Visiting a destination resort like Universal Orlando can be overwhelming for some. Usually, you only have a couple of days to cover everything, and want to make sure you soak it all in.
Let’s go back in time…
The year was 1995. My family and I were in Anaheim for a vacation to Disneyland and we decided to take a stroll down the highway to Universal Studios. We did the backlot tour, in which we saw the filming of Jingle All the Way and I fell in love with the behind the scenes of the movie industry. We also saw Steven Spielberg doing a walkthrough of the construction of Jurassic Park: The Ride…and my passion for the theme park industry was born.
Both passions were developed at the same time!
Skip ahead a few years without doing math, because I don’t like to admit my age too often, but I get the opportunity to work for the Walt Disney Company as an International Cultural Representative. Less than a month in…I have my Universal Orlando Resort annual pass in hand!
With that background, and knowing that I’m a huge fan of the details, here are my Top 10 Tips to make the most out of your Universal Studios Orlando Vacation!
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1. OPT FOR THE PARK-TO-PARK TICKET
If you want the full experience, including the Hogwarts Express, you have to visit both parks. Even if you only have one day, it’s possible to have a great time at two parks without feeling overwhelmed. Now, let’s be honest…you won’t be doing everything.
This isn’t a downfall, as there are attractions that may not pertain to your demographics and interests. Doing both parks will give you the best experience, and having this settled in advance will help with your planning.
2. RESEARCH THE UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED PASS
I see myself as a master-planner with the theme parks (which would explain the website, the photos and the article that you’re currently reading), but there are tools that are available that I definitely suggest that you look into. The Universal Express Unlimited Pass is basically a FastPass+ reservation without having to make a reservation…and something you can do over and over again for the entire day. It’s an investment (starting at $84.99 per day per person), but when you look at how much time you save…it’s worth it!
There is an option called the “Universal Express Pass”, which allows you to use the pass one time per ride only, but going on Men In Black back-2-back over and over is the best!
Just read the fine print, as most of the attractions for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter aren’t covered by the pass, but there’s enough value across the parks to still make it worthwhile.
3. BEFORE YOU VISIT, MAKE A LIST
This is simple and is definitely a time-saver. Priorities are important and should be done early in the day…because what happens if you want to do them again? For Jill and I, a trip to USO would be incomplete without riding anything Harry Potter related (Gringotts, Diagon Alley, Forbidden Journey), Men in Black, Revenge of the Mummy and The Simpsons. It also helps to have things to look forward to when you’re on-route from your resort to the parks.
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4. STAY ON-SITE
After years of going back and forth from our Disney resort via Mears, Taxi and Uber…why not just stay on property? The resort has been growing rapidly and provides elements that are unique only to the Universal brand. What perks…you might ask:
First off, when you stay at an on-site hotel, you receive the Universal Express Unlimited pass for both theme parks absolutely FREE (per person, per day). That is a huge savings, especially if you’re visiting with your family (or significant other who likes roller coasters and you don’t). You also get early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the theme park opens to the regular public.
Since most attractions of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides are excluded from the Express Pass, this is a great perk. Getting everything done before the park opens to the general public is a huge time-saver and a great way to start the day!
5. PACK SMART AND LIGHT
Backpacks are definitely encouraged, but keep in mind that Universal attractions don’t allow for bags to be brought on ride vehicles, and are to be stored in on-site free lockers. If you do get tired of checking your bag for every single ride, you can store them at various locations throughout the park for a small fee.
What to put in your backpacks? Well, pack for the weather and for the time that you’ll be in the park. You don’t want to be carrying too much throughout the day.
6. BUY THE COCA-COLA FREESTYLE MUG
Do you know how much a soda is in the parks? Too much! Well, when you put the fact that you can refills at any Coca-Cola Freestyle machine in the park, all day long, in the Florida heat…well it’s worth it! Remember that you don’t have to just do soda, as the machines are fully stocked with a large assortment of flavors that will definitely help quench your thirst!
6.5 Use the Freestyle Machine for Free Water
If you visit a Coca-Cola Freestyle Machine with a water bottle, one of the options on the main screen is “Water”. Take advantage of this, as the options for FREE water at Universal Orlando Resort is few and far between.
7. TAKE PHOTOS…LOTS OF PHOTOS!
When we visit the parks, the moments that we want to remember aren’t just the staged photos with characters. Take photos of the pathways, the attractions, the shops…and of course, the merchandise that you want to buy by the end of the day!
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8. USE THE SINGLE RIDER LINE
Just like at Walt Disney World (Expedition Everest and Rock N Rollercoaster), there are a number of attractions at Universal Orlando that offer the Single Rider option. Keep an eye out for that special line, because it’ll help cut down the time in line (if you’ve decided against buying the Express Pass)
9. BRING A POWER SOURCE
You’ll need your phone for everything, from Instagram to TikTok, Facebook to the Universal Studios Resort app. You really don’t want to have a dead battery when you’re in the middle of a selfie with Woody Woodpecker.
We’ve been getting decent power sources through portable chargers from Amazon, but with products like FuelRods being more prevalent…keep an eye for the newest technologies! Oh, and bring a wall charger, as you can always recharge at a meal.
10. USE THE “BUY NOW” PHILOSOPHY WITH MERCHANDISE
This is by far our best tip for visiting the Universal Orlando Resort, and it revolves around buying souvenirs. If you see a wand from a specific character in Diagon Alley, don’t assume that it’ll be available at the front of the park or at the airport. If you see a shirt that you really like, in your size…buy it.
The last thing you want to do is be disappointed when your 9 3/4 shirt is only available in Large and X-Large because a cheerleading competition was at the parks and cleared out all the smalls and mediums.
It happened…it was annoying!
We’re going to be doing more Universal Orlando articles in the future, as this was a ton of fun to do! Stay tuned for more tips and ideas coming soon from StepsToMagic.com!