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Our ~Frogtastic~ First Timer's Guide to Universal Orlando Resort

by Mommy Frog on February 6, 2023 2 Orlando

First Timer Universal Orlando - PinterestBooking your first trip to Universal Orlando Resort? You've come to the right place! Universal Orlando is an epic vacation destination that's perfect for frogs of any age. With eight hoppin' hotels, two thrilling theme parks, one wild water park and one electrifying entertainment district, there's so much to do see and do here ... it can be a bit overwhelming. Not to mention all the hard work that goes into planning the perfect vacation. Hence why I've taken the liberty of breaking down everything you need to know if you're heading here for the very first time. (Hop tip: Bookmark this blog. It's a lot of information so you may find you want to come back here during the different stages of your trip.) Ready to have the best vacation ever and make some lifelong memories? Awesome! Let's hop right to it.

Our Top Universal Orlando Tips for First-Timers

1. Decide When to Visit

One of the first steps of planning a vacation is deciding when you should go. Check out our list of the best times to visit! Historically, September has been the best month of the year to visit the parks since the tadpoles have just returned to school. Additionally, we always recommend visiting on weekdays over weekends — especially during peak times of the year such as spring break, summer and the holidays.

2. Choose The Right Tickets in Advance

Save time and money by purchasing your park tickets through Undercover Tourist. Be aware that purchasing a park-to-park ticket is the only way you can ride the Hogwarts Express which connects Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Already purchased base tickets? No worries! You can upgrade them at ticket windows next to the Hogwarts Express train station in each park.

3. Consider Universal Express Passes

Decide whether the Universal Express pass is right for you. This ticket add-on allows you to skip the line at every attraction aside from Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers. The standard Express pass allows you to skip each line once whereas the Unlimited Express pass allows you to skip each line as many times as you want! There's even an option solely for Universal's Volcano Bay.

4. Save Time in Single Rider Lines

First Timer Universal Orlando - River Adventure

If you'd rather not spend money on Universal Express, there's always the Single Riders line — a personal favorite of this frog fam! Walking into the Single Riders line will almost always guarantee a shorter wait time than opting for the standby queue ... but it's imperative to understand that your party will be separated. It's also important to note that not every ride has one and even rides that do won't necessarily have this line open at all times.

5. Stay On-Site at a Universal Orlando Hotel

Know the perks of staying on-site! Staying on-site at any Universal Orlando hotel will grant you Early Park Admission — that's an extra hour in the morning at one or both of the theme parks and an extra half hour in the morning at the water park. Staying at any of the three Premier hotels will grant you free Universal Express Unlimited. The hotels also offer free transportation to the parks in the form of shuttles and water taxis.

6. Double-Check Park Hours Before and During Your Trip

Universal Orlando only releases park hours for the current month and the next month, and those hours tend to vary by day. If you have a park-to-park ticket and one park is open later than the other, end your day at the park you'll have more time in. It's not uncommon for a park to close early for a private event.

7. Decide Where You Want to End the Night

First Timer Universal Orlando - Cinematic Celebration

If you only have one day at the parks, decide which nighttime spectacular you want to see. Islands of Adventure has The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle which begins at dusk and continues approximately every 20 minutes until park close. Universal Studios has Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration, a massive spectacle of music, water and light that only runs on select nights but it's a can't-miss experience!

8. Download the Right Apps

This app will be your best friend during your trip. Use it to check show times, wait times and park hours, mobile order your food and drinks, store your credit card for easy payment, read about height requirements, find out where Universal Express is accepted, locate the nearest restroom, chat with Universal team members and so much more. You can also use our Orlando Planning App for iPhone to follow our park plans, and even customize them to your preferences. Don't froget to bring a portable charger to keep your phone juiced up!

9. Prepare for the Weather

While we're talking about things to pack, prepare for sun and prepare for rain (even if the forecast says otherwise). Sun gear includes sunscreen, chapstick, hats, sunglasses, lightweight quick-dry clothing and any cooling accessories of your choosing. Rain gear includes ponchos or raincoats, ziplock bags, small hand towels, stroller rain covers, extra socks and water-resistant shoes.

10. Wear Comfortable Shoes

Speaking of shoes, make sure yours are comfortable and broken in. The parks are big and webbed feet can get tired and start hurting pretty quickly. My go-to shoes are a pair of slip-on sneakers with Air-Cooled Memory Foam insoles. If getting new kicks isn't a priority, then I recommend stocking up on heel liners and blister cushions, at the very least. For other first-aid tips, check out our other recommendations for building your own first-aid kit.

