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Heading to Universal Orlando During a Peak Time? Here's What You Should Know

by Leap on May 25, 2021 22 Orlando

Universal Orlando During a Busy Time - Pinterest Sometimes, the best time for a vacation is when your schedule allows it! For many busy families, that means times when the tadpoles are out of school, including spring and summer breaks. If you’re planning to visit Universal Orlando Resort during a peak period, then naturally you may be wondering what the park experience will be like: How can I make the most of my time if there are long lines? Will I be able to get everything done that I want to do? How early do I need to arrive?

Over the years, we’ve gathered our tried-and-true touring tips. Unlike Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando did not implement a reservation system upon reopening, which greatly impacts our advice. The parks can (and do) hit capacity — and recently, Universal has been closing out dates for potential ticket sales in advance as they reach capacity, which means planning ahead is a must! The sooner you can purchase your tickets, the more availability you'll find (and if you're visiting during a peak time, that means you'll have a better shot at selecting your preferred dates).

Visiting Universal Orlando during a busy time does not mean you're in for less fun or more stress. Much like our green friend Shrek, it just means there are more layers to understand. In this post, we’ll cover exactly what to expect during those rare days Universal Orlando hits full capacity and how to make the very most of a busy day so that you are toadally ready for action.

Our Top Touring Strategy When Universal Orlando Is Busy

Universal During a Busy Time - Hogsmeade Crowds

While the lack of a reservation system can make for a more last-minute approach, if you know you'll be visiting Universal Orlando during a busy time, the best piece of advice that we have is to plan ahead. Since you'll need to select your ticket's start date in advance, and dates can sell out, you'll want to hop on tickets ASAP for your best shot at your preferred dates. Likewise, hotel reservations are more likely to fill up during busy times — and some of the most useful time-saving perks are offered to Universal hotel guests, which we'll get into below.

Entry at the theme parks is first-come, first-served. That means you should plan to arrive early, especially when crowds are highly anticipated. A good rule of thumb is to arrive at the entrance gates about an hour before the parks officially open. If you’re staying at one of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels (or if you’re a premier or preferred annual passholder), you should definitely take advantage of Early Park Admission. Be sure to budget time for parking or taking transportation to get to the parks, going through the temperature screening and security checkpoints, and walking through Universal CityWalk. Check for Virtual Line passes as soon as you are on property; you do not need to wait until you are physically inside of the parks to do so.

When we went in the middle of the spring break season on a weekday, we expected to wait in long lines for the temperature screening (which is no longer a requirement) and security, but we actually passed through both quickly, and we were inside Universal's Islands of Adventure right at its official opening time. However, we were not early enough to snag Virtual Line passes for Hagrid's — they were already gone. From past experience, we've noticed that the Virtual Line system can open up to a half-hour before the park opens. Ultimately, it depends on when a ride's standby line reaches capacity, so exact timing may vary. While it remained busy throughout the day, the parks themselves did not reach capacity.

When to Expect Universal Orlando to Reach Capacity

Universal Orlando During a Busy Time - Rip Ride Rockit Line

During this past holiday season, the parks would consistently close due to Universal Orlando capacity limits. In fact, there were even a few days during the last week of December when the parks closed within the first 10 minutes of the official opening time and didn’t reopen later in the day (yikes!). Since the week between Christmas and New Year's is typically the most concentrated, single busiest time of the year, we don’t expect the parks to reach capacity that quickly until perhaps when the holiday season rolls back around — especially now that the parks are operating at full capacity again. (However, with the recent opening of Jurassic World VelociCoaster, be prepared for anything. New rides do tend to draw in large crowds.) In general, there is a possibility that the parks will reach capacity during holiday weekends, as well as any weekend during a typical busy season.

Outside of the holiday season, the dates most likely to see the parks reach capacity are Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend. If you can, we’d advise you to avoid visiting any weekend during the summer season, as weekdays are usually — although not always — less crowded. If you DO visit during the summer, consider using the weekend as your "downtime" if possible; hang by the pool or plan your shopping!

