The Complete Guide to Universal Orlando Resort
With three individual theme parks, an entertainment district, and five resort hotels themed to everything from decades-old beach resorts to picturesque Italy, there’s a lot to see, whether you’re a complete coaster-phobe or spend half your day inverted upside-down.
Before you take a dive at Universal’s incredible new water park, load up on “The Simpsons”-themed foods, and tackle the Harry Potter-themed land, you'll need to find the right hotel, get your tickets, and choose some rides and restaurants for your trip to this massive destination.
Here’s everything you need to know about a trip to Universal Orlando Resort.
Universal Studios Florida
This park features roller coasters (Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit) as well as virtual thrill rides including The Simpsons Ride, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3D and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Those missing Universal’s older rides will adore the whimsical E.T. Adventure, while kids will revel in Fievel’s Playland, a Woody Woodpecker coaster and eye-popping attractions themed to Shrek and Despicable Me.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure hosts two of Universal Orlando Resort’s biggest thrill rides: the newly improved The Incredible Hulk Coaster as well as the intertwining tracks of Dragon Challenge. 3D-enhanced rides (The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Skull Island: Reign of Kong) are crowd favorites, while younger guests will revel in the delightfully themed Seuss Landing as well as the soaring Pteranodon Flyers. Jurassic Park River Adventure makes for a thrilling flume ride, but Islands of Adventure has two additional water rides as well, ideal for hot Floridian afternoons.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The settings from the famed series come to life with immersive experiences split between both Universal Orlando theme parks. At Islands of Adventure, guests can walk through Hogwarts castle and explore Hogsmeade Village’s snow-capped shops, with Honeydukes and the Owl Post among them. At Universal Studios Orlando, the winding walkways of Diagon Alley — with Knockturn Alley, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and a fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts bank — excite, as magical experiences including wand fittings at Ollivanders Wand Shop, interactive surprises and Butterbeer delight guests at both.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Attractions
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts takes guests on a treacherous mine cart ride through the bank’s underground vaults at Universal Studios Florida, while Islands of Adventure plunges park goers into a Hogwarts adventure on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and lets little ones in on the fun with a Flight of the Hippogriff family coaster. Both have queues that are as impressive as the rides, complete with a bank lobby full of goblins at Gringotts and a trip through Dumbledore’s office and the Defense Against The Dark Arts classroom among them.
Accessible with a park-to-park ticket, this steam train complete with picturesque cabins looks just like it does in the movies and doubles as the best way to travel between The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both parks. Pay no mind to if you board at King’s Cross Station or Hogsmeade Station first; the experience you’ll have is completely different each way.
Universal’s Volcano Bay
With two kinds of lazy rivers, an impressive wave pool and 18 water slides in all, Universal’s Volcano Bay earns its title as a “water theme park.” New as of 2017, it hosts a 200 foot man-made mountain in its center that explodes with water during the day and features fire effects at nighttime, with Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a truly thrilling ride that’s easily the park’s best, tucked inside.
Dining at Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida has a collection of The Simpsons-themed eateries including Krusty’s Burger, Moe’s Tavern and an outdoor Duff Brewery, as well as full-scale restaurants like Mel’s Drive-In, Finnegan’s and Lombard’s Seafood Grille. For Harry Potter-esque eats, opt for a meal of hearty British food at Leaky Cauldron followed by a few scoops from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
Dining at Islands of Adventure
With a visit Thunder Falls Terrace for BBQ, a multicultural menu at Confisco Grille or quick comic-inspired eats at Toon Lagoon, there are plenty of options. The top-rated Mythos Restaurant is one of the more popular dining destinations, but Islands of Adventures is home to the beloved Three Broomsticks within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which connects to Hog’s Head Pub for thematically relevant brews.
Most of Universal Orlando Resort’s staged shows is at Universal Studios Florida, which includes a horror make-up show, Fear Factor Live and a sing-along show with Barney and Friends, as well as much live entertainment throughout the park. There’s also Universal’s Superstar Parade, and live dance and musical performances throughout the parks, hotels and City Walk downtown district as well. At night, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular illuminates Universal Studios Florida with fireworks, water effects and a rousing movie-music compilation.
Single Day Tickets are available for all three parks, and sold at three different seasonal prices for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. (Volcano Bay tickets cost less than the theme parks and are valid anytime.) Park-to-Park tickets are available between the two theme parks, or for an added charge, between all three. Be sure to purchase tickets online and in advance, which offers a slight discount.
For an additional fee, guests can “skip the line” at most Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure attractions one time, or with Universal Express Unlimited, as often as they’d like. Do know that this add-on differs from Virtual Line, the new digital queueing system used on Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and most attractions at Universal’s Volcano Bay that comes complimentary.
Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure offer VIP Experiences in guided group tours that offer “skip-the-line” access for attractions during and after the tour, reserved seating for shows and entertainment and two meals included. If you’d prefer to go solo, the Private VIP Experience is a fully customizable take on the tour with unlimited access to all the parks have to offer.
Universal City Walk
This collection of shops, restaurants and bars just steps from Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure offers up numerous dining experiences and entertainment stops before or after the parks. The new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen is a crowd pleaser, as are Antojitos for Mexican food and The Cowfish for sushi and burgers; for nightlife, Pat O’Briens and Hard Rock Live Orlando are reliable picks.
Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
With five hotels on property and more on the way, there are options for every kind of stay. The crisp Caribbean-inspired Loews Sapphire Falls Resort appeals to the business traveler extending their trip for vacation, while the whimsical mid-century charm of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is ideal for families seeking to save some money without sacrificing style. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort offer relaxing, immersive and lush environments that channel Italy and South Sea Islands respectively, as Hard Rock Hotel is a lively choice for friends and couples who crave an edge to the theme park experience. There are perks, too; all offer early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and select locations include one-time Express Pass complimentary with resort stay.
Universal Is well-known for its Halloween Horror Nights, the fright-filled nighttime extravaganza hosted at Universal Studios Florida each fall. The theming of its scare zones, live entertainment and haunted houses changes each year, but regularly highlights popular horror films and television shows, mixing classics like The Exorcist and The Shining with newer entrants like American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. Universal Orlando Resort also celebrates Mardi Gras in a big way, with New Orleans-style food, oversized floats and one-night-only concerts from popular celebrity bands. Christmastime will bring Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s famed balloon floats and the first-ever festivities at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2017 with themed eats, wintertime decor and holiday entertainment.