Between two thrilling theme parks, one wild water park, an electrifying entertainment district and eight hoppening hotels, there's so much to see and do at Universal Orlando Resort. Whether you're tagging the tadpoles along or enjoying an adults-only vacation, you want to make the most out of each and every day. If there's one thing we've learned after years of park-hopping, it's that the saying is true: Time really does fly when you're having fun. Hence why we've put together a list of the best ways to maximize your time whether your priority is casting spells in the Wizarding World, screaming on all of the epic roller coasters or just relaxing by the pool — we won't judge. Ready to start booking the best vacation ever? Let's hop to it, then!
Our Top Universal Orlando Resort Tips to Maximize Your Time
1. Buy Your Tickets in Advance
Whether you want to run straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or grab the best spot on Waturi Beach, the last thing you want to do when you arrive at any park is wait in line to buy tickets. Save time (and money!) by purchasing them online, in advance through Undercover Tourist. Make the most out of your time on property by getting a park-to-park ticket or take it slow and steady and opt for a base ticket. You can even add on Universal Express and Express Unlimited Passes to skip the lines and drastically decrease your wait times! (I'll cover that more below.)
2. Pick the Best Times to Visit
Probably the biggest question on your mind upon deciding when to go to Universal Orlando is "When are crowds going to be the lowest?" As a rule of thumb, we recommend heading to the parks on weekdays, if possible — especially during peak times including the week of Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break and summer break. Historically, September has been the best month to visit since tadpoles will have just gone back to school. We also highly recommend avoiding the parks on big holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Be sure to check out our Orlando Crowd Calendar, as well as our Best Times to Visit post to see exactly which dates will most likely have the lowest crowds.
3. Stay at a Universal Orlando Resort Hotel
Aside from the unique theming, comfortable beds, delicious restaurants and relaxing pools, there are plenty of other reasons we recommend staying on property at Universal Orlando Resort. For one, getting to and from the parks is super quick! Just hop on a shuttle or water taxi to Universal CityWalk or take one of the many walking paths.
Additionally, staying at a Universal hotel means you have access to Early Park Admission! That means you can enter Universal's Islands of Adventure and/or Universal Studios Florida one hour before the park opens OR Universal's Volcano Bay 30 minutes before the park opens.
Lastly, staying at any of the three Premier hotels (that's Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort) grants each member of your party free Universal Express Unlimited so you can skip the lines at most of the popular attractions over and over and over again!
4. If You Can't Stay on Property, Stay Close by
We've put together a list of our favorite frog family-approved hotels near Universal Orlando. Not only are a lot of them toadally affordable, but some of them even offer shuttles to CityWalk so you don't have to waste time with parking. Many of them even offer complimentary breakfast buffets or quick grab-and-go options so you can head out the door in the morning fueled and ready to start your day!
5. Consider Purchasing Universal Express During the Busiest Times
If your vacation hoppens to fall during the holidays, spring break or summer, consider purchasing Universal Express. Being able to hop to the front of the line will give you back potentially hours during your park day. (It's especially helpful for tadpoles who tend to get fussy waiting in long lines — even more so in the summer heat.)
There are a few different options: the Universal Express pass which allows you to skip the regular lines once per participating ride at both theme parks, the Universal Express Unlimited pass which allows you to skip the regular line an unlimited number of times at participating rides at both theme parks and the Volcano Bay Express pass which allows you to skip the Virtual Line once per participating ride at the water park. While you can purchase it at the gate or at select locations throughout the parks, we highly recommend buying your pass in advance as there's a limited inventory and they do tend to sell out.
6. Arrive Ahead of Park Opening
The shortest waits you'll encounter are going to be bright and early at the beginning of the day and just before the park closes at night. Wait times always tend to peak mid-day, no matter the attraction. Get a head start in the morning and plan to arrive at your first park at least half an hour before the gates open as team members tend to let guests in earlier than the posted opening.
On our last visit to Islands of Adventure, we entered the gate at 7:30 a.m. (30 minutes before park opening) and walked through Seuss Landing to the entrance to The Lost Continent. There, team members were standing behind a rope which they dropped promptly at 7:45 a.m. We were able to knock out both Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey via the Single Rider lines in less than an hour!
7. Allow at Least 30 Minutes for Parking and Security
While tadpoles (OK, and parents, too) may not like waking up before or as the sun rises, it's better to be safe than sorry. Depending on the season, lines at the toll booth can be fairly long. (Security tends to be less of a hassle since there are so many stations being used at all times. At times, lines can look long but usually move quickly.) If saving time is your top priority, consider upgrading to Prime Parking which will allow you to park on the same floor as security. If the moving walkways look crowded, walk on the regular pathways instead. Remember, you still have to walk through CityWalk to get to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios or take the shuttle from the garage to get to Volcano Bay.
8. Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive
Upon rope drop, your first few hours at the park are going to be best spent doing as many rides as possible (if that's what your priority is) since the lines won't be too long. There are plenty of places where you can grab a quick breakfast to go or enjoy a nice sit-down meal. But if you fuel up at your hotel before you head out the door, you'll save a lot of time once you've parked. If you're really pressed for time, both Cinnabon and Starbucks open in CityWalk open at 6 a.m. every day and serve pastries and breakfast sandwiches that are perfect to chow down on while you're waiting for the gates to open.
9. Bring Your Own Water Bottle and Snacks
You'll save so much time by not waiting in line to grab food and drinks or waiting for your mobile order. Water bottles are allowed into the parks, and there are plenty of water fountains around to refill your bottles. (Remember, it's important to stay hydrated in the Florida heat!) Small snacks that don't require heating are also allowed through security, as well as any food required for medical purposes or dietary needs and baby food.
