Universal Orlando Resort commonly known as Universal Orlando opened in 1990. It is the second largest resort in Orlando covering 541 acres of land in comparison to Walt Disney World’s 25600 acres. The resort opened on June 7, 1990, with one theme park Universal Studios Florida. Since then it has developed into a multi-day attraction with 2 Theme Parks (Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure), a new water-park in 2017 (Volcano Bay), City Walk a nighttime district & 6 hotels plus 2 more being built. Our Guide to Universal Orlando Resort has hints & tips to plan your vacation plus information on all the biggest attractions.
Whilst Universal Orlando Resort remains smaller than Walt Disney World it has undergone massive expansion in recent years. The introduction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has made Universal Orlando top of many guests must do list when visiting Orlando. Attendances at the parks have risen in recent years and in 2017 Universal Studios being the 10th most visited theme park in the world & Islands of Adventure the 14th.
What is Universal Orlando like?
Universal Orlando is loud, flamboyant & bold in comparison to Walt Disney World. Whilst there are less attractions the majority are big E-Ticket experiences. Universal does not really do small filler attractions & finds little room for keeping historical sentimental attractions. What this means is attractions in Universal Orlando are usually an outstanding experience.
Universal Orlando will appeal more to families with teens & young adults or those with a sense of adventure. Whilst Walt Disney World probably offers better experiences for families with young children but there is enough for people of all ages to enjoy a couple of days at Universal.
Universal Orlando will usually take 2-3 days to experience both theme parks. However; the parks are growing and in busy periods you will struggle to complete both parks.
Should I visit Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World?
If time allows you should visit both!
Both Walt Disney World & Universal Orlando offer unique experiences. Whilst both resorts are better at some things, overall they both offer an excellent experience.
We have completed a review of Walt Disney World & Universal Orlando in 2018 which might help with deciding which to visit if time is tight.
Planning your Universal Orlando Vacation
Planning your visit to Universal Orlando is an essential activity. Whilst the resort is smaller than Walt Disney World it is still big and you do need to plan your trip. The planning process usually does not have to be as rigorous as a trip to Walt Disney World but should not be ignored.
However, visiting Universal Orlando is not as difficult as it first seems. With a bit of research, you can soon create the perfect vacation. We have created the following guides which will help your planning process.
Universal Orlando Tips
Everyone who has ever visited a theme park has a selection of tips to have a better time next time they visit. These are our favourite Universal Orlando 2018 Top Tips.
Must-Do Experiences at Universal Orlando
If you are tight for time when visiting Universal Orlando it is useful to have a Must-Do list. It is impossible to do all of Universal Orlando in just one day & difficult choices will have to be made. Here is our list of Top 5 Universal Orlando Must-Do Attractions for 2018.
Universal Orlando Tickets
Universal Orlando has several ticket options but the biggest decision is whether you want to buy a Park to Park Ticket. Guests who do not buy this option cannot ride the Hogwarts Express.
The Hogwarts Express takes you from Universal Studios to Islands of Aventure and vice versa. The ride is unique and each direction offer a different experience. Whilst it does add to the cost of your day we would recommend most guests should purchase it.
Universal like many theme parks has a system for priority boarding of attractions. At Universal Orlando, the system is called Express Pass and unlike Fastpass+ at Walt Disney World it is not free.
The price of Universal Express varies by season. You can either get a pass for each park or a joint pass to cover both parks. In addition, you have a choice between unlimited rides or 1 admission only at each attraction. Guests at select Universal Resorts get Complimentary Express Pass Unlimited included as part of their package. Currently, this is only a benefit for guest staying at Portofino Bay, Hard Rock & Royal PacificResorts. A limited Express Pass is also included with certain Annual Passes.
Guests who buy Express Pass present their pass at participating attractions at Universal Studios Florida or Universal’s Islands of Adventure to bypass the regular lines. They join a shorter Express pass line and have reduced wait to ride the attraction.
Express Pass is not cheap and the decision on whether to buy can be difficult. At quieter times of year it is usually not essential but during peak periods there are definite benefits.
You can learn more in our Guide to Universal Express Pass.
