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Universal Studios Touring Plan | Tips + Complete 1-Day Itinerary

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January 21, 2021

Are you looking for the perfect 1-day Universal Studios touring plan to outsmart the crowds and get the most out of your experience?

Need a summary of Universal Express Pass tips, arrival and rope drop tips, as well as tips on how to plan your day in the park and minimize time spent standing in lines?

Our Universal Studios touring plan highlights all of these topics and offers a detailed, step-by-step morning and afternoon itinerary for spending 1-day at Universal Studios, Florida.

Be sure to stick around to the end for additional information and touring tips for the Harry Potter fans in your group!

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. 

Entrance to Universal Studios
The Entrance to Universal Studios, Florida

Universal Studios Orlando Resort

For those of you who are new to the Universal experience and are a bit confused like I was, Florida’s Universal Orlando Resort consists of:

  • Two theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
  • A water theme park: Volcano Bay
  • A shopping, restaurant, and entertainment complex: Universal CityWalk Orlando
  • Six onsite Loews Hotels
  • An upcoming theme park, Epic Universe, expected to open in early 2025

Its gigantic size is one of the biggest differences when comparing Universal Orlando vs. Universal Hollywood, as Universal Hollywood is much smaller.

Together, the Universal Orlando Resort covers 541 acres of land and welcomes over 11 million annual visitors from all around the world.

The following article is a sample 1-day touring plan for Florida’s Universal Studios theme park whose primary attraction is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.

The best Universal Studios itinerary involves utilizing this practical touring plan and customizing your final ride and attraction choices based on your family’s interests.

Due to increased concern over safety and sanitation, the Universal theme parks have implemented a host of new measures that may impact your experience. Be sure to check the Universal homepage to review current considerations for your visit.

Universal Studios Diagon Alley and our 1-day Universal Studios itinerary
Universal Studios Diagon Alley

Universal Studios Touring Plan

Touring plans make it easy for you to get the most out of an experience by outlining the order you should visit rides and attractions.

In fact, having a game plan before heading into the park is one of our 45 Universal Studios tips that you absolutely need to read before your first visit.

Both our Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure touring plans were created for those visiting the Universal theme parks for one day each.

This itinerary also assumes that you are entering the park right at the opening time and staying into the evening.

Finally, although we utilized this Universal Studios Orlando touring plan while staying on-site (which granted us automatic Universal Express Passes), it may be still be used by visitors who do not have an Express Pass – we’ll show you how!

Universal Studios Florida Hours

Universal Studios Florida hours vary, by the day, by the month, and by the season.

It is very important to check the Theme Park Hours schedule for the day that you plan on visiting Universal so that you can plan your experience accordingly.

The Universal Studios theme park hour calendar also includes information on what days offer Early Park Admission, as well as lists temporary attraction closure information.

Early Park Admission is a free perk when you book a Universal vacation package, stay at a Universal resort hotel, or use your Preferred or Premier Annual Pass.

This perk allows you to enter a designated Universal theme park 1-hour before the scheduled opening (select days only).

Additional planning tip: Take note that Universal and CityWalk hours, as well as daily showtimes, are not released until approximately 1 calendar month in advance.

Universal Studios Crowd Calendar

Our Universal Studios Orlando one-day touring plan assumes moderate to high crowds at the park when lines are expected to be long.

This exact plan was utilized when crowds were rated 9/10.

No matter when you visit, however, this 1-Day Universal Orlando touring plan is optimized and ordered so that walking and your wait in lines are minimized.

Universal Studios touring plan Express Pass sign
Express Pass kiosk

Universal Studios Express Pass

There is no denying that when the Universal Studios crowd calendar predicts moderate to high crowds, the waiting in lines can become incredibly draining and time-consuming.

To help offset time spent standing in lines, Universal Studios allows you to add Universal Express access to your theme park admission.

Universal Express is an all-day pass that allows you to skip the regular lines – and use a special Express Pass line – at select Universal attractions.

If you are staying on-site at one of Universal’s premier resort hotels, Universal Express Unlimited is free for every day of your visit. (Your hotel keycard serves as your Universal Express pass.)

If you are not staying on-site and wish to purchase Universal Express passes, the cost varies by day and expected crowds. So during peak times, prices will be higher.

Current prices can be found on the Universal Orlando Resort website.

Additional planning tip: Universal Express is separate from regular admission. In other words, you must purchase BOTH a Universal park base ticket along with an Express Pass add-on.

It’s easiest to buy Express passes online. You can also buy them at the entrance gates and throughout all three parks at dozens of locations.

