Universal Orlando Resort is in sunny Central Florida, an area of the Sunshine State often referred to as the theme park capital of the world. Universal Orlando is not only one of the most popular amusement parks in the city, but it’s also beloved across the country. It has two parks (with a third on the way), a water park, eight hotels and a 30-acre shopping, dining and entertainment complex.

Before you even arrive at Universal Orlando, you’ll need to figure out where to stay, what to do and where to eat. Whether you are visiting for one day or several, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Universal Orlando Resort.

How to start planning your trip to Universal Orlando


There are a few questions you will want to answer before you dig into the details of planning your Universal Orlando vacation:

What type of Universal Orlando ticket should I buy?


Universal ticket types

There are various ticket types at Universal Orlando, and some will get you into one, two or three theme parks (such as Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay water park) per day.

You can also purchase tickets for one, two, three, four or five days. The cheapest tickets allow access to one park per day. So, if you start your day at Universal Studios Florida, you can’t use the same ticket to get into Islands of Adventure in the afternoon. You’re limited to one park per day.


This may sound like a good deal, but it might not be the best choice, especially if you hope to ride the Hogwarts Express train in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You’ll need a Park-to-Park ticket to travel between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

Related: From butterbeer to magic wands: Everything you need to know about Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

While it is pricier, a Park-to-Park ticket allows you to bop between the different areas as you wish. These tickets may be more expensive, but they give you the most freedom to visit more than one park on the same day. The parks are close enough together that it is easy to walk or take the Hogwarts Express between the two, making a Park-to-Park ticket even more valuable.

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If you visit for more than a couple of days or potentially twice in 12 months, consider a Universal annual pass.

Buying direct from Universal

Universal Orlando almost always has special offers on its website. Read the options carefully to see if any promotions make sense for you. You may get free park days, a discount on hotel and theme park ticket packages or other special offers.

Buying tickets from other vendors

You can also buy tickets from reputable vendors like Undercover Tourist. One of my favorite things about Undercover Tourist is that the website often still has older tickets available, so when prices increase, it will be cheaper to buy there rather on the official Universal website.

It’s worth bookmarking the site to comparison shop. Purchases from Undercover Tourist code as travel, so we recommend using a travel credit card to earn extra points.

Related: The best credit cards to use for Universal Studios

Although you can’t typically purchase stand-alone Universal tickets at Costco, Costco Travel does sell Universal vacation packages, which often include tickets and on-site hotel nights. Check out pricing for your dates to see if it represents a better deal versus booking through other methods.


Using points to buy Universal tickets

You can use Citi ThankYou Rewards or Bilt Rewards to purchase admission to Universal Orlando. You may also be able to find and book some Universal Orlando hotel rooms through these platforms for additional savings.

What are the parks at Universal Orlando?

Universal Islands of Adventure. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Universal Orlando offers so many activities that it could easily keep your family occupied for several days. There are two theme parks, a water park and an entertainment, dining and shopping complex.

Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and CityWalk are all situated around a small lake. If you’d like to visit Universal’s Volcano Bay, you should catch the bus from the parking garage since it’s a bit of a walk from the rest of the park.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO

Universal Studios Florida has eight sections. You’ll enter through an impressive arch, and if you keep walking straight, you’ll find yourself in Minion Land. There, you can enjoy attractions such as Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Villain-Con Minion Blast. You’ll find some of the park’s most thrilling rides in the nearby New York section, like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Transformers: The Ride-3D and Revenge of the Mummy.

Related: These are the 10 best rides at Universal Orlando

If you instead take a right after you enter the park, you can explore the Hollywood Character Zone, where you’ll find Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show, the Bourne Stuntacular and several character meet-and-greet spots.

It’s not a bad idea to save most of the attractions in this area of the park for the hotter parts of the day. Minion Mayhem, the Bourne Stuntacular and the Horror Make-Up Show are all blissfully air-conditioned; most of the aforementioned rides are either completely indoors or have indoor queue areas.

Trollercoaster in DreamWorks Land. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

If you have little kids, consider taking that right at the entrance and walking through Hollywood. This route will take you to DreamWorks Land. From there, you can watch one of Universal’s longest-running shows, Animal Actors on Location! or enjoy Springfield, U.S.A.: Home of the Simpsons.

