10 Things to Know When Planning Your First Universal Orlando Vacation

So many who travel to Orlando, Florida, go to Disney but have never experienced Universal Resort. This is a theme park that should not be overlooked. For first-time visitors, the experience, just like at Disney, can be a little overwhelming. Here are ten tips to help you make the best of your first Universal Orlando vacation.

1. Three theme parks, all kinds of amazing.

Universal Orlando’s three theme parks are Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Universal Studios is home to the classic replicas of movie sets, Diagon Alley, The Mummy Returns, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, Hogwarts Express and many other thrilling attractions. Islands of Adventure is where you will find Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, Jurassic Park, Seuss Land, The Hulk and much more to keep the entertainment going all day long. Looking for a day in the water? Head on over to Volcano Bay for some of the most exhilarating water slides around.

2. Single Park or Park-to-Park – which ticket is for me?

If you want to ride Hogwarts Express, then the answer is simple. You will need a park-to-park ticket to ride this train. Hogwarts Express carries passengers between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Your park ticket will be checked upon entering King’s Cross Station (Universal Studios) or Hogsmeade Station (Islands of Adventure).

3. Universal Express Pass vs. Universal Unlimited Express.

Universal Express Pass is a ticket add-on that allows visitors to bypass the regular lines at most rides throughout Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Universal Express is good once per ride per day. Universal Unlimited Express is good multiple times on the same attraction each day. You may purchase this ticket add-on through your travel advisor. Guests staying at one of the Universal premier hotels will receive this complimentary add-on (approximately $129 per person value) as part of their room package.

4. On-Site Hotels vs. Off-Site Hotels: How Do I Decide?

Universal has a hotel for every style and budget. The hotels are broken down into 3 categories:

a. Value: These are budget-friendly properties a bit further away from Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and City Walk. There is one hotel complex in this category, Endless Summer Resort, which includes the Dockside Inn and Suites as well as the Surfside Inn and Suites.

b. Prime Value Hotels: Prime Value hotels provide comfortable accommodations at an affordable price point. The two hotels in this category are Universal’s Aventura Hotel and Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Universal has plans to open two more Prime Value Hotels in January and February, 2025 (Universal Stella Nova Resort and Universal Terra Luna Resort).

b. Preferred Hotel: This property is a step-up to the value properties. It is a bit closer to the parks and offers water taxi service. The only property in this category is the Lowe’s Sapphire Falls Resort.

c. Premier Hotels: As the top hotel category, you will have bigger rooms, more luxurious amenities, closer proximity to the parks, water taxi service from your hotel to City Walk, and complimentary Universal Unlimited Express Pass. The three properties in this category are Hard Rock Hotel (which is the closest to the parks), Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel, and Lowes Royal Pacific Resort. In addition, guests staying at any of the Universal hotel properties will receive early entrance one hour before normal opening time at Universal Studios and complimentary package delivery to your room when you purchase from the souvenir shops throughout the parks.

5. Ticket Add-Ons.

There are all kinds of add-ons to make your Universal Orlando vacation even more awesome. There’s the Marvel Character Dinner, photo packages, VIP experiences and more. Be sure to talk to me for details about these options when you are ready to book your Universal Vacation.

6. Dining

You can make reservations for most restaurants 60 days in advance. For beverages, you can purchase a Coca-Cola Freestyle souvenir cup for unlimited refills throughout Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You pay a set fee for the first day which gets you the souvenir mug with unlimited refills for 24 hours. Then each day thereafter it is a lesser fee (every 24 hours) for unlimited refills. You can use this mug for soft drinks, Icees and water. Volcano Bay has its own refillable mug. Feel free to bring your own snacks into the park to keep you energized throughout the day. If you would rather, there are plenty of snack carts located throughout each park.

7. City Walk.

From dining to shopping to night light, City Walk is the epicenter of awesome! Here you will find the likes of Hard Rock Café, Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, and Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Be sure to stop by VooDoo’s Donuts and grab some late-night snacks or breakfast for the next morning.

8.My kids are small. Will there be enough for us to do?

Absolutely! Universal Orlando has the reputation of being a theme park for older kids and adults, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While many of the rides have height restrictions there is still plenty to do for smaller kids. There is Pteranodon Flyers in Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, all types of character interactions, parades and much more. In addition, a new kids area is set to open in Summer 2024. It will feature DreamWorks Land with characters from Shrek and Kung Fu Panda along with new attractions including Shrek’s Swamp, a new splashland, Trollercoaster and a new live show and playgrounds. You can find child swap service at many of the rides. This allows younger guests to skip a ride (either because they are not tall enough or they do not want to go) and gives everyone else in the party an opportunity to hop on the attraction without having to go through the queue all over again.

9. What should I bring into the park?

Don’t get bogged down by taking a bunch of items in the park. However, if you need to bring in personal items, there are lockers available throughout the parks at most of the major rides. Keep in mind you will not be allowed to take your bags on most rides and all bags will be searched by security before entering the parks.

10. I only need tickets and not accommodations. Why should I use a travel advisor?

Tickets purchased through a travel advisor guarantee the one-hour early access to the parks, just like on-site hotel guests get. Visitors cannot get this by purchasing through the Universal consumer site themselves.

If you are ready to book a Universal vacation and need a travel advisor, you’ve come to the right place. Contact me today to schedule a complimentary consultation

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