Our Guide to Universal Orlando Resort has hints, tips, and tricks for planning your Universal Orlando vacation. Plus we have the latest information on all the resort’s attractions. The guide is essential for first-time and returning visitors to Universal Orlando in 2023.
Our Guide to Universal Orlando had its last major update in March 2023. We will guide you through all the essential information you need to know to have a great vacation at Universal Orlando Resort.
Jump Right Into Our Guide to Universal Orlando
Are you looking for specific information about Universal Orlando? We have created some handy page jumps to help you find information in our 2023 Guide to Universal Orlando.
- Universal Orlando Basics. What is Universal Orlando like, and how does it compare to Walt Disney World?
- Coming soon to Universal Orlando Resort. Everything we know is arriving in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure in 2023 and beyond. Including the new Universal Orlando theme park Universal’s Epic Universe.
- Planning your Universal Orlando vacation. Tips and tricks if you are visiting Universal Orlando, Florida. Includes information on Express Pass, parking, tickets, transportation, and a host of additional information to have a great vacation.
- Transportation at Universal Orlando, all about how to get to the resort and to get around it.
- Universal Orlando Useful Information answers your most common Universal Orlando questions. You will probably find the answer here if you have a question about the resort.
- Universal Studios Florida, has everything you need to know about the original park at Universal Orlando Resort.
- Islands of Adventure, the 2nd park to open at Universal Orlando, is full of big thrills.
- Volcano Bay, all about the water park at Universal Orlando.
- CityWalk is the entertainment and shopping district at Universal Orlando.
- Universal Orlando On-Site Hotels information on all the outstanding resorts at Universal Orlando.
- Dining at Universal Orlando Details about dining at Universal Orlando. Plus, information if you are visiting with a food allergy or intolerance.
Universal Orlando the Basics
While Universal Orlando Resort remains smaller than Walt Disney World, it has grown rapidly in recent years. The introduction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has made Universal Orlando top of many guests’ must-do lists when visiting Orlando. Park attendance has risen in recent years, and in 2017 Universal Studios was the 10th most visited theme park in the world & Islands of Adventure the 14th.
Universal Orlando a Brief History
Universal Orlando Resort, commonly known as Universal Orlando, opened in 1990. 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), a nighttime district called City Walk , and seven hotels. This expansion isn’t going to stop soon; Universal is building a new park. Universal’s Epic Universe will open in Summer of 2025.
What is Universal Orlando like?
Universal Orlando is loud, flashy & bold compared to Walt Disney World. While there are fewer attractions, the majority are big E-Ticket experiences. Universal does not do small filler attractions and finds little room to keep sentimental, historical 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. While Walt Disney World probably offers a better overall experience for families with young children, there is enough for people of all ages to enjoy a couple of days at Universal.
Universal Orlando usually takes 2-3 days to experience both theme parks. However, the parks are growing, and you will struggle to complete both parks in busy periods.
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. While both resorts are better at some things, overall, they both provide an excellent experience.
Since the pandemic, Universal Orlando has come much closer to returning to normal service.
What is new at Universal Orlando Resort in 2023 and beyond
Universal Orlando traditionally opens at least one new attraction each year. However, 2022 was a quiet post-pandemic year at Universal and only the escape rooms Universal’s Great Movie Escape opened inside CityWalk. However, in 2021 we saw the opening of the high-speed coaster Jurassic World VelociCoaster.
Most of the investment at Universal is currently going towards building Universal’s Epic Universe, but one new attraction will be opening in the Summer of 2023. In Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast at Univeral Studios, guests will glide down a moving walkway as they blast themselves to Supervillain Stardom.
Universal’s Epic Universe
Universal has confirmed that they are building a new theme park, which will be called Universal’s Epic Universe. The opening date of Summer 2025 has been announced, and we can’t wait.
The development will be on a new 750-acre site a few miles from the current Universal Orlando Resort. The new site will almost double the total acreage available to Universal in Florida. In addition to the theme park, Universal has announced there will also be an entertainment center, hotels, shops, restaurants, and more on this new site.
While no new attractions have been announced, plenty of rumors exist. Rumored properties for Universal’s Epic Universe include:
- Super Nintendo World(this has been confirmed)
- More Harry Potter…likely to be Fantastic Beasts
- Classic Universal Monsters e.g., Dracula
- How to Train Your Dragon
- Lord of the Rings
- Star Trek
You can follow all the latest news on Universal’s Epic Universe on our dedicated page.
