Universal Studios Orlando in a Nutshell
Universal Studios Orlando is a massive theme park broken into 2 separate areas--Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Island of Adventure. For those of you interested specifically in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it is actually broken up across both parks. In order to visit both parks visitors must purchase Park-to-Park Admission tickets. Universal's tickets actually increased this past spring (as did Disney's) and their prices are now comparable to Disney park tickets. We've found in the past that ticket prices tend to go up in the spring, so if you're planning a visit and you've booked your stay consider purchasing tickets then rather than waiting last-minute as we've had ticket prices go up the week before we've left, which can be a bummer!
Date Visited: March 4, 2015
Crowd Levels: moderate for the most part (some rides were noticeably busier than others)
Age Range Appeal: older kids to adults depending on areas visited and what you're looking for
Here is a map of the entire Universal Florida campus.
Here is a map of the entire Universal Florida campus.
Special Note: This is a busy park and may be overwhelming for sensory kiddos. Make sure you schedule times for quiet moments if this is an issue for your family. We found the quietest area was around the water by Jurrasic Park's Discover Center. While you can travel between the 2 Harry Potter theme parks by walking--Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley--it is a very long way. The best way to go between the two parks is by hopping on the Hogwarts Express. Also, while it didn't happen while we were there, they do limit the volume of people admitted into each Harry Potter park, so come up with a backup plan in case you're left waiting to enter and visit nearby rides and attractions.
Universal Studios Orlando Tips
- Prioritize and plan to go on the rides/to the area of the park you most want to experience first. We noticed that Universal got very crowded very quickly and we had fairly long waits for a number of attractions.
- If you plan to go to either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, head there first. Universal limits the number of visitors admitted into each mini-park and once they hit capacity visitors have to wait on standby.
- Rides are often for the big kids! We found that the majority of attractions were for kids at least the size of our 9 year old or bigger. This can be a bit of an obstacle for families with young children. Aside from the Seuss themed park, most rides were definitely more appropriate for tweens to adults. Check the height requirements prior to visiting so you know ahead of time which rides you can all go on if you have young kids.
- Most rides are not for the faint of heart. Even if children are tall enough to go on rides, we found that many of Universal's rides were pretty dynamic--fast, bumpy, even harsh on the back at times. If you have sensory kiddos or little ones that don't do well on physically dramatic rides take this into account. For example, we found both the Transformers 3D ride and Minion ride were equally harsh on our bodies between slamming down and being thrown left to right. Our kids did fine on both, but Dad and I were sore after and we had to guard our youngest's face because he sat so low in the seat.
- Parent-swap is the way to go! If you want to go on rides your little guys are too little or too afraid to go on make use of the parents' single rider option! This was a truly fantastic feature that we used and appreciated. If you have a child or children that can't/won't go on a ride they allow parents to bypass much of the long line, leave the other adult and child/children in a special waiting room and skip into the single-rider line. Then once that parent is done, they swap with the parent in the waiting room and the other parent gets to hop in the single-rider line and go for a spin. We found this made it pretty pain-free and didn't add much to the overall wait for our little guys while we each took turns riding and waiting.
- Different parts of the park close at different times. We did a lot of research ahead of time and were completely unaware that some areas closed before others aside from the fact the park closed at a different time from CityWalk. Hours are partially listed on the Universal Studios Orlando site, but when we were there the Dr. Seuss area for example closed around 5 or 6 while the rest of the rides closed at 8 during the spring. I would call ahead if you have questions about specific areas.
- There are a number of bathrooms scattered throughout the parks, which we found to be very convenient and easy to find!
- There are a lot of food options, but consider checking to see if you need to make reservations if you want to eat at a specific restaurant that is not quick-service!
- CityWalk = Adults at Night. If you have little ones, we found CityWalk was more focused towards adults than families and children at night, so if you want to do anything there (there are an incredible number of shopping and restaurant options) you may want to plan to go before dark. Also, this area is incredibly busy at night.
- Construction Zone. Universal was doing a fair amount of work on some areas/rides including the Jurassic Park ride. We were told it was because they were revamping it as a result of the recently released movie. Contact Universal ahead of time if there is a specific park or ride you're interested in visiting to make sure it's not undergoing maintenance. Jurassic Park was one attraction we really wanted to visit and unfortunately were not able to--bummer since we wanted to experience the original!