When planning your vacation to Orlando what the weather will be like is likely to be something you will have considered. Florida’s official nickname is “The Sunshine State” which was officially adopted in 1970. Whilst it is highly unlikely you can visit Orlando and not meet a fair measure of sunshine this can certainly be offset with plenty of rain and the occasional hurricane. Orlando weather can be unpredictable and if you are not ready can cut the enjoyment of your vacation.
You can read more about the Orlando Weather including our Top Tips to Beat the Orlando Weather in our guide.
Universal Studios Florida welcomes around 10 million guests a year and opened on June 7, 1990. It was the first theme park to open at Universal Orlando Resort & opened shortly after Hollywood Studios. The park’s theme is the entertainment industry. Attractions are mainly based on popular films or television shows.
In July 2014 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opened in Universal Studios. It features 2 rides Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express connecting it to the first half of the Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure. To ride the Hogwarts Express you must have a theme park ticket that allows admission to both parks.
Universal Studios Florida features 7 areas/lands plus a lagoon.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts an amazing 4D coaster but perhaps the highlight is walking through Gringotts itself.
- Hogwarts Express travel to Islands of Adventure but there is plenty to see.
Take your time in Diagon Alley the rides are only part of the experience as there is so much to see. The shops and dining options just add to the fun. Plus don’t forget to turn into Knockturn Alley.
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D is an impressive simulator but I have no idea what is going on!
- Shrek 4-D great fun with Shrek & Donkey.
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit I am going to admit this is the one ride in Orlando I am scared of riding!
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem silly simulator attraction.
- Revenge of the Mummy a very scary dark coaster with some very impressive effects.
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon I have never seen Jimmy Fallon but this is a fun simulator
- The Blues Brothers Show Classic street entertainment.
- Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration Universal’s new night spectacular on the lagoon.
Universal Horror Make-Up Show one of the original attractions at the park
Sometimes The Simpsons area is counted as its own unique land but officially it is inside the World Expo.
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl a fun Dumbo-like ride but with some added Simpsons zaniness.
- The Simpsons Ride perhaps this is starting to feel a little dated but it is still good fun. I would love to understand how they load the ride.
- MEN IN BLACK I’m not very good at this shooting attraction.
- Fear Factor Live audience participation game show.
Fast & Furious – Supercharged this is the park’s newest attraction but I left somewhat underwhelmed. Big queues even with Express Pass but didn’t feel anything special.
Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
There really isn’t a lot for small children in Universal Studios Florida. Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone has the best of the attractions for little ones.
- Animal Actors On Location! fun animal how
- E.T. Adventure a theme park classic & only 1 of 2 remaining attractions from opening day
- A Day in the Park with Barney stage show with plenty of singing along but do kids still know who Barney is?
- Curious George Goes to Town playground
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse a fantastic introduction to coasters.
- CoasterFievel’s Playground another playground.
For further information on Universal Studios Florida read our extended guide to the park.
Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999, along with City Walk. The park’s theme is a journey of exploration across themed islands. When the park opened there were 6 islands but a 7th Wizarding World of Harry Potter & 8th Skull Island has since opened. In 2017 the park hosted almost 10 million guests. The number of guests visiting Islands of Adventure has increased significantly in recent years and is now double the total attendance for 2009.
Port of Entry
Port of Entry is the entrance to the park and your first island. The area has a magical feel and is home to a selection of shops plus guest service facilities. The park’s icon Pharos Lighthouse is within Port of Entry.
Other islands are reached at the end of Port of Entry and guests have the choice of walking clockwise to Marvel Super Hero Island or anticlockwise to Seuss Landing.
Marvel Super Hero Island
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man a sensational 3D simulator. This set the bar all other 3D attractions try to beat. Had a refresh in 2012 but is still essentially the same ride. Hard to believe it will be 20 years old in 2019.
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster perhaps one of the greatest coasters ever made?
- Doctor Doom Freefall big drops
- Storm Force Accelatron very, very fast teacups
- Meet the Marvel Super Heroes Despite Disney owning marvel Universal still has exclusive use of the majority of classic Marvel Characters.
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls fun flume ride.
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges perhaps the best & wettest barge ride you will ever experience.
- Me Ship, The Olive kids play ship
Skull Island: Reign of Kong riding a safari truck you have a Kong Encounter. Many small children will find this attraction scary.
