.

In Islands of Adventure you can ride the Flight of the Hippogriff with a 36” height minimum, Pteranodon Flyers between 36”-56”, and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man with a 40” minimum- there are plenty of choices all around the parks!

What Rides are Best for Toddlers in Universal Orlando?

Islands of Adventure takes the crown for this one. I highly recommend Seuss Landing for toddlers because there are so many kid-friendly rides to enjoy that are often open to kids of any height. In Seuss Landing you can ride One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; the Caro-Seuss-el; the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride; and The Cat in the Hat. All of these rides are simple yet fun, and are available to ride for most toddlers!

Guests ride in fish-shaped vehicles, circling around a central hub

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish | Image © Universal

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Deciding When To Go

Of course, a major part of your trip planning is deciding when to visit.

What is the Best Time to Visit Universal Orlando?

Generally, the best times to visit Universal Orlando Resort are when schools are in session, during the middle of the week, and in the middle of non-holiday stretches. I always use a Universal Crowd Calendar to make sure I plan my visit during a quieter time.

During school vacations and special Universal events, the parks are generally busier, but that certainly doesn’t mean it is not worth coming! It just takes a bit more planning ahead. Aside from your personal schedule and constraints, the best time to visit is mid-September through mid-October. But keep an eye on the crowd calendar to pick the time that works best for you!

What Special Events are at Universal Orlando?

Throughout the year, Universal puts on three main blockbuster events: Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios Mardi Gras, and Christmas in Universal Orlando. There are also several other smaller events that also draw crowds throughout the year. Put together, they make for a robust year-round set of offerings.

Halloween Horror Nights

One of many haunted settings around Universal Orlando during Halloween Horror Nights | Image © Universal

One of many haunted settings around Universal Orlando during Halloween Horror Nights | Image © Universal

Halloween Horror Nights is one of my favorite times at Universal Orlando. These days are spread throughout the fall, and the atmosphere is always fantastic because everyone is excited to be out in Universal embracing Halloween. It’s worth it to attend the Horror Nights for the Haunted Houses alone, because they combine real people and crazy special effects that make you feel like you are right in the center of a horror movie.

Pro Tip: These can get pretty scary, so I wouldn’t recommend them for young kids!

If haunted houses aren’t for you then you can enjoy the many scare zones, live shows, rides, or amazing food. If you love Halloween this event is a must-try!

Mardi Gras

Guests cheer as a Mardi Gras parade float passes by

Image © Universal

Universal Studios Mardi Gras normally happens on select days between February and April and is one of the best events at the resort. There is amazing food inspired by New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and more, which adds an exciting twist to the already fantastic dining options at Universal. Magical parades, live concerts, and street performers will litter the resort, making you feel like you are right in the heart of New Orleans experiencing Mardi Gras! I would highly recommend planning to come on a Mardi Gras scheduled day if you are visiting in the early spring!

Christmas/Holidays

A giant lighted wreath in the entrance arch to Universal Studios Florida, with a large parade balloon in the foreground

Lastly, and definitely not least, we have Christmas in Universal Orlando. I love the holiday season. My family and I have a tradition of re-watching all of the Harry Potter movies in December, so for me, nothing beats visiting Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley during this time of year! Everything is transformed with amazing holiday lights, decorations, and even some snow! It’s an already magical place that is made even more special with the holiday cheer.

You can also experience a holiday parade featuring real balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade!

In Islands of Adventure you have Grinchmas! Seuss Landing is transformed into a winter wonderland and you get to experience what it is like to be in How The Grinch Stole Christmas first-hand!

The Grinch character in a Santa outfit

Grinchmas | Image © Universal | Character © Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Even CityWalk embraces the holiday spirit with amazing decorations. It’s such a magical time to visit I can’t recommend it enough!

Other Events

There are many more events throughout the year, including a Christian music festival, graduation celebrations, and of course major holidays such as Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.  See our Special Events at Universal Orlando page for full details on everything that’s offered.

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Deciding Where to Stay at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando - Pet Friendly Hotels - Sapphire Falls

Image © Universal

There are plenty of great places to stay when you visit Universal Orlando, but where you will want to stay will depend on whether you are traveling as a family, a group of adults, if you have pets, and what your budget is. Sometimes it’s tough to decide which hotel or resort is best for you, and that when a travel agent can come in handy. I always use The Vacationeer whenever I need help planning my Universal trips.

