This past summer we extended my grandmother's 90th birthday celebration in Florida into a two-week vacation for my family. Before meeting up with the extended family on the Gulf Coast, one of the stops on our trip was to Universal Studios Orlando. I have been dreaming of visiting Universal Studios for many years now and was so excited to finally make the trip!
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The trip started out as a comedy of errors, which seemed like horrors at first. Our 7:30 am flight was delayed an hour which meant that we were going to miss our connection in Atlanta. @!%$! We easily got ourselves on a new connecting flight which had us arriving in Tampa an hour later than originally planned. That was fine, but it left us with just a half hour to get our rental car. After some hustling, which isn't easy with a five-year-old in tow, we made it to the rental car place without about five minutes to spare.
Let me tell you, it was far too early in the morning for all of that, but we made it! All was well, so off to Orlando we went.
Upon arrival at our hotel, we lugged all of our luggage into the lobby to check in when the guy at the desk told us that they overbooked and didn't have a room for us. Are you kidding me?! This wasn't what I needed after how our trip started out. Thankfully, before I lost it, he told us they had gotten us another room in an upgraded hotel at no extra charge. So we let out a collective sigh of relief, thanked the man and drove to our new home at the Mystic Dunes for the next five days.
Even though getting to Orlando was one issue after another, it all worked out just fine in the end. We had a fancier hotel that spoiled us for life and we had an amazing trip. During our trip, we learned a few things along the way.
Tips for visiting Universal Studios Orlando
How long to stay?
To me, this is the most important thing to figure out for your first visit. How many days you plan to stay at Universal Studios Florida really depends on what time of year you plan to go since some times are simply busier than others. We went in the summer when school was out so lines were pretty long. We allowed two days for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure which was the bare minimum I would allow for these parks. During a less busy time of year, two days is plenty to see everything and ride the rides once. If I had to do it all over and we went during a busy time of year again, I would allow for three days and get the Universal Express Pass.
Purchase tickets ahead of time
Purchasing tickets online ahead of time will save you $20 on gate prices for multi-day tickets. It also will save you time from having to stand in line at the gate when you get there. Purchasing ahead simply means not purchasing your tickets at the gate. You could buy them a month ahead, a day ahead, or even while standing outside the gate of the park.
Park to Park Pass. Yay or nay?
Universal consists of two separate parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure with a third park due to open in May 2017. You may be wondering if each park requires a full day and whether you should spring for the Park to Park pass or not. The answer is yes and yes. Each park requires a full day to visit in my opinion and yes, you should get the Park to Park pass. The Hogwarts Express train requires the Park to Park pass to ride and the train ride itself is worth the cost of the pass. It is a lot of fun and definitely adds to the whole Harry Potter experience.
Express Pass or not?
Unless you plan to visit during an off season when the parks won't be busy, I highly recommend springing for the Universal Express Pass. We didn't since they are expensive, but by the end of the day we were regretting it. The lines were an average wait of 45 minutes long, it was hot, and since I'm not a young whippersnapper anymore, my lower back was aching from the non-stop standing. This made some rides pretty uncomfortable.
*Note: the Express Pass can't be used for Escape from Gringotts or The Forbidden Fortress in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The good news is, the lines are an experience of their own.
Getting around the park
We used the Official Universal Orlando Resort™ App which was a huge help and time saver. It includes a map of the park with GPS tracking so you can see where you are as well as wait times for all of the rides. It made getting around and coming up with a plan of attack so much easier!
Some of the most popular rides will have a wait time of close to an hour or even more during peak times at the park. Since many people tend to hit the parks early in the morning or go at night, lines for most rides were significantly shorter in the afternoon. Around 3:00 to 4:00, most ride lines were just 15-30 minutes. My oldest and I waited 45 minutes to ride Jurassic Park at 11:00 in the morning, but around 3:00 my husband and I waited 10 minutes for the same ride.
Single rider lines
Another great way to save time is to utilize the single rider lines. If you don't mind riding without other members of your party or are the only person who wants to ride a particular ride, most if not all of the rides have a single rider option. You enter through the single rider entrance to get bumped closer to the front of the line. My teenager went on several rides as a single rider and it saved him a lot of time.
The park with young kids
If you are traveling with young kids, I recommend getting a stroller. Even if your child is "too old" for a stroller, I still recommend it. My son was five-and-a-half when we went and it was a lot of walking. He was getting tired and cranky which made things a little less fun for everyone else. The ease of renting a stroller while we were at Disney World a couple of days later made me wish we'd done it for Universal as well. The strollers are large enough for an older child and it also gives you a place to carry your stuff. Bonus!
Keep track of the kids with ID tattoos
If you are traveling with kids, get some temporary waterproof ID tattoos that you can write your contact information on. If they get lost they just have to show someone their tattoo and they will be able to call you.
Keep track of the kids with GPS
This may have been overkill, I admit it, but as an added piece of insurance, we got a little GPS tracker to put on our son. I normally use them for finding my keys, but I attached one to a coil wrist keychain that my son wore in case he wandered out of our view. This won't work if they are too far away, but if they are just lost in the crowd you can find them by listening for the beep or with the locator app on your phone.
Helpful things to bring to the park
There is no need to empty your wallet buying water when it could be better spent on other things. Bring your own reusable water bottle to refill at the numerous water fountains found around the park.
Due to the number of water rides, I highly recommend buying a waterproof pouch for your cell phone, money, and other things that you don't want to get wet. I used this as my purse so I didn't have to lug a bunch of stuff around and it worked out great for me.
Handheld misting fan
If you are going to the park during the hot summer months, bring a misting fan bottle with you. We didn't get one until the Disney leg of our trip and I wish we had it earlier. They are $18 at the park, but you can purchase them ahead of time and save quite a bit of money. There are water misters throughout the park, but the fan sprayer helps a lot while waiting in hot lines.
Other helpful hints:
Flying with the kids
Planning a trip to Disney World within your budget (most of these tips also apply to Universal Studios)
These were the questions that I had while we were planning our trip and I hope that I have also helped answer some of yours. Stay tuned for my post about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It really does require a post of its own and is an amazing experience whether you're a Harry Potter fan or not.