Everything You Need to Know Before Going To Universal Studios in Orlando

If you’re planning to visit Universal Orlando Resort as part of a Florida parks holiday, you’re in the right place. Based on her own experience at Universal, our Editor Jessica Ruth Gibson shares all you need to know, including 25 essential Universal Studios tips. 

We visited all 3 parks in the Universal Orlando Resort, allowing 1 day for each. I knew time would be precious (as it is for everyone) so I wanted to arrive as prepared and ‘in-the-know’ as possible. I did my research across a few handy blogs, but I’m putting this post together to share the vital things to know before visiting Universal Studios Orlando. Most of the tips I learned on my visit, and some are being passed on from friends and fellow Orlando holidaymakers.

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Last updated 19 March 2024

Things to know before visiting Universal Studios Orlando | The Travelista Jess Gibson Mels Drive In Diner

25 tips and tricks for Universal Studios, Orlando

1. Download the Universal Studios App

After this blog post, your go-to guide for your holiday to Orlando is going to be the Universal Studios Orlando App. Be sure to download this before your trip to get better acquainted with all the layouts, rides and facilities at each park. The design of the app is wonderfully user-friendly and helps you navigate your way around the whole of Universal Orlando Resort with ease. It even tells you the queue times for all of the rides in real time. The Wi-Fi within the parks is free and very fast so you can make use of the app whilst you’re there too.

Things to know before visiting Universal Studios Orlando

2. Get to Know The 3 Parks

There are 3 official parks at Universal Resort Orlando. The first is Universal Studios (the first and original park), the second is Islands of Adventure, the third is Volcano Bay. All parks are totally worth doing and you need to allow at least 1 day for each of them to do them justice. You can also hop between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in one day using a Park-to-Park ticket. Many of the worlds in the parks are based on your favourite Hollywood films and animations, from Jurassic World in Islands of Adventure to The Simpson’s Krustyland in Universal Studios. Within each world there are rides, shows and experiences to discover.

Universal Studios Orlando Entrance Gates

3. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The biggest thing to arrive at Universal Studios Resort in quite some time is the immensely popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had some confusion over this before I visited, so let me explain it clearly for you. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has two lands that are spread between two parks; Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can visit Hogsmede in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. Both sides of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are connected by the Hogwarts Express, which is a magical experience in itself (it was one of my favourite rides in the parks). In order to ride the Hogwarts Express and connect between both sides you need a Park-to-Park ticket. Without the Park-to-Park ticket, you can’t do the Hogwarts Express ride or see both lands in one day.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Studios Orlando

4. What order to do Universal Orlando rides to avoid the longest queues

No matter what time of year you visit, I think it’s best to accept that your days at Universal Orlando resort will involve some amount of queuing, but there is a clever hack to minimise the queues you’re in. One of the best things to know before visiting Universal Studios was this; explore the park from back to front, not front to back. When you arrive in the park, you’ll see lots of enticing rides and experiences close to the entrance and its easy to get pulled in to doing them first, this is what most people do. Instead, head straight to the furthest point of the park (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) and then work your way forward. This way you’ll be going against the grain and will find there are less queues and shorter wait times.

This tip is less applicable to Islands of Adventure because it is laid out in more of a loop, so you can choose one of two ways to work your way around the park. If you’re planning to ride the Incredible Hulk Coaster, I would start here first whilst the queues are smaller. It’s near the entrance to the park so is a logical starting point.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Studios Orlando Diagon Alley

5. Food and Drink in the Parks 

There are endless food and drink options in all 3 parks and you can browse options by price and proximity on the Universal Orlando App. There are options to suit every budget and tastebud, and the best thing? It’s not all fast food! Dining options range from fast food and deli service to a la carte restaurants in elegant, air conditioned surroundings. You will also find plenty more eateries at nearby City Walk (you’re free to enter and leave the park as many times as you like during the day). We had an amazing lunch at Mythos Restaurant in Islands of Adventure, which serves a mix of Mediterranean, Asian and American dishes. My feet were aching so spending an hour sat down in the air-con was a god send.

Mythos Restaurant Islands of Adventure Orlando

6. The Child Swap System

Parents, listen up! This is definitely one of the top things to know about Universal Studios. Gone are the days when parents have to miss out on the big rides to look after the little ones. All the rides at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure now have designated Child Swap areas. All you need to do is queue up as a family. When you reach the front of the queue, one adult will take their child to the Child Swap area whilst the other adult goes on the ride. Once the ride is over, the adults can swap over so there is always someone taking care of the child. The Child Swap rooms usually have something to keep the kids entertained too. I think its such a great system and means no adults have to miss out on the fun. 

7. Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando Resorts’ water park, and is situated on the edge of the same resort. Be sure to pack beach towels for your day at Volcano Bay, or borrow them from your hotel. Otherwise, you’ll be paying for towel rental at the park which could really add up for a family. Be prepared to also pay for locker hire (there’s no way around this one unfortunately unless someone is willing to man the valuables all day).

