FAQ: Universal Orlando
Many clients have asked me: “Should we do a day or two at Universal as part of our Disney trip?” My answer is “it depends”.
There are a few important factors to consider:
Are your children over 54” tall? Or even over 48” tall?
Are you planning a full week in Orlando?
Do your kids LOVE Harry Potter?
Do your kids (or you!) love Marvel Super Heroes?
Do you and your kids like bigger coasters and intense 3D attractions (no motion sickness issues)
Do you and your kids enjoy water rides?
If you answered "yes” to most of these questions - then yes, you should consider adding Universal into your Orlando plans, and if you read below I’ll share my tips for a adding a stop at Universal Orlando to your Disney trip.
What is Universal Orlando?
The Universal Orlando Resort is an entertainment resort comprised of two theme parks, one new water park, five onsite resorts, and a shopping and dining district called City Walk. It is located about 25 minutes from Orlando International Airport, and about 20 minutes from Walt Disney World.
How do we incorporate a day at Universal as a part of a larger trip?
When my family has added a day at Universal to our trips we generally go to Universal first, and have booked our first night in Orlando at a Universal hotel. Some people do not like split stays because they don’t want to deal with moving luggage from one place to another, and I totally get that. We have decided that the benefits of staying on-site outweigh the inconvenience for our family (see next section). If you are open to a split stay I highly recommend doing your Universal stay at the beginning of your trip, if you aren’t up for a split stay plan your Universal day for mid-week. (You can use Uber/Lyft to get from WDW to Universal)
Where should we stay?
Universal Orlando has five onsite hotels. All onsite hotels include Early Park Admission to at least one park per day, and free transportation to the parks. Three resorts also include an upgraded ticket with your stay: Universal Unlimited Express Pass. This add-on to your ticket lets you skip the lines at almost all the attractions, and there is no reservation system so you can do it anytime, and as many times as you want! This has a real value of up to $179/person/day, so while these rooms are pricier you definitely want to do the math. I consider this pass worth its weight in gold during busy times of the year, if you are only there a day or two, or if you/your kids just can't stand lines! If you want to get this option for “free” you will need to book a night at the Hard Rock Orlando, Loews Portofino Bay or Loews Royal Pacific. You can use the Express Pass benefit on your arrival or departure day, or both. We loved our stay at the Loews Portofino Bay last Spring Break, the Italian theming is beautiful and we loved our upscale dinner at Bico. Our servers were amazing, a totally high end experience (well, except that we were dining with four children...). We also really loved the Royal Pacific! It is very easy to get to the parks via the complimentary water taxi system from all 3 of their "deluxe" level hotels.
Loews Portofino Bay
Which tickets should I buy?
If you want to see everything Harry Potter related in 1 day, you will need a 2 park ticket. There are Wizarding Worlds in both of the Universal Orlando theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and they are connected via the Hogwarts Express. If you want to see and do most headliner attractions you will either need to pay to upgrade to Universal Unlimited Express, or book a night at one of the three hotels that comes with it. It is usually cheaper for us to get a room at one of the 3 top tier hotels, than the cost to pay to upgrade tickets for our family of 4. (Talk to me and we can plan the most economical way to tour both parks!)
Is there an app for this?
Yes, download the Universal Orlando Resort app. This will provide you with maps to guide you in the parks, as well as wait times and height restrictions for each ride.
How should we tour the parks?
It’s very important to utilize Early Park Admission if you have it. You can gain access to this extra hour as a benefit of staying onsite, or by booking through a travel professional! (You can’t buy this feature on it’s own)
Start with Harry Potter
By arriving early you will have time to do at least one Wizarding World before the general crowds gather. Head to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley as soon as the park opens (different parks are open early on different days). Ride the headliner for that park, either Escape from Gringotts or Forbidden Journey. Be sure to check your kids’ heights as Forbidden Journey has a 48” height requirement. After your first ride, spend some time exploring the amazing worlds and perhaps buy a wand at Ollivanders so you and the kids can try to do some “real magic”.
My tip: Buy a wand ahead of time, you can buy the wands with RFID that will work in the park before you arrive. The lines at Ollivanders can be intense.
Hubby Tip: The wands are a little tricky to use and kids can get frustrated. It’s all in the wrist flick!
After you have explored the area, hop on the Hogwarts Express to the other park, ideally before the park opens to the general public. This way you will do both headliner attractions without a wait and you can see both Worlds without insane crowds.
Then do the Rest of the Parks
From here on out you can tour the 2 parks at your own pace, based on your family’s interests. We had Unlimited Express during our last trip during the Spring Break high season and we never waited more than 10 minutes for anything. Pick rides that your family will enjoy, but I highly recommend Despicable me: Minion Mayhem, Rip Ride Rocket and The Simpsons. If you really love coasters, and/or have a kid over 54” you will definitely want to check out The Incredible Hulk Coaster, this is by far my hubby’s favorite ride. If you like water rides, I recommend saving them for last so you aren’t soaked the rest of the day.
What if my kid is too short to ride an attraction?
I did mention heights being important... Universal has a waiting room for non-riders located just before the boarding areas of some of the more intense rides. This means if your child is not tall enough to ride you can stay together as a family in the queue and one adult can peel off to wait with the non-rider. After the others have ridden, the non-riding adult can swap with the one who rode. They can also take another person with them, so your older child could ride again. These waiting rooms vary in terms of features, but the one inside the Hogwarts castle for Forbidden Journey has tv screens showing scenes from the Harry Potter movies (the earlier less scary movies;)
These parks have some great rides and AMAZING theming, particularly in the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. These parks don’t have as much for little kids, and if you are prone to motion sickness there are a lot of virtual reality/3D simulation type rides that may bother you. It's much more of a destination on it's own now with Volcano Bay opening soon!
Updated: Volcano Bay has opened and it is a MUST do for water park fans!