45 (Quick!) Universal Studios Tips Perfect For Your First Visit
Hold on tight (and take notes!) as we go over 45 Universal Studios tips that are absolutely essential to know before your first visit!
With Universal Orlando Resort being among the best theme parks in the world, it’s so important to know the tips and tricks necessary to maximize your visit and get the most from your experience.
You’re in for a treat as you begin to explore these Universal Studios tips and secrets while gearing up for the family vacation of a lifetime!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. For more info, see disclosure.
Tips for Universal Studios Orlando
In case you’re confused like I was, Universal Orlando Resort consists of 3 parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay waterpark.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located in both Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) and Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade).
Each of the 3 parks has a separate ticketed entry, though park-to-park tickets are available if you’re looking to explore them all.
Our tips for Universal Studios Orlando are organized into the following categories that include tips for:
- Planning your visit
- Purchasing tickets
- Parking & arrival
- Touring tips
- Rides & shows
- Food & beverage
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips
- Universal Orlando on-site hotel perks
Each of the tips in these categories is meant to give you a brief overview (hence ‘quick tips’) of the fun and important things to know when visiting Universal Studios.
For more information, or for a deeper look into your visit, be sure to visit the Universal Orlando Resort homepage. Likewise, be sure to review their current safety guidelines regarding the ongoing pandemic.
Universal Studios Tips: Planning Your Visit
- Study the best times to visit. Crowds are highest when schools are on break (ie. Spring Break and Christmas). Find out how to beat the heat if visiting in June, July, or August, as the temperatures can be unbearable. Visit in September through January (minus holidays) for the fewest crowds and best prices.
2. Watch for ticket deals and special offers. The prices of Universal Studios Orlando tickets rise and fall based on season and demand, so it’s best to purchase them a few months early. Likewise, consider checking into the availability of discounted Universal Orlando tickets, as well as consulting with a travel agent for specials or promotions.
3. Decide on where to stay. This will largely depend on what perks you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend. Choices range from Universal Orlando Premier Resorts (most expensive, many perks), Universal Orlando hotels (some perks), off-site hotels (affordable), or vacation rental homes (more space).
Our choice, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, a Universal Premier Resort that is a 7-minute walk from the theme parks!
4. Check the ride height requirements. Find out which rides are right for you and your family before you go. Prepare your smaller children for the rides that they are, and are not going to be tall enough to ride to avoid meltdowns once there.
5. Don’t stress about not having a stroller. There are single ($18) and double strollers ($28) for rent upon entering the Universal Theme Parks, or you can bring your own. Mark your stroller in order to recognize it and be sure to park it in the Stroller Parking at rides.
6. Watch the Harry Potter movie series before you go. Purchase the Harry Potter 8-film collection (like we did!) and be sure to watch the entire series before you go. Having an understanding of all things Harry Potter makes the experience so much better!
Universal Studios Tips: Purchasing Tickets
1. Know your ticket options. If you only want to visit 1 park for 1 day, get the basic (least expensive) 1 park ticket. If you want to ride the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade Station and King’s Cross Station, you’ll need a Park-to-Park Ticket. When visiting multiple marks for multiple days, get Multi-Park, Park-to-Park tickets.
2. Buy your tickets in advance. Lines at the ticket counter are long at park opening. Pre-purchase your tickets online to save money and avoid standing in line at the ticket counter.
3. Children under 3 are free. Take notes that there is no park admission fee for children under 3 years old. Child prices apply to children ages 3-9, and adult prices ages apply to guests 10+.
4. Determine if you want to spend extra money to get Universal Express Pass. Universal Express Pass allows you to bypass the standard line at rides and attractions and get into a shorter, quicker, Express line. Universal Express Pass is a ticket add-on, meaning that it’s an additional cost to standard park tickets. The add-on can be purchased ahead of time, once you’re in the park, or comes free when you stay at a Universal Premier Resort (more on that coming up).
Read here to see if we think Universal Express Passes are worth it!
5. Purchase a lanyard. You will want the convenience of storing both your park tickets (for park-to-park access) and Express Passes (to be scanned at each ride) in a lanyard. They are not provided by Universal Studios or Universal hotels. Though they can be bought on-site, they are cheaper to purchase online ahead of time.
Arrival & Parking
1. Download the Universal Resort Orlando app. Be sure to download the free Universal Resort app from the App Store and Google Play before heading to the park. You can use it for mobile ordering, virtual line reservations, wait time alerts, and an interactive park map. (Don’t forget to bring a portable battery charger as you will use your phone quite a bit.)
2. Check theme park hours ahead of time. Universal does not release its daily theme park hours until approximately 1 month before any given date. Hours vary by month and day, so be sure to check their website before your visit.
3. Know if you qualify for Early Park Admission. Universal’s Early Park Admission allows all Universal Orlando Resort hotel guests and annual pass holders one-hour early entry to Universal Studios or Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and a 30-minute early entry to Volcano Bay.