Now, let’s dive into your options!

Staying at a Universal Hotel

Is it worth it to stay at a Universal Orlando hotel? Yes. You will pay a bit of a premium to stay in a Universal hotel compared to surrounding hotels in Orlando, but there are plenty of benefits that come with your room that more than justify the extra expense. There are plenty of benefits to staying in a Universal Orlando hotel like early park admission, free transportation among the parks, complimentary merchandise delivery, and more. We will go into these perks in more detail in the next few paragraphs. Also, one of the most important reasons why I like to stay at Universal Hotels is purely because of their prime locations. All the hotels are within walking distance of the theme parks and that saves a ton of time and hassle.

Now let’s take a closer look into some of the benefits that make booking your vacation at a Universal Hotel such a good decision.

One of the biggest perks is Early Park Admission. This means that if you are staying at a universal hotel you are able to enter into the parks you purchased tickets for an hour before the general public. This will give you access to some of your favorite rides without having to deal with massive lines. Only certain rides are available for early park access each day, but Universal Keeps a Rotating List that you can easily check and plan ahead.

The second huge benefit of staying in a Universal Hotel is Free Transportation around the parks and CityWalk. Many of the hotels are already within easy walking distance and have paths available to get to wherever you want to go, but if you would rather take a shuttle or a water taxi, that option is always available to use!

You also have cool perks like the ability to charge purchases to your hotel room, get wake-up calls from Universal characters, and if you purchase something in a theme park you get free delivery to your hotel!

The last main benefit is that if you stay at one of the “Premier” level resorts you get a free Universal Express Unlimited Pass. This perk comes with a price tag because staying at these premier resorts tends to be significantly more expensive. But if you are looking to plan your vacation in style then this could be a great option for you! You also have access to exclusive seating at select restaurants throughout Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk.

Are Universal Hotels Expensive?

Yes and no. Theme parks are certainly not cheap to visit and neither is the accommodation that comes along with them. But, there are a variety of options to choose from that can fit almost any budget. Universal hotels are generally less expensive than Disney. The good thing about Universal is that there are a variety of ‘tiers’ of hotels that range from value hotels to premier hotels, meaning that you can select the budget that works best for you. We will go over these options in more detail in a few sections.

What are the best Universal Orlando hotels? That depends on your budget, interests, and size of your family. Let’s get into it!

What are the best Universal Orlando Hotels for Adults?

My top pick for the best hotel at Universal Orlando for adults is the Hard Rock Hotel. This classic-rock-themed hotel takes you on a journey through the greatest artists and bands of all time like the Eagles, Elvis, Bon Jovi, and more as you walk through its hallways.

Universal Orlando - Pet Friendly Hotels - Hard Rock

The hotel offers a complimentary Sound of Your Stay service that lets you use musician equipment for free throughout your stay. The program has everything from guitars to vinyls and is a must-do if you are staying here.

If you are a lover of rock this is a must-try!

What are the Best Universal Orlando Hotels for Families?

My favorite hotel to stay at when travelling with family is the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. There is so much to do for adults, teens, and kids it’s the perfect place to relax after a long day at the theme parks or if you just need a break from the action.

The hotel has a great pool area, a lazy river, a bowling alley and more. Sometimes you even get appearances from your favorite characters at night!

lazy river at cabana bay beach

Lazy river at Cabana Bay

The hotel has everything from small rooms to family rooms that can fit up to six people.

I also highly recommend the Universal Aventura Hotel. The hotel is similarly priced to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and has a great modern look. There is a path straight from the Aventura to Volcano Bay, and you get some special benefits with your stay like Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Two guests look out an upper floor window of Aventura Resorts toward the distant Volcano Bay water park

Aventura Hotel | Image © Universal

Which Universal Hotels are Pet-Friendly?

Do you want to plan a Universal vacation but you are worried about leaving your four-legged-friend alone at home or with a relative? Well, you don’t have to! Universal Orlando has four pet-friendly hotels that take dogs and cats for a one-time fee. This option costs $100 and is only available for certain rooms within the hotels, so make sure you book the correct room before you plan to bring your pet. The hotels are:

  • Hard Rock Hotel (only Garden View rooms)
  • Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (only Garden View and Bay View rooms)
  • Loews Royal Pacific Resort (only Standard rooms)
  • Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (only Standard rooms)
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort

Sapphire Falls

The hotels all have a limit of two pets per room. You are going to need to provide vaccination information for your pet and keep them supervised at all times. Follow these rules and your pet will enjoy their stay just as much as you!

