Best Universal Orlando Tips
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Universal Orlando Resort is one of our very favorite theme parks to visit, and with the recent addition of Volcano Bay, it’s better than ever. To make the most of your trip, we’ve put together our very best Universal Orlando tips and put them all in one place.

We think it’s one of the best guides on the web, and we hope it helps your family get the most out of  your Universal Orlando Resort vacation.

Universal Orlando Tips – Over 50 ways to have more fun at Universal Orlando Resort
Our best Universal Orlando tips

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. There is no additional cost to you, and it helps us to bring you more great content like this. Thanks!

Access the secret playlist on Rip Ride Rockit

One of our family’s favorite Universal Studios Orlando tips is the secret music playlist on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. The way it works is this: when you sit down in the car, pull down the restraint and find the button with the Rip Ride Rockit logo. Push and hold the button for 8-10 seconds. Release the button and a numeric keypad will appear. Punch in the 3-digit code of the song you want, and press enter! Thanks to Best of Orlando for this awesome list.

Expand to see all Rip Ride Rockit song selections +

101 – The Temples of Syrinx by Rush
102 – Blues Before & After by The Smithereens
103 – Break on Through by The Doors
104 – Crocodile Rock by Elton John
105 – Do it Again by Steely Dan
106 – Don’t You by Candlebox
107 – Drivin’ Rain by Gov’t Mule
108 – Eight Miles High by The Byrds
109 – Fantasy by Aldo Nova
110 – Fool by Rollins Band
111 – For The Love Of God by Steve Vai
112 – Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
113 – Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin
114 – Just Because by Jane’s Addiction
115 – Live by Lenny Kravitz
116 – Mexicola by Queens of the Stone Age
117 – Rock instrumental
118 – Latin/jazz/funk instrumental
119 – Rock instrumental
120 – Rock instrumental
121 – Runnin’ Down a Dream by Tom Petty
122 – Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones
123 – Stockholm Syndrome by Muse
124 – Diary of Jane by Breaking Benjamin
125 – R&B/soul
126 – Rock instrumental
127 – Urgent by Foreigner
128 – Vertigo by U2
129 – Wheel in the Sky by Journey
130 – Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who
131 – Klein Mandelbrot by Blue Man Group
132 – Drumbone by Blue Man Group
301 – Float On by Modest Mouse
302 – I Want You Back by The Jackson Five
303 – In My Pocket by The Cat Empire
304 – It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me by Billy Joel
305 – Brothers Gonna Work It Out by Public Enemy
306 – Lose Yourself by Eminem
307 – Ride Like The Wind by Christopher Cross
308 – Run to You by Bryan Adams
309 – Save Room by John Legend
310 – Vogue by Madonna
311 – You Make Loving Fun by Fleetwood Mac
312 – My Everything by Barry White
501 – Latin/jazz/rock instrumental
502 – Country/bluegrass instrumental
503 – Funk instrumental
504 – Smokin Gun by Robert Cray
505 – Jazz instrumental
506 – The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King
507 – Who Did You Think I Was by John Mayer
508 – Pivot by Dry
701 – Cyanide by Metallica
702 – Endangered Species by Flaw
703 – For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica
704 – Forever Down by Black Label Society
705 – How Heavy This Axe by The Sword
706 – Just One Fix by Ministry
707 – Know your Enemy by Rage Against the Machine
708 – Let’s Go by Ministry
709 – Mouth for War by Pantera
710 – Painkiller by Judas Priest
711 – Paranoid by Black Sabbath
712 – Temptation’s Wings by Down
713 – The Wicker Man by Iron Maiden
714 – Unreal by Ill Nino
715 – Wake Up Dead by Megadeth
716 – We Call This Mutha Revenge by Suicidal Tendencies
718 – You’ve Got Another Thing Comin by Judas Priest
901 – Moving Right Along by The Muppets
902 – The Rainbow Connection by The Muppets
903 – Your Attitude Towards Cuttlefish by Paper Moon
904 – Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Best Universal Orlando rides - Rip Ride Rockit
What’s your jam?