Not all rides open early. Be sure to check the Early Park Admission page (and app) a few weeks before your visit to determine which parks are offering this feature on what days, and for what rides. This varies drastically each week and is subject to change without notice.
4. Arrive early. If you don’t qualify for Early Park Admission, get to the turnstiles 45-60 minutes before the advertised park opening. Early arrival equals shorter lines and more rides! (Even with Early Park Admission, arrive at the gates 30-40 minutes before opening. i.e For 7:00 AM Early Admission, arrive at the gates no later than 6:30 AM.)
5. Allow at least 30 minutes for general parking and security. Once parked, escalators and moving walkways bring you into the transportation hub. Here, you will find security checkpoints, restrooms, vending machines, and souvenirs. It is a 15-minute walk to get from the hub to the entrance of either theme park.
6. Remember where you park. Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay share the same two gigantic covered parking garages. Take a photo of the name and number of your parking section, as well as the level and row. It’s easy to forget.
Universal Studios Touring Tips
1. Bring your AAA card. Many of the restaurants around Universal will give you a 10% discount for showing your card when you dine.
2. Wi-Fi is free at Universal. Be sure to switch over to the free network once you get to the park entrance in order to save on your data plan.
3. Make a game plan beforehand. In order to maximize your time in the park, I absolutely recommend that you study the park layout, as well as have a general idea of the order in which you want to do the rides and attractions. Both our Universal Studios Touring Plan, and Islands of Adventure Touring Plan outline exactly how we tour the parks when we’re there.
5. Have an understanding of the Universal Studios lockers. Unlike visiting the Disney theme parks, most rides at Universal do not allow personal belongings (including backpacks) to be brought onto the rides. This is due to their high intensity.
Along with paid lockers at the front of the park, each ride has either free or paid lockers based on the size of your backpack or bag.
*After reading this article, come back and check out our complete guide to understanding the lockers at Universal Orlando!
6. Pack a modestly sized Universal day bag. If you’re looking to save money, only bring in a backpack or fanny pack that fits into the complimentary lockers. Here’s exactly what we pack in our Universal Studios day bag that is just enough, but not too much.
Universal Studios Tips: Rides & Shows
- Vist the best rides at Universal Studios Florida early in the day, as these are the rides that accumulate the longest lines as the day goes on.
2. A reminder about Hogwart’s Express: Remember that you must have a “Park-to-Park” admission ticket to ride the Hogwart’s Express attraction. For a full experience, ride Hogwart’s Express in both directions as it is different depending on which direction you are traveling.
3. Check showtimes. Use the Universal app to check the daily showtimes and figure out how to fit them into your daily itinerary. Likewise, check what rides have a Virtual Line option for that day and make reservations. Virtual Line reservations cannot be done until you’re physically inside the park.
Note: If you have Express Pass, you do not need to make Virtual Line Reservations for rides that qualify for Express. Hagrid’s Motorbike does not honor Express Pass, so be sure to make a Virtual Line Reservation if it is being offered.
4. Small kids? Do Child Swap. Each ride has a family room where one member of your party can wait with the little ones while the rest of your party rides. Once they are finished, switch places so whoever rode can stay with the kids, and the adult(s) who sat out can then go on the ride.
5. Take advantage of the Single Rider line. Single Rider lines are always shorter and move faster than the regular line. If you don’t mind being split from your group, or if you want to quickly repeat a ride, hop into the Single Rider line.
6. Be prepared for motion sickness. Much like the best rides at Islands of Adventure, the rides at Universal includes twists, turns, and intense motion simulation. I highly recommend bringing along both adult and child doses of motion sickness medication (or taking it beforehand) to prevent queasiness.
Universal Studios Tips: Food and Beverage
- Bring your own water bottle. Bring along these collapsible reusable water bottles to save you tons of money from having to purchase bottled water inside the park ($5.50/bottle). Restaurants and quick-service counters will refill them at no cost.
2. Eat at the Universal restaurants and at CityWalk. The fun and unique food and beverage options at Universal Studios are part of the experience! Don’t miss out on getting a VooDoo Donut or going to the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, two of the best restaurants in CityWalk. Also, be sure to get a Flaming Moe (orange soda with dry ice) found in the Simpson’s Springfield Fast Food Boulevard section of the parks.
3. Make reservations ahead of time. I highly suggest making online reservations for full-service restaurants at the parks and City Walk to avoid the lines during busy seasons. This can be done online, or by calling (407) 224-FOOD.
4. Consider if a Universal Dining Plan is worth it. Both quick-service and full-service dining plans are available at Universal. The cost per day does not include gratuities and only covers food from participating locations. Personally, we do not purchase a dining plan and have never regretted it.
5. Butterbeer comes in liquids and solids. We suggest trying them all!
- Butterbeer Fudge
- Cold Butterbeer
- Frozen Butterbeer (our favorite!)