If your children are older, bypass those kid-centric areas and make Men in Black Alien Attack in World Expo your first ride of the day. If you go to Men in Black in the morning, you are perfectly positioned to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. You can start queuing for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts before the line gets too long.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley. ANDREA M. ROTONDO/THE POINTS GUY

While there, explore Knockturn Alley, see a few shows or grab a meal at the Leaky Cauldron, where breakfast comes with a free butterbeer. You can also get unique ice cream treats at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour and perform magic spells with interactive wands available for purchase.

If you have a Park-to-Park ticket, you can take the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross Station (next to Leicester Square) to Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure. If you have a one-park ticket, you won’t be able to ride the Hogwarts Express and will have to instead continue your exploration of Universal Studios.

CineSational: A Symphonic Spectacular. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

In the evening, don’t miss Universal Studios Florida’s nighttime extravaganza, CineSational: A Symphonic Spectacular at the lagoon. The show combines music, drones, fireworks and projections to depict scenes from some of your favorite films.

Islands of Adventure

Universal Islands of Adventure. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

The second Universal theme park is Islands of Adventure. Your best bet is to arrive before the gates open. (If you are staying at one of Universal’s on-site hotels, you can get into one of Universal’s parks up to one hour before official opening.) Then, quickly walk to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure before the line gets too long. It’s one of Universal’s most popular rides and wait times often clock in at 90 and 120 minutes during peak hours.

If you are a thrill seeker, head for Jurassic World VelociCoaster. Both Jurassic World VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure are at the opposite end of the park from the entry gates, so it will be a walk. However, getting to enjoy the park’s most popular rides without the crushing crowds is worth it.

Hogwarts Castle in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. MADISON BLANCAFLOR/THE POINTS GUY

If roller coasters aren’t your thing (and you’re not prone to motion sickness), get in line instead for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This attraction lets you ride a broomstick through familiar film scenes; if you’re prone to motion sickness, it’s still worth walking through this ride’s queue just to see the inside of the castle. Simply let a team member know you want to tour the castle and don’t plan to ride.

While there, explore Hogsmeade itself and see shows like the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally, and practice more spells with your interactive wand. Grab a butterbeer (or another specialty brew) at Hog’s Head Inn and then continue on to the other lands of Islands of Adventure.

Jurassic Park River Adventure. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

After you walk through Jurassic Park’s iconic gates, you’ll find the Camp Jurassic play areas, Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure as well as the Raptor Encounter, where you can meet a “real” dinosaur.

Next up, you can ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong before hitting Toon Lagoon, where your kids can cool off in some sprinklers. Alternatively, the family can ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls flume (warning: you will get very wet).


As you dry off from that heart-pounding experience, head to Marvel Super Hero Island. There, you can meet Marvel characters and ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster (it’s an intense one).

Seuss Landing at Universal Islands of Adventure. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

If you have young kids, don’t skip over Seuss Landing. This bright, cheery land has rides like Caro-Seuss-el, The Cat in the Hat and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. There’s also a Seuss character zone and plenty of other rides and attractions specifically designed for the little ones.

Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay water park. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Volcano Bay is Universal’s water park. Though this park occasionally closes because of things like chilly weather or lightning storms, it is open year-round. Volcano Bay has everything you’d expect of an exceptional water park, like a large beach with a wave pool, a water coaster, a lazy river and a kids’ play area.

There are also some incredible waterslides and drops, including the Ko’okiri Body Plunge. It features a 70-degree fall and 125 feet of what Universal calls “white-knuckle fun.”

Volcano Bay’s Taniwha Tubes. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO

Thrillseekers will also love the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, which lets you glide through a waterfall, as well as the TeAwa The Fearless River, a whitewater ride that churns through rapids and waves.



As if two theme parks and a massive water park weren’t enough, Universal also has CityWalk.

This complex of restaurants, shops and clubs is open during the day, but it really heats up at night (as a bonus, there’s free self-parking after 6 p.m.). You don’t need tickets to enter, but you can buy tickets for shows at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Related: Surprising things you can do at Universal Orlando without a park ticket

Kick the night off at restaurants such as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Bob Marley — A Tribute to Freedom and Pat O’Brien’s; they often have live (and recorded) music going. There’s also Universal’s Great Movie Escape escape room experience, a movie theater (free parking is included with the purchase of two movie matinee tickets), miniature golf, the Red Coconut Club dance floor and City Walk’s Rising Star karaoke club.

