Make the most of your visit to Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando
Visiting Universal Studios Orlando can be an overwhelming experience, especially the first time you go. From the minute you get out of the car or shuttle and make your way in, there is so much to see and take in. Every bit of it is extremely well done & there are so many neat details in every store, display, and ride, but it can be a lot to figure out which things you want to be sure and fit in your day & to make the most of your time there so let me try and help you out a little.
You are given a few options for purchasing tickets to the parks, and the main one is to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but I will warn you, there is so much to see in each park that it is best to do it over a two day span and not try to cram it all into one day. Depending on how busy the parks are during your visit, springing for the Express Pass may be worth it for you. There are also apps that have analyzed crowd patterns that can help you to optimize your time- a friend suggested the TouringPlans.com Universal App and that was a great resource for us- the $6.99 subscription was well worth the ability to NOT stand in line waiting for popular attractions!
We are going to focus in this article on Universal Studios only. It’s a very iconic look as you walk in the front gates, with store fronts and streets like old Hollywood. There are many great shops that are fashioned exactly like Hollywood, like the Brown Derby Hat shop, for example, as well as many of the classic window displays, the Hollywood Walk of Fame along the sidewalk with many classic film stars’ names, classic cars and great places to eat, like Mel’s Diner, that will give you a real Hollywood Nostalgic feeling.
What you don’t want to miss in that main area, though, especially if the old school Hollywood vibe isn’t your thing, is that there are some great movie and film collectibles and gems tucked into some of those shops. The Terminator show lets out into a shop that is full of movie memorabilia, some is authentic and for display only- and some for sale. There are tons of Star Wars and Comic book collectibles, as well as a section from the Walking Dead and more.
When you head out of that strip and go towards the back of the park, to the right, there are lots of fun things for younger kid. A classic kid’s roller coaster with Woody Woodpecker (which is exactly enough coaster for me, myself and I)…and an scaled-to Fivel Mousekevitz-sized American Tail themed play area where they can run, play and slide! It is one area of the park that is easy to miss and if your kids are small, they will love it.
Also, don’t miss the Minions 3d ride or Shrek show if you have the time to do them. If you have to choose between them, choose the Minions. Or Shrek. We loved both for different reasons! I suggest hitting these early in the day and not later, as most people seem to want to hit these attractions on their way out of the park. We prefer to go against the crowds!
The looks on their faces really is awesome. So much excitement to meet beloved characters from their favorite books!
As you are walking the streets of London, you will see the Knight Bus, and you can walk up to and talk to the driver. You’ll be right across from King’s Cross station, and yes, there *is* a Platform 9 3/4, because I’ve been on it myself.
This is where the Hogwarts Express takes you back and forth between the parks and if you have a ticket to both parks, do take it for sure. Be sure to ride in both directions if you have the time, as the experience is different heading to each of the parks. It’s also a nice way to sit for a few minutes! It’s so much fun to ride but it also saves you walking all the way around Universal Studios to go into Islands of Adventure.
You’ll find there’s a hidden area toward the back of the park, where most people are headed, to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley. You really and truly feel as if you are walking into Diagon Alley as you walk through the entrance to this *secret* area. Leave a good amount of time to explore, especially if you are a Harry Potter fan, because you are likely to find surprises and delights every time you turn a corner, no matter how many times you’ve been in that area of the park.
The paint and detail on the buildings paired with the cobblestone and all of the people walking around wearing Wizarding World apparel really help to put you right into the pages of the books or into the scenes from the movies. My husband’s favorite part of the whole trip was seeing our 8 year old’s face as we walked into Diagon Alley- he’s read the series three times, and he was simply in awe. Our 10 year old loves Harry Potter as well but isn’t *quite* as obsessed with it as our son is.
Inside of Diagon Alley, there are many awesome shops, lots of great Harry Potter souvenirs, some wonderful treats to try…plus the Gringott’s Bank ride. You will see (by you will see, I mean that you won’t really can’t miss) the dragon perched on the top of the bank and every so often he breathes out a huge amount of fire. Almost everyone in Diagon Alley will feel the heat of that, but it really is cool to see!! After you pick up your jaw from the ground, do not miss that ride. It is different than anything you’ve ever ridden and will not let you down. It’s partially a coaster but not fully. It may scare littler children but most of them will adore it.
