Universal Orlando Resort has something for every pop-cultured kid and kid-at-heart. But with so much to see and do, planning a visit can be overwhelming. Universal Orlando Resort is made up of three theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay, which opens on May 25, 2017. A fourth venue, CityWalk, is an expansive entertainment, shopping and dining promenade. Here's a look at what to see, ride, buy and eat in each park. Plus, learn tips on where to stay, which tours to book and how to save money on your Universal Orlando Resort vacation!
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What to Do at Universal Studios Florida
Action comes to life at this movie- and television-themed park through rides, shows, movie sets and attractions. Unique shops, real working film crews, and character meet-and-greets add to the fun.
Simpsons fans will love wandering through a brought-to-life Springfield at Universal Studios. Hop aboard the Simpsons Ride through Krustyland with Krusty the Clown, all the while being chased by a revengeful Sideshow Bob. Afterwards you can satisfy your junk food cravings with a Krusty Burger or a Lard Lard donut. Parents can ever grab a frosty beer at Moe's Tavern.
Kids can battle alongside Optimus Prime in Transformers. According to one commenter on ThemeParkInsider.com, “It is so immersive that you actually feel as if you are in the city battling the autobots. Special effects, such as the wind rushing over you while you're at the top of the building, add so very much to the realism.”
Be sure to join Gru and his Minions on an adventure in Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. After this 3D ride, check out the Minion-inspired Minion-inspired Super Silly Fun Land with its more than 80 different water-play features, movie-themed arcade games, and a Silly Swirly Fun Ride. I mean, how could you not love a place called Super Silly Fun Land?!
For my family, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is easily the most magical part of Universal Studios Orlando. Of course, you must sip Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron. Universal Orlando Resort is the only place where you can buy this very sweet elixir outside of London. Little wizards will want to shop Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in search of practical joke objects, such as Extendable Ears and Skiving Snackboxes, plus Fred and George's special WonderWitch products, like Love Potions, and Pygmy Puffs. Then, climb aboard the multi-dimensional thrill ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Lastly, travel to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express.
What to Explore at Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure is split between child-friendly attractions and tween-and-up thrill rides. All feature superheroes and characters from cartoons, comics and storybooks. Children can step into the pages of their favorite Dr. Seuss books at Seuss Landing. On warm days, plan to get splash happy at Toon Lagoon, for which you may want to pack a swimsuit and/or change of clothes. If you've got a comics lover in your clan, be sure to join in the battle of good versus evil at Marvel Super Hero Island.
Older kids and adults can take on the fairly scary dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. Then go for a hair-raising ride through Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Thrill seekers will definitely want to channel their inner Bruce Banner on the The Incredible Hulk roller coaster. This 3,700-foot-long ride is regarded as one of the best steel coasters in the world and features seven inversions including a zero-g roll, a cobra roll, two vertical loops, and two corkscrews.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Island of Adventure will delight muggles of all ages. Pass through Hogwarts' castle gates and explore passageways, classrooms and corridors from the books. Craving a sweet? Pick up chocolate frogs at Honeydukes. Next up, see if the wand chooses your young wizard at Ollivanders. Keep an eye out for Buckbeak on Flight of the Hippogriff. Feeling sleepy? Get your pulse pounding on Dragon Challenge. A must for true fans: take flight on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a state-of-the-art attraction that immerses riders in the magic, characters, and stories of Harry Potter.
All Aboard Hogwarts Express
Universal Orlando's two Wizarding World lands – Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida – are connected by the Hogwarts Express. The replica of the steam train from the Harry Potter films magically transports guests between the two lands. A park-to-park ticket is needed to ride.
Once settled in your train car, look out the “windows” as you travel through the English and Scottish countryside. You might see Hagrid, Fred and George Weasley, Hedwig and others. Don’t miss the shadows that appear in the corridors outside your compartment. Harry, Ron and Hermoine, and even Dementors, may come by. Different journeys are shown on each trip.
Coming Soon…Volcano Bay!
