Plan Your Trip to Universal Orlando – Step by Step Family Guide

Universal orlando

Universal Resort Orlando has so much to offer for a family vacation, including amazing resort hotels, three epic theme parks, and endless dining options.

With the combination of thrill rides, waterslides, and great shopping, there is something for everyone, and the whole family will make lasting memories on a trip to Orlando, Florida.

While the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is a Universal Orlando highlight, it isn’t the only exciting land within the Universal theme parks. There can be so much information online about Universal Orlando that it can feel overwhelming, but this guide to Universal Orlando will help with all of that!

There are so many factors that can feel simply overwhelming when you start, so this Universal Orlando guide will take you back to the absolute basics.

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This post is part of our Universal Orlando and Discover Florida family travel guide series

When To Visit Universal Orlando

Generally speaking, the best time of year to visit Universal Orlando is from mid-January to the end of February. The weather is mild, and hotel prices and ticket prices are slightly lower than in the peak spring season.

The annual Mardi Gras season runs from early February to late April each year; this is one of the most festive times to enjoy Universal Studios in Orlando, with live parades and spectacular concerts.

Another good time to visit Universal Orlando is September through early November. Crowds drop once schools are back, but do remember you’re entering Hurricane season. The season is typically June through November, with the peak season running from August through October.

The “good thing” about hurricane season is you normally get an advance warning to evacuate if severe weather is on its way. The downside is it can cause disruption to what otherwise might be your family’s trip of a lifetime.

How Long Do You Need To Visit Universal Orlando

If you are planning to visit all three of the parks at Universal Orlando, as well as spend some time on CityWalk, you should spend at least 3 days at Universal Orlando.

Four to five days will give you enough time to explore all the parks at a relaxed pace and enjoy everything that’s on offer across all parts of Universal and in your hotel.

Before deciding how many days to spend at Universal Orlando, you may want to consider what ticket and package deals are running for your chosen dates. You may find a buy 2 days get 2 days free package works out cheaper than a 3-day pass.

Getting To Universal Orlando

Flying to Universal Orlando

The closest airport to Universal Orlando is Orlando International Airport (MCO). It’s an easy 20 to 25-minute drive from MCO to the Universal Orlando parks (without traffic).

In terms of getting from the airport to your accommodation, there are many options.

  • Rent a car from the airport and drive yourself to your accommodation, but keep in mind you will also need to pay $27 per day to park your car at Universal Orlando parks and between $15 to $28 per day to park overnight at any of the on-site properties.
  • Take the Universal SuperStar Shuttle, offering one-way and round-trip fares, and expect to pay about $40+ per person (though this can be packaged in with your tickets and accommodation).
  • If you’d prefer a private pick-up service – ideal when you have a larger group – try Welcome Pickups, who can provide a vehicle to suit your exact group size.
  • You can also take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi from MCO. All of these should cost between $20-$30.

We have a complete guide to Orlando Airport transport to Universal here

Staying On-Site At Universal Orlando

There are now an incredible eight resort hotel properties attached to Universal Orlando.

Staying on-site is one of the best ways to experience all that Universal Orlando has to offer, and it comes with a plethora of perks. These perks can often make staying on-site the most convenient and cost-effective option.

These resort hotels are broken down into categories based on price, amenities, and perks (prices as of January 2022):

Premier Resorts at Universal Orlando

  • Loews Portofino Bay
  • Loews Royal Pacific Resort
  • Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando.

The Premier hotels begin at $272+ per night for a 4-night stay. Includes Universal Express Unlimited – valued at $129pp per day!.

Preferred Resorts at Universal Orlando

  • Loews Sapphire Falls Resort

Preferred Resorts begin at $184+ per night based on a 4-night stay.

Prime Value Resorts at Univeral Orlando:

  • Cabana Bay Beach Resort
  • Aventura Hotel.

These budget-friendly options begin at $132+ per night for a 4-night stay. Family suites are available, sleeping up to 6 from $172+.

Value Resorts at Universal Orlando:

  • Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites
  • Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites

These Value Resorts can be an amazing deal starting from just $91+ per night for a 4-night stay, or $136+ for a 2-room suite that can sleep 6.

Off-site resorts for Universal Orlando

The other option is to stay nearby in Orlando at an off-site resort that still offers a free shuttle service to get to Universal. Some of our favourite off-site resort hotels that work well for families include:

Alternatively, there are a handful of hotels that are within manageable walking distance of Universal – for older kids at least – and won’t require a shuttle or parking; why not try:

Staying off-site can make sense if you don’t plan to spend your entire time at Universal and want to explore other attractions and theme parks in Orlando.  Other famous theme parks in Orlando include LEGOLAND, Florida Resort, and Walt Disney World Resort.

