35 Universal Orlando Vacation Tips

When you're researching your Universal Orlando vacation, it can be hard to discover all of the different ways to save money, reduce wait times, get a good hotel, find good places to eat, and tour like a pro. To make your life easier, we've compiled a list of essential Universal Orlando travel tips to help you plan a better (and cheaper) vacation. 

Universal Orlando Ticket Tips

1. If you buy advance admission tickets online from UniversalOrlando.com, you can save $20 off the gate price on multi-day tickets.

2. AAA members can save a few bucks on multi-day tickets purchased at the gates.

3. If you buy your park admission tickets from a AAA office, you can get 10% off food and non-alcoholic beverages at most restaurants in the parks and CityWalk (with a few exceptions) by showing the discounts and rewards voucher included with your tickets.

4. If you buy a multi-park ticket or annual pass with an American Express Card, you can gain entry to the American Express Lounge in Universal Studios Florida between noon and 5:00 pm. American Express Card holders also get other special deals at Universal Orlando Resort.

5. You need a park-to-park ticket if you want to ride the Hogwarts Express because the train travels from one park to another (i.e. it goes from King's Cross Station in Universal Studios Florida to Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure and from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios Florida).

6. If you think there is even a slight chance that you might return in a year's time, you really should get an annual pass. Annual passes can be bought online or at the gates.

7. You can also upgrade any multi-day ticket to an annual pass at any Guest Services location in Universal Orlando (while your ticket is valid). Upgrading is quick and easy, and is usually pretty cheap if you have a 3-day or 4-day multi-park ticket. 

Buy your park tickets in advance so you don't have to wait in a line like this one. 

Buy your park tickets in advance so you don't have to wait in a line like this one. 

Universal Orlando Touring Tips

8. The frequently proposed idea that you can do EVERYTHING Universal Orlando has to offer in a day or two is a myth. The two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, have nearly 30 rides, 20+ shows, numerous character zones, several playgrounds, and a daily parade. Plus, there are dining and entertainment options in Universal CityWalk Orlando and the on-site hotels.

9. Plan on walking A LOT. It's hard to get under 10 - 12 miles per day when you visit both parks. Wear comfortable shoes and pack a blister first aid kit just in case.

10. Make sure your phone has a full charge when you head to the parks. Taking a charging cord is also recommended. If you find yourself running low on power, you may be able to charge your phone at a Guest Services location in the park. You can also rent or buy a Go Puck (a portable charging device) from MIB Gear, Island Market and Exports, or Jurassic Outfitters. 

11. Need to get away from the crowds? Go BEHIND the Jurassic Park Discovery Center in Islands of Adventure. There's a lovely crowd-free outdoor terrace with awesome views. 

12. Need to get out of the heat? Go to Finnegan's Bar & Grill, Jurassic Park Discovery Center, or Men in Black - all of these places are generously air conditioned. 

The area behind the Jurassic Park Discovery Center is a great place to escape the crowds and see a nice view.

The area behind the Jurassic Park Discovery Center is a great place to escape the crowds and see a nice view.

Universal Orlando Ride Wait Times

13. Both theme parks tend to be busy between noon and 4:00 pm; visiting rides early in the morning or later at night can reduce wait times. 

14. You should definitely get the free Universal Orlando mobile app before you go. This app shows you ride wait times, show times, restaurant hours, maps, and much more. If you have an American Express Card, you can also use the app to get coupon codes for dining and merchandise deals.

15. The wait times on Despicable Me Minion Mayhem are notoriously long (usually 60+ minutes). If you really want to experience this ride, do it as early as you can in the morning to reduce wait times.

16. Experience the rides while other guests are doing other things. For example, try riding at noon when everyone else is eating lunch. Queues also have a tendency to clear out in Universal Studios Florida when people are watching the Universal Superstar Parade or Universal's Cinematic Spectacular

17. If you're patient, the wait time on most rides can drop down from 30-60 minutes to just 5-20 minutes at some point during the day. Use the free Universal Orlando Resort app on your phone to keep check on wait times. If the wait time for something you want to experience is above 20 minutes, let the queue clear out and check back later. Set up notifications on the app so that you know when the wait time for a particular ride has dropped.

18. Some rides have a single rider line for people who are touring the park by themselves. Most of the time, this line is shorter than the regular line. You can get in this line if you have multiple people in your party. You probably won't get to ride with everyone in your party, but with rides like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (where you can't see the person next to you because of the way the ride seats are designed), you aren't really missing anything by not riding together. You can always meet up afterward near the ride exit to share your ride experience.

The crowds are smallest early in the morning and late at night.

The crowds are smallest early in the morning and late at night.

Wizarding World Tips

19. Every Harry Potter fan needs to take a tour of Hogwarts Castle. Ask a Team Member at the beginning of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue how to get in the Castle Tour Only line. When you're in the tour queue, you can take a camera, walk as slow as you want, and take as many pictures as want.

20. The Dragon Challenge queue is also a must for Harry Potter fans. If you ride this coaster, you can't take your camera into the queue. But, if you very politely ask a Team Member (at the front of the queue) if you can just walk through the queue without going on the ride, you may be able to go through with your camera to snap pics of some of the better queue items, including the Triwizard banners, the back of Hagrid's Hut, and the Flying Ford Anglia. Be sure to get a pic of Hogwarts Castle - there's a great view of it from the Dragon Challenge queue. 