- Hot Butterbeer
- Butterbeer ice cream
- Butterbeer potted cream (creamy custard)
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips
- Head to Diagon Alley first or last. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, is by far the busiest part of the park. Go there first thing in the morning, or later in the evening after 4 PM to experience smaller crowds. (We spent the full hour of Early Park Admission enjoying Diagon Alley with little to no crowds; it was the highlight of our trip!)
2. Watch the fire-breathing dragon. Stick around. The large dragon on the top of Gringotts Bank rumbles, then breathes fire every 10-15 minutes.
3. Exchange money at Gringotts Money Exchange. The best part about going into Gringotts Money Exchange is listening to the ‘crabby’ animated goblin banker. Here, you can exchange money for ‘wizard currency’ to purchase food and souvenirs etc. around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Any unused banknotes can be converted back to regular money at Guest Services.
4. Browse the shops and shop windows. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, browsing the shops in Diagon Alley will be a major highlight of your visit! The decor inside the shops and windows will make you feel as if you’re inside the books and movies. Plus, they contain exclusive Harry Potter merchandise that can’t be found anywhere else.
5. Be sure to stop in Ollivander’s Wand Shop. If you don’t want to wait in line to attend a wand-fitting demonstration, simply go into Ollivander’s, and the staff will assist you in picking out a wand. When purchasing a wand, opt for the ‘interactive’ wand that costs $10 more than a ‘learner’ wand. The interactive wand comes with a map showing 34 marked locations where you can cast spells around the parks.
Note: Small children will have a hard time executing the spells as the infrared tip of the wand needs to align perfectly with the censor in the window.
This can get frustrating for the littles, so be prepared and be ready to step in and help.
6. I’ll repeat. You MUST try Butterbeer. Head to The Fountain of Fair Fortune or the Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley to get Butterbeer. This butterscotch goodness is a Universal Studios must-try.
7. Catch a show. Throughout the day there are various types of shows in the Carkitt Market section of Diagon Alley. Check for showtimes on the Universal app. Celestina and the Banshees is our favorite.
Universal Orlando On-Site Hotel Perks
One of our best tips for visiting Universal Orlando is to stay on-site at one of the Universal Orlando Resorts.
Along with their close proximity to the theme parks (within walking distance!), these are the key benefits of staying on-site. These perks will make a world of difference to your family’s Universal vacation.
1. Early Park Admission. When you stay at an on-site hotel you get Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter 1 hour before the park opens, and 30-minutes prior to the Volcano Bay opening. (Worth it!)
2. Universal Express Pass. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort offer free Universal Express Unlimited to resort guests. Your room key serves as the Express Pass to show to get on rides. (Worth it, in our opinion!)
3. Complimentary transportation. Enjoy free transportation to the theme parks from each of the hotels via either water taxi or shuttle bus. Cabana Bay and Aventura Hotel are by shuttle bus only. (Worth it, although you still have to pay for parking at the hotel, $28/night.)
4. Priority seating at restaurants. Guests staying at Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel, Lowes Royal Pacific Hotel, and Hard Rock Hotel receive priority seating at select restaurants. Show your room key to the hostess and see if priority seating is available.
5. Package delivery. Free merchandise delivery from Universal stores and ships to any Universal hotel.
6. Charging privileges. Charge purchases across the entire Universal Orlando Resort to your room key card when staying at any Universal hotel.
Here are the current Universal Resort Hotels to choose from (in order of Budget to Premier):
- Surfside Inn and Suites (Book directly on Booking.com)
- Dockside Inn and Suites (Book directly on Booking.com)
- Universal’s Aventura Hotel (Book directly on Booking.com)
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort (Book directly on Booking.com )
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (Book directly on Booking.com )
- Loews Royal Pacific Hotel (Book directly on Booking.com )
- Hard Rock Hotel (Book directly on Booking.com )
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (Book directly on Booking.com )
Tell me which of our Universal Studios tips surprised you the most, or that you found the most helpful! I would love to know 🙂Jen
If you liked reading our Quick Tips for Universal Orlando, continue planning your Universal Orlando vacation here:
Universal Orlando Touring Plans:
- Universal Studios Touring Plan: 1-Day Itinerary
- Islands of Adventure Touring Plan: Complete 1-Day Itinerary
Universal Orlando Tips:
- What to Bring to Universal Studios (+Day Bag Tips)
- 9 Big Differences Between Disney World and Universal Studios
- Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Orlando: 9 Reasons to Stay
- A Complete Guide to the Lockers at Universal Orlando
- Top 7 Best Restaurants in Universal Citywalk
Universal Orlando Rides:
- Top 7 Best Rides at Islands of Adventure
- Top 7 Rides at Universal Studios Florida
- Is Universal Express Pass Worth it? A Detailed Look!
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*