Stay at a premier resort for Express Unlimited Passes and other perks

If you are staying at one of the premium hotels at Universal – Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, or the Royal Pacific Resort – Express Unlimited Passes are included with your stay for Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (not Volcano Bay). This is a huge benefit and can save families a ton of cash on their stay.

Universal Studios hotels - Hard Rock Hotel Orlando front lobby
Rock your vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando

Consider this: A 1-day Express Pass will set you back ~$100 per person per day. If your family of four decides to use Express Unlimited Passes on two of the days, that comes out to ~$800 just for the passes. That doesn’t even include the tickets to the parks! If you had plans to stay off-site or at one of the other Universal Orlando Resort hotels, and also wanted Express Unlimited Passes, you would do much better to pay an extra $100 per night to stay at a premium property and get the passes thrown in.

Win-win

Staying with Universal also means you get early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay.

Win-win-win

The value is there and the resorts are nice, so check them out! Here are links to the reviews on TripAdvisor to help you choose:

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

Use your room key to get priority seating at some restaurants

Universal Orlando restaurants - The Cowfish in CityWalk
Burgers and Sushi at The Cowfish

Guests at Universal’s Premier Resorts – Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort – get priority seating at most restaurants at CityWalk and the resort hotels. Just show your key card at the host table when you arrive.

Arrive at the parks early

We can’t stress this enough.

Even if you’re not staying at one of the Universal Orlando Resort Hotels, make sure that you are at the entrance ready to go 30 minutes before the turnstiles open. Also make sure that you factor breakfast, parking, tickets, etc., into your equation so you can stick to a schedule. Once the parks open, you’ll want to ride the most popular rides first, so have a plan and stick to it.

This one tip will ensure that you get to experience everything in the parks. With small children, getting up early isn’t easy, but if your goal is to make the most of your visit, then getting moving in the mornings is essential! You can sleep on the plane on the way home.

Wi-Fi is free at Universal

Universal Orlando Resort has pretty good Wi-Fi around the parks and it’s free! Don’t forget to switch over and save on your data plan.

Universal Studios tips

Download and use the Universal app

Before your trip, download the Universal Orlando app for your mobile device and learn to use it before you arrive. It’s useful for many things, like finding nearby restrooms, keeping an eye on wait times, keeping track of park tickets and Universal meal plans, and setting up payments with your Tapu Tapu band while visiting Volcano Bay. You can also use the app to get your Virtual Line Pass for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. The app will let you know when it’s time to show up for the ride.Universal Orlando vacations at Volcano Bay

Buy some of your souvenirs before your trip.

It’s a fact of life that as soon as your kids (or you!) see all the cool stuff for sale, they’ll want you to buy it all immediately. This is especially true while wandering through Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. You’ll want a few souvenirs from your trip of course, but you can save some time and money by purchasing a few things for your trip before you arrive.

Universal Studios Harry Potter robe
Buy your robes before you visit

Good examples are house robes that you might want to wear around the park to get that perfect Instagram photo with your Butterbeer. Get yourself a Hogwarts hat and a pair of Luna Lovegood Spectrespecs to combat the Florida sun for good measure.

Wear sunscreen!

Florida has a lot of sunshine, so don’t go and get a sunburn on your first day at the parks, making the rest of your vacation miserable. If you are checking bags, you can purchase in advance and pack it, but there are also plenty of places to buy it when you get there. Our favorite is Sun Bum. It’s reef-safe, smells good, and works great.

Have a chat with the Mystic Fountain in Islands of Adventure

Head over to Sindbad’s Bazaar and strike up a conversation with the Mystic Fountain. He’s always funny, and loves to match wits with guests. Toss in a coin and see what happens, and if it happens to be your birthday, be sure to get your birthday badge from Guest Services and then go tell the fountain for a fun experience!Mystic Fountain - Universal Studios Orlando rides

Eat dinner early

Try to time your meals so they aren’t during prime dining hours, especially if you don’t have reservations anywhere. For supper, this means shooting for 4:00 or so. A good plan is to eat a big breakfast at the hotel, pack some snacks in a backpack for lunch, and then have an early supper. Restaurants in CityWalk will get really crowded as the evening wears on, so the earlier the better.Universal Orlando CityWalk - things to do in Orlando

Use Undercover Tourist to buy discounted Universal Orlando tickets

Undercover Tourist is our go-to for discounted tickets to Universal Orlando Resort. They offer several different packages and options at a discount over the gate price, all with free shipping and no hidden fees. Awesome.