- Jurassic Park River Adventure an entertaining boat ride followed by an 85-foot drop ends
- Jurassic Park Discovery Center watching a raptor egg hatch is the entertaining highlight
- Pteranodon Flyers only those who are between 36 and 56 inches (91 and 140 cm) or those with a child of that height may ride
- Camp Jurassic prehistoric playground
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey after touring the impressive reconstruction of Hogwarts soar through the grounds on a bench. An incredibly impressive attraction.
- Flight of the Hippogriff fun kid’s coaster.
- The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle an impressive nightly display.
- Hogwarts Express ride to Universal Studios. Park to park ticket is required.
A new family coaster is due to open in this are in 2019. This new coaster replaces the previous Dragon Coaster attraction.
The Lost Continent
Not much of this land now remains and is now the least interesting area of the park. A significant part of the island was removed for the construction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The stunt show The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad closed in September 2018 to further reduce the options. The Mystic Fountain remains the highlight of this otherwise pointless island. Whilst there has been no announcements expect The Lost Continent to be redeveloped in the near future.
Poseidon’s Fury is the only remaining genuine attraction. However, it is possibly the worse attraction in Universal & you should keep away!
Seuss Landing is the one area at Islands of Adventure where small children will find plenty of attractions for them to enjoy.
- The Cat in the Hat a fun dark ride.
- Caro-Seuss-el carousel
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish a Dumbo-like attraction in which you have to avoid getting wet. Hint to stay dry, the top jets have not worked for years!
- If I Ran The Zoo play area.
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride! a zany train in the sky.
Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park opened on May 25, 2017. The main feature of the park is Krakatau a 200-foot artificial volcano. Attractions include wave pools, slides, raft rides, play areas & a lazy river.
The park replaced Universal’s earlier water park Wet ‘n Wild.
Universal City Walk
Universal City Walk is the entertainment complex at Universal Orlando Resort. The area opened in 1999 with Islands of Adventure. Day visitors enter the resort through City Walk before entering the theme parks. Universal City Walk is bright, modern and loud & is a contrast from Disney Springs at Walt Disney World.
The area has a selection of excellent restaurants, bars, shops & entertainment venues. An evening in City Walk is great fun.
Universal Orlando On-Site Hotels
There are now 6 resorts at Universal Orlando with a further 2 due to open in 2019 & 2020. All Universal Hotel guests benefit from being close to the theme parks, free internal transportation & early access to a park for 1 hour each morning before regular guests.
Universal Resorts are in price brackets with the top 3 Premier Hotels having a complimentary Express Pass included. Your Express Pass is valid on both your arrival & departure dates. Guests should price up Express Pass carefully as often if there will be 4 of you in a room it is cheaper to stay in a Premier Hotel than buy Express Pass.
All Universal Orlando Hotels are managed by Loews.
Premier Hotels at Universal Orlando
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel was the first hotel to open in 1999. This luxury resort has an Italian Seaside Village theme and has 750 rooms
- Hard Rock Hotel opened in 2001 and has a rock theme. We have a review of the Hard Rock Hotel here on Modern Life is Good.
- Loews Royal Pacific opened in 2002 & has an enchanted isles theme. The resort has 1000 rooms. You can read our review of Loews Royal Pacific on this site.
Preferred Hotels at Universal Orlando
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is the only resort in this category and opened in 2016. This is a comfortable resort similar in standard to Royal Pacific but does not include an Express Pass.
Prime Value Hotels at Universal Orlando
- Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort the first value hotel at Universal. 2200 rooms are located in this no frill hotel
- Universal’s Aventura Hotel a modern tower hotel which opened in 2018.
Value Hotels at Universal Orlando
Universal’s latest resort due to open in 2019 & 2020 will be called Universal’s Endless Summer Resort. The resort is split into 2 halves Surfside Inn and Suites opening in 2019 and Dockside Inn and Suites opening in 2020.
Universal are promising these resorts will their most affordable yet. However, don’t expect any luxuries.
Our Guide to Universal Orlando Resort is still in the early stages of development. We will expand the guide further in the coming months with more features, information & tips. Please leave a comment below if you think there is something we should add.
We have created several Vlogs on our Easter 2018 Trip to Universal Orlando which is full of useful tips.
Are you planning to visit Walt Disney World as well? Our Guide to Walt Disney World is an essential guide to help plan your vacation. The guide has been running for several years and is updated regularly with the latest information.