We’ve recently returned from Universal Studios Orlando and I have to say I went in pretty blind, with only a little bit of research as we had so many other things to do in Orlando.
However, now we have been and will definitely go again, I’ve learnt a few things that will make your visit easier and perhaps a bit cheaper too!
Universal Studios Orlando Tips
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1. Download the Universal Studios App
It is really useful and with free wifi in the park, you don’t need to worry about data. You can purchase and redeem select theme park tickets and Universal Express™ passes, see the latest wait times, access maps, and so much more. Get familiar with the app before you go.
2. The best time to go to Universal Studios is on a weekday, avoiding Fridays and weekends.
3. Don’t rush to buy the Universal Orlando Express Pass or to buy a more expensive ticket
You may not need need it depending on when you visit. The best time to avoid peak times for the parks are January, February, September and the first couple weeks of December.
These times avoid the main school summer holiday and the busy school break up period before Christmas. We visited in the UK February half term and hardly had to queue- the most we waited was 20 minutes.
Also look at when USA holidays fall. We avoided President’s Day and the proceeding weekend. Buying the express pass at this time would have a been a waste of money at $69 per person for one use per ride or $89 per person for unlimited use.
Not sure what ticket to buy?
If you are not sure whether you want to purchase park-to-park tickets, or 2 day etc buy the less expensive option. Then, if you decide you want more, you can pay the difference and upgrade.
We upgraded to a park to park ticket whilst at the park as we were keen to experience the Hogwarts Express and Hogsmeade over at Universal Island of Adventure.
By 3 pm we knew it was the Harry Potter bits that captured us all the most and we only had a day allocated ‘to do’ Universal. We enquired and it was simple to do, however you MUST upgrade while your ticket is still valid.
In other words, if you have a 2-day single park ticket, and you want to upgrade to a 2 day multi park pass, you MUST do it by the end of day 2. Otherwise your ticket will expire and you will have to buy a full-price for any additional admission.
Where can I buy an Universal Orlando Express pass?
The fast pass or express pass (as it is known) is either available to buy separately online, via the app, at various outlets and on site OR is given as a free extra if you stay in certain Universal hotels on site Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel®
The Universal Orlando Express pass is NOT available as part of your stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, or Universal’s Aventura Hotel. The express pass is also NOT valid for Universal’s Volcano Bay.
Another reason not to rush to buy it, is the weather. A rainy day means less crowds and less queues. You can upgrade your ticket in the park if need be.
4. Do consider purchasing a dining plan.
There are varying options depending whether you are staying on site or not but it could save you about 30% if you are planning on eating on site. I was also wondering if you can bring food into Universal Studios and the answer directly from their website is,
“Visitors may bring into Universal Studios Hollywood bottled water (maximum 2 liters), small snacks, any food required for medical purposes and medically-indicated nutritional supplements, any food required for special dietary needs, baby food/baby formula and soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5” wide x 6” high.”
If you don’t wish to purchase a dining plan – head out to Universal City Walk for more choice and for something more substantial. It is really quiet around lunchtime and gives you a break from the park. Definitely do bring at the very least water with you!
5. Get there before it opens!
Plan on extra time to park the car, go through security and walk through the entry gate. The most popular attraction is by far the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. ( More tips on this area including a map further below)
If you are staying on site you can enter the park at 8am. We stayed off site and got to the park for 8.15.
Universal Studios Orlando parking tips:
- We didn’t pay for premium preferred parking as we arrived early. Do factor in walk times to your arrival times. Standard parking at 8.00 in the morning was about a 10 minute walk to the security bag check and then another 10-15 to the main Universal Studios entrance. With moving walkways, the walk was even easier and not a problem for my 3 & 6 year old. This could be different at peak visiting times though.
What Time Does Universal Studios Open?
On site hotel guests can enter from 8am, and off site it officially opens at 9am.
GOOD TO KNOW TIP
As mentioned above we arrived for 8.15am and there were about 10 people in the queue ahead of us. By 8.45am there were about 50 people behind us.
However, it is normal for the park to let people in BEFORE the official 9am opening time, which is what happened with us.