11. Make a Game Plan Beforehand

First Timer Universal Orlando - Hulk

Have a general idea of the order in which you want to conquer each attraction and know which land they're located in. Knowing the layout of all the theme parks ahead of your arrival will also end up saving you so much time during your park days. Both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios are essentially circles with lagoons in the center and are connected via Universal CityWalk.

12. Purchase a Lanyard Ahead of Time or at the Parks

If you have a physical park-to-park ticket, an Express Pass and/or a room key that needs to be scanned for Early Park Admission, it's easier to have them stored around your neck and ready when you need them. Lanyards are sold at any Universal Studios Store — that includes the ones at the hotels and CityWalk — and can be worn on all roller coasters. Just tuck them into your shirt before you board!

13. Arrive Early

Arrive at the parks about 45 minutes ahead of the official opening time (whether you have Early Park Admission or not). Additionally, factor in time to park (if you're driving), get through security and walk through CityWalk (or take a shuttle if you're heading to Volcano Bay). Team members normally let frogs enter the parks around 15 minutes early. Being there first will prevent you from waiting in longer lines later in the day.

14. Save Time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

First Timer Universal Orlando - Interactive Wand Spot

Wait like a wizard and avoid long lines! Craving some butterbeerHop into Hog's Head Pub or Three Broomsticks or any of the locations that sell it in Diagon Alley instead of waiting for the cart in Hogsmeade. Want a wand to choose you? Head to Ollivander's in Diagon Alley which always has a much shorter wait than the one in Hogsmeade. Itching to ride the Hogwarts Express? Board the train at Hogsmeade instead of King's Cross.

15. Make Dining Reservations

Wait times for dinner in CityWalk after the parks close can be up to an hour or longer so it's much better to be safe than sorry. Dining reservations can be made through Universal Orlando's Reservations page but some restaurants even offer additional bookings through OpenTable. Even if you're staying at a Premier hotel and have priority seating, still go ahead and make those reservations.

16. Be Prepared to Store Your Belongings

First Timer Universal Orlando - VelociCoaster

Several rides at Universal Orlando Resort require that you put your bags and any loose articles in a locker such as Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Jurassic World VelociCoaster, MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Standard lockers are free but you do need to pay if you have big items such as popcorn buckets that you need to store in a larger locker. There are a select few rides that even use metal detectors to ensure that you don't have anything in your pockets.

17. Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day

It's one of our most important tips for any theme park vacation and something that can easily be frogotten when you're hopping from ride to ride. Save money and bring a refillable water bottle which you can fill up at any water fountain on property. While certain alcoholic drinks such as the Pear Dazzle at Hog's Head can be incredibly refreshing, they're no substitute for H2O.

18. Utilize Child Swap

Don't froget about child swap! If certain members of your frog squad aren't tall enough for certain rides, each ride has a family room where one member of your party can wait with the tiny tadpole while the rest of your party rides. Once they're finished, the adults can switch places so the frog who missed out can enjoy the ride. And no, you do not have to wait in line all over again!

19. Have a Plan to Combat Motion Sickness

If you have a history of motion sickness, plan ahead. Certain rides that have left frogs turning (even more) green have been Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Jurassic World VelociCoaster and The Simpsons Ride — to name a few. Dramamine and ginger root are great options to help settle any stomach. Additionally, avoid riding on an empty stomach or eating a full meal minutes before hopping on a ride.

20. Head to Diagon Alley in the Morning or Evening

First Timer Universal Orlando - Ice Cream

Head to Diagon Alley first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Despite only having one ride, it's by far the busiest part of Universal Studios and crowds normally tend to build in the middle of the day. While you're there, be sure to browse the shop windows, grab a cup or cone from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour and see the dragon atop Gringotts Bank breathe fire which happens every 10 to 15 minutes.

Hope you have a frogtastic vacation! What's the thing you're most excited to do when you get to Universal Orlando Resort? Do you have any other tips for first-timers? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: The Spring Breaker's Guide to Universal Orlando

Hoppy planning!
Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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Jun 22, 2022 at 2:46 p.m. Francis S. Says...

Great information. I am now better prepared.

Jun 22, 2022 at 10:13 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Francis!

We're hoppy to hear that! Thanks for sharing with us, and have a frogtastic first visit! :)

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

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