Are you planning a trip to Universal Studios Orlando?
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my recent family adventure to Orlando, courtesy of Kia Motors America. It was an amazing trip for so many reasons I’ll share with you all soon. As part of the trip, I got a chance to visit Universal Studios Orlando for the first time. I’ve been to the one in Cali when I was 11 and the biggest attraction was probably Back to the Future and Knight Rider, but I have to say that so much has changed and I love it even more today than I did back then.
The timing of our family adventure was perfect too since my girls are at an age where they can enjoy and remember most of it and Universal Studios Orlando is jam-packed with something for all ages. Now that I have some experience under my belt, here are a few Universal Studios Orlando insider tips and tricks to remember if you’re planning a family trip.
Insider Tip #1: Get the Universal Orlando Resort App to Find the Fun
Prior to visiting Universal Studios Orlando, download the Universal Orlando Resort mobile app to help navigate both theme parks and check out parade show times, character meet & greets, attraction wait times and more. This will help you save some time navigating the theme parks.
Likewise, visit universalorlando.com and check out Universal Orlando’s online family vacation planner, where you can completely customize your vacation and access experiential videos, travel tips, sample itineraries, vacation packages and more.
Bonus-Tip: Universal Studios makes for a great summer vacation – be sure to get there before school starts!
Insider Tip #2: Stay At a Universal Orlando Resort
To get the most out of your trip to Universal Studios, I highly recommend staying at a Universal Orlando Resort! While it may seem like a larger initial investment in terms of your cost of stay compared to other hotels near Universal Studios Orlando, the perks alone actually make it a much better value for the money. We stayed at the gorgeous Hard Rock Hotel Orlando adjacent to Universal Studios Orlando. Besides the convenience of being just about a 5-10 minute walk or FREE boat ride from the theme park, the absolute biggest perk was the fact that your stay at a Universal Orlando resort also includes a free Express Pass for Universal Studios Orlando with just your room keys! Trust me – this is the best deal ever! At attractions that had an hour + wait times, we were able to advance the line in less than 10 minutes with our Express Pass. You do have the option to buy the Express Pass alone, but it can cost up to $149.99 per person (in addition to your park admission ticket).
Note: Unfortunately, the Express Pass does not work for any Harry Potter Rides.
Insider Tip #3: Get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Earlier (or Later)
Speaking of Harry Potter Rides…By staying at one of these hotels, you will also get to access the park an hour early. In that hour, be sure to go straight to the Harry Potter section of Islands of Adventure, as these lines will fill up really fast once the park opens for everyone. If you are not staying on location, stay away from Harry Potter rides until later in the evening, once you are all done in Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios. By then, the crowds die down a bit and you can enjoy.
Bonus-tip: Be sure to move from park to park on the Hogwarts Express for a super entertaining ride!
Insider Tip #4: Get the Park-Hopper Pass and Start in Islands of Adventure
If you’re visiting Universal Studios with kids, I definitely recommend the park-hopper pass which lets you access both the Universal Studios side of the park and the Islands of Adventures park. Islands of Adventure is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™, Seuss Landing™, water rides at Toon Lagoon®, Jurassic Park®, and lots more fun rides and attractions both the kids and adults will love!
It’s a lot to fit into one day, so I recommend starting your day in Islands of Adventure and then making your way back to the Universal Studios side. I say this for 3 reasons:
- The Universal Studios side stays open an hour later.
- You’ll want to catch the water rides at Toon Lagoon while the sun is still shining bright.
- With so many attractions, hidden gems, and character fun at Islands of Adventure, this is not the part of the park you’ll want to have to rush through.
Bonus-tip: Science geeks like us would enjoy the fun and interactive exhibits in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center®. This center closes at about 5 pm, so if it’s on your to-do list, be sure to make your way over there in time!
Insider Tip #5: Find the Best Character Experience in the Marvel Section
For the best character experience, head over to Marvel section of Islands of Adventure where the crew puts in a lot of extra effort to make your day meaningful. We got some great pics with the Green Goblin, Storm, Rogue, etc. Our Spider-man sightings were a lot of fun, as he would literally zip through various stores and sights and then go off to fight crime (I’m guessing). Also, be sure to look up above your head for tons of cute thought bubbles!
On the Universal Studios side, you don’t want to miss the photo opp with the Transformers statue or some of the sets from your favorite TV shows.
Insider Tip #6: Plan Ahead on Meals
If you plan to spend all day at Universal Studios, you can imagine how expensive food, drinks and snacks can be for a family. Years ago, Universal Studios offered a meal deal that allowed you to eat and drink all you wanted all day long. Unfortunately, that option is no longer available and has been replaced by the Universal Meal Plan, which is pretty limited. These packages are either sold individually or as part of a package, though in my opinion, the most beneficial option is the one sold as part of the package. Another helpful option is this Kids Eat Free card you can purchase at a discount, which is valid for over 100 restaurants in the Orlando area, including quite a few at City Walk. Even if you opt out of the meal plan or kids eat free card, I definitely recommend buying the souvenir drink cups for free drink refills all day long.
During my visit, I couldn’t resist a little taste of some of my favorite southern “cuisine” if you will – BBQ and Turkey Legs. We dined at a restaurant called Thunder Falls located in Islands of Adventure. Prices were around $15/platter, but the portions were pretty big and filling. They also offered kids menu items for about $8.99, which included some healthy sides such as carrots and grapes.
Insider Tip #7: Bypass the Lines with Height Certificates for the Kids
There’s nothing worse for your little ones than finding out they are not tall enough to ride an attraction they’ve been looking forward to. Fortunately, Universal Studios Orlando offers height certificates for the kids. With these certificates, your little one (plus 3 additional people) get to bypass the line during a future visit when they become tall enough to ride. You can grab these certificates at Guest Services and hold on to them until your next visit!
Insider Tip #8: Grab a 1st Time Visitor Pin
While you’re at Guest Services, don’t forget to grab a 1st Time Visitor pin (if it’s your first trip to Universal Studios Orlando, of course). You’ll get greeted with a bunch of “Congratulations” when wearing the pin and who knows what else!
Insider Tip #9: Take a Break in the Family Rooms
Both theme parks at Universal Studios Orlando offer family rooms for new moms. They feature lounge rockers, baby changing stations and low lighting while also providing a quiet atmosphere for nursing and quiet time with the little one.