Check the latest deals on Universal Orlando Resorts Tickets here.

Plan on staying for three days at least, but four is ideal.

If you want to experience all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer, then 3 days is the absolute minimum we would recommend, but four is better. This gives you a day at Islands of Adventure, a day at Universal Studios Orlando, and one at Volcano Bay. A fourth allows you to hit anything that you missed, or to just enjoy your day without the pressure of trying to do everything.Orlando theme parks - Volcano Bay

Related: Check out our guide to the best Orlando hotels for families. We reviewed some really great hotels near Universal Orlando, and we’ve put them all in one place!

Dial up the Ministry of Magic

The red phone booth outside King’s Cross Station isn’t just for photo ops. Grab your copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and flip to chapter seven for your clue. Dial the correct numbers to hear a message from the Ministry.Universal Studios Orlando Harry Potter

Take bags that will fit in a small-ish locker

Universal Orlando Resort has a strict carry-on policy when it comes to taking items onto rides. The thrill rides like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and The Incredible Hulk Coaster require you to put any (and we mean ANY) loose items into a locker before you enter the line.

You’ll also pass through metal detectors just to make sure you’re following the rules. Because of this, make sure that you are carrying bags or backpacks small enough that can easily fit into the lockers. Small lockers are free to use for the duration of your ride. If you want a permanent locker for the day or have a backpack that is too large, you can rent those as well.

These 20l packable daypacks from Eddie Bauer are a good choice and fold up nice and neat into your luggage when not in use.

Rides that provide complimentary lockers

  • Universal Studios Florida

    Revenge of the Mummy
    Men in Black: Alien Attack
    Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

  • Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure

    The Incredible Hulk Coaster
    Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Buy your tickets with an Amex to gain access to the lounge inside Universal Studios

Revenge of the Mummy Universal Studios Florida rides
Welcome to the Amex lounge!

If you decide to purchase your tickets directly from Universal Orlando Resort, be sure you use an American Express Card to gain access to the American Express lounge inside Universal Studios. From UniversalOrlando.com:

Get access to the American Express Lounge in Universal Studios Florida™ when you buy any Universal Orlando™ Multi-Park Ticket or Annual Pass with any American Express Card at UniversalOrlando.com or at the Universal Orlando Resort™ ticket window.

Take a relaxing break during your afternoon and enjoy complimentary light snacks, drinks, a full-time concierge and more.

The American Express Lounge is open seven days a week from 12–5 pm and subject to availability.

Entrance to the American Express Lounge is located in Universal Studios Florida™ across from Shrek’s Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe. Terms apply**.

We popped in to the lounge during our last visit, and we can tell you, the air conditioning and cold bottled water are nice!

Bring your AAA card

Bettlejuice at Universal park Orlando
Longtime AAA member Beetlejuice

Many of the restaurants around the resort will give you a 10% discount for showing your card when you dine. Memberships currently run $52 for the classic membership. You’d probably get most of that back on your vacation and still get the benefits of AAA for the year. Easy money.

Visit Ollivander’s and get in line for the Wand Chooses the Wizard Experience

One of the many wonders of the Wizarding World at Universal is the Wand Chooses the Wizard Experience at Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Hop in line and maybe you’ll get picked to be part of the show. None of us in our family have been picked yet unfortunately, but it’s fun to watch the magic. Afterwards, browse the shop and pick up a wand of your own. Interactive wands (the kind that allow you to do magic around the park) run $50 and the resin collector wands cost $44. If you already have a wand, the show is still fun to watch and be a part of.Universal Orlando Harry Potter Ollivander's Wand Shop

Take advantage of “child swap” with young children

If you have small children in your family that may not be tall enough to ride a particular ride, no problem! Just stand in line as you normally would with the whole family and then tell the attendant you want to do a “child swap.” One parent will ride while another waits with the kids who can’t ride. When the ride is over, the parents swap so the other can ride.

