Perhaps you have an extra day to fill as you’re planning your Orlando vacation, or it could be that multi-day park tickets simply aren’t in the budget. Maybe you’re even considering a last-minute visit to Universal Orlando Resort, and you'll be there later this week! Whatever your reason may be, you’re probably wondering, “Can Universal Orlando be done in one day?” We frogs are here to answer this hot-topic question, along with our tips on how to maximize your time and squeeze every penny out of a one-day, two-park ticket. So, let’s start with the million-dollar question of the day.
Can Universal Orlando Be Done in One Day?
The simple answer is: Yes! it’s toadally possible to fit Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure into one day. What makes park hopping easy at Universal Orlando is the fact that the two parks are right next to each other. You can exit one park and walk to the entrance of the other, or you could take the Hogwarts Express! The proximity of the two parks greatly helps when you’re trying to experience as many attractions as possible. You don’t have to worry about driving somewhere else or relying on other forms of transportation. As a bonus, the Hogwarts Express is an attraction in itself, so you’re really hitting two lily pads in one leap. If you have enough time, ride the Hogwarts Express twice, as each direction tells a different story.
That said, it’s impossible to experience EVERYTHING that both parks have to offer in one day, even if the parks aren’t too busy. If only Hermione Granger’s time turner were real so you could hit all of the attractions … but in reality, you have to prioritize your must-do rides or shows, which will require some planning. We have our own favorite not-to-miss rides, experiences and dining options at both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. It’s important to be aware of this expectation so you don’t leave the parks disappointed! We usually recommend at least a full day at each park, and maybe more depending on the time of year and a few other factors, but sometimes that's just not possible.
Frogtunately, we have some advice on how to make the most out of Universal Orlando in one day, which involves some planning ahead. We’ve split up our tips into things that you can do before your trip and things you can do inside the parks to maximize your time.
Tips for Planning a One-Day Universal Orlando Trip
Be Strategic About When You Visit
Yay! You’ve decided to visit Universal Orlando during your vacation. If you have enough flexibility to choose when you’re going (aka it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision), consider the best times of the year to visit. Take a look at our Crowd Calendar, which can help you determine when crowds are at their lowest. Avoid the theme parks around holidays and school breaks. You’ll also want to research park hours, which are usually posted in advance for about a month at a time. One park may stay open an hour later than the other, or if you’re visiting during a non-peak time, the parks are more likely to close earlier in the evening. And lastly, weekdays are typically less crowded than weekends.
Buy Park Tickets in Advance
The first line of the day should be more exciting than waiting at the front gate to purchase your park tickets. Not only will you save time by going straight to the turnstiles, but you will also save money by buying your tickets in advance. (Save some extra green if you get discount Universal Orlando tickets from us frogs!) Be sure to get the 1-Day Park-to-Park ticket, so you’re able to visit both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Stay On-Site the Night Before
If your travel plans allow for it, we recommend staying on-site the night before. That way, you’ll be well-rested for the busy day ahead! All of the Universal hotels are a short bus (or water taxi) ride away — and some of them are even within walking distance. The close proximity is a huge bonus when you want to arrive as early as possible on the day of your visit. In fact, one of the benefits of staying at any Universal hotel is Early Park Admission. This perk allows you to enter an hour before the scheduled opening time at either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida and a half-hour before at Volcano Bay. Also, if you stay at a Universal Premier hotel, you’ll receive free Universal Express Unlimited passes. For our family of four, it can be a huge money saver, considering the price for one Express Unlimited pass starts at $109.99. Read on to the next point for more details!
Consider Purchasing Express Passes
However, if you’re not staying at a Universal Premier hotel, consider getting Universal Express passes, especially if your goal is to hit as many rides as you can. Save money by selecting the Universal Express standard option (which allows you to skip the lines one time per participating attraction) instead of the Universal Express Unlimited option, as there’s a chance you may not even have time for repeat rides at Universal Orlando in one day.
It’s best to buy the Express passes in advance if you know you’ll definitely want them. Prices start at $79.99 (Universal Express) and $109.99 (Universal Express Unlimited) per pass — and we offer discounts on them too! However, the prices are date-specific, depending on peak periods, and increase as your visit date gets closer. If you’re unsure and would rather scope out the crowds before you buy them, Universal Express passes may be available to purchase inside the park (if they're not already sold out). Skipping the lines definitely helps you experience more if you're looking to do Universal Orlando in one day!
Get Familiar with the Theme Parks Before Your Trip
Before you arrive at Universal Orlando, study the park maps so you know the lay of the land. Research the rides and restaurants that you’ll want to go on and dine at in order to prioritize your must-do experiences. You don’t have to plan everything down to the exact minute. A ride could break down, or you may want to spend more time casting spells in the Wizarding World — you should be flexible! But you also don’t want to regret not doing something that you really wanted to because you ran out of time. If you don’t know where to start, we’ve created a 1-Day Park-to-Park plan that you can customize however you please!
