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Things to know before going to Universal Studios
So, you’re going to Universal Orlando and you’re looking for things to do. I’m here to help! Keep reading to find out my 20 things to know before going to Universal.
Where to buy Universal Studios tickets
First, let’s talk about tickets. You can buy tickets at the park, in advance online, or through a Universal Travel Agent.
Be careful about purchasing tickets online or anywhere else that is not official. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You don’t want to spend your valuable vacation time in an all-day timeshare presentation, do you?!
I highly recommend buying your tickets through Undercover Tourist. There are a lot of really scammy sites out there, so make sure you’re booking through an approved partner (like Undercover Tourist.)
Do I need a rental car in Orlando?
I like to get around as needed while on vacation so I like to rent a car. I recommend renting a car from Discount USA Car Rental. They offer the best rates available whether you’re flying into Orlando or Sanford.
Sadly, they do not have flying cars but you don’t pay until arrival so if you find a flying car elsewhere, you can cancel at any time.
Things to know before going to Universal Studios
Since it’s 2021, I’m adding a bonus 21st thing to know before going to Universal. Bring extra masks. As of the last update of this post, Universal is requiring face coverings for all guests other than those with medical conditions.
Don’t just bring one mask, bring a few! I find that masks get sweaty, wet, or just dirty.
Amazon has tons of options for Harry Potter masks that you won’t see around the park. Now, let’s get to the original list!
1. Consider Traveling outside of popular dates
If you’re traveling with children, you’re likely limited to school holidays. Unfortunately, there are many other people traveling with children within those dates as well.
If you can avoid popular dates like all summer, winter holidays, etc. you will find fewer crowds and, often, better prices.
If you’re traveling without children (or like me, willing to pull your child out of school for a couple of days) you will find that traveling outside of the popular dates will save time and allow you to do more things at the parks.
Traveling in the summer or over the holidays? Don’t worry, there are more tips for you below!
2. Stay in an onsite resort
At first glance, it does seem more expensive to stay in a Universal Orlando Resort. Well, it is more expensive, but it’s also worth it!
You may find a better deal at a Partner Hotel, but what they don’t tell you is that the shuttles from the Partner Hotels only run limited routes.
This means you’ll either have to pay to park, walk, or Uber back and forth between your hotel room.
It’s much easier to stay in a Universal Resort and enjoy free transportation throughout the day. You’ll also find Universal resorts for almost any price range.
If you’re planning for any days that you won’t visit the parks (which I recommend) you can enjoy things like the lazy river at Cabana Bay. You can also pool hop at all of the resorts no matter which one you’re staying, and enjoy the restaurants or spas at any other resort as well.
Checking current pricing for all Universal Resorts on Expedia here:
- Hard Rock Hotel
- Loews Portofino Bay
- Loews Royal Pacific
- Aventura Hotel
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort
- Universal Endless Summer Resorts – Dockside Inn and Suites and Seaside Inn and Suites.
3. Consider renting a car
If you plan to do nothing but visit the parks or hang out at the resort, you may not need a car. If you plan to buy any groceries or do anything outside of the parks, it may be worth it to rent a car.
Car rentals are very affordable in Orlando, and it’s nice to be able to come and go as you please.
It’s also worth noting that parking at Universal is free after 6 PM, so you can always drive back to the parks or City Park after 6 and not have to worry about parking regardless of where you are staying.
I recommend renting a car from Discount USA Car Rental. They offer the best rates available whether you’re flying into Orlando or Sanford.
We typically fly into Sanford and Discount USA Car Rental is always the best deal. You can book now and pay upon arrival.
4. Get a Park-to-Park ticket
If the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is part of what is drawing you to Universal Orlando, you need to get a Park-to-Park ticket!
The Hogwarts Express is not only how to get between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but it’s also an amazing ride on its own!
The only way to ride the Hogwarts Express is with a Park-to-Park ticket, so you will definitely want to get one.
5. Universal has something called “First Family.”
I honestly didn’t know anything about this until it happened to us a couple of years ago! They don’t talk about it in Travel Agent training and I hadn’t read about it online either.
On our first day at Universal Islands of Adventure, we were the first in line. We were approached by a staff member and asked if we would like to be the First Family.
We went in and were given special pins and a free Photo Pass! More on the Photo Pass later. My son read off of a script welcoming everyone to the park.
It was a fun and memorable experience. I wish I would have gotten a video, but I was too busy enjoying being present at the time.
Fortunately, they took one with our Photo Pass! I would recommend trying to be at the front of the line to increase your chances of being chosen.
Don’t mind my face! I’m laughing at his excellent radio announcer voice. 🙂
6. Download the Universal Studios App
Download the Universal Studios App where you can check out ride wait times, showtimes, and more.
The app also has a map that will help you get wherever you need to go in the park.
As of 2020 Universal does prefer mobile ordering at restaurants. It was a little bumpy at first but is working much better as of early 2021.
7. Explore the parks from the back to the front
If you’re visiting when the parks are busy, one of the best strategies is to explore the parks from the front to the back.
Even though the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located in the back of the park, many guests do stop at the large rides on the way through the park, so you may have better luck exploring from back to front.
Another strategy that I found useful was visiting Islands of Adventure first if you have a Park-to-Park pass. Most people seem to go to Universal Studios first, and there is really no reason to do that with the Park-to-Park pass.
If you stay at an onsite resort you do get early park admission so make sure to check the app to find out which park opens early that day.
8. Single Rider Lines
Most rides have a “Single Rider” line. During our visit, my son used this line to ride a few water rides by himself. He also enjoyed some of the 3D and 4D rides a bit more than I did, so he went on those multiple times too.
