>  Advice   >  12 tips for visiting Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando (or Universal Orlando Resort as it is officially known) is actually three theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Universals Islands of Adventure and Universals Volcano Bay. This place is huge so you need to have a plan of attack to get the most out of your time and for your money. Here are our tips for visiting Universal Studios Orlando, including the best way to buy Universal Studios Orlando tickets and our top Universal Studios Orlando Harry Potter tips.

Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Orlando
I snapped this while I was waiting in line

1. Universal Studios Orlando tickets

The biggest tip is map out your park adventure in advance and also your budget. By doing just a little bit of research, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars and also get the most out of your visit. Simple things like getting your Universal Studios Orlando tickets online from Universal will usually save you around $20 each on the ticket price at entry. Pre-purchasing a Universal Express Pass also saves you money. Start by downloading the Universal Studios app onto your phone or tablet and printout a map of the whole park to get familiar with its size and how to best use your time. Also, make sure you get a two or three park ticket as one park alone might be a bit disappointing. Look at all the combo ticket deals as there is normally a better rate available for multiple days.

Universal Studios Orlando holiday crowd
Visiting in peak season is great fun but you need a plan

2. Decide how long you need to stay

The average stay at Universal Studios Orlando is about three days. We only had one day to do both parks due to a busy travel schedule. As we were travelling with a teen, we were able to get to all the parks except for the Volcano Bay water park which didn’t matter as we visited in winter. If you are travelling with older children you should be able to do all the headliner rides in the non-water parks in one day. However, you will need to keep moving at a really fast pace to do this. We were exhausted at the end of the day but happy we had squeezed everything in as this saved us an extra night’s accommodation and the additional expense associated with visiting for a two days.

Universal Studios Orlando
Chill out and have fun!

3. Choose an on-site or off-site hotel

One thing to consider is whether it’s better to pay the premium for one of the Universal Studios Resort hotels or stay close to Universal and walk or drive to the theme park. You will need to check the rates for when you’ll be there and get out your calculator. For example, a room at the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando for two adults and two kids is about $180 a night whereas the Hard Rock at Universal costs around $500 per night. You might be tempted by the lower price but the Universal Studios Resort hotels include free Universal Express Unlimited passes which saves you $100 per person. This doesn’t include the cost of your tickets to get into the parks, just the Express passes. If there are only two of you, staying somewhere outside the park like the Hilton DoubleTree is probably going to be a much better deal.

Universal Studios Orlando off site hotel
View of our off-site hotel from Universal Studios (it’s a quick 10 minute walk)

4. Opt for a Universal Express Pass

If you are visiting Universal Studios Orlando over Christmas like we did or at another busy time of year, everyone must have a Universal Unlimited Express pass. If you don’t have an Express Pass, you’re going to spend hours in the queue for rides. We did our research and marked the best rides in each park. When we got to Universal Studios, we went straight to the Harry Potter rides, Incredible Hulk Coaster and Rip Ride Rockit and made sure we got to go on them without a huge queue. Even with the Express Pass we had a wait of up to an hour at times, but this was nothing compared to how long those without a pass had to wait.

Universal Studios Orlando roller coaster
We couldn’t wait to go on the Incredible Hulk Coaster

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Universal Studios Orlando Riptide Rock It
Rides like Rip Ride Rockit are quiet early in the day

5. Arrive at Universal Studios Orlando early

Arriving when the park opens or even 30 minutes or so earlier is essential. When we visited in peak season, they were letting people into the park 15 minutes or so before it was due to open. Getting into the park that little bit earlier makes the world of difference when it comes to getting on the most popular rides. We could not believe how much the queue had grown in just 30 minutes when we came out of Harry Potter – Escape from Gringotts after we had gone on the ride.

Universal Studios Orlando Harry Potter ride
Get to the popular Harry Potter rides early

6. Universal Studios Orlando bag policy

It is important to understand the Universal Studios Orlando bag policy and only bring a small backpack for essentials like phones and wallets as you can’t take anything – and we mean anything – on many of the more intense rides. Use of the small lockers outside these rides is free but if you need a larger locker you’ll have to pay each time you go on a ride or buy a long locker rental and keep going back to this locker to access your stuff. The costs for lockers can really add up, especially if you’re on a tight budget and every dollar counts. Speaking of lockers, when we entered Universal Studios Orlando we went straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter– Diagon Alley.

What we thought was the line for the Harry Potter ride turned out to be the line for the lockers for the ride. If you can split up and have one person look after the bags and then take turns going on the ride, this can really save you time. However, you need to be there early so the queue for the ride isn’t too busy or you’ll wait even longer than if you used the locker and went on the ride together.

Universal Studios Orlando holiday crowd
This queue for the lockers wound through Diagon Alley

7. Bring your own water and snacks

Bring a water bottle as there are loads of water fountains for refills. It is also a good idea to bring your own food as the food available for sale is expensive and didn’t look that great. We brought bread rolls for lunch and granola bars to snack on which saved us a fortune.

8. Pace yourself with the rides

Pace yourself with the rides, or you’re probably not going to feel very well. We learnt this the hard way as we got to do quite a few rides with minimal lines at the beginning of our visit. We were also keen to make the most of our limited time at Universal Studios so we rushed from one ride to another early in the day, trying to go on as many rides as we could as quickly as possible. The main problem is the 3D and 4D rides as these are quite intense. Even if you only have a slight problem with motion sickness, you can feel very unwell very quickly. Takes breaks between the rides and avoid The Simpsons ride at all costs if you’re even slightly prone to motion sickness. When I went on The Simpsons at Universal Studios in California there were buckets lined up at the end of the ride.  Let’s just say they were there for a reason!

Universal Studios Orlando parade
We watched a parade to give our stomachs time to recover

9. Ride the Hogwarts Express

Make sure you take the Hogwarts Express at least one way as it’s not only a great way to move between Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida but also a fantastic ride. Apparently, the ride changes each time you take the train depending on what carriage you’re on. This is another reason not to get a one park ticket as you need a two park pass to ride the Hogwarts Express because you are travelling between two different parks.

Universal Studios Orlando Hogwarts Express
Ride the Hogwarts Express between the parks

10. Dress comfortably

Wear comfortable shoes like joggers as you might want to walk quickly to certain rides to beat the queues plus you will have to stand and wait in the queue while you’re getting to the ride. We did see a few people wearing full Harry Potter costumes. They looked amazing but also very impractical to go on rides with. If your kids want to dress up, you might want to bring a change of clothes for them. If you think you might get wet on some rides, you might want to bring a change of clothes for yourself too (something Tiana learned the hard way when she went on this ride).

Universal Studios Orlando ride
This was one of our favourite rides ….
Universal Studios Orlando
… even though one of us got soaked!

11. Leave souvenir shopping until the end of the day

Carrying around bags of great must-have items will drive you crazy, especially if you are trying to put that replica sword into a tiny locker. Don’t feel you will miss out as Universal has shopping covered with multiple outlets selling most items at the gates for that last minute purchasing frenzy.

12. Don’t forget why you’re there

The number of times we saw tantrums and bad behaviour were incredible and I’m talking about the adults here, not the kids. Have patience and talk beforehand about what you want to do and how you will work your way around the park. Take lots of breaks and drink lots of water. And most importantly, have fun!

Universal Studios Orlando Dr Seuss
Smile and have fun!

Disclosure: The writers received entrance to Universal Studios Orlando for review purposes.

If you’re looking for somewhere affordable to stay when you’re visiting Universal Studios Orlando, check out the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.