The 2021 spring break season recently passed, and most weekends reached capacity. The start of spring break season is always early March. However, the end of the season fluctuates, thanks to Easter. The date of the holiday changes every year, and many school districts adjust their spring break or give additional days off because of it. Typically, when you have a later Easter, there is a longer, but overall less crowded spring break season. Next year, Easter will fall on April 17, so there will be an overall longer, but less crowded, spring break season, compared to this year when Easter fell on April 4. Florida universities generally have spring breaks during the first or second week of March. In 2022, the public schools in Orange and Osceola Counties will have spring break from March 14 to 18, so that week may see busier weekdays due to locals being out of school.

The summer break season normally lasts from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend — though the second half of August usually sees crowds slowing down since Florida schools, along with many U.S. school districts, start the school year in mid-August. For the best times to visit Universal Orlando, I share more advice on when to visit the parks in this separate post.

What Happens When Universal Orlando Reaches Capacity?

Universal Orlando During a Busy Time - Kings Cross Line

So, what exactly happens when the Universal Orlando capacity limits are met? Once the parks are completely full, no one will be allowed to enter until capacity lowers. Most of the time, the parks will reopen later in the afternoon or evening, but it’s not guaranteed. For live updates, you can call the Universal Orlando capacity hotline at 407-817-8317, check the park hours on the Universal Orlando app or website, or follow Universal Orlando's Twitter account. If you call the hotline, you must first indicate which park you're going to (Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure OR Universal's Volcano Bay) via the phone menu, and then you'll be asked if you're a Universal hotel guest (if not, choose the "other" option).

Certain guests are considered priority guests — Universal hotel guests and single-day ticket holders. As the team members monitor the parks’ capacity, they may stop guests from entering as they near capacity but continue to allow priority guests inside. Priority guests will also be among the first to enter if the parks reopen later. If you arrive and the parks are closed due to capacity, then you'll have to wait in line. There is a separate line for priority guests.

Universal Orlando During A Busy Time - Special Walkway between Parks

You should not leave the parks if you’re already inside or else you may have to wait to re-enter if the parks are at capacity. Universal opens up a pathway to hop between parks so you don’t have to exit or take the Hogwarts Express. (By the way, this special pathway will open up on busy days, even if the parks have not yet reached capacity. It's also possible for the pathway to only have one-way access.) This means you should plan accordingly by packing everything you need, so you don’t froget anything in your car or hotel room. In this case, it’s worth spending $10 or $15 (depending on the size) for an all-day locker if you’d rather not carry certain items around with you.

Tips for Planning Around a Busy Time at Universal Orlando

Universal During A Busy Time - Express Pass In-Park Kiosk

  • Like we mentioned before, we’d recommend avoiding weekends, as the parks are more likely to reach capacity on Saturdays and Sundays versus visiting during the middle of the week.
  • Consider staying at one of the Universal Orlando hotels. If you’re able to spend the night before, not only will you be well-rested, but you’ll be super close to the parks, which is a big advantage when you’re aiming to arrive early. You’ll also have the Early Park Admission benefit, which will allow you to enter one of the parks an hour before the scheduled opening time. If you’re staying at a Universal Premier hotel, you’ll also receive free Universal Express Unlimited passes.
  • If you’re not staying at a Universal Premier hotel, then consider purchasing Universal Express passes. You’ll still have to wait in the Express lines, but the wait times will be considerably shorter. For example, you might wait 45 minutes instead of 90 minutes in the regular standby line.
  • Before you arrive at the parks, download the official Universal Orlando Resort app and our Orlando Planning app. The Universal Orlando app holds a lot of handy information, and you will be able to access mobile food ordering and the Virtual Line Experience for select rides. Our Orlando Planning app includes our Crowd Calendar, preset and customized park plans, interactive maps, wait times and information about rides and restaurants — all hopful tools!
  • Ahead of time, make a priority list of the top five rides and shows you want to experience, particularly if you only have a day to visit the parks. When the parks are busy, you may not be able to get to everything, so you’ll want to make sure to manage your expectations. If you’re able to tackle at least one ride during Early Park Admission, then aim for two rides before lunch and two rides after lunch. Wait times usually vary between 60 and 180 minutes on the busiest of days.
  • Once you arrive, head to the back of the park first. Many of the casual theme park goers without a plan get in line for the first ride they see, so rides near the entrance will be long in the morning. On a recent trip, we made a beeline to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and we hopped on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey when it was only a 45-minute wait (and it only took 30 minutes). By the time we exited the ride, the wait time jumped to 85 minutes.
  • Eat before or after peak meal times (roughly from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). You can bring small snacks that don't require refrigeration with you to hold you over until you're able to eat.
  • Keep in mind that on busy days, quick-service restaurants will not have pick-up windows for mobile orders. Instead, mobile ordering is used exclusively for table delivery (aka, you'll need to wait in a line, and once you're seated with a table number, you'll order your food). Use our previous tip to avoid long lunch or dinner lines!