Universal Orlando Rumors
Unlike Walt Disney World, Universal keeps details of new attractions low-key. Often Universal only confirms the opening of a new attraction close to the opening date.
We will keep you updated with the latest news on this page, including Epic Universe.
Planning your Universal Orlando Vacation
Planning your visit to Universal Orlando is an essential activity. While 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.
Universal Orlando Tickets
Tickets for Universal Orlando are always cheaper to purchase before your vacation. Universal Orlando has several ticket options, but the most significant 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. Each direction is a unique adventure. We recommend most first-time visitors should purchase a park-to-park ticket.
To learn more about Universal Orlando Tickets and how to get the best value for your money, visit our Guide to Universal Orlando Tickets.
Both Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios Florida have a paid system for priority boarding of attractions called Express Pass.
Guests who buy Express Pass present their passes at participating attractions to bypass the regular lines. Guests then join a shorter Express pass line and have reduced waiting at the attraction.
Express Pass is not cheap, and deciding whether to buy it can be difficult. It is usually not essential at quieter times of the year, but there are definite benefits during peak periods. You can learn more in our Guide to Universal Express Pass.
Universal Orlando Resort App
Free WiFi is available at Universal Orlando. Park WiFi has improved recently and is available throughout Universal Studios Florida, Volcano Bay, and Islands of Adventure.
The Universal Orlando Resort App allows you to store tickets, access wait times, join Virtual Line Experiences, access showtimes, and more. There are handy interactive maps, and the app will even save where your car is parked. You can now preorder food from select restaurants using the Universal Orlando Resort App.
Universal Pay allows you to add a debit or credit card to the App. This feature allows you to use the App throughout the park for contactless payments.
The Universal Orlando Resort App is available at the Apple App Store & The Google Play Store.
Virtual Line Experience
Universal has been using Virtual Lines for several years. The concept is simple: reserve your place using the Universal Resort App and join a much shorter line later in the day.
Currently, Virtual Lines are only used at Universal Orlando occasionally, but make sure you can access the App in case they get reintroduced.
Transferring between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is easy; there is only a short walk of approximately 200m between the entrance of both parks.
Also, guests can travel between both parks by riding the Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. However, you must have a park-to-park ticket to enter both Universal Theme Parks.
All Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure rides have a Child Swap facility. Child Swap allows the rest of a family to ride an attraction when a child is either too small or young to experience the ride.
The young child sits with a parent, usually in a dedicated waiting room, while other family members ride. Once the first group is off the ride, parents swap supervision, and the rest of the family rides without waiting. Usually, attendants will allow an older child to ride again.
To use Child Swap at Universal Orlando, speak to the cast member at the entrance to the ride, who will advise of the procedure to follow.
Meeting Characters at Universal Orlando
There are numerous character opportunities at Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure. Universal Orlando is home to the Avengers, Simpsons, Popeye, Scooby, Minions, and much more. In fact, over 65 characters regularly meet throughout Universal Orlando Resort. Character meets are much more informal than at Walt Disney World and often have shorter waits.
The seasonal, The Grinch™ & Friends Character Breakfast, is the only character meal scheduled at Universal Orlando Resort.
Check the Universal Resort App for the latest information on where to find your favorite characters.
While it is doubtful, you can visit Orlando and not meet a fair measure of sunshine, this can undoubtedly be offset by plenty of rain and the occasional hurricane. Orlando’s weather can be unpredictable, and if you are not ready, it can cut the enjoyment of your vacation.
You can read more about the Orlando Weather, including our Top Tips to Beat the Weather, in our guide.
Universal Orlando Tips & Mistakes to Avoid
Everyone who has ever visited a theme park has a selection of tips for having a better time on their next visit. These are our favorite Universal Orlando Tips & Tricks.
It is easy to make mistakes when on vacation. Usually, these mistakes will have little impact on your vacation, but occasionally, they will reduce your enjoyment. Here is our list of Mistakes you Must Avoid at Universal Orlando.
Transportation at Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando has one huge parking lot. Following security, guests walk through CityWalk to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Complimentary buses transport guests to Volcano Bay from the parking lot.