Universal’s Great Movie Escape. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT

There are plenty of spots to dine at CityWalk, too. You can feast upon pizza, hot dogs, Voodoo Doughnuts and Panda Express Chinese food. Otherwise, you could have a more substantial meal at restaurants like The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, Bigfire, The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and more.

You can also find Universal’s boat shuttles (which can take you back to the hotels) at CityWalk. So, it’s not a bad idea to spend the day at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure then end the day shopping and eating in the area before taking a boat back to your room.

And another park on the way …


Universal Orlando is currently building a third theme park, which will open in 2025. Dubbed Epic Universe, the new park will house franchises like Fantastic Beasts, a Harry Potter spin-off; Super Nintendo World; and Universal Classic Monsters. Epic Universe will be on a massive 750-acre tract of land not far from the two existing theme parks.

Best times to visit Universal Orlando

The date for your visit to Universal Orlando may not be entirely up to you.

If you’re traveling with school-age children, you will probably have to come to Orlando during long weekends or spring or summer breaks — this is when Universal is at its busiest. That’s not the end of the world, though, since there are ways to reduce the amount of time you spend in lines (more on that in a minute).

You can check expected crowd levels at crowd calendars like Undercover Tourist, Touringplans or Orlando Informer.

Halloween Horror Nights. UNIVERSAL

Historically, Universal Orlando Resort’s slowest times are between Labor Day through the first two weeks of November (before Thanksgiving) and the first two weeks of December (before the holiday rush). Note, though, that if you visit close to Halloween, it will be busier because of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights.

Most of January, except for the first week, is also relatively quiet, as is the first week of February. However, it quickly gets busy with spring breakers the closer you get to March. Crowds thin out a bit after Easter and through May, then ramp up again for the summertime.

June, July and August are always busy — always. As an added bonus, it’s extremely hot and prone to afternoon thunderstorms.

What’s the best way to get to Universal Orlando?

Getting to Orlando and then to Universal Orlando Resort after arriving are two completely different things. Let’s look at each.

What is the closest airport to Universal Orlando?

The closest airport to Universal Orlando is Orlando International Airport (MCO). Most major airlines fly into MCO, and you can reach Universal from the airport in about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on traffic. If you are flying Allegiant Air or Sun Country Airlines, you’ll fly into Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). SFB is smaller than MCO and is farther from Universal. From SFB, it is about a 45-minute drive to Universal.

What is the best way to get to Universal Orlando from the airport?

Because of its size and proximity to Universal, MCO offers several options for getting between the airport and Universal.

From Orlando International Airport or Orlando Sanford International Airport, you can rent a car or use a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft. If you rent a car from MCO, you can forgo paying tolls through the car rental company (which often comes with an additional fee) and pick up a Visitor Toll Pass to save on tolls during your trip.

If you do rent a car, keep in mind that Universal’s on-site hotels do charge a parking fee; you’ll have to pay for parking if you choose to drive to Universal’s theme parks, too. With Universal’s transportation options, though, there is really no reason to drive between the parks if you stay on-site.

Your other option is the Universal SuperStar Shuttle. The shuttle can pick you up from MCO and drop you off at your Universal hotel. One-way service is $23 for adults and $18 for kids ages 3 to 9. Round-trip service is $39 for adults and $29 for kids. Advance reservations are required by calling 1-866-604-7557.

What is the best way to get around Universal Orlando?


If you are staying at one of Universal’s on-site hotels, you have several complimentary options for getting between your resort, Univeral’s parks and CityWalk.

Shuttle bus

Because Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and CityWalk are close to one another, there is only one bus stop regardless of where you are going. A separate shuttle will take you to Volcano Bay unless you stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort or Aventura Hotel. These hotels are close enough to Volcano Bay that guests must use the walking path.

Water taxi

All of Universal’s Premier hotels and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort offer water taxi service to City Walk. In addition to easy access to the parks, you go through security before you board the water taxi, so you’ll get into the parks without waiting in a long security line.

Drive and park

If you’re not staying in an official Universal hotel, you must drive to the area and park in Universal’s main parking structure (6000 Universal Boulevard), which is connected to CityWalk. After you park and go through security, you can walk to CityWalk or either of Universal’s theme parks. If you plan to visit Volcano Bay, you’ll be directed to a shuttle bus that can take you directly there.

Daily parking fees are as follows:

Valet parking is available for an additional fee. Free self parking is available for guests who arrive after 6 p.m.