Universal During a Busy Time - Line at Pizza Predattoria

Do you have any more questions or concerns about Universal Orlando's capacity procedures during busy periods? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: Best Time to Visit Universal Orlando in 2021 and 2022

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
View Comments
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May 19, 2021 at 1:13 p.m. Steve Says...

We purchased tickets for May 30, 2021 . If we have tickets for that day only are we automatically able to go even if it reached full capacity?

Reply
May 19, 2021 at 8:36 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Steve,

Since you have 1-day, date-specific tickets, you would have priority access when it comes to capacity limits. If it reaches capacity, there's a chance you may have to wait for a short amount of time until they can allow more people in, but you would not have to wait in the regular standby line (there's a separate line for priority access). We would still recommend arriving as early as possible since it is a holiday weekend, so you can maximize your time!

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
May 8, 2021 at 5:36 a.m. Vanessa Says...

If they reach capacity and you don’t get in do you get a refund or get credit for a future date? I’d definitely file a chargeback with my bank for services not received if that was the case.

Thanks

Reply
May 10, 2021 at 7:56 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Vanessa,

If the parks reach capacity, Universal has been allowing guests to use the credit for a future date if they are not able to enter the parks. Just stop by Guest Relations to change the date.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 30, 2021 at 8:56 p.m. Momrocks Says...

We will be going to Universal and IOA Thursday, May 27th and Friday, May 28th, 2021. It is our last minute family of 7 vacay before my son is deployed. I am super nervous about not getting in before it hits capacity. We are not staying at a Universal Hotel, so that knocks out the early admission. These are the only two days we will be there...it is all we have before he leaves. Any advice?

Reply
May 3, 2021 at 8:16 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi there!

Our best advice is to arrive early, at least an hour before the parks open. If arriving that early isn't possible with your large group, then aim to arrive just as the park opens. While we aren't sure if/when the parks will reach capacity on those days, we can tell you that the parks will typically reach capacity between 11 a.m. and noon (based on Universal's capacity announcements during the spring break season), so you'll definitely want to be there no later than 10 a.m. so there's enough time to get through parking, security and get through any lines at the front gate.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 29, 2021 at 10:39 p.m. John Says...

Hi Steve,

We are planning to visit May 22nd and 23rd (Saturday and Sunday) with a family of 5. As parks open at 9, if we were to reach there between 9 and 10, do you think we'll be fine or are there still chances of hitting capacity?

Reply
Apr 30, 2021 at 9 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi John,

We always recommend the earlier, the better, especially since weekends have a higher chance of hitting capacity (and that weekend is no exception). That said, lately they've been reaching capacity by 11 a.m., so it should be safe if you arrive within an hour of park opening.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 27, 2021 at 8:52 a.m. Jake Says...

Hi Steve!

We're staying at one of the premier hotels and are attending the parks on May 12 & 13 with Express Passes. Should we expect the parks to be busy during those days?

Also, with Early Park Access, we're obviously going to head to Hagrid's coaster first. Do we still need a Virtual Pass during Early Access or do we just head straight to the ride and wait in a regular line?

