Universal Studios Orlando has got to be on most people’s bucket-lists right? And rightly so, as I can tell you first hand that this is the most magical, exhilarating, heart-warming and extraordinary place to lose yourself and become that younger version of you again!
Taking you ’round the world with us’ once again, this time landing in Orlando, Florida and bringing you our ultimate guide to visiting Universal Studios in 2019/2020.
Here’s absolutely everything you will need to know…
Spoilers alert! Some rides and attractions descriptions and photos may give away slightly more than you wish to know. Skip the ride sections in this post if you want to keep it a complete suprise!
This is a rather jam packed post with EVERYTHING you will need to know, so skip to sections here and then use the little black arrow on the bottom right-hand side of your screen to jump back up!
Firstly, here is a site-wide map below to give you an overview of the parks and hotels which are neighbouring on the Universal Studios site. Any other parks not shown are off the official site but are still mostly accessible by shuttle bus.
Note: Disney Land is not officially on the Universal site and is 8 miles away, but can still be accessed by taxi in about 20 minutes.
A look inside Universal Studios
What rides are there?
As you can see from the map, you can reignite your childhood (or adulthood!) as the attractions depicting your favourite shows and movies give you butterflies in your tummy! Just to name a some of our faves…
First and foremost, a dream come true as you walk through the broken brick wall into the famous Diagon Alley and past all of the iconic shops and buildings, such as Gringotts Bank and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes joke shop!
Here you can shops to your heart’s content, change up your money in the Gringotts money exchange, drink in the Leaky Cauldron and even ride the magical Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride!
Enter through the life-sized Gringotts Bank beneath the fire-breathing dragon! Boarding the mine cart and going deep into the tunnels and vaults of Gringotts, you’ll enter a 3D world on this speedy coaster and encounter your favourites; Harry, Hermione, Ron, Voldemort and Bellatrix.
Note: The dragon seen from Diagon Alley only breathes fire every 10 minutes, so make sure you stick around to see it!
This isn’t a ride as such, but a real life mode of transport to get from Universal Studios over to Islands of Adventure and vise versa! Getting aboard the Hogwarts Express is only possible when purchasing an Adventurer ticket, which includes both of the parks.
Get cosy inside your train cabin and watch out the window to enjoy your journey from London’s King’s Cross Station over to Hogsmeade! You might even have a little visit by a certain few people…
Step back in time and enter the tombs to the Mummy ride! This high speed coaster has lots of twists, turns and suprises as you flee the evil Mummy. You’ll definitely be feeling the heat… this one has made it into our top 3!
Personally, with some of the best visuals and props out of all the rides, Alien Attack is enough to make you think you’re inside the making of the movie! Save New York from an alien invasion and shoot them down with your laser gun, as you glide through the streets trying to earn the most points.
Immerse yourself in a world of action as you quest to save planet earth from Megatron and his Decepticons, in this 3D and 4D thrill ride! You can even meet Bumblebee and Optimus Prime in real life…
Why you need to also book Islands of Adventure
So for those who don’t know, Islands of Adventure is connected to Universal Studios, but is a separate park and requires an additional ticket or an Adventurer’s ticket (let’s you go between the two).
You can literally walk from one park into the other, or even better jump on the Hogwarts Express from one park to the other! I mean we’d pay the price just to do that alone…
Personally, if you’re going to do one of these parks then you need to do the other. They both come hand-in-hand and both boast some INSANE rides, so you wouldn’t want to miss out when it’s practically next door.
Islands of Adventure was even crowned the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice for #1 amusement park in the world, 2015-2019!
Also, Universal alone would only take 3-4 days to comfortably complete, so if you’re there for a week then you will need to fill this free time anyways!
More on how many days you will need in the “how long do I need to go for?” section below.
A look inside Islands of Adventure
Think of Islands of Adventure as Universal pt.2 – we honestly couldn’t choose our favourite park between the two.
They both have incredible experiences, but here’s our favourite over at Islands of Adventure:
First and foremost, as always, HARRY POTTER.
This is part 2 of the Harry Potter world, so if you’re a big HP fan, this is another reason to get an Adventurer’s ticket when you come here so you don’t miss out on some EPIC attractions.
Find yourself strolling through the magical village of Hogsmeade where you will find plenty of iconic shops, food, drink, rides and of course Hogwarts. Ride on Hagrid’s bike, brave it on the back of a Hippogriff and find your perfect wand in Olivander’s.
THIS IS MY FAVOURITE ROLLER COASTER EVER.
Myself and Luke have been to the usual Thorpe Park, Alton Towers & Chessington numerous times, not to mention Universal Singapore – but the brand new Hagrid Ride in Orlando beats everything x10, no exaggeration!