What are the Best Value Hotels at Universal Orlando?

The best value hotels at Universal Orlando are Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal Aventura Hotel, and Endless Summer Resort.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando

Cabana Bay Beach Resort

You already know about Cabana Bay and the Aventura Hotel: not only are they great places for families they also are some of the best value hotels in Universal Orlando.

The Endless Summer Resort is made up of two hotels: Dockside Inn and Suites, and Surfside Inn. The rooms can start at as little as $91 per night. Both hotels have pools, cocktail bars, a food court, nearby Starbucks and more. They are a great place to stay if you are looking to save some money!

Premier Universal Orlando Hotels

If you are looking to treat yourself and your family while enjoying some great perks, then the Premier Universal Orlando Hotels are for you. Universal has three premier hotels: Loews Royal Pacific Resort, The Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Each provides a unique theme and experience, and comes with complimentary Universal Express Unlimited Passes along with Early Park Admission.

We already discussed the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando earlier in this article, but in case you missed it the hotel is classic rock-themed and is filled with jaw-dropping memorabilia, photos, and music. You can even book complimentary guitars to use during your stay!

Loews Royal Pacific Resort has a tropical theme and is the closest premier hotel to Islands of Adventure. Relaxing at the hotel makes you feel like you are on a remote island retreat, and there are great restaurants, pools, and activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Universal Orlando - Pet Friendly Hotels - Royal Pacific

Royal Pacific | Image © Universal

Pro Tip: This hotel is often priced slightly slower than the other premier hotels

Lastly, we have the Loews Portofino Bay; a beautiful premier hotel that is themed after Portofino, Italy. The hotel has beautiful architecture and makes you feel like you are relaxing on a beach in southern Europe!

Universal Orlando - Pet Friendly Hotels - Portofino Bay

Portofino Bay

Staying Offsite

It’s no secret that there are off-site options that allow you to stay near Universal without being on Universal property. The rooms will likely be cheaper than the on-site hotels, but you’ll be missing out on all of the on-site perks I mentioned above.

You’ll also need to factor in additional travel time to get to the parks. Some of these hotels offer shuttle service to Universal, but be sure to check the schedules to make sure they work for your trip plans (some might only offer one or two departures per day).

None of this is to say that staying offsite is necessarily an inferior choice; many guests do so and are perfectly happy. We simply recommend you get all the info so you can decide if the savings are worth the tradeoffs.

Find the Exact Price of Your Universal Hotel Stay

Universal Orlando Tickets: Prices and Options

Universal Orlando has several options for tickets that span across the number of days and number of parks you want to visit. This means you can pick the best ticket bundle for you! With everything from Park-to-Park to the Express Pass, it can be difficult to decide what is best for your schedule and what gives you the most bang for your buck. But fear not! I have some pro tips to help you get the best experience possible out of your Universal vacation. Let’s go over the various ticket options and prices so you can decide which plan is best for you.

How Many Days Should You Purchase?

I would recommend purchasing at least 3 or 4 days for your Universal visit. Universal uses surge pricing, so tickets can become more or less expensive depending on crowds. Generally, a 1-Park one day pass will cost around $120 and a 1-Park two day pass will cost around $230. Yes, I know, it sounds like a lot, but the really good deals all start after two days.

Increasing to a third, fourth, and fifth day can cost as little as $10 to $30 per day, and oftentimes, Universal has promotion deals where you can get them for free. I always stay at least for at least four days when I visit, partially because it lets me get the best ticket prices, and partially because there is just so much to see!

I understand that the longer visits might not be for everyone, so if you are only looking to visit the parks for one day I would absolutely recommend getting a Park-to-Park pass. But, if you are only interested in visiting one theme park, there is no need to worry about picking one over another because of price, because it costs the exact same to visit Universal Studios as Islands of Adventure.

How Many Parks Should You Visit?

Universal offers 1-Park, 2-Park, and 3-Park options to choose from when you are purchasing your tickets. These parks are Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay (water park). There are many options to choose from, either through your travel agent or through the Universal website. I always suggest you consider all the options and pick the best one that works for you. Also, Universal is almost always running promotions, so keep an eye out!