Read here to find out the qualifying rides, exact wait times, and an explanation of whether or not Universal Express Pass is worth it!

Harry Potter World shops
Harry Potter World

Universal Studios Orlando: One Day Touring Plan

Prior to visiting Universal Orlando, be sure to download the official Universal Orlando Resort app on the App Store or the Google Play Store.

The Universal Orlando Resort app provides:

  • An interactive park map
  • Wait times and wait time alerts you can set
  • Showtimes
  • Mobile food and drink ordering for select restaurants
  • A virtual wallet where you can purchase and store your tickets and Express Passes
  • Virtual Line experience selection queue

Universal Studios’ Virtual Line program allows you to use your phone app (or kiosks at the ride) to make a reservation for your entire travel party to visit various attractions.

The use of virtual lines and what rides offer it varies by the day.

To make a Virtual Line reservation, go to the Virtual Line Experience drop-down from the main menu on the Universal app and select “Virtual Line Venues”. Click on the ride and select the half-hour increment that is available in which you’d like to ride.

At your selected time, simply show your phone at the attraction and you will immediately be admitted into the ride/show.

Keep in mind that the Virtual Line reservation system only works if you are physically inside the park.

Also, you can only reserve two ride times at a time meaning that you may not add another attraction until a previous ride time has passed.

See the screenshot below for what it looks like to reserve Virtual Line times.

Universal Virtual Line app screenshot

Arrival

Universal Orlando Resort has a parking and transportation structure consisting of two gigantic multi-story parking lots and a centralized transportation hub that allows you to access Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, CityWalk, and Volcano Bay.

The parking garage opens 2 hours before the official park opening to accommodate those eligible for Early Park Admission. ($26/day for regular self-parking, $30/day for prime parking.)

If you are driving to the resort and are not eligible for Early Park Admission, we recommend arriving at the Universal parking garage 60 minutes prior to the official opening.

It then takes approximately 15 minutes to walk from the parking garage to the parks’ entrance turnstiles. This brings you to the entrance a perfect 45 minutes before the official opening.

Alternatively, Universal Orlando on-site resort transportation to the parks via water taxis and shuttles begins 2 hours before the official opening, or 1 hour before Early Park Admission.

Guests staying on-site during peak periods should catch the first ride of the morning in order to be the first into the Wizarding World during the early entry period.

Family photo at Universal Studios
Universal Studios photo op!

Entering the Park

As of now, Universal is not requiring advanced reservations to get into any of their Orlando theme parks.

Parks are operating below maximum capacity, however, so if the capacity limit is reached during the day, guests will be turned away.

Be sure to call the capacity hotline as you approach the park to verify whether or not it is at capacity: 407-817-8317

(Guests staying at Universal resorts will still be granted park access even if the parks have reached capacity.)

With that said, we always recommend getting to the turnstiles 45 minutes prior to park opening (and 30-minutes before Early Park Admission), especially on projected busy days.

This act has long been known as ‘rope-drop’.

Rope drop involves getting to Universal Studios before it begins operating for the day so that you can be among the very first guests to enter and enjoy the attractions.

Rope dropping is the single most important key to an efficient touring plan in order to avoid long lines. First thing in the morning, there are no lines and fewer people.

The same four rides you experience in 1 hour upon rope dropping can take as long as 3 hours after 10:30 AM.

Additional planning tip: On days when Universal does not offer Early Park Admission, the gates typically open 30 minutes before the advertised opening.

Guests are restricted to the front of the park where Despicable Me Minion Mayhem often opens to all guests 10–15 minutes before the official opening.

Our recommended Universal Studios arrival times (during peak periods) with Early Park Admission:

  • 6:00-6:15 AM: Leave onsite hotel or arrive at Universal parking garage
  • 6:30 AM: Arrive at park turnstiles
  • 7:00 AM: Early Park Admission entry – head straight to Diagon Alley
  • 8:00 AM: Regular park opening time

Our recommended Universal Studios arrival times (during peak periods) without Early Park Admission:

  • 7:00 AM: Leave onsite hotel or arrive at Universal parking garage
  • 7:15 AM: Arrive at park turnstiles
  • 7:45 AM: Guests typically let into the front of the park to ride Despicable Me Minon Mayhem
  • 8:00 AM: Park opening time

Additional planning tip: Due to a strict bag and locker policy and the fact that personal belongings are not allowed on many of the rides, be sure to review what to bring to Universal Studios in your day bag as you prepare for your visit.