Daily parking charges have seasonal variations and, at the time of writing, are:
- Prime Parking:
- Prime Upgrade:
- RV/Bus Parking:
- Regular Parking:
There is also a valet parking option:
Before 6 pm
$27.00 for 2 hours
$65-75 for over 2 hours
After 6 pm
$27.00 for 2 hours
$40-75 for over 2 hours
For Preferred Annual Passholders
For Premier Annual Passholders
There is one gas station on Universal Orlando property. The Hess Express is located at 5981 Turkey Lake Road.
Universal offers complimentary vehicle assistance if you should be unlucky to suffer a breakdown in the parking lot. If you need help, ask a parking assistant.
Hotel Transportation at Universal Orlando
Guests staying at any of the Universal Orlando On-Site hotels have access to complimentary resort shuttles. Shuttles are via water taxi or bus and will transport you to all parks, including Volcano Bay.
Airport Transportation to Universal Orlando
There is no free transportation between Orlando’s airports and Universal Orlando. Guests who have purchased a Universal Vacation Package can use Universal’s SuperStar Shuttle. This service is not free, but it is convenient.
If you are not on a Universal vacation Package and do not wish to hire a car, you can book several alternative shuttles/limo services in advance. In addition, taxis are readily available at the airport, or you can order an Uber or Lyft. Children 5 and under need a car seat in Florida, and you might wait longer for a taxi if you need this.
Getting to Universal Orlando from Walt Disney World
Disney World & Universal do not run transport to each other’s parks. However, it is not difficult to get between Universal and Disney. Your options depend on how many of you there are. The easiest, but not the cheapest option, is to get a taxi from outside your hotel. Speak to bell services who will arrange this for you.
Uber & Lyft are both cashless taxi services. You order your taxi from an App, and your payment is taken from a pre-registered card. We have used these services several times, representing good value, and cheaper than hotel-arranged taxis.
An alternative option to get between Universal and Disney is a shared bus. Mears provide a service which we have used before. From our experience, if there are more than 3 of you, getting a taxi or Uber works out cheaper. Your bus will also make multiple stops for pickups and drop-offs, so it will take longer to reach your destination than a taxi.
Universal Orlando Useful Information
Many guests have questions about Universal Orlando Resort, but often the answers are not easy to find. We have batched together some of your most common problems in a Modern Life is Good section containing Universal Orlando Useful Information. If you have a question, you will likely find the answer here.
You can navigate straight to the advice you are looking for by clicking the links below:
- Park Hours & Closures
- Stroller & Wheelchair Rentals
- First Aid
- Nursing Facilities
- Celebration Buttons
- Phone Charging
- Paying for Goods at Universal Orlando
- WiFi & The Universal Orlando Resort App
- Locker Hire
- Prohibited Items at Universal Orlando Resort
- Smoking at Universal Orlando Resort
- Car issues
- Tipping at Universal Orlando Resort
- Visiting Universal Orlando Resort with Disabilities
- Pregnant at Universal Orlando
- Lost and Found at Universal Orlando Resort
- Children’s Activity Centers
- Universal Orlando VIP Tours
- My Universal Photos
- Package Pick-Up and Delivery
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida welcomed around 10 million guests annually 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.
Universal Studios Florida features seven areas/lands plus a lagoon.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
In July 2014, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opened in Universal Studios. The area has two big attractions, but take your time, as the rides are only part of the experience. The shops and dining options add to the fun. Plus, don’t forget to turn into Knockturn Alley.
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is an amazing 4D coaster, but perhaps the highlight is walking through Gringotts.
- Hogwarts Express takes you to Islands of Adventure, but there is plenty to see on your way. To ride the Hogwarts Express, you must have a theme park ticket that allows admission to both parks.
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D is an impressive simulator, but I don’t know what is happening!
- Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast opens Sumer 2023
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit I will admit this is the one ride in Orlando I am scared of riding! The vertical climb puts me off from riding.
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is a silly simulator attraction that is no longer in 3D.
- Revenge of the Mummy a terrifying dark coaster with some awesome 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 is no longer showing on the lagoon. A new show is expected later in 2023.
- Universal Horror Make-Up Show one of the original attractions at the park.
- The Bourne Stuntacular This stunt show based on the Bourne film series is in the old Terminator building. I wasn’t expecting much from this, but it is very impressive!