Use Volcano Bay to relax and break up your vacation

If you’ll be visiting all three Universal parks (especially in summer), break up your visits by putting Volcano Bay in between visits to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Volcano Bay is a great way to relax and recharge from all the sweating and walking from the previous day. It’s the perfect way to just relax, get some food and drinks delivered right to your seats, and enjoy the day.

Be sure to read our comprehensive guide to visiting Volcano Bay here.Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Florida

Order a pumpkin fizz off the secret menu at Three Broomsticks

Pumpkin Juice can be found all over the Wizarding World, but you need to visit Three Broomsticks to order a Pumpkin Fizz. This concoction is like a pumpkin pie soda, and was also mentioned in the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for curious muggles.The Three Broomsticks at Universal Studios Harry Potter World

Use Universal’s package delivery service

Don’t waste precious locker space by lugging all your souvenirs around the park. Take advantage of Universal’s package delivery service. Just let the cashier know you’d like to have your items delivered, and pick them up on your way out of the park. Packages will be available within three hours of purchase or drop-off at the following locations:

  • Universal Studios

    Pick up at It’s A Wrap (located next to the main exit turnstiles)

  • Islands of Adventure

    Pick up at Port Provisions (located next to the main exit turnstiles)

  • Volcano Bay

    Pick up at Waturi Marketplace (located near the main exit turnstiles)

  • CityWalk

    Pick up at the merchandise store in the parking garage hub (located next to the security check area)

Sapphire Falls Universal Studios Orlando hotels
Loews Sapphire Falls

If you’re staying at one of the Universal Orlando hotels, you can have your items delivered right to the hotel where they’ll be available the next day.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel – Room delivery
Hard Rock Hotel – Room delivery
Loews Royal Pacific Resort – Room delivery
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort – Room delivery
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort – Pick up at front desk (photo ID required)
Universal’s Aventura Hotel – Pick up at front desk (photo ID required)

Buy a multi-day pass

If you’ll be visiting the resort for more than a day, it always makes sense to go ahead and purchase multi-day passes. The longer you stay, the cheaper the daily cost of the ticket. We recommend a park-to-park pass for at least one of those days so that you can ride the Hogwart’s Express back and forth between parks.

See if you can find Kreacher peeking out the window

Creature at Universal Studios Florida Harry Potter
Peek-A-Boo

As you walk through London near the Knight Bus, take a look up in the window as you pass 12 Grimmauld Place for a glimpse of Kreacher.

Buy your tickets online to save time and a little money over gate prices

Buying your Universal Studios tickets directly from Universal online will save you $20 per ticket off the gate price. Be sure to use your American Express card to pay so you can get access to the lounge inside Universal Studios.

Have a plan for the day – we recommend touringplans.com

For a small fee, sign up for their Lines app. It has customizable touring plans for getting through the parks in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Their app also shows current wait times, maps, and suggestions along the way.

If you decide to change up your plans halfway through, the app will re-calculate your plan for you, which is really cool. They’ve never led us astray, and we feel it’s money well spent to make sure you get to ride everything in the parks.Islands of Adventure Harry Potter - Hogwart's Castle at Night

Buy Park to Park Tickets

Park to Park tickets ensure that you can move freely between all the parks on the same day if you like. You can save money by skipping this option (for instance, if you know you want to just do one park per day), but we recommend at least one day purchasing a park to park ticket. Why?

The Hogwart’s Express

Without a park to park ticket, you won’t be allowed to ride the Hogwart’s Express between King’s Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station, which are in separate parks, and let’s face it, that would be just too unmagical to bear.Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley

Factor parking into your budget

Parking will set you back $25 per day, so make sure you factor this into your budget. This is for all theme parks, including Volcano Bay. If you stay at a luxury resort hotel, the charge is $22 for hotel guests, and Cabana Bay charges $12.

The good news? The parking at Universal Orlando Resort is in a covered garage so your vehicle doesn’t bake all day out in the Florida sun.

Travel in spring or fall for smaller crowds and great deals

Skull Island at Universal theme park
Skull Island – Reign of Kong

Crowds will always be smaller outside of the summer months, so if your schedule allows, try visiting then. Universal also tends to run some pretty good promotions during these times as well, so be on the lookout for packages and deals that can save your family money, like buy 2 days- get 2 free.