21. There are two Ollivanders locations in Universal Orlando. One is in Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, and the other is in Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida. Both have the special wand show (where you get to see a wand choose a witch or wizard), but the queues move much faster at the Diagon Alley location. 

Take the Castle Tour Only line to explore Hogwarts at your own pace.

Take the Castle Tour Only line to explore Hogwarts at your own pace.

Universal Orlando Dining Tips

22. A lot of Universal Orlando travelers eat the bulk of their meals in the parks. And while there are some good restaurants in the parks (we like Fast Food Boulevard, Three Broomsticks, Leaky Cauldron, Finnegan's Bar and Grill, just to name a few), the food is typically much better at the restaurants in CityWalk, and in most cases, the price is comparable. 

23. You can choose from several different Universal Dining Plans to pre-pay for your food. These plans can be used at more than 100 restaurants and food carts in the parks and CityWalk. Unless you are very diligent and crafty, the dining plans won't save you money on your food. However, the plans can make it easier for some guests to stick to a food budget.

24. Many Universal Orlando guests underestimate the cost of food before they go. You have to remember that you're in a theme park - the food isn't cheap. Figure out how much you are going to need for food each day so that you can budget accordingly. Take a look at our CityWalk restaurant profiles to see menus and learn more about average entree prices. You can also use this CityWalk food price cheat sheet for a quick estimate of how much it might cost to eat at each restaurant.

25. Universal Orlando offers several evening dining experiences for guests. One that might save you money is the combination CityWalk dining/entertainment deal. With this deal, you can get a meal and a movie at the AMC Universal Cineplex 20 with IMAX or a meal and a round of golf at Hollywood Drive-In Golf for just over $20. 

26. The restaurants in CityWalk can get busy - particularly at night when the theme parks are closing. Many restaurants allow you to make reservations through Open Table. We are also rather fond of recommending The Cowfish app, which will quickly and easily get you on a wait list for The Cowfish, one of the newer and more popular restaurants in CityWalk. This app is meant to be used when you are at Universal Orlando Resort, not before you leave for your trip. (Get the Cowfish app for iPhone or get the Cowfish App for Android from the Google Play Store.) 

27. If you get hungry while watching the entertainment at CityWalk's Rising Star, you can have pizza delivered to your table from Red Oven Pizza Bakery

CityWalk restaurants like Antojitos have great food.

CityWalk restaurants like Antojitos have great food.

Universal Orlando On-Site Hotel Tips

28. The on-site hotels at Universal Orlando are really nice and will put you in close proximity to the parks. These are great reasons to stay on-site, but the real benefit is the early entry perk that will allow you to get into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the park opens to regular guests.  This early entry applies to the Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure OR Universal Studios Florida, depending on the day you are visiting. (You don't get to choose the park; Universal Orlando will determine which park they open early.) Either way, you'll be able to avoid big crowds while you tour the busiest part of the parks. Note: You may also be able to get early entry by staying at one of Universal Orlando's Partner Hotels

29. If you plan on getting a hotel stay and park tickets, you might want to book a vacation package. You may be able to save money if you get something like an exclusive American Express Package or a Wizarding World Package. 

30. If you will be driving to Universal Orlando, and space allows, pack water, soda, and other drinks; you can't take them in the park, but you can store them in your hotel mini-fridge and save on beverages while you're at the hotel. Some other things to pack so that you don't have to buy them on site include sunscreen, ponchos (for water rides), and an inflatable tube for the lazy river at Cabana Bay Beach Resort

31. If you’re staying at an on-site hotel, you can use your room key to explore pools at the other on-site hotels. You can also explore various restaurants at other on-site hotels by taking the free dining shuttle

32. Loews has partnered with Hertz to provide rental car services to on-site hotel guests. Hertz desks are located next to Attraction Ticket Center desks in the hotel. You can save up to 20% on economy and full size cars if you're staying at the hotel.

Staying at one of Universal's five on-site hotels will get you theme park benefits. 

Staying at one of Universal's five on-site hotels will get you theme park benefits. 

Other Universal Orlando Travel Tips

33. Universal Studios Florida is home to an NBC Media Center that sometimes needs volunteers to give opinions on pilots or current TV shows. If you agree to watch a show, you are usually paid for your time (typically with a Universal Orlando Resort gift card). Look for people with clipboards near the Garden of Allah Villas in the Hollywood area of Universal Studios Florida - that's usually where they sign up volunteers. You can also check with the Studio Audience Center near the USF gates to learn about potential opportunities.

34. You should stop by a Guest Services location if you are celebrating a special event like a birthday, anniversary, or honeymoon. They will give you a special pin to wear while you're at the parks. This pin will get you lots of congratulatory attention from other guests and may even inspire a Universal Team Member to let you skip a line or take advantage of some other kind of perk.

35. There is a Walgreens on International Drive just around the corner from Universal Orlando Resort. This nearby store can be a lifesaver if you forgot to pack something important. 

Sign up for special NBC Media projects near the Garden of Allah Villas.

Sign up for special NBC Media projects near the Garden of Allah Villas.