Moreover, other attractions in The City Beautiful include airboat rides, kayaking, animal encounters and zip-lining. If you plan to stay off-site to enjoy these adventures, you can check out this guide to the best hotels near Universal Studios.

Tickets to Universal Orlando

When choosing what tickets will work best for you and your family, ask yourself a few questions.

How many parks would you like to visit?

Universal Orlando has a total of three theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands Of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark. A combo ticket will make more sense if you want to visit all three parks than buying day tickets.

How many days are you staying in the park?

At Universal Orlando, you can buy single-day tickets to each park, 2-day, 3-day, 4-day and 5-day tickets.

As mentioned above, if you plan to visit more than one park, then 3-5 days is optimal.

Ticket Pricing and deals for Universal Orlando

A standard day ticket to either of the two main theme parks starts from $109+ per person, per day, for one park.

The price goes down per park, per day, once you add on additional days or parks.

Park-to-Park Passes

Park-To-Park passes are a requirement if you plan to see both lands of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day and take the Hogwarts Express between the two.

The cost of Park-To-Park passes is an additional $60 to $70, depending on how many days you will be in the park.

Universal Express Pass

If you stay at a Premier Resort, Express Passes are a paid add-on. These passes allow holders a shorter wait time in a separate line than other guests.

They cost an additional $79.99+ per person, per park, per day, or from $199.99+ for a Universal Express Unlimited Pass covering both theme parks.

As you can see, these can significantly add to the cost; however, should you only have one day to explore all of Universal Orlando, they may well be worth the investment, so you’re not spending all your time queuing.

If you have flexibility in your dates, your best bet is to look out for package deals – these change throughout the year and can variously include:

  • Pay for 3 days get 5 days
  • 3 park 3 day tickets

Whilst there are Orlando holiday package tickets you can buy; honestly, nothing beats going direct with Universal to buy your tickets.

They are the official source of tickets and offer “best price guarantee” – if you find it cheaper anywhere else within seven days of booking, they’ll refund you the difference.

What Will You Find At Each Of The Universal Orlando Theme Parks

Let’s get on to why you want to visit Universal Orlando. Our tweens have all agreed it’s their favourite theme park in the world, and for good reason!

“Universal Orlando” is made up of:

  • Universal Studios Florida
  • Universal Islands Of Adventure
  • Volcano Bay Waterpark
  • Universal CityWalk – the dining and entertainment area that connects the two main theme parks

Let’s take a deep dive through each to see what you can experience.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios is a place where you’ll experience all of your favorite TV shows and movies coming to life.

Whether you’re looking for thrill rides, delicious food, or epic shows, this 541-acre theme park will not disappoint. It’s also home to one of the lands of Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley.

Diagon Alley Univeral

Some of the best rides and attractions to enjoy at Universal Studios Orlando include:

Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts

You’ll discover the magical thrill ride, Escape From Gringotts, found in Diagon Alley, right under the Fire-breathing Dragon. The ride navigates the underground vaults of Gringotts Bank with Harry, Ron and Hermione by your side.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

This ride is fun for the whole family as you join Gru’s minion army through a supervillain’s laboratory! Consistently voted a family favourite, kids will love being a part of the minion army, and the grown-ups can’t help but get involved in the fun too!

Fast & Furious Supercharged

As one of the latest additions to Universal Studios, this attraction takes you on a supercharged thrill ride with the Fast & Furious crew. It may not be suitable for younger children, but your older kids will get a thrill.

Revenge Of The Mummy

On this thrill ride, you’re transported to Egypt and into the world of The Mummy. You’ll race through pyramids, forwards and backwards, to escape the evil mummy, Imhotep, on this racing rollercoaster.

Don’t miss daily street shows and parades, including The Blues Brothers Show, Universal’s Superstar Parade, and Animal Actors On Location.

Dining At Universal Studios

The Leaky Cauldron

The premiere eatery in all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the Leaky Cauldron. This quick-service option also serves a full English breakfast each morning, traditional British fare including Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips, and delicious desserts like sticky toffee pudding.

Krusty Burger

Another great stop in Springfield is the famous Krusty Burger. This is a typical fast-food restaurant. Try the legendary Clogger Burger, Krusty Burger, or Sideshow Bob Foot Long, and don’t forget to order a Buzz Cola. You can sit at one of the tables outside or sit inside and enjoy a never-ending loop of The Simpsons.

Lombard’s Seafood Grille

On Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll find one of the best seafood places in all of Universal Orlando. Try the famous clam chowder and cioppino ocean bowl at this full-service restaurant.

Note that some sections of Universal Studios Florida, more aimed at toddlers, are currently closed for renovations and will be replaced in 2024 by DreamWorks Animation Land.

Universal Islands Of Adventure

Islands Of Adventure is a family favorite known for its thrilling rides and amazing theming. This part features incredibly immersive experiences, including the Marvel Super Hero Island, Hogsmeade Village, and Jurassic Park.

