If you are familiar with Universal Studios Hollywood and are making your first trip to Universal Orlando Resort, know that these theme parks are toadally different. It’s a whole different universe, so to speak. In fact, it's a much larger universe! There’s a lot you need to know before you go, and you do not want to miss out on the many highlights of the Orlando resort. We’ll even share a bunch of hopful links so you are fully prepared for your vacay to the East Coast (plus, some bonus tips to save money)! Ribbit!
The Universal Studios Hollywood Fan's Guide to Universal Orlando Resort
There are a few major differences between the West Coast and East Coast Universal parks. First of all, in Orlando, there are two theme parks, plus a water park, versus the single theme park in California. The two Universal Orlando Resort theme parks are Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The water theme park is called Universal’s Volcano Bay. The theme parks themselves are much more spread out than in the Hollywood version, and you'll want to plan for more time to get around them.
There is no Studio Tour in Orlando. But there are a lot of other awesome rides at Universal Orlando Resort. Some of the exciting elements from the Studio Tour are stand-alone rides in Orlando. So if, say, Fast and Furious — Supercharged is your favorite part of the Studio Tour, you can hop on a party bus and experience this attraction without taking any tour in Orlando!
You’ll also discover huge thrills at Universal Orlando Resort. You know, the kind of thrills you might find at Six Flags Magic Mountain or Knott’s Berry Farm? You’ll find not one, but two toadally awesome Wizarding World lands — Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley! They are connected via the Hogwarts Express. (Yes, you can hop on the famed train with Harry, Ron and Hermoine!) More on that later. You’ll also find some familiar rides, but even the Orlando versions of rides tend to be much bigger than their California counterparts! If you have smaller tadpoles, you’ll find more lands, rides and shows that appeal to their interests in Orlando.
Universal Orlando is truly set up as a resort, with all of its exciting theme parks, CityWalk and hotels connected. And by connected, we mean within easy walking distance from one another (though shuttles and boats are also available to rest those tired frog legs after a long day).
Planning for Universal Orlando Resort
Be sure to hop over to our Universal Orlando Resort planning page to get familiar with the three parks and discount tickets available. You'll want to acquaint yourself with the best times to visit Universal Orlando, as well at the Universal Orlando height requirements if you are bringing tadpoles.
How much time do you need at Universal Orlando?
You USH pros know that you can pretty much get through Universal Studios Hollywood in a day if you arrive early and use all of the touring tools available to you, such as Universal Express and Single Rider lines. But you’ll want to give yourself more time at Universal Orlando because there is so much more to do. You’ll want at least a day for each theme park and a perhaps third day to hit the water park. You can easily spend four days at the Universal Orlando Resort if you want to do it all and still have time to enjoy your hotel pool and amenities!
Choosing a Universal Hotel and Where to Stay
Where you stay in Orlando can really affect your trip, so put some thought into which hotel is right for you. In Orlando, there is an entire resort full of hotels! Like we mentioned earlier, you can walk, take a free shuttle or maybe even hop on a boat to get to the theme parks or CityWalk! Why stay on-site at Universal Studios Orlando? Hotels range in price and proximity to the resorts and what benefits they have to offer. Staying on-site keeps you close, makes hopping to the parks much easier, gets you inside the parks before other park-goers with early entry and may even offer Universal Express Unlimited to help you skip the lines as many times as you'd like!
Hop over to learn about how Universal Orlando early park admission works with your on-site hotel stay. It's worth noting that select Universal Orlando Resort hotels — Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Universal's Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort — offer free Universal Express Unlimited, another amazing benefit. Universal Express Unlimited allows you to ride your favorite rides again, and again, and again! If you choose to stay at a less-expensive hotel, or even off-site, you can still purchase a Universal Express Pass. You can find a hoppin’ deal on an Orlando hotel at Universal Orlando Resort or elsewhere when you book through your favorite froggy friends!
Finding Discount Tickets for Universal Orlando
Universal's park-to-park tickets usually include the two theme parks, but you can also purchase tickets that include Volcano Bay. If you purchase a base ticket, it is good for one park per day, but be aware that you will not be able to ride the Hogwarts Express. Undercover Tourist sells a variety of discount Universal Orlando Resort tickets. See where the dates of your trip fall so you can find the least expensive ticket to meet your needs. If you only have one day to spend in the parks, know that 1-day tickets have variable pricing depending on the day you visit. Some dates are valid for the value date, regular dates or anytime. Multi-day tickets are generally a better value.
Just like at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Express is a smart investment. If it does not come with your hotel stay, consider adding it on. You can get standard Universal Express, which is good for one-time use at select rides. Universal Express Unlimited is good for riding as many times as you wish.
Universal's Volcano Bay water theme park operates a little differently when it comes to skipping the lines. There is a free service, TapuTapu, which involves a virtual queue bracelet that allows you to reserve one ride at a time. Or, you have the option of paying for Universal Express to be added to your bracelet and can head straight to the rides and attractions inside the water park.
Planning for Weather
Orlando has a different climate from Los Angeles. Check the weather forecast before your trip so you’ll know what to pack, but in warmer months, you should prepare for heat, humidity and rain. Rain may be a rare event at Universal Studios Hollywood, especially in the summer months. Meanwhile, thunderstorms can be a daily event in the summer in Orlando, but usually they pass through quickly in the late afternoon. Bring your umbrella and poncho and check both the forecast and the radar to stay ahead of the rain.
Also, wear good walking shoes. You’ll want to keep your feet dry and hoppy because you’ll be getting those steps in! Do not bring large bags or bulky items. You will need to store your loose items in a free locker for many thrill rides. The system is a little different in Orlando, as you will use your park ticket to acquire and open a locker. But the lockers are flat and tiny compared to the ride lockers in Hollywood. You can save time by bringing as little extra stuff with you as possible. Some attractions will send you through metal detectors to make sure you aren’t trying to sneak your phone or other loose items in a pocket on the ride. Save time by storing everything before hopping in line.