Launching in May 2015, the Volcano Bay Waterpark will have four themed areas. Each is based on the story of the Waturi, an ancient tribe from Polynesia. This park will feature a 200-foot volcano called Krakatau in its center. This main area will also offer speed slides and an aqua coaster.
Three villages will complete the park. Wave Village will feature a multi-directional wave pool. River Village will offer a winding river and activities for young children. And Rain Forest Village will have raft slides, speed slides and a whitewater rafting.
Guests will wear TapuTapu wristbands in Volcano Bay. Special technology will eliminate traditional lines. Instead, guests will tap the band against a totem outside a ride, then receive a notification when they can return. The TapuTapu bands will also trigger special effects throughout Volcano Bay.
Why Stay On-Site at Universal Orlando Resort
Several benefits come with staying on site at Universal Orlando Resort. The biggest perks include early entry to Islands of Adventure plus Universal Express Unlimited Passes for everyone in your party for the duration of your stay. Guests must stay at a preferred or premier hotel to receive the Universal Express Unlimited Pass benefit.
The Universal Express Unlimited Pass gives you access to an “express” line at almost every ride and show in both parks, but is not available for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Hogwarts Express, and a few others. For those rides, take advantage of early entry.
The proximity of the on-site Universal Orlando Resort hotels to the theme parks (just a 5-10 minute walk) is another benefit of staying on site. Water taxis can also transport guests from Premier category hotels to CityWalk’s main dock. Cabana Bay provides its own shuttle bus to CityWalk's main entrance. Shuttles are available to transport guests between the four Universal Orlando Resort hotels.
Universal Orlando Resort is home to five on-site hotels:
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort (Prime/Value)
- Hard Rock Hotel Orlando (Premier)
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (Premier)
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort (Preferred)
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (Preferred)
Click on the hotel names above to discover available discounted rates!
Tour Universal Orlando Resort Like A VIP
My family had the opportunity to take a VIP walking tour during our visit to Universal Orlando Resort. I highly recommend this tour for first time visitors. We opted for the Private VIP Experience: 1-Day 2-Park Tour. A friendly tour guide led our group of 12 guests through Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Plus, the tour came with plenty of perks. We received priority front-of-the-line access to all rides and attractions. Continental breakfast, a private buffet lunch, and reserved seating at shows were also included.
There are other Private VIP Experiences available in addition to regular VIP Experiences. All include seven hours with your own tour guide in Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure, and visits to a minimum of eight attractions chosen by the tour guide.
Tips for Dietary Restrictions and Special Needs at Universal Orlando Resort
If you have food allergies or other dietary restrictions, ask any team member for assistance. Table-service restaurants have more flexibility than fast-casual sites. All food service team members are trained to help. Since both of my children have life-threatening food allergies, I appreciate Universal Orlando Resort's efforts to accommodate dietary needs.
For those with other disabilities, Universal Orlando provides an Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) free of charge. Head to Guest Relations at either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure just after entering through the turnstiles to get one. There is a third Guest Relations area outside the park entrances, but it becomes crowded quickly. The AAP decreases wait times for those with special needs and abilities. Universal’s free guide, The Rider’s Guide for Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities, is available for download. It offers information on everything from height restrictions, to service animals, to descriptions of attractions for those with sensory issues.
Universal Orlando Resort Discounts
For discount Universal Orlando Resort park tickets and hotel packages, check out Undercover Tourist. You can save up to $81 per ticket off park entrance fees by purchasing your Universal Orlando Resort tickets in advance through Undercover Tourist! What's more, you can often save big bucks on Universal's on-site hotels when you book through Undercover Tourist. Check out current Universal Orlando Resort hotel deals now.
More Universal Orlando Resort Tips
Want to learn more Universal Orlando Resort tips? Get The Unofficial Guide Universal Orlando or Frommer's EasyGuide to Disney World, Universal and Orlando.
Have you ever visited Universal Orlando Resort? Got any tips or questions not covered here? Let us know in the comments below!
A Note from The Offbeat Travel Mama: Many thanks to Family Forward, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and Universal Orlando Resort for making our first visit a memorable one. As always, opinions and experiences are my own.