Here are some of the best rides to get excited about:

Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure

As one of the newest additions to the Wizarding World, this thrill ride has made its mark as the park’s most popular. This thrilling rollercoaster is complete with surprises, animatronics, and beautiful scenery. Many deem it the best ride in Florida and amongst the best in the world!

The Incredible Hulk Coaster

The Hulk Coaster is one of the premier rides at Universal Islands Of Adventure. Although the coaster is 20 years old, it still impresses with a quick launch and incredible corkscrews. Join the big green guy as you twirl and race through the air.

Jurassic World VelociCoaster

This is the latest addition to Universal Islands Of Adventure and is known as one of the best in the entire Universal and Walt Disney World. Roller coaster enthusiasts will appreciate all of the thrilling twists and turns of VelociCoaster.

Seuss landing at Universals Islands of Adevnture

Don’t forget character meet and greets! As much fun as the rides, ours especially love the Marvel characters and the personal interactions at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Don’t forget there are several water-based rides in Island’s of Adventure, so consider wearing bathers under clothing or a change of clothes if you don’t like walking around wet all day!

We highlight all the best Universal rides for kids of different heights and age groups over here.

Dining At Universal Islands Of Adventure

Mythos Restaurant

The restaurant is award-winning and features a mix of Mediterranean, Asian, and American cuisine. Located on The Lost Continent, the mythical setting is beautiful at this family-friendly, full-service eatery. The menu is adapted to have something for everyone, including fan favorites like Greek Salad, Pad Thai, and Port Braised Lamb Shank.

Three Broomsticks

The Three Broomsticks is widely known as the place where both students and teachers gather outside of school. You’ll find traditional British food here, including Shepherd’s Pie and Turkey Legs. This rustic tavern is also known for its signature Great Feast, featuring salad, smoked chicken, spare ribs, and corn on the cob. It’s perfect for feeding a family of 4.

Cafe 4

Located in Marvel Super Hero Island, you’ll dine in the Fantastic 4’s high-tech headquarter. This quick-service establishment serves Italian favorites such as pizza, spaghetti, and meatball subs. Kids will love the atmosphere and the chance to meet some of their favorite Marvel characters.

If you only have time or budget to explore one of the Universal theme parks in Orlando, we go into a detailed explanation of Islands of Adventure vs Universal Studios over here.

Volcano Bay Waterpark

A water theme park like no other, you’ll immediately notice the gigantic volcano in the middle of the waterpark at Volcano Bay. The park has 18 different rides and attractions and even a water coaster!

Here are some of the most talked-about rides:

Krakatau Aqua Coaster

Your 4-person canoe will slide through dark tunnels and the mists of the mighty volcano before plunging through a waterfall into a pool below on this water coaster.

Honu of Honu ika Moana

Fans of Moana will appreciate that, much like the ancient Waturi people, you too can ride the waves on this massive multi-person water slide.

Kopiko Wai Winding River

If you’re not into thrill rides at waterparks, then you can relax in the Kopiko Wai Winding River. You’ll still be in for a few surprises along with the float; as you enter the Stargazer’s Cavern, make sure to check out the dazzling night sky.

TeAwa, The Fearless River

The opposite of a lazy river, this ride takes you on a thrilling whitewater adventure and the TeAwa. You’ll be wearing a life vest as you race through rapids and waves along the river.

Dining At Volcano Bay Waterpark


Find staples like burgers, fish, and chicken sandwiches at this island hideaway. This quick-service restaurant is perfect for grabbing a bite on your busy waterpark day.

Whakawaiwai Eats

This quick-service eatery is all about the tropical flavors, and favorites here include BBQ Chicken Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza, and Jerk Shrimp Mac and cheese.

Universal CityWalk

Universal CityWalk has amazing dining options and offers something for every taste. This is known as Universal’s dining, entertainment, and shipping headquarters, and it’s open until 2 am each morning. Some CityWalk favorites include:

CityWalk Universal orlando

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen

This steampunk and Willy Wonka whimsical full-service restaurant is known for its delicious artisan milkshake creation. Favorites include Cinnamon Fantasy, Red Velvet, Cookie Jar, and Strawberry Shortcake. The warm chocolate almond bread appetizer is legendary, as is their decadent brunch menu.

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar

This full-service eatery is known for taking surf and turf to a whole new level. Try a burger or sushi roll to keep the two styles separate. Or get adventurous and embrace the unique fusion dishes like the What’s Shakin’ Tuna Bacon sandwich or the Cheeseburgooshi. You can also opt for a bento box to sample a bit of everything.

Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food

For amazing authentic Mexican cuisine, you can’t do better than Antojitos. This cantina is lively and has an in-house Mariachi band. You’ll find all of your Mexican favorites, including empanadas, tacos, and burritos. To complete the festive dining experience, order one of Antojito’s signature margaritas.

