It's a common scenario on any family vacation: Your flight arrives in the afternoon. You head to your hotel and check in. You have a few hours to kill before bedtime and no official plans until the next day. If your tadpoles are like Lily and Tad who can sleep on any form of transportation, they'll no doubt be bursting with energy and wanting to do something exciting that first night. If you're like Leap and me, who like to take things slow on travel days, you'll want to keep it more low-key before a potentially early wake up the next day. (Something you'll definitely want to plan for if you have Early Park Admission!)
Luckily, there are plenty of things do to on your arrival day at Universal Orlando Resort that can satisfy every member of the family! I'm frogcited to share them all with you here — plus some fun activities to keep you busy on the days you don't have park tickets.
What to Do on Your Arrival Day at Universal Orlando Resort
Take a dip in your hotel pool
If you didn't plan for a day away from the parks on your vacation, the afternoon of your arrival date is the perfect time to enjoy your hotel's pool. Unpack your suitcases, throw on your swimsuit and head on down to the pool deck. A poolside bar and movie are awaiting you! I cover what makes each pool unique down below so keep reading.
Head to CityWalk for dinner and a movie
We know it's not always ideal, especially for the tadpoles, when vacations get scheduled around big blockbuster releases. (Tad always makes sure Leap and I know when the next Marvel or DC release is.) Thankfully, Universal's CityWalk is home to a Cinemark theater with 20 big screens and state-of-the-art projection and sound systems. Plus, each auditorium has luxury recliners with extendable footrests. Stock up on snacks at the concession stand — maybe even grab a drink at the full bar — and sit back and relax for a few hours before your long day tomorrow!
If you want to grab dinner beforehand (which I highly recommend!), make sure you score a reservation as soon as possible since slots fill up fast! Some of my favorite full-service restaurants at CityWalk are The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feats Kitchen, The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. If you can't grab a table, ask if you can head on up to the bar where seating is first-come, first-served! If that doesn't work, Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches, Hot Dog Hall of Fame and Red Oven Pizza Bakery are also great places to get food quickly through mobile ordering.
Oh, and the best part? Parking is completely free at CityWalk after 6 p.m. Just drive right in!
Go ten frames at Galaxy Bowl
Did you know Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort has a bowling alley on property? Slip on some shoes and grab a ball. Reminiscent of iconic alleys of the past like the famous Hollywood Star Lanes, this alley's ten lanes are open from 3 to 10:30 p.m. every day. The lanes are even illuminated at night for an out-of-this-world touch! Plus, you don't even have to go far for food. You'll find a full-service restaurant here serving burgers, pizza, chicken wings and quesadillas.
Enjoy the 360-degree view at Bar 17 Bistro
One of my favorite places to unwind on Universal Orlando property is the rooftop bar at Universal's Aventura Hotel. Bar 17 Bistro offers breathtaking views of the Universal Orlando Resort and the surrounding Central Florida skyline everywhere you turn. Grab a couch and indulge in urban international flavors, such as steamed bao buns, as well as more classic options, such as sliders and salads, made with ingredients from local Florida vendors. It also has an impressive array of expertly prepared custom cocktails for frogs over 21!
Stock up on exclusive merchandise
Believe me, as a parent, I know how persuasive tadpoles can be when they want something. The last thing you want to do, though, is be stuck carrying bags of merchandise at the end of a long park day. Take advantage of your first night on property to do some shopping and grab any souvenirs from any of the hoppin' shops at Universal CityWalk or even just from the Universal Studios Store at your hotel! Hogwarts robes? Marvel Loungeflys? Simpsons pajamas? Minion popcorn buckets? E.T. plushes? Purchase any of these must-haves before you've even entered the gates and keep them safely stored in your hotel room or bring them with you to the parks!
What to Do on Your Day Off at Universal Orlando Resort
If you're sticking around for a while and want one full day to relax, then we'd recommend a rest day between park visits. Gotta rest those frog legs! In addition to all of the activities above, there are even more blissful ideas of things you can do without having to leave Universal Orlando Resort.
If you're staying at one of Universal's Premier, Preferred or Prime Value hotels, your room key gets you exclusive access to any of the hotels on Universal property (aside from Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Surfside Inn & Suites and Dockside Inn & Suites). Pack a day bag, commute by shuttle, water taxi or walking path and spend your day lounging and playing at six fun and unique resort pools.
Check out the 100-foot slide and lazy river at Cabana Bay. Jam out to the underwater tunes and play a game of sand volleyball at Hard Rock Hotel. Spend some time away from the tadpoles and explore the three different pools at Universal's Portofino Bay Hotel. Dive into the largest pool on property at Universal's Sapphire Falls Resort. Relax at the most zen pool on property (which also features a splash pad and game area for the tadpoles) at Aventura Hotel. Enjoy the interactive water playground and white sand beach at Universal's Royal Pacific Resort.
Rent a cabana
Any of those pools sound too good to leave? Rent a cabana and spend the whole day exploring a hotel you aren't staying at. Cabanas come with telephones, ceiling fans, televisions and refrigerators and offer plenty of shade and privacy! Our tadpoles love participating in the variety of poolside activities available throughout the day or trying to beat some high scores in the hotel's game room while Leap and I just enjoy a relaxing day that doesn't involve running from ride to ride.
Play a round of putt-putt or two
Conquering the holes at Hollywood Drive-In Golf is one of our favorite activities to do on days we're not visiting a park. Fight off extra-terrestrial beings at the Invaders from Planet Putt course or face off against paranormal entities at the Haunting of Ghostly Greens course — or make it a "double feature" and play all 36 holes! We especially love playing this course at night when it's all lit up. Be prepared for some spooky surprises and epic effects! This isn't your typical mini-golf course.
Unwind at Mandara Spa
Located at Portofino Bay, Mandara Spa is 13,000 square feet of Balinese bliss. With 14 treatment rooms, a co-ed lounge, a co-ed hydropool, separate men's and women's saunas and steam rooms, a full-service salon and Fitness Center, you're sure to find calm and serenity around every corner. Services offered here include signature massages, award-winning facials, indulgent body treatments and the latest in hair, nail care and waxing. Spa guests are required to be 18 years or older to receive the majority of treatments or utilize the facilities but teen and kid treatments are also available! The spa and salon are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. so you can only enjoy this slice of heaven when the sun's out.
Test your skills at Universal's Great Movie Escape
Up for a challenge? Book a slot at Universal's Great Movie Escape for an escape room experience unlike any other that makes you the star of Hollywood's most beloved franchises. Race against the clock and try your best to save the timeline in "Back to the Future: OUTATIME" or buff up your coding skills and outrun prehistoric predators in "Jurassic World: Escape". These two vastly different but equally fun experiences have incredible production value that needs to be seen to be believed. Fans of the films will also love spotting some iconic Easter Eggs from the films! Be sure to grab a delicious beverage (tadpole-friendly or otherwise) inspired by the movies at one of the two swanky lobby bars.
What are your favorite things to do on your arrival day at Universal Orlando Resort? Let me know in the comments below!
Related: Your Complete Guide to ~Hoppin'~ Around Universal CityWalk Orlando