The ride is brand new to 2019 and has the most launches in the world with 7 launches throughout the ride, not to mention a drop and another little suprise I won’t mention… I found myself just hysterically laughing throughout the whole 4 times I went on it, as everything was just so unexpected.
Ahhh the rapids! Always go on the rapids! This is always the highlight – you’re tired af but don’t feel guilty as you’re still going on a ride, BUT YOU GET TO SIT DOWN.
These ones are special though. They have dinosaurs and stuff. And be prepared to get a little wet as you try and escape the T-Rex!
We were amazed as we walked beneath and inside the life-sized Hogwarts. I had butterflies of excitement. Why can’t Hogwarts just be real?!
Well this is as real as it’s ever gonna get, as you find yourself walking through the familiar corridors and encounter Dumbledore’s office, Defence against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room and the Room of Requirement.
Experience for yourself everything Harry Potter, as you glide through this 3D & 4D experience as it whizzes you through all your favourite movie moments and iconic scenes.
This is hands down my second favourite ride in Orlando, and probably in the world so far…
This is probably my favourite little experience and addition to the already incredible rides. This left me all tingly inside and I just HAD to go back for a second time to experience it all over again.
Step inside Olivander’s wand shop and re-live the exact scene from The Philosopher’s Stone, when Harry is chosen by the wand. I wont say much more, but this is such a magical experience that can easily be missed as it’s so small! So be sure to find it, thank me later.
Not a huge fan of 3D? Not gonna lie, I did struggle quite a bit with my motion sickness on all these 3D and 4D rides…
The Hulk is the big bad roller coaster you’ve been waiting for, with speeds of 67mph with lots of zero-gravity loops and rolls, and something to ease off your motion sickness and switch up the day.
What’s there to eat and drink?
The main part of any day. FOOOOD.
Harry Potter fans can feast away inside the iconic Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, then pop next door for a delicious ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s Ice-cream parlour! Over at Hogsmeade? Three Broomsticks is the perfect lunch spot – a fantastically decorated, rustic tavern with incredible atmosphere and hearty meals.
Now for our favourite… Mel’s Drive-in. This American 50’s-style diner will have you feeling all kinds of happy! With vintage cars out front, classic jukeboxes and a typical American burger and milkshake combo. The burgers were to die for and just had us coming back for more! The diet starts Monday right?
This is just to name a few… See dozens more places to eat on-site!
Are there any special events throughout the year?
Of course there are, it’s Universal Studios Orlando! You can check out everything going on in each season, but here are our top faves!
Halloween Horror Nights this year looked INSANE! We didn’t manage to go, but saw the set-up, props, hype and promotion videos and OMG… if you love a good fright and are a big fan of Halloween and Horror – this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing that you do not want to miss.
Watch the park plunge into darkness and horror at night, as the streets transform and the sinister mazes, escapes and attractions project echoed screams of terror.
As the sunset fades in Hogsmeade and Hogwarts starts to glow, get yourselves ready for an incredible light show that will bring the beloved castle to life!
Embrace your favourite Hogwarts house with pride as they battle it out through dancing music and lights, with a stunning finale of fireworks.
Death Eaters & Dementors will even be at your fingertips as they take over Hogwarts, if you’re lucky enough to see the Dark Arts light show on selected dates.
Keep your eye out around the park to meet your favourite movie characters come to life. The Transformers, Minions, Marvel Superheros and last but not least… Shrek, Fiona and DONKEY! These are just to name a few, but you can check the whole list and see when and where they will be around!
Spend the day with a ride expert as you explore backstage of at least 10 of the attractions! It would be pretty cool to get up and close to the props and movie sets, as they are sometimes the main attraction of the ride, and not the ride itself! Not to mention you won’t have to wait in line for the rides… no-brainer.
Other parks you can visit
Universal’s third park… AND WATER PARK!
This place was so visually and mentally a dream, with a huge volcano being the focal point of the park, with a raging waterfall at its front and water slides shooting out from all directions.
The most impressive part of the park was the virtual queue.
What the heck is a virtual queue? Well I’m glad you asked, because it really is a game changer.
You’re given a watch called a Tapu-Tapu, which you tap on the screens at the entrance of each ride. You are then given a waiting time, but the best part is you can swim elsewhere while you wait! Your watch will then vibrate and give you a 5-15 minute warning to head back to the ride when it’s your turn to queue! SO COOL. The idea of this is to stop super long queues, and for you to not waste too much of your precious water park time.
Another incredible water park, easily accessible from the City Walk bus station.
Water slides, lazy rivers, beaches, wave pools – they have everything! So you can either get your blood pumping on the huge slides or lounge the day away and top up your tan on the beach! A nap on the sun-lounger on the beach deffo made my day that’s for sure…
Something a little different from the rest, with huge roller coasters, safaris and abundance of amazing animals. We didn’t manage to see this for ourselves, but our Uber driver just couldn’t contain her excitement about this place, and how amazing the huge roller coasters are!