6. Make use of the Child Swap lane
Child Swap works differently at Disney World. At Universal Studios Orlando, if any of your children cannot ride a ride, an adult can wait with the child in the attraction’s Child Swap room.
When the rest of the party returns, you can switch and have your turn. Once you get near to the front of the queue, mention to the attendant that you need Child Swap and they will point you in the direction of the room.
The non riding child and accompanying adult wait in a room (which has a TV showing a clip of the movie the ride is themed on and also a baby changing table) and the rest of the family go on the ride. Once they return, the adult waiting, gets to go on the ride straight away without lining up again.
7. Consider using Single Rider Lane
This lane is at it implies, is for single riders or for people who don’t mind being split up. This is a great option if you have older kids (over 10). Basically, you all get slotted in to fill the empty spaces on a ride. These lines move pretty fast too.
8. Pack a $1 poncho from Walgreens or CVS as they are $10 to purchase from the park.
If rain is predicted you will be grateful!
9. Consider hiring a stroller at the park even if you have a very able 6 year old or older.
We went with a 3 year old and 6 year old and floated the idea of buying a cheap $20 single stroller form Toysaurus or Walmart once in the USA, but instead opted to hire a double stroller for $23 at the park.
It was a good investment as we don’t use strollers at home anymore and it provided shade and rest for their weary legs. You can hire them from the entrance and at other points in the park.
We picked ours up near Kings Cross in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you hop on the Hogwarts express to Universals Islands Of Adventure, you simply drop your stroller and keep the card and hand the card to the stroller pick up as you disembark from Hogwarts.
10. Plan which shows you want to see first
Since the rides run continuously, but the shows do not, it’s best to schedule your day around the show schedule. We really enjoyed the Animal Actors on Location show which depicts some of the movie tricks of the trade and how they get dogs, birds, cats etc to do the amazing performances that they do.
More tips for Universal Studios Orlando – Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips
It’s everything you expect it to be and more! I was blown away and my 6 year old fell in love with the story at Universal Studios Orlando. It was hands down all of our family’s favourite parts. So much so, that we upgraded our ticket at 15.30 to include the Islands of Adventure so that we got to go on the Hogwarts Express and visit Hogsmeade! We didn’t regret it! 2 parks in one day is hard with young children BUT possible if you are there during an off peak time.
It’s not uncommon for Hogsmeade’s ( Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley’s ( Universal Studio’s) most popular attractions, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, respectively, to have wait times up to and over two hours- so if you are visiting during a busy time an express pass on single rider option could be better for you.
Diagon Alley is at the top end of the park- about 15-20 minutes walk from the entrance. Most people will be heading there first!
11. Get to Ollivander’s early or much later in the afternoon.
At Universal Studios there is the triple decker purple Knight Bus, Diagon Alley with all the stores including Ollivander’s. (Hint Ollivander’s is also at Universal’s island of Adventures too)
The queues for Ollivander’s can be just as busy, but at 9am we were the only ones inside. There are wand selection opportunities too, where you may get chosen to have a wand especially selected for you.
However, the main reason why it gets SO busy later on, is this is where you can buy interactive wands which work at certain Harry Potter areas in the parks. (Search for the boxes with the gold label as they are the interactive ones- however they are not cheap!)
Once you are back inside Diagon Alley (or Hogsmeade) just look out for the golden medallion on the floor and the infrared light on the wand will activate the magic, when you move it to make the spell. All the spots are also clearly marked on a map which comes with your wand.
This caused a great deal of excitement with my two! There are also hidden spots to look out for which are off-map. One is called Scribbulus in Diagon Alley. If you flick your wand near a piece of parchment, invisible ink appears on the empty scroll.
12. Pick up the phone in the red telephone box and speak to the Ministry of Magic!
13. Look for platform 9 3/4 as you queue for the Hogwarts express and disappear through the wall.
14. When queueing for Gringotts look at the displays as you pass, magical paintings and newspapers images that move just as described in the books.
Have you any more Universal Studios Orlando tips? What were your favourite rides? You might like these budget saving tips if you visit with older kids.
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