Thanks!

Reply
Apr 27, 2021 at 9:15 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jake!

Since your trip falls midweek during the first half of May, we don't expect it to be super busy with crowd levels 4 and 5. With Early Park Admission, you should be able to hop right into the standby line at Hagrid's!

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 26, 2021 at 2:14 p.m. Steve Says...

When parks reach capacity, are we still able to leave a park, go to eat in city walk and reenter the parks before being officially reopened?

Reply
Apr 26, 2021 at 11:21 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Steve!

If you leave the park, you are no longer counted in the day's capacity until you return (at which point, the parks may have hit capacity once more, so you may be subject to a wait). If you're heading to the parks during a busy time, we recommend staying in the park until you're prepared to head back for the day. Hope this helps!

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 13, 2021 at 1:15 a.m. Cheryl Says...

Do you think it’s worth buying the express passes in June? And what happens if I can’t get into the park if they hit capacity do I get a refund on my express passes? They ask you for the date for the express passes.

Reply
Apr 13, 2021 at 10:07 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Cheryl,

We'd recommend Express Passes if you can swing it, particularly if you're visiting June 10 (or after) due to the Jurassic World VelociCoaster debut. The new coaster will likely not have Express access immediately (like Hagrid's), but crowds may be high due to the new ride. The Express pass is dated and non-refundable. If the parks were to hit capacity and you'd be unable to enter, Guest Services would be able to help you change the date.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 7, 2021 at 7:11 p.m. Xie Says...

Can you still ride the Hogwarts Express if the park you are going to is at capacity?

Reply
Apr 7, 2021 at 3:55 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Xie,

There's always a chance that the Hogwarts Express will shut down temporarily if the queue itself is at capacity. But the train has remained open for park-to-park access when the parks reach capacity, so guests don't have to exit the parks.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 7, 2021 at 5:56 p.m. Kevin Says...

Hi,

If rides like the Mummy have no Virtual passes available, can you still ride using Express Passes? Do you think next week will be a tad lighter for crowds than this week? Based on earlier closing that's what I'm expecting.

Also, do you happen to know if the resort pools have their hot tubs open, staying at PB?

Thanks!

Reply
Apr 7, 2021 at 1:50 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Kevin,

The Express queues close only if they reach capacity, which doesn't hoppen too often. With the exception of Hagrid's (which doesn't have an Express queue), you do not have to get a Virtual Pass and can go straight to the Express queue as long as it's open. Since the spring break season usually ends after the week following Easter, crowds should be decreasing, starting next week. Currently, the hot tubs at the Universal Orlando resorts are not available. Hope this helps!

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Apr 4, 2021 at 1:24 a.m. floridaman Says...

How early should we get to the park for the busy week? 2 hours before? is that too much?

Reply
Apr 5, 2021 at 12:54 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi there!

To give you an idea of how quickly the parks are reaching capacity the parks have been closing around 11 a.m. on most days these past few weeks for the spring break season. (During the week between Christmas and New Years, the parks were reaching capacity within 10 minutes of opening, but we haven't seen that hoppen since then.) We'd still advise you to arrive as early as possible to maximize your time, especially if you're staying at a Universal hotel and have the Early Park Admission benefit. The parking garage opens (as well as the Universal transportation services begin) an hour before Early Park Admission starts, so you are able to arrive up to two hours before the official park opening. (Right now, we think the sweet spot is to rope drop an hour before park opening if you aren't going during EPA.) Hope this helps!

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Mar 30, 2021 at 7:29 p.m. Clemson Fan Says...

We leave our phones in the hotel so no need for lockers. How will mobile ordering for food work? Is there an alternative?

Reply
Apr 1, 2021 at 12:42 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi there!

If you won't have your phones on you, then tell a team member that you'll need to order at the register, if you choose to eat at a quick-service restaurant. (There should be at least one register open since people with dining plans are unable to use mobile ordering.) You can also choose to dine at a table-service restaurant or get food from a smaller snack stand, which do not utilize mobile ordering. Hope this helps!

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
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