Consider visiting during one of the big seasonal events

Universal Orlando Resort has some really great seasonal events like Mardi Gras, Halloween Horror Nights, and Christmas at UOR. Past events have also included a Celebration of Harry Potter, including special experiences for Harry Potter fans including bringing in actors from the movies. Check the Universal Calendar to see if any of these events might appeal to your family. Getting to see a smaller version of the Macy’s Holiday Parade and celebrating Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure sound like lots of fun!

Stick around at night for the The Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts Castle

One of our favorite Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips is an easy one. Be sure to make time at the end of your day to make your way over to Hogwarts for the light show. It’s a cool light projection show set to music that all Harry Potter fans will love. The shows begin at dusk and runs for 10 minutes or so until park closing. Universal Studios Harry Potter ride - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Sync up your TapuTapu with your Universal account

Before you visit Volcano Bay, be sure you have set up an account within the Universal app on your phone. Then, once you arrive at the park, you can sync up your TapuTapu bracelet with that account.

Your TapuTapu isn’t just for getting into virtual lines. The TapuTapu wristband also works for meal and souvenir purchases, allows you to get in and out of your rented lockers, and open and shut the lockers in your cabana if you have one. It’s your key to most things in the park, and it allows families to spend more time enjoying Volcano Bay and less time waiting for a ride, so maximize it.

Upgrade to the Club Level for small meals and bottled water

Depending on the property, it might be worth paying extra to stay on the Club Level, which gets you access to the lounge for breakfast, evening drinks, small meals, and bottled water. If your family prefers a light breakfast, the ~$100 premium might be worth it, especially since you can stuff your backpacks with cold bottled water before you head out to the parks. It’s also a great reason to get out of the heat of the afternoon. Grab some snacks and drinks, then visit the pool to relax and recharge before you head back for some more magic.Casting spells in Harry Potter World Universal

Take advantage of the extra early hour for resort guests

Cabana Bay Resort at Universal Florida
Cabana Bay is right next to Volcano Bay

It’s always good to remember that guests of any of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels get early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay one hour before the park opens. This is especially great for guests staying at either Cabana Bay or Aventura because they don’t require a shuttle to get there – it’s just a short walk away!

Book dining reservations in advance

If you plan on having a nice dinner at one of the restaurants, make sure to reserve a table. Your hotel concierge desk can help you with this, or you can call the dining reservation line yourself at (407) 224-FOOD (3663).Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios Orlando Florida

Did your wand quit doing magic? Get a new one for free.

One of the most magical aspects of the Wizarding World are the interactive wands that allow you to perform magic around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. If you return to the parks at a later date, be sure to bring your wand also. If you find that the ‘magic’ has run out of it, simply take it back to Ollivander’s for a replacement free of charge.

Accio Butterbeer!

Cheers to that, Universal.Harry Potter Universal Florida

Take advantage of single rider lines

Universal Studios Orlando rides list - The Incredible Hulk Coaster
Hulk says use the single rider lines!

If you don’t have younger kids and don’t mind splitting up to ride, consider the single rider lines. Riders in these lines are slipped into the vacant seats that might be left open by larger groups of people and generally allow you to get through the line quicker than the normal line. They open and close them at the discretion of the ride attendants, but they are a great way to maximize your time in the parks if you don’t want to upgrade to an Express Pass.

Visit Diagon Alley first thing and/or later in the evening

If you have early admission to Universal Studios, head over to Diagon Alley to experience Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Ollivanders before it gets crowded. Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade will get extremely busy in the late morning and afternoon. Lines for Gringotts can easily get to 2-3 hours long later in the day, so it’s best to visit either first thing in the morning or in the evening after dinner once the crowds have thinned out.Use your Universal Orlando express pass for Escape from Gringott's

Occasionally, Universal will switch early park admission over to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure depending on expected crowd sizes for the day. Be sure to check the calendar before you set out to see which is open early.

Order a Flaming Moe at Moe’s Tavern

The Flaming Moe is the signature drink of Springfield, so be sure to pick up one of these specialties during your visit. Although it’s nothing more than orange soda and dry ice, the effect makes it look like it’s boiling and smoking. Get your Flaming Moe at Simpson’s Fast Food Blvd.

