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Universal Studios Touring Plan | Complete 1-Day Itinerary

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on
April 4, 2020

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 to maximize efficiency and minimize time spent standing in lines?

Our Universal Studios Florida touring plan highlights all of these topics and offers a 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!

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

Universal Studios Orlando Resort

For those of you who are new to the Universal experience, Florida’s Universal Orlando Resort consists of two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure), a water theme park (Volcano Bay), a night-time entertainment complex (Universal CityWalk Orlando), six Loews Hotels, and an upcoming theme park, Epic Universe, expected to open in 2023.

Together, this theme park and entertainment resort complex 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 (only) whose primary attraction is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.

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

*Our complete 1-day Islands of Adventure touring plan is coming soon!

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

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, allowing you to enjoy the top experiences in the park.

Both our Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure touring plan was created for those visiting Universal’s parks for one day each. If you are visiting the park for a longer period of time, you may still take advantage of this plan.

This touring plan also assumes that you are entering the park 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.

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 Parks 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 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).

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 according to Touring Plans.

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 tips

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. 

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.

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

Universal Studios Orlando One Day Touring Plan

Prior to visiting Universal Orlando, we recommend that you download the official Universal Orlando Resort app on the App Store or the Google Play Store.

The app provides wait times, showtimes, a resort-wide map, and a chance to make ride reservations via the Virtual Line program.

Universal Studios’s Virtual Line program allows you to use your phone app (or kiosks at the ride) to make a reservation to visit both Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious – Supercharged.

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

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

Universal Virtual Line app

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 elegible for Early Park Admission. ($26/day for self-parking, $40/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 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 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.

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

Entering the Park

Once again, we recommend getting to the turnstiles 45 minutes prior to park opening, 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.

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios

Universal Studios Touring Plan: Morning

Upon entering the park, use your Universal app to grab Virtual Line return times for Jimmy Fallon (9:30-10:30 AM) and Fast & Furious (10:30-11:30 AM). We selected these times based on an 8:00 AM early park admission start time.

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 before everyone else gets there.

Then, once the rest of the world arrives, use your Express Pass to quickly hop on the Harry Potter-themed rides.

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

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)

2. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (EP)

3. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (EP)

4. Transformers: The Ride 3D (EP)

5. Revenge of the Mummy (EP)

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

7. Fast & Furious: Supercharged (EP)

Note: 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.

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

Universal Studios Touring Plan: Afternoon

1. Horror & Make-up Show (25 min.); Check showtimes on Universal app

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

3. E.T. Adventure (EP)

4. Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster (EP)

5. Animal Actors on Location (20 min.); Check showtimes on Universal app

6. The Simpsons Ride (EP)

7. Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl (EP)

8. Men in Black: Alien Attack (EP)

9. Fear Factor Live (20 min.); Check showtimes on Universal app

10. Browse the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley again. Be sure to try a Butterbeer. This epic non-alcoholic drink, which comes in both cold and frozen varieties, is sold everywhere inside the Harry Potter areas of the parks. 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 and arrive at least 20 minutes early.

Universal Studios butterbeer stand

Universal Studios Dining

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 (and amazing!) 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 makes for an experience that you simply cannot find anywhere else.

Check out this super helpful guide to all the best food and drinks at Universal Orlando Resort for more information.

And don’t forget! Universal offers several different dining plans that can add convenience and help you save money.

We like using the Quick Service dining plan which can be purchased right at the register. It includes a quick service meal (entree + drink), and a snack.

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

Get an awesome 1-day Universal Studios touring plan from Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

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 into 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. 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.

Along with the other 29 best tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, 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 like our Universal Studios Touring Plan, click here to read our related posts:

*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 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 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 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
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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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Hi, I’m Jen!  Welcome to Travel With A Plan!

I’m an avid adventurer who is always planning the next family vacation for my husband and I, and our three boys!

As an advocate for family travel with kids of all ages, I am a firm believer that traveling together helps keep families healthy and happy at home!

Here is where I share our best family vacation itineraries, resort reviews, and family travel tips (incuding Disney!).

Let’s go on an adventure! -Jen

TMOM Travel Writer
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