We think it’s important to do what works best for you and your frog squad. If there are younger tadpoles in tow, prioritize Universal Studios Florida, which has slightly more family-friendly attractions such as Men in Black Alien Attack, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. If your group consists of mostly teenagers or adult frogs, head over to Universal’s Islands of Adventure first, where you’ll find thrilling rides such as Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall.
Download Useful Apps
Before you go, download the official Universal Orlando Resort app and our Orlando Planning app. The Universal Orlando app holds a lot of handy information about park hours, maps with wait times, safety guidelines and more. The app is also where you can access mobile food and drink ordering. The Undercover Tourist Orlando Planning app includes our Crowd Calendar, preset and customized park plans, interactive maps, wait times and restaurant information — all hopful tools! For tips on navigating our app, hop to our guide about navigating the app.
Tips for Maximizing Your One Day at Universal
As we always like to say, “The early frog gets the flies!” Arriving early is essential to getting the most time out of your day. As long as there’s not a special occasion, crowds generally stay low during the first hour or two. Like we mentioned before, Universal hotel guests can (and should) take advantage of Early Park Admission, which includes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You could easily knock off one or two of the most popular rides at whichever park is offering the perk on the day of your visit.
If you’re staying off-site, you should aim to arrive before Universal’s scheduled opening time. While not guaranteed, team members may open the gates just a tad before the park officially opens. Allow extra time for parking (or transportation, if staying on-site), passing the security check and walking through Universal CityWalk to the park entrance.
Head to the Back of the Park First
It’s easy to be enticed by the first ride you see. But many others have the same idea, so the rides near the entrance are usually long in the morning. We like hopping to the back of either park first by making a beeline to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley before the Wizarding World gets too busy.
Use Single Rider Lines
If you decide against Universal Express passes, you aren’t automatically subjected to waiting in a long standby line for some rides. Select attractions have a Single Rider line, which tends to move faster than the regular line. However, you need to be OK with the fact that your group will be split up on the ride. Single Rider lines fill empty seats on the ride vehicles, so everyone should feel comfortable about riding with strangers if you all choose to hop through a Single Rider line.
Split Into Smaller Groups If Possible
Traveling in a large group? Consider splitting up into smaller groups of frogs with similar interests, so it’s easier for everyone to accomplish what they’d like to do. It may help with avoiding fights or indecision over what you should do next. We all know that sometimes the more opinions there are, the harder it is to compromise and make everyone hoppy. By breaking off into small squads, each group can prioritize accordingly and more efficiently. Set up a time to eat lunch or go on at least one predetermined ride together.
Use Mobile Ordering for Food and Drinks
Have you downloaded the official Universal Orlando app yet? Here’s a gentle froggy reminder for one of the reasons why it’s so useful — mobile ordering for food and drinks. Long lines aren’t just for the rides. Restaurants get busy too, specifically around peak meal times (roughly from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). If you want to skip those lines, order your meal through the app at any point during the day. When you’re ready to eat, you can hit the "prepare" button once you’re near the restaurant. Then, simply pick up your food! You may experience some minimal waits during peak times, but it’s better than standing in line for longer than you need to! Less waiting for food means more ride time!
Eat During Off-Peak Times and Bring Snacks
If you don’t want to deal with the lunch and dinner crowds at all, eat before or after the peak meal times. To hold you over until it’s time to eat, bring small snacks with you. Outside food and drinks are allowed ... to an extent. Acceptable items include bottled water (maximum of two liters), snacks that don’t require heating, food required for medical purposes or special dietary needs, baby food and soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5 inches wide by 6 inches high by 6 inches deep. You may not bring glassware, alcohol, hard-sided coolers (or large soft-sided bags) and picnic lunches.
Plan Around Shows
Ride wait times fluctuate, but showtimes do not. If you want to prioritize any of the shows, pick out a time that’s convenient for you and plan around it. The earliest showtimes typically have the least amount of crowds. Busier showtimes may have a cut-off point, and you’d need to arrive early or risk having to wait for the next show.
Take the Hogwarts Express
To move between the two parks, we prefer taking the Hogwarts Express! "Harry Potter" fans and muggles alike will enjoy the two different storylines that depend on which direction you’re headed in. If you have enough time, ride it twice to experience both stories. Our personal favorite is hopping on at King's Cross Station, so it feels like we’re students going to Hogwarts for the first time! (You get to walk through the brick wall at Platform 9 ¾ with the help of some mirror magic!) But the line is generally longer than if you were to hop on at the Hogsmeade station.
Have you ever attempted to visit Universal Orlando in one day? If you have any additional tips and advice, please share them in the comments below!
Related: The Ultimate Guide on When to Use Universal Express