CityWalk is also home to internationally renowned favorites such as Hard Rock Cafe, Bubba Gump and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Note that the BlueMan Group show has sadly left the evening lineup of entertainment; we still wait to see what will take its place in the former Nikoldeon Studio building.

Universal Orlando Opening Hours

  • Universal Studios: Daily 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • Islands Of Adventure: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm
  • Volcano Bay Waterpark: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • CityWalk: 8:00 am to 2:00 am

Early Park Admission applies for Universal Orlando Hotel guests – 1 hour before normal opening time for Universal Studios and Island of Adventures and 30 minutes early for Volcano Bay Waterpark.

 We strongly suggest if you’re staying on-site, use these early opening times strategically to make the most of no queues for the most popular rides (in most cases – run straight to the Harry Potter sections on the park!)

Remember that many other hotel guests will have the same idea! Factor this into your shuttle time from your resort; the buses are plentiful, but there will be queues and delays, especially at peak times of the year, which could eat into your Early admission hour!

What to Pack For Universal Orlando

Much like any theme park trip, you really need to think about comfort over style!

Wear practical and comfortable theme park footwear, as you’ll be walking, a lot!

Think about the weather too. Florida can be warm and humid for much of the year, so you’ll want to wear something that’s light and breathable. Conversely, in winter, a light pullover, light jacket, or poncho for summer rain (we explain more about tackling rainy days at Universal here).

If you are taking on any of the water rides, particularly at Islands of Adventure, you may want to consider packing a towel or a quick change of clothing in your daypack.

We have a complete guide here of what to wear at Universal, plus this handy guide to what you can and can’t bring into Universal

Parking at Universal Orlando

If you are staying off-site or at a hotel or condo without shuttle access to Universal Studios, you will most likely need to drive and park at the Universal Parking Garage. This is a huge complex – holding over 10,000 vehicles per day! – that services both the theme parks and CityWalk (Volcano Bay parking is separate).

Despite its size, the parking at Universal Orlando is well organized, and easy to connect to the theme parks. Once you’ve parked – sometimes the luck of the draw just how close you are, you come to the same arrival point as shuttles and public transport, where security checks are carried out before you enter the Universal complex.

If you’re using your car’s navigation system or Google Maps, simply plugin:

Parking Garage Address For Theme Parks And Universal CityWalk
6000 Universal Boulevard
Orlando, FL 32819

GPS Geocode

  • Latitude: 28.47399
  • Longitude: -81.46228

Cost to Park at Univeral Orlando: (As of 2023)

  • Prime Parking: $60
  • Prime Upgrade: $33
  • RV/Bus Parking: $32
  • Regular Parking: $27

As the name might suggest, Prime gets you a closer spot to the entrance. If you are traveling with many small kids or the elderly, it may well be worth the upgrade. There’s separate designated parking for the disabled.

Valet parking options are also available for an additional cost but maximum convenience.

It is free to park after 6:00 pm other than a few special event occasions during the year and free to park for cinema matinee shows, with a validated ticket. Budget & Avis rental cars can upgrade to Prime Parking (after regular parking is paid) using a voucher.

Do factor in the time to get from the car park entrance to the theme parks, too – even with travelators passing through security checks and Universal CityWalk; you’ll want to allow 15 to 25 minutes from entering the parking garage to the theme park gates.

Final Tips Planning a Trip to Orlando

There is so much more to a family vacation in Orlando. Universal Orlando is undoubtedly our family’s favorite theme park vacation, but there’s plenty more!

  • Walt Disney World is the obvious second choice – and a favorite for many others, especially with toddlers and younger children. WDW is undoubtedly epic! Covering 27000 acres, four main theme parks, two waterparks, Disney Springs and Disney Boardwalk, and ESPN Wide World of Sport, theme park fans are undoubtedly going to want to split their time between the two major theme parks. See here how to get between Universal and Disney World.
  • Indeed, that’s not where the theme park action ends. Orlando is also home to SeaWorld, Aquatica Orlando, and Discovery Cove. Add to that LEGOLAND Florida and the soon-to-open Peppa Pig Theme Park. There’s no wonder you can literally spend WEEKS in Orlando and not run out of new things to do every day. We have a complete guide to all the Orlando theme parks here.

Beyond the theme parks, there are plenty more family activities and smaller attractions to enjoy in Orlando.

We hope we’ve not overloaded you with too much information! There’s much to take in when you’ve just begun planning.

Establishing your available time is the first step, then narrow in on deals, accommodation, and tickets before planning everything you’ll do at the theme parks.

Unlike Disney World, where it feels you need to plan to the minute months, Universal is far more easygoing; once your dates are set, simply pick your start time and transport each day and go with the flow!

Will you be off to Universal Orlando soon? We’d love to help you with your plans, drop us any questions you might have in the comments below

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