Character Dining at Universal Orlando Resort
Another difference between Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Orlando Resort is that Orlando has character dining! Go head-to-head with a minion during the Despicable Me Breakfast or have a heroic encounter with Marvel Super Heroes at dinner. There are also seasonal character meals with scare actors from Halloween Horror Nights in the fall, and with the Grinch and friends for the holidays.
Halloween Horror Nights
Speaking of Halloween Horror Nights, Orlando has a huge, separately ticketed event. The mazes there are called haunted houses. If you are visiting during the fall months, know that Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights will take place at Universal Studios Florida park on most nights September through early November. Buy tickets in advance, because they do sell out!
Getting to Know Universal Studios Florida Park
Universal Studios Florida has several familiar elements of Universal Studios Hollywood ... but many other differences, as well. Highlights include Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Race Through New York Featuring Jimmy Fallon and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Familiar rides for Hollywood fans include Revenge of the Mummy (it’s longer and has some surprises), Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, The Simpsons Ride and Fast & Furious — Supercharged.
Harry Potter fans should know that this park is home to Diagon Alley. But watch out — look carefully or you just might miss it! You know you are close if you catch sight of the Knight Bus and 12 Grimmauld Place (they are just outside Diagon Alley). Just as Harry Potter and Hagrid have to go through a brick wall that is magically hidden from muggles in the books and movies, you’ll basically have to pass through a brick wall to get to this hidden magical space. There are more food and magical drinks here that you cannot find in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood. You can cast all-new spells and take a trip down Knockturn Alley for a little dark arts fun. Be sure to hop into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes!
Diagon Alley is such an immersive space. We already mentioned this ride, but do not miss Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts!
If you already have an interactive wand, it will work to cast spells in Orlando, as well. Simply hop into Ollivanders and ask for a spell map. Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando have an Ollivanders, in case you still need to get your wand. Before your visit, read up on Wizarding World of Harry Potter wands at Universal Orlando.
When you are ready to make the journey to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, hop on the Hogwarts Express. The journey is different whether you are heading toward Hogsmeade or to Diagon Alley. Before you board, you will have to go through a brick wall to get to Platform 9 3/4. Hang back and let some of your party go ahead of you so you can watch or even record them going through the wall!
Besides Diagon Alley, the lands of Universal Studios Florida include Hollywood, The Lagoon, New York, Production Central, San Francisco, World Expo, Springfield: Home of the Simpsons and Woody Woodpecker's KidZone.
Shows and Parades
Universal Orlando has a variety of fun shows! Check out the extreme audience participation show, FEAR FACTOR LIVE! Little tadpoles will enjoy A Day in the Park with Barney. You can learn how makeup and special effect artists create creepy characters in Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show. The Orlando park also has its own version of Animal Actors. As for parades, Universal Orlando is home to Universal’s Superstar Parade, as well as specialty parades during the holidays and Mardi Gras.
Getting to Know Universal's Islands of Adventure
Here come the thrills! The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park River Adventure and of course, the ever-popular Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure are highlights in Universal's Islands of Adventure. This park also has the familiar rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff.
Hogsmeade most resembles the Wizarding World in Hollywood, except the Hogwarts Express actually goes somewhere — to Diagon Alley! It's a different journey to Diagon Alley compared to the journey from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. That's two rides in one!
Besides Hogsmeade, this park has other whimsical lands, such as Seuss Landing, MARVEL Super Hero Land, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent.
You can catch Wizarding World shows such as Frog Choir, Triwizard Spirit Rally and the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle or Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle. Other shows include the explosive Poseidon’s Fury and a tadpole-friendly Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear! with Dr. Seuss characters.
Universal's Volcano Bay
This water theme park is within walking distance of the Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal's Aventura Hotel. Universal's Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is pretty close too. You can take a shuttle bus to Volcano Bay from the other Universal property hotels. Hop over to our guide to Universal’s Volcano Bay for all of the insider tips about the attractions and how to skip the lines for a splashin’ good time.
Universal CityWalk Orlando has a more resort feel than the Hollywood version, with a body of water in the middle and an amphitheater for entertainment. You do not need any ticket to enjoy Universal CityWalk. You might see a few familiar favorite bars and restaurants, along with other exciting restaurants. Our family enjoyed the exciting shakes at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. CityWalk is a great place to get dinner and dessert after you’ve left the theme parks for the day. You'll find a separate entrance to each theme park from Universal CityWalk. Several on-site hotel are within walking and boating distance.
The water taxi boats run between CityWalk and hotels such as Hard Rock Hotel, Portofino Bay, Loews Sapphire Falls and Loews Royal Pacific. Shuttle buses are an option for other hotels. A walking path winds along the water. It takes about 20 minutes to walk between Sapphire Falls and Universal CityWalk.
Other Things to Do Near Universal Orlando Resort
You might want to venture out to explore more of Orlando. Disney World is just 20 minutes away from Universal Studios Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando is about 18 minutes away. But you can also do a little exploring of the areas outside of the theme parks, too, including airboat tours, or a trip to the coast for some beach time. Many of the hotels have toadally awesome pool areas, so you might want to take a splash and relax at the hotel.
We hope you've found this Universal Studios Hollywood fan's guide to Universal Orland Resort hopful in preparing and planning for your trip. What are you most excited about? Please share in the comments below. Let us know if you have any other questions. We are hoppy to help!
Related: How to Use Mobile Food Ordering at Universal Orlando Resort