Likewise, be sure to have an understanding of the Universal Orlando locker system. Know which rides will require you to store your belongings before boarding.

Diagon Alley fire breathing dragon
(Morning!) Diagon Alley fire breathing dragon

Universal Studios Touring Plan: Morning

Upon entering the park, use your Universal app to make Virtual Line reservations.

Once the park opens, walk directly to the Harry Potter area without stopping for anything.

In other words, if you want to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, you must arrive before everyone else does.

There’s no other way.

When you arrive at Diagon Alley, take it all in. Browse the shops and enjoy the atmosphere of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is a great time to buy a wand from Ollivander’s and let the kids cast spells without long waits or crowds.

When spending 1-day at Universal Studios, be sure to visit Olivander's Wand Shop
Ollivander’s Wand Shop

Morning Itinerary

Similar to experiencing the best rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, we recommend visiting these Universal Studio rides immediately upon park opening.

The following attractions typically experience the longest wait times if not done right away.

Likewise, visit these attractions in this exact order to decrease time spent zig-zagging around the park.

*Rides with (EP) listed after their names denote that the ride qualifies for Express Pass.

1. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (EP). While in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, be sure to go to:

  • Ollivander’s Wand Shop
  • Gringott’s Money Exchange
  • Knight’s Bus

Then, back-track to the front of the park and do these rides:

2. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (EP)

3. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (EP)

4. Transformers: The Ride 3D (EP)

5. Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (EP)

6. Revenge of the Mummy (EP)

7. Fast & Furious: Supercharged (EP)

Additional planning tip: This plan does not assume you’re using child swap, which allows parents to swap supervising a child who does not meet a height requirement without waiting in line twice.

If you do use child swap, your day will move more slowly as you have to wait for two people to ride each ride.

Ride The Simpsons Ride as part of your Universal Studios touring plan
The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios

Universal Studios Touring Plan: Afternoon

I recommend saving Universal shows for the afternoon and evening. This includes the Bourne Stuntacular, Horror and Make-up Show, Shrek 4-D, Animal Actors on Location, and Fear Factor Live.

Daily showtimes vary and can be found on the app. Adapt your afternoon itinerary according to what showtimes are available.

1. Shrek 4-D (45 min.); Separate theater for those with Express Pass.

2. The Bourne Stuntacular (26 min); Despite a potentially long wait/line, don’t miss this one!

3. Horror & Make-up Show (25 min.)

4. E.T. Adventure (EP)

5. Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster (EP)

6. Animal Actors on Location (20 min.)

7. The Simpsons Ride (EP). While in the queue, be on the lookout for an appearance by an animated Doc Brown.

8. Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl (EP)

9. Men in Black: Alien Attack (EP).

10. Fear Factor Live (20 min.)

11. Browse the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley again.

Next, ride the Hogwart’s Express (EP) if you have a park-to-park pass.

11. Watch Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration or other seasonal evening entertainment; these have scheduled showtimes so be sure to check the Universal app.

Universal Studios Butterbeer
A toast to butterbeer!

Universal Studios Dining

Another one of the top tips for visiting Universal Orlando is to skip the typical hot dogs and chicken tenders in order to indulge in the unique dining options that are exclusive to Universal Studios.

In fact, the best itinerary for Universal Studios Orlando includes eating at a themed restaurant, such as the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley.

Its traditional British food and perfectly Harry Potter pub-themed atmosphere make for an experience that you simply cannot find anywhere else.

Also, be sure to try a Butterbeer!

This iconic non-alcoholic drink, which comes in hot, cold, and frozen varieties, is sold everywhere inside the Harry Potter areas of the parks.

In addition, be sure to check out the best restaurants in Citywalk for another incredibly unique experience.

Additional planning tip: Keep in mind that you can make online reservations ahead of time for full-service restaurants and Universal CityWalk in order to avoid the lines during busy seasons.

Ride Hogwart's Express as part of your Universal Studios touring plan
Hogwart’s Express

If You Want More Harry Potter Fun

For Harry Potter fans, a trip to Universal Orlando Resort tops their list of must-see-and-do vacation destinations!

If you’re a Potterhead you will absolutely not be disappointed by the immersive theming of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Likewise, you’ll definitely want to add additional time to your Universal Studios touring plan in order to enjoy it.

Universal’s Harry Potter experience includes Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.

Guests can easily travel between the two by riding Hogwart’s Express between the two parks.

Know, however, that you must buy a Park-to-Park ticket to be able to visit both parts of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day.