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Volcano Bay Universal Studios Orlando

Volcano Bay also operates with a wearable TapuTapu device (which looks a bit like an Apple watch). This waterproof device is the key to your locker and can also make contactless payments for you when synced to a credit card (via the handy Universal App again). The devices can also put you into a Virtual Line for your all your favourite rides, and vibrate when its your turn to ride. I think its a genius system which means you can enjoy the park without any baggage, all day. The only downside to the device is that we found it comes off quite easily. Scott and I both lost ours once over the course of the day, so make sure you check its still attached to you after every ride.

TapuTapu device Volcano Bay Orlando

8. Get Extra Benefits by Staying in an official Universal Studios Hotel

During our time in Orlando we stayed at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel  which is an official Universal Studios Resort hotel and is bookable via TUI. All of the official Universal Studios hotels are located right in the heart of the resort, which means you’ll never need to drive to any of the parks or mess around with parking. Two huge additional benefits of staying in an official hotel is that

  • all guests receive Universal Express Unlimited™ pass for all of their park days (these passes are worth $99.99 per day and allow you to skip all the ride queues in the Express line).
  • You also get to enter the parks 1 hour early and beat the crowds.
  • As well as this, the hotels offer free and unlimited water taxi rides to City Walk pier (the central drop off point for all parks). If you prefer to go by road, there are also free shuttle buses.

Read my dedicated review of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.

Browse all hotels near Universal Studios Orlando

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel Orlando Florida Waterfront

Staying so close to the action made the Universal Studios experience seem so easy and stress-free. Other official Universal Studios Hotels include The Hard Rock Hotel, The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and The Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, all of which can be booked via TUI .

Loews Portofino Bay Adult Only Pool | The Travelista

9. Purchase an Universal Express Pass

If you’re wondering how do you skip the queues at Universal; it’s with a Universal Express Pass. The unlimited pass costs $99.99 per day but you can actually get these for FREE by staying in an official Universal Studios Hotel. However, if you’re staying in alternative accommodation you can still purchase a Universal Express Unlimited™ pass for your days at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Universal Express passes don’t exist at Volcano Bay as everyone can make use of the free Virtual Line system. The passes range from $19.99 to $99.99 per day, ranging from restricted rides to unlimited rides.

23 things to know about Universal Studios, Orlando

10. Bring your own water bottles and stay hydrated for free 

It’s definitely worth bringing a refillable water bottle for your day at Universal Studios too. There are free water fountain points all over the park so you can stay hydrated without spending a fortune on bottled water. Orlando is HOT, so to be even smarter, start by bringing bottles of frozen water to keep your water cooler for longer.

Hard Rock Cafe Orlando

11. Make the most of City Walk

In case you’re wondering what City Walk is, let me explain. It’s Universal Studio’s ‘downtown’ entertainment area which is packed full of restaurants, bars and shops. City Walk really comes alive at night, when the parks empty out and everyone goes in search of a much-needed refuel. There are shops selling official Universal Studios merchandise, clubs, a karaoke bar and even a crazy golf course. City Walk is a great place to spend your evenings whilst at Universal Orlando Resort and is completely free to access. My top restaurant recommendations include Bubba Gump’s, Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium, Hard Rock Cafe and Antojitos Mexican.

You can also visit City Walk at lunch time during your park days, as it’s just a short walk from the entrance gates of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You’re able to exit and re-enter the parks as many times as you like on the day you have tickets.

Antojitos City Walk, Universal Orlando Resort

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Universal Orlando Resort

12. Allow Time to Collect Your Tickets, or do this the day before

If you’re collecting your tickets on arrival, its a good idea to expect some queues. Account for this by arriving at the parks a little earlier than you’re planning to enter, or better still, pick the tickets up a day in advance.

13. Take a hand sanitiser

Thousands of guests pass through the park gates every single day, so it’s a good idea to wash your hands regularly and take a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you. You’ll also notice there are hand sanitiser dispensers in some of the restaurants, just in case you forget.

Everything to know about Universal Studios before visiting

14. Stay hands-free with a Backpack

Universal Orlando Resort is no place for a handbag of any description. You’re going to be doing lots of walking and will want to keep your hands free for map reading, taking photos and generally exploring. A backpack is definitely the best option for days out at all the parks.

15. Pack a Hat

The hot Florida sun can be a cruel mistress, even for the most hard-core sun worshipers. Whilst some of the queues are in air-conditioning, others are out in the hot sun. Make sure nobody in your group catches sun stroke by ensuring everyone has a sun hat. A trusty baseball cap would do the trick.

The Travelista Islands of Adventure Orlando

16. Comfortable, Supportive Shoes are a Must. 

Do I need to bring trainers or sneakers to Universal? Absolutely, yes! We did over 20,000 steps on the day we visited Universal Studios, and a little less for Islands of Adventure. Be prepared for lots of walking and standing in queues on your park days, so make sure you’re wearing comfortable and sturdy trainers or sneakers instead of sandals or flip flops. 