Generally, if you like water parks I would recommend spending one day at Volcano Bay and then dedicating the rest of your time to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I always like to book my trips with a travel agent because it helps me guarantee that I am getting the best value and experience out of my vacation — and they always have helpful advice!

Universal Park-to-Park Pass

My thoughts on this pass are simple: get it. The Park-to-Park pass allows you to move between multiple parks whenever you want throughout the day. Generally, this refers to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and lets you travel between each throughout the day. If you are willing to splurge a little and get the slightly more expensive Park-to-Park pass it will absolutely be worth the money.

The pass dramatically increases your options for rides, shows, and worlds each day and lets you move around with freedom. Also, the Park-to-Park pass is the only way that you can ride the Hogwarts Express, the magical train that takes you between the two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. As I said earlier, the Hogwarts Express is one of my favorite rides in Universal Orlando and this alone can justify the purchase of the pass.

Is the Universal Studios Express Pass Worth it?

The Express Pass lets you skip the lines at all eligible rides and experiences in the park one time per attraction. Almost all rides accept this and it will certainly save you a lot of time and maximize your experience, but you have to pay for the luxury. The Express Pass is an extra charge, meaning the normal admission ticket is a separate cost, and it starts at around $80 per day. And keep in mind, this price can increase depending on the crowds.

Even though this is an extra cost, I believe that the Universal Express Pass is worth it because of the time you save by not having to wait in line at these parks. The extra payment means fewer lines and more rides, which is the best way to maximize your Universal experience. You don’t need to purchase this pass every day, and you can decide to use it on the busier days, or when you plan to hit the most popular rides. Save it for the days when you need it, but I always buy this pass at least once when I want to maximize a full day of great rides and experiences.

Is the Universal Express Unlimited Pass Worth It?

If you are looking to keep an eye on your costs, I would recommend only getting this pass if there is one ride you want to go on several times in a day. There are so many amazing rides to choose from around each park so you will not be bored with the regular Express Pass. Although, if it’s your goal to ride the Velocicoaster 10 times in one day, then this is the pass for you!

Pro Tip: If you book a Premier hotel you will automatically get the pass, completely free of charge!

Is the Universal VIP Experience Worth It?

Yes. If you are willing to spend the money, Universal VIP tours are absolutely worth it.

The Universal VIP experience is a private tour that takes you around one (or both) of the Universal Orlando theme parks in one day. Depending on what tour you chose, the experience can be fully personalized, so you can ride what you want, when you want, and you have the privilege of skipping the lines so there is no waiting around! On your tour, you will also get access to some exclusive backstage areas that are not open to the general public. There are two main private tours: The Universal VIP tour and Private VIP tours.

Some of the benefits of the Universal VIP tour include valet-parking, reserved seating at Universal Orlando shows, Universal Express Unlimited passes for the rest of the day after the tour, food and merch discounts, free admission to some clubs at CityWalk, and at least one complimentary meal if you chose a 2-park tour.

If you decide to go on a Private VIP tour, you get all the benefits above and more. This package also includes a private tour guide just for your group, a fully customizable itinerary, a complimentary dinner, a photo package, the ability to use child-swap (where one adult can go on a ride while the other waits with their child, and then they swap so the other parents can ride without having to go to the back of the line), and more.

Both of these packages will give you a once-in-a-lifetime experience at Universal, but they do not come cheap. The price of the VIP tour starts around $189 per person, but this can change depending on the crowd conditions.

The price of private tours also varies with crowd conditions, but generally can cost around $3,000 or more. If you are willing to splurge for a special Universal experience, these tours are worth the money you will pay and more!

Attraction Access Pass for Guests With Special Needs

For guests with a condition which makes it difficult to wait in a traditional standby queue, Universal offers an Attraction Access Pass. The pass allows guests to wait outside of the traditional standby line — but they’ll still wait roughly the same amount of time as guests who are in the traditional line. There’s no charge for this service, but you’ll still need paid theme park admission and must register in advance.

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Dining at Universal Orlando

UOR Mythos Fork Knife Spoon Grilled Cheese

Image © Universal

There are so many good restaurants in Universal Orlando you will want to try them all! In terms of dining, you don’t necessarily need to do too much planning ahead before you book your trip to Universal Orlando. Each hotel has great dining options, along with each theme park. When I am visiting one of the parks, I like to grab breakfast at my hotel, have lunch at whatever park I am visiting that day, and then I like to go to CityWalk for dinner.