- There are so many retail spots. Like Disney, just about every ride has a corresponding shop. Additionally, some areas, like both Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks, are almost entirely retail. Trust me, you will be tempted to buy, buy, buy and your little ones will be very convincing in how much they need the perfectly placed and wonderfully themed goodies throughout the parks. I really recommend budgeting a decent amount of money for souvenirs and Universal gear. While we like to spoil our little guys a little extra on vacation (especially me) we also always set budgets. We researched prices ahead of time and knew we'd be spending quite a lot and we were right. We found the biggest ticket items we purchased as a family were from Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. If you're a Potter fan, start saving! Merchandise is amazing and well-made, but has price tags to match. Minion stuff is beyond adorable as well. There was a moderate amount of Jurassic Park stuff, but I can only assume there will be new options now that the movie has launched.
- Get to the park 30-60 minutes ahead of opening (depending on the season) to make sure you get in reasonably fast. Those that stay in-resort or who purchase special tickets get early admittance--something to consider.
- Consider valet or Preferred Parking (see rates on Universal's site) as it isn't that much more and gives you great access to the entry.
- Alcohol is available at Universal. Unlike most of Disney, Universal does allow alcohol to be served in the park and in CityWalk. We saw quite a few people drinking outside of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks.
Universal Studios Orlando Experience & Ride Review
The majority of our time at Universal was spent in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (we'll be discussing both areas in separate posts coming soon), but we did spend time visiting some other attractions and rides in Island of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. As we mentioned above, our little guys weren't big enough for a number of rides (especially our 7 year old), which limited us as to what we could go on. We didn't want to make them wait too much doing the parent-swap option, so we only hit up rides outside of Wizarding World of Harry Potter that we could all enjoy.
Popular rides had fairly long wait times and a lot of the waiting areas we stood in were outside (many shaded or partially shaded). It was unseasonably hot when were there (about 90 in March), so make sure you bring along water and sunscreen!
|We paid for Preferred Parking and were able to park very close to the entrance to CityWalk, which is the main way into the park.|
|The walk to the entrance takes a few minutes when it isn't super busy. There are a number of conveyor belt style moving platforms if you have little guys so they don't wear their legs out before even reaching the park!|
|The end of the walkway between the parking garage and CityWalk opens up to this area, which has some vendors that open once the parks do. From what I remember there may have also been an ATM here as well.|
|From CityWalk you have to walk to the main gates for Universal Studios.|
|There are 2 buildings you can purchase tickets from and in between you can walk to the main gate where they scan and check tickets prior to admitting you.|
|We were third in our line, which was great. Unfortunately, they had workers go to each line once the park officially opened to scan tickets and for some reason our line didn't get anyone for a good 5-10 minutes.|
|Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was one of the rides we went on with the little guys. It was super cute overall, but the ride itself was a bit rough with the slamming. The wait was about 30+ minutes for us in the afternoon.|
|Who doesn't want to become a minion?!|
|Though we technically weren't there for Mardi Gras, we were there close enough that Universal was still celebrating! We didn't take part in anything because we had the kids and aren't big drinkers.|
|Who doesn't love Optimus Prime?|
|If you're heading to Wizarding World of Harry Potter head this way!|
Bathroom Alert!: There are several bathrooms coming up ahead.
|We didn't stop here since we're New Englanders and seafood is pretty readily available, but this place looked like a nice restaurant to stop and take a break at.|
|Jurassic Park, how badly we wanted to visit you! I have to admit, just walking through this arch was a pretty amazing thrill for us (Dad and I grew up seeing the original). We were bummed the ride was under renovation though!|
|We may not have gone on the ride, but at least the kids got to pose by the car AND get photobombed by a dinosaur!|
|This was actually really neat! It was a photo-op with a person in a super convincing robotic Optimus Prime suit! There were other characters there at different points as well. This thing was amazing to watch!|
That was most of what we visited outside of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The rides had some pretty stellar effects and some of the themes were really cute. We did visit the Dr. Seuss park, but it was dusk at that point and honestly, it felt a bit rundown in comparison to other parts of the park so we didn't take pics.
Buckle up and get ready because we're about to share our amazing experiences at Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley!
Don't forget to check out all of our features from our 2015 Orlando Family Travel Guide:
Note: This trip was in no way sponsored. All opinions mentioned above are our own based on our experiences.