A thrill-seekers dream come true with tonnes of unique world-class coasters! Have you got the guts for the huge rides?
You can also check out the animals here at Tampa’s largest zoo, with over 200 species and the option to take a tour or safari!
So you’re obviously going to need somewhere to stay… unless you plan on sleeping at Hogwarts? If only…
So the following hotels are Universal’s own, which will be close to the parks and will have easy access and free shuttles to all the parks.
If you think you can find somewhere cheaper (which you may well do), then you can always browse Orlando hotels or Airbnb’s in the area. Just remember, this will probably not include any free shuttles to the parks.
Surfside Inn & Suites is the newest addition to the Universal hotels and is one of two in the Endless Summer Resort. It is one of the “budget” hotels out of the bunch, and is the hotel we stayed in for the week and a half.
Expect a lovely, seaside and surf themed hotel with beautifully decorated rooms, swimming pool, restaurant (with mini grocery section) with the option to eat in or take-away, fitness centre, arcade, ticket sales, Universal shop, huge lobby area with lounges, sofas and charging points, Starbucks, and free shuttles to the parks.
You will also find a supermarket right across the road too which is super handy! Along with a bunch of restaurants and gift shops if you take a little stroll down the road.
Dockside Inn and Suites will be introduced in 2020 as the second and new addition to the Endless Summer Resort.
The iconic 50’s and 60’s Florida beach resort architecture and decor will have you blown away from the get go. From the classic cars out front, to the diner style food court – you will definitely know you’re in America!
The hotel boasts 2 pools, a lazy river, a beach, bar, bowling alley, fitness centre and games room.
This modern, sleek and stylish hotel is for those with a slightly bigger budget. Enjoy the pool, hot tub or kids splash area or chill out on the rooftop bar, pool bar or just grab a coffee in Starbucks – pure relaxation.
Right in the heart of Universal Studios, you can enjoy the luxury this hotel has to offer as one of the top picks in Orlando! With a fire pit, games room, fitness centre and 4 restaurants. You can even jump on a taxi boat right outside the front door to take you further into the park!
An exotic South Seas jungle paradise! Escape into the tropics with a sparkling lagoon style pool, surround by a white sand beach and palms trees.
You can enjoy 2 volleyball courts, 2 hot tubs, fitness centre, a bar and 6 restaurants! This hotel is also in the heart of the park, with access to the river taxi, early park admission and exclusive fast track to the rides!
Bang in the middle of Universal Studios you can stay at the incredible Hard Rock Hotel. Best part about staying here? You get exclusive unlimited ride access which lets you skip regular lines at Universal parks! This is also in addition to the early park access of 1 hour – the ultimate park hotel if you ask me!
Hard Rock Hotel boasts as 12,000 square foot pool with underwater music, and several restaurants and bars to choose from, including the famous Hard Rock Cafe.
Relax in this charming hotel as you’re surrounded by the beauty of the Italian seaside village, Portofino!
Soak it up in one of the 3 pools, or take your pick in one of the many outdoor cafes and shops. There is even a spa to shake the stress and aches away after a long day of exploring the parks!
For those staying in any of the Universal’s own hotels (all of the ones listed above) you will be able to get free shuttles to the parks directly from the hotel. One shuttle will go to Volcano Bay, and the other will go to City Walk. City Walk is the central point for all Universal buses and is also the entrance to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure itself.
Always a life saver! If you’re familiar with Uber, then you know just how handy it can be in an unfamiliar place. Lyft is the American version of Uber so either app is fine to use! Lyft may just have a few more drivers on shift than Uber, but Uber worked a treat for us and we were never left waiting more than 5 minutes!
For those of you who love a little more adventure and exploration, and I know you guys are out there, skip the Uber and navigate your way around on public transport!
You can head to Go Lynx to plan your routes and find the best local transport options.
Top Tips and Must Knows
Universal Orlando Resort App
With ride times, maps, live updates, dining, special offers, park hours and directions, reminders, shopping – and you can even pre-order food! This app will definitely make your whole experience a whole lot easier.
Drinks packages/refillable drinks
Inside of Universal parks you are able to purchase refillable cups for around $16, which you can refill for free throughout the day at any of the refill stations.
TIP: If you purchase a Butterbeer in an official Butterbeer mug in Universal or Islands of Adventure, then you can use these for discounted drinks at a refill station too!
Drinks packages are found at the hotels, where you can purchase a similar refillable cup, however this can only be used at your specific hotel. Do double check for each hotels rules, but you can purchase this cup and have free refills throughout the whole of your stay!