Sometimes if I want to plan to visit a special restaurant in one of the parks, like one of my personal favorites, Mythos in Islands of Adventure, I’ll plan ahead and then stay in the park to eat dinner.

Universal used to have a dining plan and they may be bringing it back in the future, but we wouldn’t suggest worrying about this. Even when it did exist I always preferred to just decide where I want to eat on the day without too much planning ahead because I found it gave me more flexibility with my schedule.

Remember, the cost of dining at Universal Studios restaurants can be a sizeable chunk of your daily vacation budget; don’t forget to plan ahead when you’re calculating how much your trip will cost.

How To Get to Universal Orlando Resort

Whether you are flying or driving, Universal Orlando is easy to access. Driving is very straightforward, and you should have no problems putting the address of your hotel into maps and then arriving right at its doorstep. On the other hand, flying requires a bit more planning.

There are two airports in Orlando: Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). I definitely recommend booking your flight to Orlando International Airport because it’s closer to Universal, there will be more flight options, and better transportation options. But, I’m going to cover both just in case you need to fly to SFB!

From Orlando International Airport (MCO)

I always like to fly into MCO. It’s closer to Universal and because of that you have more options to get to the resort, and they are generally more affordable.

The best way to get from Orlando Airport to Universal is simply taking an Uber. The prices can depend on how big the crowds are at the airport, but generally the trip will cost between $30 and $70. Using an Uber would save you some planning time and it will be really easy to call the car from your phone once you arrive. If you are looking to travel in style, booking a Town Car is the best option! Ultimate Town Car is the most popular choice and this option will definitely guarantee you arrive without issues and looking good.

The next best option I recommend would be to book a shuttle. The most prominent option is the Universal SuperStar Shuttle. You can book the SuperStar shuttle roundtrip from MCO to on-site Universal hotels. It costs $39 for an adult and $29 for kids between the ages of 3-9. This is a good, reliable option, but it is a bit more expensive than Uber if you have a family.

The last options would be to take a taxi or book public transportation. A taxi will be just like Uber but it can be more difficult to call and it will be slightly more expensive. Public transportation will be the cheapest option and can cost as little as a few bucks, but it can take up to two hours to get to Universal and simply isn’t worth it in my opinion after already flying in. It’s better to save your energy for the theme parks!

From Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)

SFB airport might be your only option into Orlando if you’re flying on a discount carrier or want a non-stop flight that starts at a smaller regional airport near your home. Regardless of the reason, if you are flying into SFB your options to get to Universal are more limited. There are a few bus options to consider, but the most convenient options will either be booking a taxi, Uber/Lyft, or town car. We recommend Uber because it will be very convenient and the most affordable, and should cost you between $50 and $70.

From Disney World

If you are looking to continue on to Universal from a Disney vacation, there are plenty of easy ways to get there. My personal favorite is to just use a ridesharing app like Uber or Lyft. The convenience of being able to quickly call a car from your phone and the reasonable price (between $20 and $50 depending on crowds) make this the best option… especially if you’re actually swapping hotels and have luggage with you.

There are also shuttles available, but they charge on a person-by-person basis, so if you are traveling with family this can begin to add up. One-way rates generally are around $21 for adults and $16 for kids, and buying a roundtrip ticket will save you a bit of money.

You can also call a taxi service, town car, or rent your own car. All can be good options depending on your needs! But all things considered, just take an Uber!

Free Help From a Universal Preferred Travel Agent

Should You Use a Travel Agent for Universal Orlando Resort? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Absolutely. I can not recommend using a travel agent enough for planning these vacations.

There is so much to consider from travel, hotels, park passes, dining, and more, and a travel agent will help you get the most out of your experience along with saving the most money planning and booking your Universal vacation. This means that rather than waiting on hold to speak with Universal’s customer service team, your agent handles it for you!

I always use The Vacationeer to book my trips, especially if I am traveling with family, and I would recommend them to anyone looking to book a Universal Vacation.

They will save you a ton of time and stress throughout the planning process and let you focus on enjoying the magical vacation ahead of you.

They also can help you handle anything unexpected that may happen to your plans along the way!

And because their planning services are completely free, you won’t pay a penny more than if you’d booked the trip on your own.

So why not take advantage of their outstanding free advice and help? There are a lot of moving parts to planning a Universal vacation, and using The Vacationeer ensures you won’t miss any critical steps.

Get your free, no-obligation quote for the perfect Universal Orlando vacation today!