17. Check out Show Times and Parade Times in advance

As well as all the epic rides, the parks have a variety of shows taking place each day. Some of them take place in a ‘flash mob’ fashion on the streets or on make-shift stages, and others are within sit-down theatres (such as The Horror Make-Up Show in Universal Studios). There is also a daily parade at Universal Studios, so be sure to check times in advance and plan your activities around them.

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Universal Studios Orlando | Hollywood Marylin Monroe

Universal Studios Orlando | Hollywood Marylin Monroe

18. Many of the Queues provide a great experience, even if you don’t intend to ride

There may be some rides that you can’t do, or simply don’t want to do. If other members in your group are keen to do the ride, it’s sometimes worth going with them then waiting for them in the Child Swap room at the end of the queue. This is because many of the cleverly-designed queues become part of the immersive experience which you don’t want to miss (especially the Escape from Gringott’s Bank ride and The Fast and Furious ride in Universal Studios).

Escape from Gringott's Bank | Universal Studios Orlando

19. Consider travelling outside of peak seasons for minimal queues

If you’re bringing the kids, its inevitable that you’re going to be limited to travelling in school holidays. If you’re not travelling with kids, try to avoid these peak seasons like the plague. By visiting the parks in shoulder seasons you’ll enjoy minimal queue times and the parks won’t feel too busy. We visited the parks in mid September and were amazed at how quick all of the queue times were (even without a Universal Express Unlimited™ pass). The weather was hot and humid (between 28-34 degrees) but I would really recommend visiting the parks in September if this is an option for you.

20. Dress for the weather and for comfort 

Universal Orlando is a fun show, not a fashion show. You don’t want any uncomfortable clothing getting in the way of you having the most fun ever. Lots of people have asked me, can you wear jeans at Universal Studios Orlando? Of course, but I don’t recommend it.

21. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the parks

You’ll need to allow at least 1 day per park you visit, but that’s a minimum. You could easily re-enter the same park for a second or third day and still discover more. If you have 1 day per park, I do recommend purchasing the Universal Express Passes so that you’re not wasting all your time in queues. There’s so much to see and do!

22. Make restaurant reservations in advance if you know where you want to eat 

If you’ve already handpicked the restaurants you want to try at City Walk, you can make restaurant reservations in advance. This way you’ll get the exact time that is convenient for you with minimal wait times. Alternatively, if you want to stay more flexible you are welcome to turn up to any restaurant on the evening without a reservation. Expect to wait around 30 minutes at peak time. The restaurants are all huge inside so you’re still likely to be seated quickly. We didn’t make any reservations during our holiday and always got a table at the restaurant we wanted after a short wait time.

23. Visit on days that are less crowded 

It’s worth considering what days are less crowded at Universal Studios Orlando. Whenever possible, visit the parks on a weekday as opposed to a weekend, and consider the US public holidays and school holidays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days the park is less crowded as this is classified as ‘mid week’, when the ‘long weekend visitors’ have left or have not yet arrived. This will make a big difference and allow you to enjoy Universal Studios with minimal queues.

24. Pack a one-application SPF

Suncream is a must in Orlando and to give you and the family maximum protection, consider packing a ‘once application’ suncream. In my opinion, the best range you can find is the P20 one application products via Amazon. You may still need to reapply if you get drenched on the water rides or at Volcano Bay, but this stuff is designed to be waterproof and sweat proof. It’s especially helpful if you have young kids who are resistant to putting the sun cream on the first place. Peace of mind all round.

25. Relax and enjoy!

With so much to see and do, visiting Universal Studio Resort could easily feel overwhelming. Just remember to relax, breathe and enjoy the parks at your own pace. The long opening hours provide you with more than enough time to see everything there is to see, so don’t feel like you need to rush. Plus, you’re now armed with tonnes of insider tips by reading this post, so you’re probably a lot more savvy than most guests. Remember to enjoy it and make the day your own! It’s not every day you’re lucky enough to visit Universal Orlando Resort.

Voodoo Doughnuts City Walk Orlando Florida | The Travelsta

Getting to Orlando from the UK

As our holiday to Orlando was with TUI, our flights were on TUI’s fantastic 787 Dreamliner. The Dreamliner flies direct to Orlando from Manchester, Gatwick, Birmingham, Bristol, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. This was my third flight on a TUI Dreamliner after flying to Sri Lanka 2 years ago. Even when flying Economy, I noticed so many benefits of flying on the Dreamliner 787 including 6ft ceilings for a greater sense of space, advanced mood-lighting to help beat jet lag, larger windows, enhanced oxygen in the cabins and a large seatback TV and entertainment system. There is a generous amount of legroom and I left both flights feeling significantly fresher than most long-haul economy flights.

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Read more of my USA blog posts

787 Dreamliner Seats Economy TUI

What did you think of these things to know before visiting Universal Studios Orlando? Are you researching advice for your own visit or do you think there’s any extra pieces of advice you could add? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment in the box below. Jess x

I was fully insured for my trip to Orlando with UK-based travel insurance experts Insure and Go. They offer fuss-free single-trip policies as well as annual Worldwide travel insurance from just £45.99.

This sponsored blog post has been created in collaboration with TUI UK and Universal Studios Orlando. All photography and all words are my own.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

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