Additional planning tip: Be sure to stop inside the famous Ollivander’s Wand shop in either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.

Here, you can purchase both standard and interactive wizard wands as well as participate in a wand-fitting demonstration. 

Through a sensor in the tip of the interactive wands, wanna-be wizards and witches can perform 25 spells through both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

This requires being on the lookout for gold medallions along the walkways signaling you when to cast spells.

Potterheads can look forward to lighting the chandelier in the window at Flimflam’s Lantern or to repairing a suit of armor at the blacksmith’s with a simple wave of their wand.

*Click here for our exclusive FREE Family Vacation Packing List and BONUS Theme Park Bag Packing List to complement your Universal vacation!

Family Vacation Packing list

I am confident that you’re now off to a great start in planning your day at Universal Studios! What was the most helpful part of the Universal Studios touring plan?

Jen

If you liked reading our Universal Studios touring plan, continue planning your Universal Orlando vacation here:

Universal Orlando Touring Plans:

Universal Orlando Tips:

Universal Orlando Rides:

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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Click here for Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan's ultimate 1-Day Universal Studios touring plan!  This one-day itinerary for Universal Studios Florida includes our step-by-step guide on arrival, rope drop, and Express Pass tips, as well as the order to see and do the rides and attractions at Universal Studios. #universalstudiostouringplanorlando #universalstudiostouringplan #universalstudiosvacation #universaltips #harrypotteruniversalstudios #universalstudiosorlandowithkids
Click here for a complete Universal Studios Touring Plan that includes parking, arrival, dining, and touring tips!  #UniversalStudios #Orlando
Click here for a complete Universal Studios Touring Plan that includes parking, arrival, dining, and touring tips!  #UniversalStudios #Orlando

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12 Comments
  1. Reply

    Caitlin Goodwin

    April 9, 2020

    We have never been to Universal Studios bt have been to Disney 20+ times. This is the perfect itinerary to dip our toes in!

    • Reply

      Jen

      April 10, 2020

      You totally have to try Universal! We love Disney too…but now that the kids are older, they prefer Universal hands-down 🙂

  2. Reply

    Alexandra

    April 8, 2020

    Loads of very useful information here in this post. Last time we traveled to Orlando we only made it to the Disney parks and I’m thinking it would probably be a good idea to go back and visit Universal Studios. Thanks for sharing all these insights!

    • Reply

      Jen

      April 8, 2020

      Yes, we started with Disney too! As the kids have gotten a little older, they absolutely LOVE Universal, although I haven’t had the heart to ask them which they like better 😉

  3. Reply

    Diana

    April 8, 2020

    Awesome tips and perfect itinerary, can’t wait to actually get out there and experience Universal again! thanks for the travel inspiration.

    • Reply

      Jen

      April 8, 2020

      You’re welcome! It is definitely a place that we would love to return to year-after-year!

  4. Reply

    Harmony, Momma To Go

    April 6, 2020

    I dont know how this is possible, BUT I have never been to Universal Studios! Its very high on my to do list. I gotta get my kids to read Harry Potter first.

    • Reply

      Jen

      April 6, 2020

      What?!?! I can’t believe that you haven’t been…but I am so happy that now you have a little info for when you do go! Yay! If the kids never get around to reading Harry Potter, no worries 🙂 It is so much more than that!!

  5. Reply

    Julie

    April 6, 2020

    You’re not going to believe this but I haven’t been to Universal Studios in 20 years! We really need to take the kids and this is the perfect one day touring guide!! So much detail- thank you Jen!!

    • Reply

      Jen

      April 6, 2020

      Yay! You’re welcome! It’s really how amazing it all is! …It’s too bad that these awesome American theme parks have to be so expensive though. I feel like we’d go there way more if they were more affordable 🙂

  6. Reply

    Bolupe

    April 6, 2020

    The Universal studio is on my ‘must do’ and ‘must see’ places. I’ll like to compare it with Motiongate in Dubai. I’ll like to see Shrek in 4d. Thanks for a complete guide.

    • Reply

      Jen

      April 6, 2020

      You’re welcome! It really is a truly amazing place! I was glad that we waited until our kids were a bit older to go there, for the rollercoasters and thrill rides are not-to-miss!

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Welcome Friends!

We are the Brommer family from Minnesota, and I'm Jen - the travel planner for our family of 5! We are passionate about traveling together for it's what keeps us happy and healthy at home. The free family vacation itineraries and tips you'll find here are crafted with love to be shared with you. We hope our experiences inspire you to start planning your next family adventure!

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