Sometimes The Simpsons area is counted as a unique land, but officially it is inside the World Expo.
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl is a fun Dumbo-like ride with some added Simpson’s zaniness.
- The Simpsons Ride, perhaps this, is starting to feel a little dated, but it is still good fun.
- MEN IN BLACK I’m not very good at this shooting attraction. Mrs. Modernlifeisgood loves it!
Fast & Furious – Supercharged, I find this attraction a bit weird. Perhaps, this is because I have never seen Fast & Furious?
Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
There isn’t a lot for small children in Universal Studios Florida, and most of the attractions in this area have now closed for redevelopment.
- Animal Actors On Location! fun animal show
- E.T. Adventure, a theme park classic and one of the remaining attractions from the opening day
For further information on Universal Studios Florida, read our dedicated guide to the park.
Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999, along with CityWalk. The park’s theme is a journey of exploration across themed islands. There were 6 islands when the park opened, but a 7th Wizarding World of Harry Potter & 8th Skull Island has since opened.
The number of guests visiting the Islands of Adventure has increased significantly recently; in 2017, the park hosted almost 10 million guests.
Port of Entry
The Port of Entry is the park entrance with shops and guest service facilities. The park’s icon Pharos Lighthouse is within the Port of Entry.
Other islands are reached at the end of the Port of Entry, and guests can walk clockwise to Marvel Super Hero Island or anticlockwise to Seuss Landing.
Marvel Super Hero Island
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a sensational 3D simulator & my personal
favorite. This attraction sets the bar all other 3D attractions try to beat.
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster is perhaps one of the greatest coasters ever made. Vicious & powerful!
- 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; is 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 is an entertaining boat ride followed by an 85-foot drop ends
- 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
- Jurassic Park Discovery Center watch a baby velociraptor hatch.
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster is Universal’s newest coaster. The attraction consists of a high-speed adventure through the park’s raptor paddock.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened on June 18, 2010, at Islands of Adventure. The area is themed around Hogsmeade and was the first part of the Wizarding World. There are shops, bars, and restaurants, all themed around the books. Take your time when visiting Hogsmeade, as there is much to discover.
The big attractions in the land are:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, after touring the dramatic reconstruction of Hogwarts, soar through the grounds on a bench. An awe-inspiring attraction.
- Flight of the Hippogriff is a fun kid’s coaster.
- The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle an impressive nightly display. However, crowds can be huge. This now operates seasonally.
- Hogwarts Express ride to Universal Studios. Park to park ticket is required. The ride is different in both directions.
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is probably still the hottest ride in Universal Orlando. Reliability still can be an issue for this awesome, fast family coaster.
The Lost Continent
Not much of this land remains, and it is now the least interesting area of the park. The Mystic Fountain remains the highlight of this otherwise pointless island. While there have been no announcements, expect The Lost Continent to be redeveloped soon.
Poseidon’s Fury is the only remaining genuine attraction. However, it is possibly the worst attraction in Universal, and you should keep away!
Update..It has been announced Poseidon’s Fury will close in may 2023
Seuss Landing is the one area at Islands of Adventure where small children will find plenty of attractions to enjoy.
- The Cat in the Hat is a fun dark ride, but it is a little bumpy.
- Caro-Seuss-el carousel
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is 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.
Visit our Guide to Islands of Adventure to learn more.
Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park opened on May 25, 2017. The park replaced Universal’s earlier water park Wet ‘n Wild. As this is Universal’s water park, expect big thrills when you visit. However, there is plenty of fun for kids too.
To access Volcano Bay, guests are transported from the main Universal Orlando parking lot via a free bus. Also, there is free transport from Universal Resorts.
Universal Express Pass is available at Volcano Bay but is not included in Resort Express Pass.
The main feature of the park is Krakatau, a 200-foot artificial volcano. The volcano holds three fantastic drop capsule slides. Attractions include wave pools, slides, raft rides, play areas & a lazy river.
Volcano Bay, the Lands
The park is split into four lands, each inspired by Polynesian Themes:
Krakatau streams waterfalls during the day and fiery lava effects at night. The volcano is home to 4 fantastic attractions:
- Krakatau Aqua Coaster
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge a near-vertical drop with a trap door start.
- Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides the tallest drop capsule slides in the world.
- Punga Racers a four-lane racing slide.