10. Join the Coca-Cola Freestyle Program
You know how I mentioned staying hydrated? Universal makes it super easy with its Coca-Cola Freestyle program. Basically, you can purchase a souvenir cup from any participating location for $16.99 and then refill it with one of over 100 drink choices once every 10 minutes throughout the rest of the day. What makes this a great time-saving option is that you'll find freestanding Freestyle machines all throughout Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay (aside from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or The Simpson's Fast Food Blvd since those offer more themed beverages). This way, you can just walk up to any machine and refill your cup instantly without having to wait in line!
11. Schedule Your Day Around the Shows
Why? Well, rides run throughout the day and can be enjoyed at any time whereas shows run on a specific schedule. Showtimes are posted at the start of every day on the official Universal Orlando app but are also posted at the location of each show. Shows at each park don't tend to start until at least 10 a.m. So if you arrive at or before park opening, this gives you plenty of time to experience the rides before they start. In addition to some awesome entertainment, they also provide a much-needed rest for tired froggy feet in the later hours of the day. For Universal's Cinematic Celebration in Universal Studios, we recommend arriving at least 20 minutes before the show starts to grab a good spot. Central Park fills up quickly each night.
12. Use the Single Riders Line
If you don't want to splurge on Universal Express, opting for the Single Riders line is the fastest way to get on and off any ride. When Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure had a posted wait time of two hours, we only waited 21 minutes in the Single Riders line. When Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls had a posted wait time of 75 minutes, we only waited 13 minutes in the Single Riders line. Note that by entering this line, your party will be separated. Just make sure to agree on a spot to meet up after you disembark. Our Single Riders line post has all of the deets, as well as a full list of participating rides.
13. Have Lunch During Off-peak Times
Whether you're mobile ordering or sitting down for a reservation, you'll save the most time at Universal Orlando if you dine outside of peak meal times. It's simple: the fewer people ordering food, the quicker your food is ready. With so many things to do around the parks, we recommend trying not to spend more than half an hour eating lunch and thus, sitting down for your mid-day fuel-up a little earlier or later than usual. Snacks (both healthy and not-so-healthy) can be found all around the parks to keep tummies from growling. Check out our favorite restaurants that help us save some green!
14. Take Advantage of the Child Swap Program
Don't miss out on any of the fun if your tadpoles are too small or too frightened to go on certain rides. Universal's Child Swap program allows one member of your party to wait with the tadpole in a family room while the rest of your party rides. Once they're finished, you can switch places so whoever went first can stay with the tadpole and the adult(s) who sat out can enjoy the ride! It's a win-win. What we love the most about this program is that it allows the entire party to go through the queue once together. Neither Mommy Frog nor I have to stand outside with Lily while we wait for the other to go through the entire queue with Tad and vice versa.
15. Research Height Requirements in Advance
You don't want to get your tadpoles hyped for a ride only for them to be turned away because they aren't tall enough. Knowing height requirements in advance will help you tailor expectations for the whole family and make your day go a lot smoother (with a lot fewer meltdowns).
16. Prepare for Water Rides
Islands of Adventure is home to three water rides: Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Pluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. While you may be spared from getting drenched on River Adventure, you'll no doubt get absolutely soaked on the rides in Toon Lagoon. Bring along inexpensive ponchos and throw them on before hopping in the queue so don't necessarily have to waste time changing clothes or drying off in a people dryer — the Florida sun will help do that pretty quickly anyway.
17. Snag a Locker
While it's ideal to travel light so you're not lugging around all your belongings all day, that may not entirely be possible with all the stuff you should bring (reusable water bottles, sunscreen, jackets, portable chargers, etc.) That's why one of your first priorities should be renting an all-day locker. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis near the entrances of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and at three different locations around Volcano Bay. You'll also save time as you won't have to bother with stowing away your gear in multiple single-use lockers throughout the day at various attractions.
18. Take Advantage of Festivals and Special Events
Universal Orlando Resort is home to some of the greatest parties and celebrations in the nation. Every year in the spring, fall and winter, respectively, Mardi Gras, Halloween and the holidays bring special food, decor, entertainment and more to the parks. Don't miss the epic parades during Mardi Gras, the haunted houses at Universal Studios or the festive entertainment that you can only find during the holidays. In 2021, Universal Studios even debuted some special food items for the Summer Olympics. Check out the full schedule of events, and don't miss your chance to partake in the festivities!
19. Have a Plan and Prioritize Attractions
Whether you're planning to do one day at each theme park or spend a day or two hopping between both, we have a park plan available to you so won't miss out on any of the hottest attractions! These plans are frog-tested and frog-approved and are perfect for families who like following a schedule but don't want to do all the planning themselves. Knowing the optimal time to visit each ride, show or character can save you hours of waiting in line, so what are you waiting for? Hop to it!
20. Download the Official Universal Orlando App
From checking wait times to mobile ordering, and confirming park hours to locating the closest restroom and your parking spot, the Universal Orlando app will be your best friend in the park. Almost everything you need to know will be at the tap of a button. There's even a Chat with Universal feature so you can get quick info about safety measures, showtimes, contact information and more even if you're off-property. As you may spend quite a lot of time looking at your screen (especially if this is your first visit), don't froget to bring a fully charged portable battery. (FuelRods are available at the parks but you'll save time by having a portable charger already on hand.)
We hope these tips help you to make the most out of every day of your vacation! Have a Universal Orlando Resort tip we didn't mention? Share it in the comments below!