Stop by the Owl Post in Hogsmeade to get a special postmark

Want to make your muggle friends jealous? Send them a letter or postcard from the Owl Post in Hogsmeade. It will get its own special postmark and go out with the rest of the mail. An owl should have it delivered in no time at all.Things to do at Universal Studios - visit the Owl Post

Prepare for motion sickness

Many of the rides at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios are 3-D or 4-D and create the illusion of movement with lots of jerks and swings and spinning. For our weak tummies, it’s just too much, so prepare yourself with some ginger drops, Dramamine, or something that works for you.

Our first trip to Universal was challenging because we wanted to ride everything, but we had to take breaks in between rides to let things settle. Below is a list of rides that may get to you, but in our experience, the biggest offenders are The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, The Simpsons Ride, TRANSFORMERS, and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. We avoid the ones that spin altogether.The Simpsons Ride - what to do at Universal Studios

Universal’s Islands of Adventure
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: motion simulator and 3D
Storm Force Accelatron: spinning ride
Skull Island: Reign of Kong: motion simulator and 3D
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: motion simulator
Incredible Hulk Coaster: roller coasterThe Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal Studios Orlando parks

Universal Studios Florida
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: motion simulator, roller coaster sequences and 3D
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit: roller coaster
Revenge of the Mummy: indoor roller coaster
The Simpsons Ride: motion simulator
TRANSFORMERS: motion simulator and 3D
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon: motion simulator and 3D.
Kang & Kodos’ Twirl and Hurl: spinning ride

Twirl N Hurl - Things to do at Universal Studios Orlando
Nope!

Ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions

Armed with your park-to-park passes, be sure to ride the Hogwart’s Express in both directions. The experience is different depending on whether you’re travelling from Hogsmeade or King’s Cross Station.Park to Park Hogwarts Express Harry Potter World Orlando tickets

Try some Butterbeer

Butterbeer in Orlando studios Harry Potter
Butterbeer mustache

This tip probably goes without saying, but trying the Butterbeer is a must when you’re visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It can be found throughout the park in both the restaurants and beverage carts. Be sure to try the tasty variants as well, like Butterbeer ice cream and warm Butterbeer during the winter months.

Grab a photo with a raptor

Raptor Encounter - best rides at Universal Studios Orlando
Don’t feed the Raptors!

One of the funniest things we did during our visit was the Raptor Encounter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Hop in line to learn some facts about these clever creatures, but approach the paddock carefully! Our kids were just narrowly ‘rescued’ from the Raptor who thought they might be a tasty snack! This is a really well done experience and perfect for getting some great photos and videos, so have your phones and cameras ready.

Related: If you need a good travel camera, be sure to check out our guide here.

Bring your own food and drinks into the parks if you wish

If you have a food allergy, require gluten-free snacks, or just want to save some money, Universal allows guests to bring their own (no glass though).bring food into Universal Studios - sugar quills

Reserve beach seating and/or cabanas in advance

We loved our visit to Universal’s Volcano Bay (read more about our visit here), and one reason was we decided to splurge on a cabana with some friends. It was a great decision and made our day incredibly relaxing. It also helped us wait out the inevitable afternoon Florida thunderstorm. While many of the guests called it quits because of the rain, we stuck around in our cabana, and then had the park nearly to ourselves for a few hours.

Cabana rentals - planning a trip to Universal Studios Orlando
Cabanas at Volcano Bay

If a full-blown cabana isn’t in your budget, Volcano Bay also has other options like sun chairs with umbrellas and small lockers available. Regardless of what you choose, if you want reserved seating or a cabana, you must call and book early. As soon as you know the dates you’ll be visiting, give them a call and reserve your spot. They will sell out!

Stay at a Universal Orlando Resort Hotel

There are many great reasons to stay at a Universal Orlando Resort Hotel like early admission to the parks, shopping privileges, and complimentary transportation, and we highly recommend staying. Remember that if you’re staying at one of the premium resorts, you also get perks like Express Unlimited Passes which can be a huge time saver during busy summer months.Loews Sapphire Falls - hotels near Universal Studios Orlando

Here are some other things to think about when you are making your choices.