Overlooks the waters of Waturi Beach at the base of the volcano. Wave pools, slides, and relaxing areas are all located at Waturi Beach.
It is the home of attractions for all ages, including the park’s youngest guests.
Rainforest Village includes both high-thrill attractions and areas to relax. Attractions include several high-thrill raft rides.
TapuTapu at Volcano Bay
Universal has attempted to eliminate waits, with mixed results, at Volcano bay with the introduction of virtual lines. All guests are given a TapuTapu to wear on arrival. Guests tap into a virtual queue with their TapuTapu to secure a ride time. Once your TapuTapu vibrates, you return to the line for a short wait before your ride.
Dining at Volcano Bay
A selection of dining venues is available in River Village, Rainforest Village & Wave Village. The flavors of the South Pacific region inspire food & drink. Dishes available include Coconut Curry Chicken, Jerked Mahi Sandwiches, Hawaiian Ribs, and Plantain Chips & Guacamole.
Universal CityWalk is the entertainment complex at Universal Orlando Resort, containing a selection of bars, restaurants, shops, and other entertainment offerings. Day visitors enter Universal Orlando Resort through CityWalk before entering the theme parks.
Universal CityWalk is bright, modern, and loud & is a contrast from Disney Springs at Walt Disney World. Reception to City Walk is mixed, and an additional entertainment area is planned for Universal’s expansion.
The area is open until 2 am and has free self-parking from 6 pm. You can book reservations for several of the CityWalk Restaurants here.
Many of the shops at CityWalk sell the same products you will find in the theme parks. You can save time in the parks by leaving your shopping until you visit City Walk.
Several of the bars and clubs at City Walk have a cover charge. The cover charge often kicks in at 10 pm but does vary by venue, plus admission is restricted to adults 21 years or older. Deals are available, which allow access to several venues for one price.
Universal Orlando On-Site Hotels
There are now seven resorts at Universal Orlando. All Universal Hotel guests benefit from being close to the theme parks, free internal transportation, and early access to a park for 1 hour each morning before regular guests. Loews manage all Universal Orlando Hotels.
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 staying in a Premier Hotel is often cheaper than buying it.
Visit our Guide to Universal Orlando Resort Hotels to learn about each hotel.
Dining at Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando has a good mix of Table Service, Quick Service, and Cart locations. However, guests who have visited Walt Disney World might be disappointed in the number of options available.
Universal Orlando’s dining options have improved in recent years, but they are behind the high standard Disney set. The best restaurants are inside the Universal Orlando Resorts. Both Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure have two table service restaurants, which are very popular.
Price-wise, we tend to find that Quick Service locations are more expensive than Walt Disney World, but Table Service is cheaper. However, prices do vary by location. Dining in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in our opinion, is ridiculously expensive.
Universal no longer offers dining plans.
Restaurant Reservations at Universal Orlando
Most table-service venues at Universal Orlando accept reservations, including all park venues.
Unlike Walt Disney World, there is no rush to book, but reservations are still highly recommended. Usually, you can easily book a reservation on the morning of your arrival. You can book reservations here.
Food Allergies at Universal Orlando
Most dining locations throughout Universal Orlando Resort can cater to food allergies. We have found that staff at some sites are not as knowledgeable as at Walt Disney World. However, getting a safe, good-quality meal at most locations isn’t challenging.
Many restaurants have allergy-friendly menus available on the Universal Orlando website. However, we recommend speaking to a staff member before ordering, as additional dishes are often available.
If you have additional queries, email Guest Services at FoodServiceCUF@universalorlando.com before you visit.
You are also able to bring your own food into the parks. If there are any queries from security staff, tell them that a party member has a food allergy/intolerance.
Our Guide to Universal Orlando Resort for Beginners is still in
Are you also planning to visit Walt Disney World? Our Guide to Walt Disney World is essential to help plan your vacation. The guide has been running for several years and is updated regularly with the latest information.
Awesome information! As someone who has had a Universal Annual Pass and Disney Annual Pass since 2014 (I read these blog posts for fun!), this information will definitely be of use to people visiting for the first time. Just one correction, preferred annual pass holders get free standard parking, premier pass holders get the free standard, preferred and valet parking! At Universal, valet or preferred parking is not worth the extra cost as the parking at Universal is in parking garages! 🙂
Thank you this was very helpful and relevant. Great job!