If you’re traveling without children or with older kids and don’t mind riding separately, you can even go through the Single Rider line and wait together until just before going on the ride. This is another great tip for the busy time of the year.
Single rider lines are not currently available due to physical distancing requirements but I am leaving this here for the future!
9. Take a break around lunchtime
Early afternoon is both the hottest and busiest part of the day. If you arrived early at the park, consider taking a break mid-day.
This is where it’s nice to be able to shuttle straight back to your resort. You can always grab lunch at the resort, take a quick nap, or just rest your legs in some air conditioning.
If you’re staying off-property I don’t necessarily recommend this, but if you’re staying on property and have tired kids, it’s a great way to take a break during the heat (and busy part) of the day.
If you’re interested in staying at a park with a free Express Pass check out my Royal Pacific Resort Tour and Review.
10. Bring a refillable water bottle
Remember that it’s hot and you’re going to want to stay hydrated! While you can get small free cups of water, why waste the little cups when you can just bring your own?
There are fountains all over the park, so bring your own water bottle and fill it up. I love the Hyrdroflask, and use it to save $$$ and plastic.
Although I love my Hydroflask, lately I’ve been using my Berkey Sport water bottle to filter out that lovely Florida water flavor. 😉
11. Parents, take advantage of the Child Swap system
The child swap system at Universal Studios is fantastic. It allows both parents of young children to ride (sometimes siblings can ride multiple times as well!) and the waiting area usually has something for younger kids to do.
12. Purchase an Express Pass
My number one tip was visiting Universal during the “off-season” but I realize that isn’t always possible or practical.
If you do have to visit during the busy time, such as the summer, I highly recommend looking at the Express Pass.
No, it isn’t free like the Disney Fast Pass+ but it is worth it if you have limited time in the parks. If you are only spending 1-2 days at the parks during the summer, this is my #1 tip for things to know before going to Universal!
Three of the Universal Resorts offer a free Express Pass for each guest, so it can be worth checking the numbers and seeing if this is doable for your family! The resorts include Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay, and Royal Pacific Resort.
I have a review of Royal Pacific Resort if you’d like to check it out.
13. Don’t miss City Walk
City Walk is a fun place by itself with many restaurants, bars, shops, a movie theater, and more. Don’t forget that parking is free after 6 PM, so you can come and hang out at City Walk after the parks close.
14. Wear comfortable shoes
If you only take one thing away from this post about things to know before going to Universal Studios, let it be this! Wear comfortable shoes.
I tend to get about 20,000-30,000 steps per day at Universal. That’s a lot of steps and you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. I love Teva sandals and I wear them everywhere.
15. Don’t forget about Volcano Bay
I’m not a big “water park” person but I was so impressed by Volcano Bay. This waterpark is huge and has unique rides like the Krakatau water coaster.
I don’t like the Tapu Tapu system, but I do see what they are trying to do and I don’t HATE it either. I’ll write another blog post about Volcano Bay soon, but for now, I’ll just tell you not to miss it!
16. Motion Sickness Warning
I get motion sickness very easily and if you do, this is one of the things to know before going to Universal Studios! Motion sickness happens.
I typically don’t have problems with rides unless they spin (no teacups for me.) The simulator rides are fun, but they will probably make you sick so be prepared.
I took some ginger pills which helped a lot, but I just had to close my eyes on some of the simulator rides. The worst, in my opinion, were:
- Minion Run
- Jimmy Fallon
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Basically all of the simulator rides! I did enjoy them but had to close my eyes on most of them at some point. It didn’t ruin the parks for me, I just want to make sure that everyone is prepared.
17. While there is a lot to do, Universal is a ride heavy park
Universal is a ride heavy park that is mostly meant for older kids, teens, and adults. That isn’t to say that it won’t be fun for younger kids, but it’s definitely not Disney World.
The exception is definitely the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is extremely immersive. However, most fans of Harry Potter are also older kids, teens, and adults. 🙂
There are areas for kids such as Suess Landing, and I’m not saying those with younger kids shouldn’t visit, just be prepared that many of the popular rides have a 40-inch height requirement.
18. Get the Photo Pass
I will admit that I rarely get a Photo Pass. As someone who ran a successful photography business, I always think that I can take my own photos.
The problem is that I am rarely in them! This changed during our recent trip to Universal. Although the Photo Pass system isn’t perfect (we ended up with a few photos that weren’t us?!) it was so fun and I will definitely do it again.
19. Arrive Early and Leave Late
I’ve already touched on this, but the park is the least busy first thing in the morning and just prior to closing.
You can arrive an hour early by staying onsite, but staying late is another great option where you’ll be able to walk onto many of the rides!
20. Things to know before going to Universal Studios: Plan for 4-5 days
I highly recommend the 3-day Park-to-Park pass. That being said, 3 days in a row can be a little bit much, especially with younger kids. I recommend staying for 4-5 days and enjoying at least one day at your resort.
Bonus: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is magical
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, or even if you just slightly enjoyed the movies, you will LOVE the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
It’s the most immersive world that I have seen, and you’ll truly feel like a wizard while you’re there. I wrote a post with 25 Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips, don’t miss it!
20 things to know before going to Universal
I hope this list of things to know before going to Universal Studios helps you plan for your upcoming trip. Although I’m a certified Universal Travel Agent, I am not taking on many clients for 2021.
Feel free to contact me for a quote, or availability.
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- 25 Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips.
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- 7 best rides at Universal Studios.
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