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How to Do Universal Orlando If You Only Have One Day

by Mommy Frog on May 11, 2023 15 Orlando

Universal Orlando in One Day - PinterestPerhaps 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

Universal Orlando in One Day - Interactive Wand Spot

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

Universal Orlando in One Day - Front of Express Pass

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

Universal Orlando in One Day - Men in Black

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 Park Plan 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 Park Plan 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

Universal Orlando in One Day - VelociCoaster

Arrive Early

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. As 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

Universal Orlando in One Day - Triwizard Spirit Rally

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

Universal Orlando in One Day - Mel's Drive-In Pick-Up Entrance for Mobile Ordering

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

Universal Orlando in One Day - The Bourne Stuntacular

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

Universal Orlando in One Day - 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

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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Mar 7, 2024 at 2:47 a.m. Cari Says...

Hello, looking to go to island of adventures on Sunday April 7th. We are mostly interested in the spider man ride and kid rides no big roller coasters or Harry Potter. My little one isn’t into it. Is it worth getting the express pass?

Reply
Mar 7, 2024 at 8:13 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Cari!

If you only plan on going to Islands of Adventure and skipping the thrill rides, we don't think you would need Express. (But if you were to park hop in one day, it may be worth considering.)

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Jan 26, 2024 at 1:16 a.m. Brian W Says...

Looking for a 2 nite, 1 day, 2 park setup for April 6-8. I know it’s a crowded time and very busy, but only real time we have. Have 2 adults and 3 kids, can you provide suggestions on the best lodging for kids/pool and passes?

Heavy interest on Harry Potter rides and such, with only 1 day probably so do we have to do Express or Front of the Line? Brutal prices this time of year, so just wanted to make sure we needed them.

Thanks,

Brian W

Reply
Jan 31, 2024 at 3:13 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Brian!

If you're looking for the best pools on property, we'd recommend Cabana Bay Beach which has two pool areas, one with a waterslide and the other has a lazy river. It has a fun retro theme, plus a bowling alley — all great for kids! That said, we would recommend Express Passes, especially if you only have one day and it's during a busier season. And if you're already looking at Express Passes, we would consider staying at a premier resort, which includes free Unlimited Express Passes as a benefit. Our premier hotel rec for kids would be Hard Rock Hotel (has underwater speakers in the pool and The Kitchen is one of our favorite spots for breakfast). You'll want to compare specific numbers to see if Option 1 (staying at the Hard Rock Hotel and getting free Express Passes) would save money versus Option 2 (staying at Cabana Bay Beach and purchasing Express Passes separately).

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Jan 10, 2024 at 2:17 p.m. Steven Dash Says...

Hi - we are going to both parks in August so it will be really busy but we have express passes. Do you think there is still a need to do rides in a certain order like back of the park first? Or with fast passes can you do them in any order and still do everything in a single day? Thanks

Reply
Jan 11, 2024 at 3:44 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Steven!

No specific order is needed! But if you want to ride Hagrid's Magical Creatures, or if you have a tadpole who wants to ride Pteranodon Flyers, those two are the only rides that don't utilize Express. So especially in August when there's a higher chance of summer storms in the afternoon/evening, we would recommend rope dropping (or getting immediately in line once the park opens) for Hagrid's before the line gets too long. Islands of Adventure also has more outdoor rides, so we'd recommend hopping to that park first. Also, if you have the one-time use Express Pass, you may want to watch out for temporary ride closures during the day. If/once a ride reopens, the Express line can get long with people circling back to it, so we'd hold off until later so you're not entering a longer than usual Express line.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Jul 7, 2023 at 9:21 p.m. Bobbi Says...

Thank you for your site and tips! We were able to do BOTH Universal Studios Parks in Orlando in early January. We hit I think every ride (for adult/teens at least), and a couple we even repeated. We were there right after it opened and stayed till it closed, eating at Margaritaville on the way out. We had a blast! Thanks for the tips. I used the Express pass for my husband and I and the Unlimited Pass for the two teens who were with us. That definitely helped a lot, but other than near the end of the day, the lines were never super bad.

Reply
Jul 10, 2023 at 12:59 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Bobbi :) We're so glad you had a frogtastic time!

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Feb 19, 2023 at 5:30 p.m. Apple Says...

It is not possible to do all the parks in one day unless MAYBE you get the fast pass, their capacity is 27,000, with that capacity you’re waiting 90 minutes for each ride then 15-20 to use the BATHROOM they don’t sell out their tickets and it’s disgusting how crowded it gets

Reply
Feb 15, 2023 at 9:10 p.m. Thomas Tangredi Says...

Would you trade 4disney park Hopper for 2 universal tickets don't need all parks just don't want to go back to Disney and do you have handy cap parking

Reply
Dec 6, 2022 at 10:36 p.m. Linda Kamin Says...

I'm looking for a 2 -3 day vacation at Universal, etc. with my family. We're FL residents but it will unfortunately be during the very busy spring break. I find this overwhelming. Where should I begin? Would prefer a suite or two since we will be 4 adults, 2 children, so we don't want simple hotel rooms. Thank you.

Reply
Dec 7, 2022 at 8:52 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Linda!

We'd suggest looking into the Universal premier resorts first — these include Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific and Loews Portofino Bay — which all have options for suites. These premier hotels offer the free Universal Express Unlimited benefit to everyone in the room, which is the main draw especially for larger groups (purchasing Universal Express separately while staying at any other Universal hotel or off-site could actually turn out to be pricier). And since you're going during a busier time, having Universal Express could definitely help with maximizing and saving you time in lines. If looking for a more budget-friendly option, then we'd recommend Universal's Endless Summer Resort (either Dockside or Surfside), which have 2-bedroom suites that sleep up to six. By staying on-site, you can take advantage of Early Park Admission to beat crowds. Hope this helps give you a good start, and let us know if you have any more questions!

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Jan 20, 2023 at 4:15 a.m. Leah Says...

My family really enjoys Cabana Bay Beach Resort. It's super family friendly and has everything you need in one spot. They also have family suites!

Reply
Oct 29, 2020 at 3:33 p.m. Jen A. Says...

Toad-ally awesome tips! This will help with our first family trip to the park. Thank you!

Reply
Oct 23, 2020 at 2:06 a.m. Jennifer S Says...

Great tips! I love how easy it is to move between the parks! I’m hoping that the new Jurassic coaster will take some of the people away from Hagrid’s so it will have shorter lines. :)

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