Garden walk

The walking path to the parks is a peaceful way to start the day. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

If you don’t mind a few hundred extra steps, you can take a peaceful walking path from the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal’s Aventura Hotel and Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

There is a separate security entrance at the end of the walking path that usually has a much shorter wait than the main security station in the parking garage. If you are staying at one of these hotels and want to arrive for early park admission, the walking path is often the best way to get there quickly and be near the front gates before they open.

What’s the best place to stay on a Universal Orlando vacation?

Once you’ve ironed out when you plan to visit Universal, you’ll want to determine where to stay. Between Universal’s on-site hotels and a handful of nearby points hotels, you have a ton of options. There are so many choices that TPG wrote an entire guide to choosing the best Universal Orlando hotel for your trip.

We’ll recap the high points below.


Benefits of Universal hotels

If you only have a few days to explore Universal and don’t mind the cost, an on-site property may be your best bet. That’s because guests of all Universal hotels receive early entry into the parks for specific attractions.

The parks that open for early admission vary by day, and only certain attractions are available. However, they tend to be the popular rides, with lines that grow once the gates open to regular parkgoers. There’s a helpful page on the Universal site to determine what’s available to on-site hotel guests. With some rides in each of the two parks available, that should also help spread out the crowds.

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. SCOTT MAYEROWITZ/THE POINTS GUY

It’s a nice freebie, and it’s the best strategy if you have your heart set on riding Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure without spending hours in line. Currently, this ride does not participate in Universal’s Express Pass skip-the-line program.

If you stay in one of Universal’s on-site hotels, you can also use the park’s complimentary transportation options described above to get between CityWalk, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and your hotel.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

The downside of staying at a Universal hotel is the price. Rates at Universal’s Value, Prime Value or Preferred hotels align with other area hotels, but if you want to stay in one of Universal’s high-end Premier hotels, you’ll pay considerably more. However, you’ll also get complimentary Universal Express skip-the-line passes for guests in your room. We’ll explain that in more detail below, but it’s a huge timesaver and may be worth the extra per-night cost of staying on-site.

Related: How to use points to save money at Universal Orlando

If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you can maximize your stay at Loews Portofino Bay and book via the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts program. This will not only get you Express Passes for all the guests in your party but also a full daily breakfast for two, a $100 property credit, late 4 p.m. checkout and more.

Staying off-site


Universal is surrounded by plenty of points hotels, so if you’d prefer to stay off-site — on points or cash — you can easily do so. Some of TPG’s favorite nearby points hotels are within walking distance of Universal.

Related: Splash into fun: The 14 best hotel pools in Orlando

Here are a few points hotels within walking distance of Universal:

And some great points hotels that are just a short drive away:

How to save time in line at Universal Orlando

Like many other theme parks, Universal has its own version of skip-the-line-pass called Universal Express. There are a few ways you can get Universal Express passes.

Related: Is Universal’s Express Pass worth it? TPG tested how much time it really saves you in line

As mentioned above, the best way is to include it in your stay. Guests staying at any of the three top-of-the-line Universal Premier hotels — Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort — get Universal Express Unlimited for free as registered guests.

This is huge because the starting cost, if purchased separately, ranges from $89.99 to $289.99 per person, per day. Getting Universal Express Unlimited with your room rate is a better deal for a family of four than buying it outright.

Another option is to simply buy an Express Pass when you need it. How much you pay depends on the type of pass you buy and when you visit Universal, as passes cost more when crowd levels are high.

Here are the three types of Express Passes you can buy:

Universal Express: This is the base version of the skip-the-line pass. It allows you to skip the regular line one time per participating ride at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks. Prices start at $89.99 per person per day for one park and increase from there — sometimes as high as $289.99 per day.

You can also purchase Universal Express inside the parks. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Universal Express Unlimited: The unlimited pass lets you skip the regular lines at participating rides as many times as you wish at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Passes for that privilege start at $119.99 per person per day. Pricing for the unlimited passes seems to be running about $30 more per day than the normal express passes, which may make them the better value if it’s within your budget.

Volcano Bay Express: This pass is solely for use at Volcano Bay water park, allowing you to skip the regular line once per participating ride. The pass starts at $19.99 per person per day, but you won’t find that rate very often. With Volcano Bay’s Tapu Tapu system, which lets you tap into each attraction and get a return time, you can usually get by even without Express.