  • If you want quick and easy access to Universal’s Volcano Bay, stay at the Aventura or Cabana Bay. Not only do you get early access to this park, it’s just a short walk to get here which means you’ll probably beat all the other guests at the other hotels who have to get up extra early to catch a bus over to the park.
  • The Hard Rock Hotel is closest to the entrances of the park (Universal Studios). For all other hotels, you’ll most likely want to catch a bus or boat to arrive.
  • Guests at Cabana Bay and Aventura must ride buses to get around – there is no boat access (although you could walk over to Sapphire Falls to ride if you really wanted to).
  • Restaurants in the resort hotels are worth dining at, so don’t hesitate to make reservations at restaurants that aren’t at your ‘home’ hotel. There is even a separate dining shuttle that you can catch directly to the hotels without having to stop first at the Universal transportation center to catch a separate bus. A steak at The Palm over at Hard Rock Hotel is totally worth the splurge, but bowling at Cabana Bay or a Luau at the Royal Pacific might also appeal to you.

Consider adding Express Passes to your tickets

Universal tips for Volcano Bay
Krakatau Water Coaster at Volcano Bay

If you plan on visiting Universal Orlando Resort during the busy summer months, then consider adding Express Passes to your tickets. They come in a couple of different varieties -Universal Express and Universal Express Unlimited – and allow you to skip the regular lines and join the shorter Express Pass lines. The Unlimited version is exactly what it says, while the basic version allows you to join the Express Line only once per ride per day.

These upgrades can be pricey, but are a great way to ensure that you get to ride the most rides in a given day if that’s your goal. Other ways to do this are using an app such as the one we like from touringplans.com, staying at any of Universal’s resort hotels and taking advantage of early admission to the parks, or staying at one of Universal’s three premier resorts which include Universal Express Unlimited Passes for the length of your stay.

  • Express Passes are different at Volcano Bay!

    If you have decided to purchase Express Passes for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, know that these do not work at Volcano Bay. There is a separate Express Pass for Volcano Bay, but if you read our guide here and plan well, you may not need them.

Visit during shoulder seasons if you can

Summer is hot and crowded at Universal Orlando Resort, no doubt about it. If your schedule allows, you’re better off visiting in spring or fall. If school starts later in the year for you, early September might be a good time to go.

Keep an eye out for Easter eggs throughout Volcano Bay

For something fun to do with your TapuTapu, look for the TapuTapu logo around the park. When you find one, touch your wristband to it and see what happens. Be sure to take a walk on the pathway through the Krakatau Volcano – the walls have a secret message for you! You can also activate water cannons along the lazy river, as well as unlock other secrets. Let us know what you find!Universal Orlando tips and tricks

Related: Aventura and Cabana Bay are within walking distance to Volcano Bay, and are perfect for taking advantage of early admission to this park.

Check the latest prices here.

Look into booking Universal Orlando packages

While booking a vacation package probably won’t save you money over booking the individual components separately (hotel/tickets/food), they do have some perks. The main benefit is when your budget doesn’t allow you to stay in one of the on-site hotels, booking a package with one of Universal’s partner hotels still gets you early admission to the parks. Guests also receive perks like scheduled transportation to the parks and discounts on merchandise, food, and drinks throughout the resort. Just be careful of any restrictions or blackout dates before you book.

Consider whether a dining plan is worth it

We’re not usually big fans of pre-paid dining plans as they usually end up being too much food for our family to handle. The calculus changes a bit for Universal Orlando, though, because they have the best food of any theme park we’ve ever visited, and their plans can represent a good value for families if done right.Antojitos in Universal Studios Orlando CityWalk

We typically eat at least one meal in the park, so let’s say that might be a burger and fries and a drink combo over at Mel’s Drive-In. That will set you back $15. Later in the day, some Butterbeer will be in order, so that will be $7. Add in a few more drinks or water during the day at $3.69 and your total is ~$30 per person.

If you bought a Universal Dining Quick-Service Plan, all of this would be covered except for 1 beverage for $23.99. At this point, you’re coming out ahead. If you purchased the same plan with the unlimited Coca-Cola Freestyle refill option, you would be breaking even at $29.99. If you purchase this plan with an American Express Card, you can save 10%.