One other thing you must do before or after Gringott’s, if you have the funds, is to get an interactive wand- the wands are available at many shops throughout the parks but we really wanted the experience of Ollivander’s and were not disappointed. The interactive wands cost just about $10 more than the regular type of wands and you can go to both parks and cast numerous spells with them. There is a system that works with cameras for the effects. (You can read our post about the Interactive Harry Potter wands here). You are given a map and each (or so you think) spot where you can use your wand is marked by a medallion on the ground. The medallion is designed to tell you which way to point your wand and which spell to use. Pay lots of attention to details when you are in any of the Wizarding World areas in either park, because there are surprises and hidden spells you can cast. There is much more information online if you want to know all the details, and even some websites with some secret spoilers if you just can’t take the suspense!
These wands are pricey. I won’t argue that. But the excitement and wonder that you see on my daughter’s face- that was replicated by all 3 kids at each of the spots we found to cast spells. The look on her face made it oh so worth it!
A few other things to be sure and fit into your day especially if your kids are older or you’re just with the grown –ups: the Transformers Ride, Men In Black (this one is a family favorite- we did it 4 times in 2 days… you could say we’re a little competitive!) , the Mummy coaster and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-it coaster. They are all fantastic and worth the wait.
Be sure to download Universal’s free app on your phone, too! It will give you up to the minute wait times for the rides, Lots of information on the restaurants and food items, a map and more. Very handy to have, especially for a first timer.
What are your tips for making the most of your trip to Universal Studios?
Thanks to Universal for the passes for our family!
Jay Simms says
I plan on taking my kids here next year for summer. Thanks for sharing these tips!
Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly says
I never went to Disney as a kid and since I don’t have kids myself I don’t really see myself going there, I’m more of a horseback riding along a tropical beach kind of vacation gal! It looks like your family had a blast there! 🙂
I love this post. I live in Los Angeles so I’ve visited the Hollywood park numerous times but I have yet to go to the one in Orlando. I’ll be planning a trip to Florida this summer so maybe I can find a way to make it up there.
Laura Funk says
I am on pins and needles for a trip to the Universal Studios! It has been 7 years since our last trip and I am itching to see Harry Potter world and all the new attractions!
Oh man, I so want to go to universal studios! Maybe just me and my husband. I want to go on the MIB ride!
These will be great tips to use when I (eventually) take my kids down to visit. They’ve been wanting to go, it just hasn’t been in the budget.
Up Run For Life says
I want to take my boys to Disney again. We went a few years ago and it rained all day. It was icky. I loved the car show and a few of the other stunt shows. I’m sure it’s changed. I have to wait until my back is fully healed so that I can walk all day.
I would love to go to Universal Studios one day!! I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan!!!
Ann Bacciaglia says
I am hoping i can get to Universal Studios this year. It looks like it is going to be so much fun. The kids are so excited to go.
Melissa Dixon says
I have always wanted to bring my family there. I went when I lived in Florida because my sister and brother worked there but it would be so much more fun with my daughter!
I will be checking this out when I go to Orlando. My husband and I have been talking about going to Orlando this winter. I know my girls would love to check this out too.
Rebecca Swenor says
It looks like you all had a wonderful time at Universal Studios in Orlando. The Disney’s Universal Studios I have never been to but would love to go some day with my sons. It is literally on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I want to visit Universal because of Diagon Alley. Lol. These are very helpful tips to make the most out of your visit.
Annemarie LeBlanc says
I did not know there was an app for that. That is so nice because it gives you information on wait time for the rides. That would help with time management a lot!
Paula Schuck says
Thanks so much for this post! We’ve been talking about a trip to Universal. This will help us get the most out of our visit.
I would love to go there with my kiddo! When he gets a little older we are exploring all sorts parks! This looks like all sorts of fun!
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says
Thanks for the great tips. We haven’t been to Universal in so long. A lot has changed!