Participating rides and attractions are subject to change, so it’s best to consult Universal Orlando’s website before your visit.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT

Just about every ride is included in the Universal Express, except Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

Hagrid’s is an incredible attraction that has seen some incredible wait times since opening. Unless you purchase a VIP tour, expect to spend a significant amount of time waiting in line for rides — like Hagrid’s — that aren’t included in Universal Express.

Take a VIP tour

Another way to avoid the lines is to take a VIP tour. Universal offers both small group and private VIP tours, and both options can help you cut the line.

Summer Hull, a director at TPG, took her family on a private VIP experience at Universal. It included walk-on ride access during the tour, Express Passes and dining credit after the official tour.

A private tour will cost a few thousand dollars for the day for your group, but small-group VIP experiences can be much less expensive, starting at around $200 per person.

Universal Orlando VIP tour group. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

The primary difference between the two tours is the amount of access. The group tours are less private but only guarantee that you’ll experience front-of-the-line access for eight to 10 rides. A private VIP tour is charged by the hour and operates faster or slower as you prefer.

Whether you purchase an Express Pass or take a VIP tour will likely be determined by how crowded the park is during your visit and your budget.

If it’s offseason, you can get away without a skip-the-line pass. But if you’re visiting during a holiday week or school vacation, be prepared for long lines without a pass. Having an Express Pass will allow you to ride more attractions in less time on those dates.

Universal’s child-swap policy

If you travel as a family, you know that not everyone will want to go on every ride. And some of your kids may not yet be old or tall enough to ride some attractions your other kids are dying to try.

Universal’s child-swap program solves the problem of the entire family having to choose between experiencing a ride and not.

Universal child waiting rooms. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

In fact, Universal’s child swap is the best in the business as there are (air-conditioned) waiting areas in some key attractions. Most even have televisions showing whichever movie the attraction is based on.

Related: More than just thrills: There’s big fun for little kids at Universal Orlando

This allows one member of your party to watch over small children while the rest of the gang waits in line and rides. Then, you can swap places so the other members can enjoy the ride without another long wait. Just ask the attraction attendant to point you toward the designated waiting spots.

How to plan a Universal Orlando trip on a budget

All the extras like Universal Express and staying at a top-tier hotel are fun, but if they aren’t in your budget, there are ways to save money on your visit to Universal Orlando. Here are some of the most important things you can do to make your Universal vacation budget manageable:

  • Stay at a Universal Value resort like Universal’s Endless Summer Dockside or Surfside resorts, or use hotel reward points to stay at one of the Hilton or Hyatt hotels mentioned above. Here are the best cards to earn Hilton points and the best cards to earn Hyatt points.
  • Purchase groceries for meals and snacks, and only buy one or two meals in the parks daily.
  • Don’t visit the parks every day you are at Universal and stick to one park per day. You’ll save money by skipping a Park-to-Park ticket.
  • During your day off from the parks, swim at your hotel or visit CityWalk. If you stay at a resort like Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, you’ll have a lazy river and waterslide at the pool, making it almost like a water park.
  • Don’t forget to periodically check Universal’s website for discounts. Even after you book, you may be able to apply a hotel or vacation package discount that can save you even more money.
  • Visit during less busy times of the year. Ticket prices are the cheapest in September, with one-day tickets starting at $119.

Universal Orlando pretrip checklist

Now that you’ve determined your budget, purchased your tickets, booked your hotel and made a rough itinerary, your trip is nearly planned. You’ll need to consider a few other details to make your trip as memorable as possible. Here’s our ultimate Universal Orlando pretrip checklist:

The best credit cards to use at Universal

Now we get to a hot topic for points-and-miles travelers planning a trip to Universal Orlando. Which credit card should you use? The answer is, “It depends.”

Related: Best credit cards to use for Universal Studios

For example, how and where you purchase your theme park tickets will dictate how the charge will be coded. Historically speaking, Universal theme park tickets and VIP tours purchased directly from Universal code as “entertainment.” However, tickets purchased from a third-party seller like Undercover Tourist or at an on-site Universal hotel (make sure to charge to the hotel) code as “travel.” Depending on how you purchase your ticket, you’ll want to select either a card that rewards you for entertainment spend or travel purchases.

If you think your purchase will code as entertainment, two good credit card options are:

If, however, you know your charge will code as travel, you’re better off using:

The information for the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Universal is packed with rides, attractions, character meet-and-greets and more. Yet it’s compact enough for you to cover a lot of ground in just a few days. With this guide, you can choose where to stay and what to do, as well as where to spend and where you can save. This way, you can have the best Universal Orlando vacation.

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