When most people travel to Orlando, Florida, they run straight to Disney, causing many travelers to miss out on experiencing Universal Studios Resort. This is such a shame because Universal is not a theme park to be overlooked. For first-time visitors, the experience, just like at Disney, can be a little overwhelming, so we are here to help! Here are ten tips to help you make the best of your first Universal Orlando vacation.
- THREE DIFFERENT THEME PARKS – ALL KINDS OF AMAZING!
Three theme parks make up Universal Resort – Universal Studios, Island of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Universal Studios is also home to the classic movie set replicas, Diagon Alley, The Mummy Returns, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, Hogwarts Express and many other thrilling attractions. Islands of Adventure is where you will find Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, Jurassic Park, Seuss Land, The Hulk and much more to keep the entertainment going all day long. Looking for a day in the water? Head on over to Volcano Bay for some of the most exhilarating water slides around.
- SINGLE PARK OR PARK – TO – PARK…WHICH TICKET IS FOR ME?
If you are a Harry Potter fan (and who isn’t?) this answer is simple: you will need a park-to-park ticket to climb “all aboard!”. Hogwarts Express carries passengers between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Your park ticket will be checked upon entering King’s Cross Station (Universal Studios) or Hogsmeade Station (Islands of Adventure), so, there is no other way to experience the train ride of a lifetime without park – to – park tickets for everyone in your party.
- UNIVERSAL EXPRESS PASS VS. UNIVERSAL UNLIMITED EXPRESS
Universal Express Pass is a ticket add-on that allows visitors to bypass the regular lines at most rides throughout Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Universal Express is good once per ride per day, while Universal Unlimited Express is good multiple times on the same attraction each day (hello rollercoaster heaven!) You may purchase this ticket add-on through your “Adventures by Jamie” travel advisor. But wait…there’s more! Guests staying at one of the Universal premier hotels will receive this complimentary add-on (approximately $129 per person value) as part of their room package! Can you say best day ever?!
- ON SITE HOTELS OR OFF SITE HOTELS…HOW DO I CHOOSE?
Universal has a hotel for every style and budget- there really is something for everyone! The hotels are broken down into 3 categories:
-VALUE: These are budget-friendly properties a bit further away from Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and CityWalk. However, they give you direct access to Volcano Bay, so if water parks are your thing – look no further! The hotels in this category are Universal’s Aventura Hotel, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites, and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites.
– PREFERRED HOTELS: This level of property is a step-up from the value resorts. These hotels are a bit closer to the parks compared to the value properties. Water taxi service is a fun transportation option offered at preferred hotels. However, there is only one property in this category, and that is the Lowes Sapphire Falls Resort.
– PREMIER HOTELS: If you choose to stay at a premier hotel; you will have bigger rooms, more luxurious amenities, closer proximity to the parks, water taxi service from your hotel to City Walk, and complimentary Universal Unlimited Express Pass. While these resorts are the most expensive on property, they really do get you the most bang for your buck. The three properties in this category are Hard Rock Hotel (which is the closest to the parks), Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel, and Lowes Royal Pacific Resort.
There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to where to stay at Universal. And while each tier has its own pros and cons, guests staying at any of the Universal hotel properties will receive early entrance one hour before normal opening time at Universal Studios and complimentary package delivery to your room when you purchase from the souvenir shops throughout the parks. Hello, convenience!
- TICKET ADD ONS – You remember how we said planning your first trip to Universal can be overwhelming? Well…these next two points are what we are talking about. There are all kinds of add-ons to make your Universal Orlando vacation even more awesome. There’s the Marvel Character Dinner, photo packages, VIP experiences and more. Be sure to talk to me for details about these options when you are ready to book your Universal Vacation. With so many amazing and fun add ons, it can be hard to narrow down your preferences. Your “Adventures by Jamie” Universal Specialist is here to help you pick the best experiences for you and your party. Trust us…whatever you choose, it will be amazing! We mean…you will have the Universal magic on your side after all.
- DINING PLANS – At Universal, there are dining plans available. However, you are a bit more limited to where the plan can be used, and you cannot make advanced dining reservations like you can at Disney. However, you can use third-party services for making reservations for up to a month in advance. You can purchase a Coca-Cola Freestyle souvenir cup for unlimited refills throughout Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You pay a set fee for the first day which gets you the souvenir mug with unlimited refills for 24 hours. Then each day thereafter it is a lesser fee (every 24 hours) for unlimited refills. You can use this mug for soft drinks, Icees and water (stay hydrated, people!) And, Volcano Bay has its own refillable mug for the days you are splashing around. Feel free to bring your own snacks into the park to keep you energized throughout the day. If you would rather, there are plenty of snack carts located throughout each park.
- CITY WALK – From dining to shopping to nightlife – City Walk is the epicenter of awesome! Here you will find the likes of Hard Rock Café, Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, and Toothsome Chocolate Emporium among other amazing retailers. Be sure to stop by VooDoo’s Donuts and grab some late-night snacks or breakfast for the next morning. Take a walk on the wild side and ask to try the “ring of fire” donut…you’re welcome!
- IS THERE ENOUGH TO DO WITH LITTLE ONES? – Absolutely! Universal Orlando has the reputation of being a theme park for older kids and adults, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While many of the rides have height restrictions there is still plenty to do for smaller kids. There is: Pteranodon Flyers in Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, all types of character interactions, parades and much more. There is even child swap service at many of the rides. This allows younger guests to skip a ride (either because they are not tall enough or they do not want to go) and gives everyone else in the party an opportunity to hop on the attraction without having to go through the queue all over again.
- WHAT SHOULD I PACK IN MY PARK BAG? – Our suggestion? Don’t get bogged down by taking a bunch of items in the park. However, if you need to bring in personal items, there are lockers available throughout the parks at most of the major rides. Keep in mind you will not be allowed to take your bags on most rides and all bags will be searched by security before entering the parks.
- IF I ONLY NEED TICKETS AND NOT ACCOMODATIONS…WHY SHOULD I USE A TRAVEL ADVISOR? – This answer is the easiest out of every tip we have shared. Tickets purchased through a travel agent guarantee the one-hour early access to the parks, just like on-site hotel guests get. Visitors cannot get this by purchasing through the Universal consumer site themselves. Early park entry…yes, please!
As you can see, life at Universal Studios Resort is a whole different world; and while it can be intimidating at first, we promise that planning is half the fun! If you are ready to book a Universal vacation and need a travel advisor, you’ve come to the right place. Contact your favorite “Adventures by Jamie” travel specialist today to schedule a complimentary consultation. You will be living your best theme park life before you know it. Our only request…sneak us in with you 🙂