Both of these refillable drinks options are definitely worth the money if you ask me, especially in the Florida heat! If you’re in a group, you could always purchase one cup and then share the drink! Shhh, you didn’t hear that from me.
Bum bag/fanny pack tip to save the day!
Okay so this was a little frustrating… I thought I was being super cool and efficient packing my bum bag, trying to avoid using the lockers in the parks for a backpack, as you’re allowed small bum bags on most of the rides and attractions.
“Excuse me Ma’am, you cant take that particular one on as it has a buckle and not a clip.”
Are you kidding me? Okay fine not a problem, as the lockers are never too much hassle (out of season in September), but would have been super handy to not have had to do this for a week and a half!
So to save quite a bit of valuable ride time, make sure you pack a bum bag with a clip so you can go straight on the rides! Here’s an example of what is allowed – click to enlarge on Amazon.
The tallest swing ride in the WORLD!
Just a short drive away from Universal and most of the hotels, you can find the Orlando Starflyer! We had seen a video of this on Facebook about 6 months prior to our trip, and just knew it couldn’t be missed!
Standing 450ft tall, you can have the most incredible experience overlooking Orlando and Florida – even more extraordinary at sunset. Definitely a bucket-list experience if you can handle the height!
It is a very well known attractions of course, so you can find plenty of lovely shops and restaurants in the area, so would be a perfect spot for the whole evening!
Just order a taxi from the Uber or Lyft app and type in ‘Orlando Starflyer’ and it’ll take you right to the door!
TIP: This may be a little obvious, but you cannot take anything on the ride including phones, bum bags, loose shoes or selfie sticks. You are only allowed to take a GoPro which is attached to your chest or hand. With that being said, there are free lockers for you to use.
Supermarket shopping to save a little money
As soon as we got to our hotel, we head out to Walmart to stock up for the week. This was our way of trying to save as much money as possible, because let’s face it, we had already spent waaaaay too much booking the holiday! (100% worth it though!)
How long do I need to go for?
Always a tough one for a location you’ve never ever been to before! Quite daunting too, as you don’t want to go for too little, or too long and it put a downer on the experience. You want enough time to go on all the rides right? But also not spend too much money on tickets and hotels? For some people this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip so you gotta get it right!
So for perspective, we visited 5 parks;
- Universal Studios
- Islands of Adventure
- Volcano Bay
- Sea World
We were there for 10 days and 10 nights, which in short I can say was plenty of time to visit all of the 5 parks above, comfortably.
Thinking of just visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure?
Then I can tell you that 4 days was plenty for us to visit the two – so with that being said, a 5,6, or 7 day trip would be very comfortable and allow you to fit everything in and even have a wander around Orlando to see the local area!
Any more questions about timings then just drop a comment below!
Book a holiday package or do it yourself?
Pro and Cons
I think this can be easily done either way. Does that help you? Probably not, but I’m just being honest! Here’s my thought process and personal experience…
Booking with an agent/as a package deal
- Less work for you to do
- All of your bookings (hotel, flight, transfer) under one roof as such.
- ATOL protected air travel which prevents you from losing money or being stranded abroad.
- If you have an issue, it is a lot harder as you cannot contact the flight, hotel directly and have to go through the middle man (the agent), which can take a lot of time. This proved to be a problem for us when we were trying to get a refund due to hurricane Dorian!
- You also usually end up paying more for your whole trip as you have to pay the admin fee for the organisation and management of your booking.
Booking it yourself
Personally, this is always mine and Luke’s preferred option, and here’s why.
- You have full control and freedom over your booking and trip.
- You can do your own research and trust your own decision that you are finding the cheapest option.
- You can search Skyscanner to find which dates are cheapest to fly on – it gives you a year round view for you to browse.
- You can search the likes of Booking.com for your cheapest hotel options, any deals that are available, the best room options and also take advantage of their Loyalty Programme.
- You can easily amend certain aspects of the trip, and usually online, i.e change the time of your transfer, or add an extra bag to your flight.
- This requires a bit more work from your end
- If something goes wrong you have to deal with it yourself (either way, you’ll have to make a phone call to either the travel agent or the company itself)
If you fancy booking it yourself, browse the Orlando hotels below!
So your price is of course totally dependant on how many days you intend to go for and which parks you are interested in, so check out the prices directly on the Universal website for a browse – pop in the number of days and see what your options are for the parks.
You can also compare prices on TripAdvisor to the ones on the official Universal website – you sometimes find you can get yourself a better deal elsewhere!
To try and save yourself some money, Klook is an incredible worldwide platform with a bunch of cheap tickets for parks, attractions and literally everything. We used this a lot in Asia which saved us quite a few quid!
Klook have a few good deals on Universal tickets which could work out cheaper for you, so this platform is also worth checking out whenever you go on a trip!