Our thoughts are this – figure out what you will reasonably consume during the day. Does your hotel have a good breakfast you can fill up on? Are you staying on a club level where you can get free drinks and bottled water? Do you want or need unlimited soda all day, or do you want to stick to water? Will you want a large, full-service meal every day of your visit, or will quick-service suffice?

All good questions to ask.

Here are our favorite foods and places to eat around Universal Orlando Resort:

Universal Orlando restaurants - Voodoo Doughnuts
It’s good to be king (of doughnuts)

Voodoo Doll from Voodoo Doughnut – Universal CityWalk
Auntie Anne’s Pretzels – Universal CityWalk
Ribs and rotisserie chicken in Thunder Falls Terrace – Islands of Adventure near Jurassic Park River Adventure
Fish and chips with a Butterbeer at either Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron
Cheeseburger and fries at the Hard Rock Cafe (the largest HRC in the world) – Universal CityWalk
Breakfast at Amatista Cookhouse – Sapphire Falls Resort
Steak at the Palm Steakhouse – Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
Cook-to-order pizza at Red Oven Pizza Bakery – Universal CityWalk
Carne asada tacos and margaritas at Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food – Universal CityWalk
Pork belly sliders or a ridiculous dessert at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen – Universal CityWalk
Coconut crusted fried chicken or coconut curry chicken and rice from Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club – Universal’s Volcano Bay
Butterbeer Ice Cream from The Hopping Pot – Diagon Alley

Universal Orlando CityWalk - Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
Pork belly sliders at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

Cabana Bay isn’t the most luxurious resort but has some of the best perks for families.

Although the Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay score big points in the luxury column, Cabana Bay is the only hotel that has a lazy river and an on-site bowling alley. Add the fact that it’s also within walking distance to Volcano Bay for early park hours, and Cabana Bay quickly becomes a hotel to consider – especially for families with younger kids.Universal Orlando Cabana Bay tips

Check here for the latest prices at Cabana Bay.

Thinking you’ll stay dry on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls or Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges is a mistake

Universal Islands of Adventure rides
Dad just realizes this is a water ride.

You will absolutely get soaked on both of these rides, so if you don’t like spending the rest of the day in soggy shoes, don’t ride. For those that don’t mind, you may want to switch into some water shoes or flip-flops before you ride and change back when you’re done. They’re both fun rides, but consider yourself warned!

Poseidon’s Fury isn’t really a “ride.”

This is more of a show that you are led through by a guide, and you don’t even sit down, so don’t be surprised by this. The theme and story are cool, but it’s not something to sit down and relax on.Universal Islands of Adventure tips

Dine with some special friends

If your kids are at an age to appreciate it, special character dining is available at Universal Orlando Resort. From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays at Cafe La Bamba in Universal Studios, guests can dine with Spongebob SquarePants, Hop, and Dora the Explorer. You must have a valid park admission, and it will set you back $25.99 for adults and $12.99 for kids.

For Despicable Me fans, the Despicable Me character breakfast is on Saturdays at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and is served at 8:00am, 9:30am, and 11:00am. Cost is $34.99 for adults and $20.99 for ages 3-9.

During Christmas, you can dine with the Grinch at Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure.

Universal Orlando Seuss' Landing
Fortunately you don’t have to dine with these two yahoos

Other important information

Universal Orlando hours can be found here, so be sure to check first before your visit.

Universal Studios Hours – 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure Hours – 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Universal’s Volcano Bay Hours – 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Universal’s CityWalk Orlando Hours – Open until 2:00 a.m. every day.

For guests staying at a Universal Orlando hotel, Universal Studios early entry and Volcano Bay early entry begin at 8:00 a.m.

Universal Orlando parking

Universal Studios Parking is currently $25 and is located in the parking garage.

Other nearby Orlando hotels

Our guide The BEST Hotels in Orlando for Kids (That Parents Will Love Too!) is full of great options for families that may want to explore other hotel options, so have a look.

Did you find some Universal Orlando Tips that you can use on your next trip?

We hope this guide helps you plan a better family vacation to Universal Orlando Resort. Let us know if our tips were helpful when you get back, and let us know if we missed anything.

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